For a guide on the loose and with tip money to burn, there wasn’t an overabundance of options for entertainment in Salida back in the day.
Then, as now, North F Street was the town’s entertainment hub, with the choices a little more restricted. Gone were the numerous bordellos of earlier times, but there was the Triple M Lounge or the Silver Dollar Saloon if you felt like an encounter with the local cowboys and cowgirls, or my watering hole of choice, the Vic, gathering place for old hippies, bikers and other social misfits. Everybody usually got along.
The best thing one could take to the Vic those days was a penknife, to cut a hole in the cigarette smoke to get from the front door to the bar. To my as yet un-Americanized palate, the macro-brews available to those of us on a limited budget tasted watery at best, insipid at worst, and additionally often created a game of intestinal roulette the following day.
Wednesday night was Quarter Beer Night, making Thursday morning perhaps not the best time for the unsuspecting public to have booked a raft or fishing trip.
Having previously experienced American culture solely through Hollywood and MTV, the Vic came as a surprise, embodying what I imagined to be the quintessential American bar. Different from the more British-themed pubs I was used to, it’s long interior, dark wood, neon signs in the windows, peanut shells littering the floor, mirrored bar and shuffleboard table along one wall, all reeked authenticity, at once exotic and welcoming.
The same could be said for Salida in general, in those days a sleepy little backwater that, it seemed, time and fortune had once more forsaken. A product of, and slave to, the boom and bust cycles of the mining and railroad industries, the town in 1990 was emerging from the effects of the last, most recent implosion in the mining industry.
The streets, numbered and lettered in a grid pattern, as well as offering a certain logic, seemed to speak of an attempt to assert a sense of control and order over what must have been for the town’s forebears still a frontier, wild and dangerous.
While a changing present and uncertain future often make us yearn for an idealized past, Salida’s reality in those days was one of boarded-up storefronts, seasonal businesses and, for many even then, life lived on an economic knife-edge.
One could hold a conversation while standing in the middle of the intersection at F and First and stand a good chance of not getting run over.
That said, there was also more than a touch of Mayberry to the town, a blue-collar charm that lingers to the present – white picket fences, leafy parks, stately homes next to shotgun shacks.
Summing up my impressions in a letter to friends back home, in the days prior to electronic communication, I wrote: “Salida is the kind of town I expect to walk around the corner and bump into Andy Griffith, complete in his sheriff’s uniform.”
While much has changed in the last 30 years – the price of a beer for one – conversely much also remains the same. If you’d told me that first summer, 30 years ago, that this place was to become my home, the place I’d set my roots, meet my wife and raise my kids, I’d have laughed.
I’m happy the way things have turned out, for while the town has changed, in many ways its charms remain the same.
Hayden Mellsop is a Realtor with Pinon Real Estate Group and a former fishing guide.