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Business has been bad ever since Blondie's grand opening in May, the fifth in its history. Or sixth, maybe; Margaret has lost count. She's doing what she used to do: karaoke shows once a week, live music on the weekends and Bloody Mary Sundays. She still feeds the homeless. This Thanksgiving she stayed open for those far from family. (At Christmas she'll do the same, making several trips to Morgans Point to shuttle seamen.) The faithful customers always show -- they'd follow her anywhere -- but the rest don't come anymore. Some days she wonders how she ever got into this mess, what she'd be doing if she didn't have this bar. She's even allergic to cigarette smoke. She promises her daughter Tina (the good one) that she'll sell the place. But in September she took Blondie's off the market. Truth is, she has had this bar for so long, she doesn't know what she'd do without it.
There have been no further incidents with the city. At least not since Margaret threatened to sue the city again on two occasions: once in February, when the city refused to turn the water on, saying mysteriously that it needed to hold a meeting about Blondie's. And again in May, when it repeatedly postponed a plumbing inspection. Margaret has fought a good fight for the little people, says friend Don Kellogg, whose wife, Margie, used to manage the bar. Don once believed that officials were fair in a small town like La Porte, where people know each other. But witnessing Margaret's plight has changed his mind.
One morning right around the time when Margaret's lawsuit ended, Don was drinking coffee at the Donut Factory, an inconspicuous strip-mall shop. With Mayor Norman Malone and several police officers as audience, Don let them know the city got off easy. "I said I know what went on there," he recalls. "I saw her plans approved and delayed. I know that with the right approach Margaret can win. I believe that. Some people could go to jail.That's why they changed their tune."
Other business owners have not been so lucky, or obstinate. Bubba Robertson says he "lost part of [his] livelihood" when the city rezoned his bar property as residential. Now he's just trying to sell it for what his father paid for it in 1949. "The tactics they use to drive them out of business are atrocious," Don says. "Most people leave, they get disgusted and leave, and that's a shame."
But that's part of doing business. Hotels keep rising, joined by a new Signature Kroger, its logo in an elegant cursive that seems out of place in La Porte. Margaret can't understand why the city never saw that she's pro-development too. She also wanted to grow, expand and improve Blondie's.
She wants to remodel old homes. She enjoys the hours of building, of saving the old by means of the new, of working with her hands. When she was in the hospital, nurses told her, she threw a tantrum until someone fished through her smashed truck and brought her orange-handled hammer to her bedside. Margaret doesn't remember it, but she doesn't doubt it. She loves her tools, their weight in her hands. For now, she has started a cleaning company to scrape windows, wash walls, hang marble and otherwise polish the details right after a building has been constructed but before it opens. Her vision, though, is to bulldoze and start fresh with a quaint Blondie's bed-and-breakfast, complete with a home-cooking restaurant. And of course, the bar.
Except she's so tired of the bar. She wants her daughter Tanya Conner to run it, Tanya "the wild child" with her glimmering eyes so heavily outlined that she looks as if she's about to cry. Only Tanya doesn't want to run the bar, feels burdened by the thought of it. But she probably will, for a while at least, for her mother whom she mirrors so unintentionally. Tanya is the "bad one," the one with a broken marriage and two young children. Men approach her easily as they still do her mother, so many men, but none of them the right one. She, like her mom, just wants a good man and a better life for her kids. She is 31 now; Margaret was 31 when she first opened Blondie's.
If Margaret can help it, Blondie's will always be here at the corner of Fairmont and Eighth. Even after she's dead, she says, she wants her grandchildren to keep Blondie's open. A curse perhaps, with its troublesome past. A legacy for sure, of its unwavering founder.
"This is my hometown," Margaret says firmly. "I said, those sons of bitches just got here, and I ain't leaving."
E-mail Melissa Hung at email@example.com.
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