They say a good author can paint a detailed picture through his writing. I'll now go ahead and put my years of training to the test, and attempt to do just that. The reason I can't rely on pictures to tell today's story is because our hero (Joe) was not a fan of cellphones in his cafe, but we’ll get to him in just a moment.
First we need to rewind the clock 24-hours to when a trio of guys made their way over to our canoe. This in and of itself is not uncommon. Everyone must think canoeists have nothing but time on their hands because we get approached almost daily (and if we're living a clean life sometimes they give us pizza).
Leading the charge in a small, motorized boat was a man with giant sunglasses, and an even bigger sun hat. As he got closer I noticed he had pierced nipples and tattoos that ranged from a half sleeve on his right arm to a sun shaped design around his belly button. This was Gerty. Next to him sat Sam who, despite the hot weather, was dressed in pants, a long sleeve shirt, and wore a noticeably clean, dark blue, flat brim hat. The pair were also joined by Gerty’s dog, a small terrier mix, who had to be leashed so he wouldn't jump into the water (previously he tried to jump on an alligator). Paddling behind them in his own canoe came Charlie. Unfortunately we met and waved goodbye to Charlie here, because he was soon called away by his girlfriend.
The conversation started pretty routinely; Gerty asked us where we were going, how long we thought it would take, and where our next stop was. He then mentioned he had a boat house (which I am told is different from a house boat) a few "ponds" up, and slipped in he once underwent a seven-month adventure motoring down every tributary on the Mississippi River (way to sneak in that humble brag). He wrapped it up by offering a roof over our heads the next evening if we wanted to stop by his boat house. Unfortunately we had to decline (we were racing to Dubuque, Iowa to meet our cousins), and as we left we figured that's the last we'd see of the pair.
However, fate was not ready to let these two float away just yet. Roughly two hours later we saw the same boat /canoe combo waiting at the lock and dam. A barge was passing by, and Gerty explained we'd be stuck there for at least another hour. Before we had a chance to voice our displeasure he popped open his blue cooler, and offered us each an ice cold IPA (my favorite type of beer). Our conversation picked up where it left off, and we learned these two come up from Pittsburgh every summer to take part in some sort of water excursion. The pair originally met back in Pennsylvania, where they each work in a different part of the same complex. Gerty earns his money as a cabinet maker while Sam builds those Penny Press Machines you see at every tourist attraction. They were now looking for one last good camp spot because once they left the area Gerty was headed to the west coast (to act as a roadie for his wife's band), and Sam had a jugglers convention he had to go to with his dad (yea, we could have talked to these guys for hours). Finally, before they sailed off into the night they told us we had to stop by Fortunata's Coffee tomorrow, and say hello to their friend Joe.
I bet you weren't ready for a novel when you opened up this blog post.
Early to bed and early to rise, the following morning we skipped our traditional breakfast (oatmeal: we're high rollers), and paddled the maybe four miles down to Fountain City, Wisconsin. From there it was a short walk on South Main Street, and then up a ramp and into the restaurant. As we searched for someone who could help us I couldn't stop thinking we had wandered into a pioneer's cabin which had been plucked from the wilderness, and now served as a swanky coffee shop. There was a stove in the corner, wooden beams over our heads, and an openness you no longer see in today's homes. We were admiring the half of a VW bus sticking out the back of the building when a man emerged from a side room, and asked what he could help us with. This was Joe, and as we soon found out he owns Fortunata's.
Ready for this encounter for almost a day Trent quickly stepped up and explained how our new friend Gerty told us we needed to stop by. As soon as the words left his lips Joe's eyes lit up. He then rushed over to his wall to unpin a faded magazine, and with a sly grin told us, "Gerty" wasn't the man's real name. It was Randy, and if we thought he was interesting before we needed to read how he survived the Mekong River in Vietnam. Unfortunately I don't have many details on this. While I was told I could bring the magazine out on the deck, I never got around to reading it. If you want to do your own research (that's right I'm making you work a little) his name is Randy Tonjum.
Sipping from his thermos Joe stood on the deck, and began firing questions at us while we drank our iced coffees and feverishly ate our blueberry muffins (give us a break, we hadn't eaten breakfast yet). We explained our story, but quickly switched roles once Joe mentioned he had once bused out to Alaska only to have his VW go up in flames. We then found out Joe was from Minneapolis, and while he loved his shop he was ready to pass it off to anyone (even us) and go on his next great adventure.
We continued to exchange questions, and as the regulars started to arrive Joe simultaneously filled the three roles of interviewer, barista, and entertainer. He could also sense that although we didn't want to leave we needed to get back on the river. As I finished my last sip of coffee our new friend swept us out of the room, and into a back workshop where he stored some old canoes he had built himself. He then insisted we take one of his old paddles as an emergency replacement, and packaged us a pound of coffee to enjoy along our trip.
We thanked him again for his hospitality, and to no avail ran through different ways we could repay him. Joe would have none of it. Our fellow Italian wanted only two things: for us to enjoy his coffee, and to be careful who we trust. Done and done.
For his final trick he then cracked open an old record player (it's called something fancy) from the 1800's and played us a tune. We shook his hand one last time, and with huge smiles we walked back down the ramp and into our canoe.
Joe if you're reading this thank you. The world is filled with guardian angels, and ours that day was a tough Minneapolis native who makes one heck of a cup of coffee.