Windber Coffeehouse Nights: June 6, 2019

The second weekly coffeehouse of the season at Windber’s Grand Midway Hotel was in many ways a disappointment. Attendance was well off from the previous week’s promising beginning, despite the presence of a handful of stalwart regulars. Yet there were some positive aspects worthy of mention.

In honor of this week’s 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, all three of the evening’s movie offerings were science fictional in nature. Would a theme built around this week’s OTHER big historical landmark (the 75th anniversary of D-Day) have attracted more attention? I frankly have my doubts.

In any case, first up was perhaps the least well-known of the lot:


Dark City is a twisty tale of weird telepathic aliens studying and manipulating an unknowing human population until they accidentally create a man capable of standing against them. It features a distinct film noir sensibility that particularly appealed to a couple Midway regulars (especially one who likes to write in the style).

Starbucks’ Dark French Roast satisfied the coffee-focused cravings of the guests, while Amber (resplendent  in a flowing purple wig and pointy elf ears Ron impulsively loaned her) made use of the instant cocoa mix. For whatever reason, this time I eschewed these tasty beverage choices in favor of three successive mug-fulls of hot tea–each of a different variety: regular Tetley Black Tea, Salada Green Tea and finally Bigelow’s Orange Spice.

Blair Murphy (the Grand Midway’s intrepid owner) was again away till near the night’s end, his ‘day job’ of delivering blood supplies for the Red Cross taking him to Philadephia and back. But he’d laid in additional snack items for the evening. I personally enjoyed a 6-pack of peanut butter-filled cheese crackers and an over-sized roasted peanut candy bar with my drinks. And rest assured, I put down the required sums (75 cents and $1 respectively) for these treats. De facto employee or not, I do NOT rob from the till (chuckle).

Other people went for chocolate candy bars and cold drinks. In contrast to last week, no souvenir-type items were purchased–funny how such things go in cycles. A couple guests brought in outside food, as we’re open (6 PM and on) at many folks’ supper time. This is fine, as long it’s not something in direct competition with our laid-back offerings. In fact, I’ve often gone the takeout route myself during a coffeehouse–mostly from either of my favorite, very convenient Windber restaurants: The Windber Wok (excellent Asian food) and Bellas (pizza and much much more). Consider this a free and unsolicited endorsement of these local establishments.

There are in fact at least a half-dozen eating establishments (offering sit-down and takeout alike) within easy walking distance of the Midway. Some people enjoy a dinner at one of those then drop by the Grand Midway to relax, view films, maybe check out what’s new in the building (it’s forever being redecorated, new things added almost weekly) and hang-out with an interesting bunch of people to chat with. It’s a fine (and inexpensive) way to spend an evening.

The new addition just this week: Blair installed an antique (or at least antique-looking)  chandelier in the 1st floor’s central hallway, brightly illuminating what used to be the unduly shadowed area leading to the 1st floor restroom (and connecting the coffee bar to the rooms on the west-side of the building). Now you can better check out the wildly assorted artwork decorating this passageway, even after sunset.

Anyway, the night’s 2nd film was a true SF classic:


Yes, the glorious Blade Runner, based on a story by the legendary Philip K. Dick!

Like Dark City, it features elements of old-time crime/noir movie-making along with stylish Sci-Fi and this one creates a fascinating near-future blending of cultures that is at once distinct, somewhat alien and yet comprehensible. A GREAT film, period.

There’s no smoking inside the building, so the open front porch and sidewalk just beyond is where attendees take tobacco breaks. Given the small numbers present this evening (and the handy portable seating), for a time everyone on hand was out there, chatting, sipping their respective beverages of choice and enjoying the comfortably pleasant evening. More than one person remarked about Windber’s downtown being unusually quiet for such a nice night–only a few dog-walkers and a single family enjoying the lovely little Miner’s Park immediately beyond our front door and the railroad tracks. So maybe it was just one of those inexplicable dead nights for the entire town, rather than something specific to the Midway.

The night’s final movie offered up a culture clash between alien visitors and their reluctant (in some cases prejudiced) human hosts. I refer to that landmark of South African film:


District 9. The plight of the desperate aliens is of course a masterful metaphor for that country’s painful Apartheid past. The twist is that here the black humans and the white humans have mostly banded together to repress the aliens. It’s presented in a pseudo-documentary style that works extremely well.

Interestingly, it was only in the last hour of operation that a couple of curious newcomers appeared. The young man is a Windber native, now living out west, where his girlfriend is from. They were visiting the area and popped in on impulse. I gave them a mini-tour of the 1st Floor and told them some of the lore about the historic building and how Blair came here (hard to believe it’s been about 18 years now) to save the place and make it into a sort of informal artist colony.

They seemed delighted. And our Glorious Leader himself arrived home in time to chat further with them and the handful of remaining regulars.

There’s every reason to believe next week’s Coffeehouse Night will be more lively as that Thursday is the opening evening of the annual Miner’s Days festival. This celebrates the town’s coal-based heritage and brings in nice crowds for assorted events. That includes many former residents returning for visits and it goes on thru Sunday (Father’s Day).

In hopes of attracting further interest, we’ll be offering modestly-priced paid tours of the entire 3-story, 30-plus-room Grand Midway, as well as the standard  Coffeehouse offerings this Thursday. If that goes well, we may open to tours the other days of the festival as well. But as a newly minted member of the local public library’s Board of Trustees, I’ll be manning a fundraising and informational table at the festival on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. And Saturday afternoon is the monthly meeting of my writers’ group. But I’ll certainly be helping out at the Grand Midway, as always, whenever my schedule allows.

It’s just a fascinating place–one I want to share with as many people as possible.


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