The new Asian restaurant I wanted to take Manyu for her birthday was closed. A note taped to the door read “On vacation: back Saturday, June 22.” Manyu’s birthday, of course, is the 21st. Clare had come from Madison to help her mom celebrate, so now my wife, my daughter, and I were on the Northside of La Crosse unsure about where to eat. La Crosse is not a big city, but the Northside of town is still unfamiliar turf for a Southsider like me. 

I turned to Manyu and asked, “Didn’t you tell me that Tom and Relenda like a little restaurant in the back of a Hmong grocery store on George Street?” Tom and Relenda were friends of ours. They didn’t live on the Northside either, but they did dine out more often than Manyu and I. 

“Tom likes it,” my wife replied. “Relenda thinks it’s creepy.”

“Well,” I said, “it is your birthday. Do you feel like creepy?”

“Sure, but I don’t know where it is.”

Clare immediately spoke up. “I can find it on my phone,” she said. “What is it called?”

“Yang something,” said Manyu. “I think maybe Yang’s Grocery.”

“I got it,” said Clare. “Yang’s Market. It is near George Street, but not right on it. Get on George Street, and then turn left onto Sill.”

I got on George Street and turned left onto Sill. Clare then said, “Okay, now take the first street to the right. Now, now! You already missed it.”

“That wasn’t a street,” I said. “That was an alley.”

“Yeah,” said Manyu. “I think Relenda told me it was in an alley.” This was unexpected. La Crosse doesn’t have many businesses in alleys. I could not, in fact, think of any. 

I drove around the block and entered the alley from the back. Yang’s Market wasn’t even on the alley. It was on an alley off the alley. I was liking this place already. After parking the car in one of three available parking slots, we walked up to a pair of doors. One had a sign that read “Employees Only.” The other had a sign that read, “Entrance.”

Manyu, Clare, and I opened the “Entrance” door and stepped into a Hmong grocery store that was indistinguishable from a half dozen other Asian markets in town. Narrow aisles, insufficient lighting, twenty-five and fifty pound bags of rice stacked on pallets in the same way that other markets might display charcoal briquets and water softener pellets. On the wall just inside the door was a pair of signs, both handwritten. One read “No backpacks,” the other “Only three teenagers in the store at a time.” Apparently the proprietor had problems with shoplifting. I was not surprised, as there was no one working the cash register. There was no one in the store at all. 

There also wasn’t, as far as I could tell, a restaurant.

To be Continued…

Steven Simpson