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BEST PLACE TO GO FOR A DRINK AT 8:00 A.M. Minneapolis 1999 -

At 8:00 a.m. almost any day, a steady ant-line of cars flows into the parking lot of the Polish Palace in Nordeast. Mostly American makes, Fords and Chevys, with a few older-model Toyotas thrown in. Behind the wheels are public servants--law enforcers and postal workers--coming off the night shift. Their holsters and tan shirts are stuffed in their duffel bags or hanging up in their lockers, but all these folks wear a uniform recognized by the Polish Palace staff--that of the Hard Worker deserving of a drink. Some sit at packed tables presided over by an honorary emcee. Others sip a drink and do a crossword puzzle. However you choose to wind down is fine with the bartender, who cheerfully snaps his bar rag and reigns over the joint: Tell him your name once and he won't forget it. The patrons, by and large, know each other, but they're still welcoming to newcomers, especially fellow third-shifters. However, they may stretch the truth a little to the uninitiated, especially with the "Too bad, the nurses aren't here today" line, commonly accompanied by a wink and an elbow jab. The age-old fantasies live on, even in the early morning.

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