Soapbox Philosophy: In the fall, try West Branch after dark
Op-Ed · October 04, 2013

Fall is upon us, and on Friday, West Branch High School’s football team will host its homecoming game against Sigourney-Keota under the lights of the Little Rose Bowl.

In a given season, West Branch will host five or six games. And as we cut deeper into the autumn months, and the sun sets earlier and earlier, the crowd spends more time under those lights.

Darkness settles into the city, but the football field lights stay on until about a half-hour past the last whistle, giving fans time to chat, cheer, pack up and head home.

It’s a cozy, warm feeling to watch a game under the lights. And one can get a similar, although less consuming, feeling just by looking upon the football field from afar, listening to the play-by-play over the public address system and the cheers of the crowd.

But the Oliphant Street Field does not hold a monopoly on that Thomas Kinkade-like picture in the hometown of the 31st U.S. president:

• City Hall — The large picture windows provide passers-by the chance to peek in to see the West Branch City Council, West Branch Board of Education or a variety of committees using the council chambers after dark. Even if those on the outside cannot hear what is being said (the meetings are open to the public, so step inside if you wish!) one can almost tell the tone of the conversation by the gestures and other body language of those sitting around the table or in the gallery.

• John H. Dick’s guitar workshop on Main Street on the main floor of the Veterans Memorial Building also has large windows, and Dick often works at night. From the soft glow, we can see a true craftsman — in this case, a luthier — cutting, sanding or bending different types of wood and more into the late hours. Surrounded by tools and a TV set, Dick plying his trade reminds us of Norman Rockwell paintings of cobblers and toymakers.

• Heritage Square and the Richard Pinney mixed-media sculpture — the city had the wiring fixed under the gazebo a few years ago to relight the museum-under-glass that stands in the heart of the downtown. Day or night, sun or snow, anyone can walk up and view this artwork and enjoy this centerpiece of our city.

• Dewey’s Jack & Jill grocery store only has windows around the entrance. But they are large and, at night, when the lights are on, we can see the store clerks and stock boys working or, in the last few minutes before closing, milling around the counter. Is there anybody in town who does not know the store’s closing time? If the lights are on, we know it can’t yet be 9 p.m.

• The Hoover birthplace cottage, like the Hoover gravesite, is lit at night. However the cottage can be seen from Parkside Drive and Main Street. If you have never strolled through the historic district at night, you are missing a tranquil and quaint scene. Just last week, the National Park Service installed new LED lighting to make it even brighter than the old halogen bulbs. Just a bit of a walk away from the downtown, and with the diminished nighttime sound of traffic on Interstate 80, the scene can almost take you into your own little world, possibly to another time.

• McDonald’s, Kum & Go, BP-Quizno’s, Casey’s General Store and Main Street Sweets each have their own way of pushing away the darkness and inviting in customers. Yep, they are fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations. For the weary traveler or someone staying up late to work or study, these businesses are their own oasis in the dark vastness of outside.

• Herb & Lou’s pizza place almost seems tucked away compared to the above list, with its storefront location on Downey. And, as a restaurant and tavern, its lighting is dimmer than the others. But the narrow street and tall buildings, not to mention the many cars parked outside, makes Herb & Lou’s a clear focal point, and the lights reach deep inside to show an establishment bustling with customers. It draws you in.

• West Branch High School is very busy after hours, inside and out. From track to ball fields to the parking lot, to the well-lit lobby and connecting passageway to the new gymnasium, we get the feeling of life teeming from the building, even if we cannot see anyone through the windows. From sports to concerts, plays and musicals, hundreds of people gather there for events and the lights seeping through the entranceways call us to join them.

• The U.S. Post Office and its 24/7 lobby is constantly lit by a soft glow made softer by two walls covered in brass P.O. boxes. How many people have picked up their mail late at night, or ducked into the lobby to escape a rainstorm in the spring or the cold during Christmas Past? The lobby seems to have that secondary purpose of a shelter from the weather since the post office is located at one of the busiest intersections — for both cars and foot traffic — in town.

If you’ve never experienced West Branch after dark, or not all of it, the fall is the perfect time to do it, when the sun sets earlier yet the winter cold is not quite upon us.

Enjoy the warm scenery in the cool of autumn throughout the city. You might find it cozy, inspiring and some parts even a bit romantic, or even magical.

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