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On Thursday, when Beek's burned, people gathered across the street to watch, as people will.

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Lileks: Something was different at this fire

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS
  • Star Tribune
  • January 26, 2013 - 4:59 PM

The day after the pizza place burned, smoke still hung in the air as residents lamented the loss of a neighborhood fixture.

There. By law that must be the first sentence of any story about a fire. Smoke hangs and neighbors lament. But it's the truth. Outside Beek's Pizza on South Lyndale Friday morning, it stunk, and describing it sounds like an entry in a pretentious whiskey-taster's guide: Top notes of charred wood, hair, ancient grease, overtaxed electrical generators. The stench shut down the grocery store across the street for a while. Cars cruised past slowly like mourners at a coffin.

Cranes will come and claw it down, and the familiar face of the street will look like a friend who lost a tooth.

"It's always the mom-and-pop places that go," said a clerk at the liquor store up the block. "You never hear, 'Hey, the Wal-Mart burned down.' "

True. And you might not care if it did, aside from the people thrown out of work, because they can toss up another and it'll look the same. Each of these old neighborhood buildings is unique.

The pizza joint and adjacent rental store weren't special -- they looked like someone stuccoed a building with his eyes closed -- but they'd held down the spot for half a century. Kids liked it. Grandpas remembered it. No small accomplishment.

Well, things burn. It's sad, and then they pave over the hole; that's been the case for millennia. There's a new twist, though.

On Thursday, when Beek's burned, people gathered across the street to watch, as people will. You can no more look away from a big fire than you can from a tiger in your back yard. But they were watching it through their phones -- taking videos, snapping pictures for Facebook, texting, updating, uploading, selecting a vintage filter so it looked like a fire from 1972, wondering if the hashtag should be #fire or #OMGsad. That's natural nowadays. But you sensed that people'd be less likely to watch if they couldn't post it somewhere.

This includes yours truly, who's as bad as everyone else. It makes you resolve to leave your device at home for a day and cut yourself off from the great voracious network we feel compelled to feed.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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