Archive for August, 2006

Unfinished Business

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Weather: Sunny, warm, and humid.

Sportsman's Pub, Como Ave., SE Minneapolis
Now, how can I resist a challenge like that?

Tonight I rode Ramble Plan One again. It will be the last time for at least two weeks. Why? Because the Minnesota State Fair is upon us, and the traffic around the halfway point of RP1 is going to become unbearable, starting tomorrow.

The Minnesota State Fair is one of the biggest in the country. At least, that’s what the local media keep telling us. For all I know, they may be right.

I stopped going years ago, because of the immense crowds and total lack of free parking. I have never liked going anywhere that I have to pay for parking, only to brush up against countless other humans to get where I am going, and see what I want to see.

Who’s definition of fun is that?

So tonight, I set out to savor this Ramble Plan One, and attend to some Unfinished Business. First stop, just like last time, was The Sportsman’s. Tonight, as promised, I ordered their vaunted “Not for Sissies Chili”.

Lovely Lindsay delivered a bowl to my table that looked like this:

The Sportsman's Chili... Not for Sissies!
How about that presentation?

If you put your face right up against your computer screen, you might just be able to smell it.

Click on the photo to enlarge it, and you may just want to lick that screen. Mmmmmmm… Go ahead, I won’t tell.

By the time I was finished with this bowl, my forehead was beaded in sweat, and my nose was running. You know you’re eating real chili when you end up chewing on hot pepper seeds all night long.

I know there are some of you Texans out there, searching that image for a trace of bean. Well, let me save you the trouble…

Yeah, Tex, there are a few kidney beans in there. Not my favorite, I’ll admit. But the Sportsman manages to minimize the presence of the hated bean by the other flavors in this incendiary concoction. The meat is simply spiced ground beef too. Not the brisket or steak that you prefer, you oil-rich bastard.

You see, most Minnesotans demand beans in their chili. I’m not sure why. The classic, competition definition of chili, with just lean meat and pepper sauce, doesn’t play well here in the snow belt.

Minnesotans tend to make something called “Hot Dish” out of any food staple they don’t understand. The historic need for jerky with pepper sauce just wasn’t here. So they added stuff to make it more nutritional, and boost the calorie count against the cold of winter. It’s a Scandiwegian thang, I think, and you just wouldn’t understand.

Awww… Just turn around, Tex, and mosey on home. This ain’t for you.

Timeless dive decor...
How authentic is that? The decorator must have cost them a fortune!

Anyway, here’s another thing that I liked about The Sportsman: The bar itself is ancient wood, with long-forgotten declarations of love and lunacy carved in it’s surface. They have done nothing to cover anything up, which only adds to the charm.

The decor hasn’t changed for decades, except by accident of accumulation and advertising. Old animal heads adorn some of the walls, to give credence to The Sportsman’s name. The locals who gather here, and prefer to remain anonymous, are people of vivid character. Not a single SUV-driving, cred-seeking yuppie amongst them.

The road construction is certainly hurting business, but it looks to me like the local trade will sustain them. I hope so. My hoary old maxim: “Nothing Cool Ever Lasts” cannot prevail here. It just can’t.

I’ll be back, when The Fair is over. I promise.

On Turning 43…

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Frogwing and I both turned 43 this weekend.

He turned over 43,000 miles, and I turned over 43 years old. Both of us at the approximate halfway point in our lives. Serendipity, that. So to celebrate, we went riding.

I forgot the camera.

That’s alright, though, in a way. It allowed us an uninterrupted flow as we wandered down roads we have haunted together over the past three years. Yes, Frogwing is only three years old. I fear I am using him up too fast.

We rode past the house my parents lived in as a young married couple, with a baby me to deal with. Then we rode past the apartment they moved to later on, for reasons I forgot to ask about. Am I getting absent-minded in my middle age? Maybe I had better start paying attention to all the ads… I’m sure somebody makes a pill for this.

Although my weekend was three days long, it all passed by in a flash. I slept much of it away, because insomnia has been dogging me for the last few weeks.

I would hate to think this had anything to do with the birthday just past, but I suppose it does. Wide awake during the wee hours, in the dark, I surrender to the temptation to take inventory.

There is no greater critic than he who knows all your secrets. Sometimes it feels like being judged in front of the pearly gates, if you believe in that sort of thing.

So here I sit, in the attic, in the dark yet again, tapping away when I should be sleeping. I feel another Ramble Plan coming on. This one will take in those places I mentioned, as they are all relatively local, and easily within range of a Rush Hour Ramble.

Maybe this will help me to find some peace when the lights go out. Let’s hope so. Oh, and this time I will remember to take the camera.

Ramble Plan One: Como Cruise

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

Weather: Monotonously Perfect

Scarlet O'Baron at the Como Conservatory
One of the most interesting buildings in the Twin Cities:
The Como Conservatory

I think I am finally learning to love this place where I live.

For so many years, it has been a strained relationship. I have ridden through and past so much of it, on my way to somewhere else, and I’ve seldom stopped to investigate the history of this place that I call home. Because I was born and raised here, I seem to have taken it for granted.

I’ve always kind of resented the wildly changing weather, and because we don’t have an ocean or mountains nearby, it just seemed like flyover land to me. But tonight, on my way home, riding a new route, I was a tourist in my own hometown. It was quite an epiphany.

The traffic was moderate to heavy, and it didn’t really bother me at all. Since these were strange roads to me, I didn’t have any need or desire to ride fast on them. Potholes abound, and the patchwork repairs are pretty rugged, so Scarlet and I spent a lot of time dodging and darting. This caused the drivers behind us to back off a bit, and give us some room to maneuver.

Ramble Plan One was conceived out of my boredom and subsequent hubris with the familiar river roads that I have been riding now for so many years. I know it so well, I was beginning to treat that route as my own personal race-course, and I resented every four-wheeled vehicle I encountered out there. That was a problem.

So I sat down with Mapquest and Google Earth, and planned a commute which would take me through some of the Twin Cities’ older neighborhoods. Since Como Avenue figured prominently in this route, I decided to call it the Como Cruise.

Crossing the Mississippi River at the 8th Street Bridge, Scarlet and I departed from our usual route right there. Turning right on Marshall/Main St., we followed that to Hennepin, and went left, past Nye’s Polonaise and then Betty’s Bikes and Buns. So many cool places, but we couldn’t stop at them all.

We turned off Hennepin at SE 12th Avenue, and followed that a couple of blocks to SE Como Avenue. This is the road that would take us from Minneapolis into Saint Paul.

The houses along Como Avenue have been here a long time. There are mom & pop shops, garages, neighborhood pubs and cafes all along the way. At one point, the road was closed for construction, and at the detour was a place called the Sportsman’s Pub. The sign caught my attention, because it said: “Try my chili… It’s not for sissies!”

I just had to stop there.

The PBR was cold, and the chili was as hot as you can serve these days without risking a lawsuit. I asked for only a small sample, because my dinner plans were elsewhere. But I will definitely be back for a full bowl of this spicy, tasty dish. I’ll even try to get a photo, so you can share it with me here.

Farther down Como Avenue, after the detour, past the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, we entered Como Park. Here is the zoo to which I took Emily on one of our recent scooter expeditions. Here also is the Como Conservatory, which is pictured at the top of the page. As interesting as the outside of this building is, the inside is even more fascinating.

While the zoo displays fauna from all over the world, the Conservatory does the same with flora. All sorts of exotic trees, flowers, vines, and shrubbery thrive under the care of professional botanists within the greenhouse environment, year-round. It is a place I visit much too seldom, and now that I am going to ride past it on my way home from work some evenings, I think I may become a regular visitor. The aromas in that place, along with the oxygen-rich atmosphere, have a calming effect that is a balm to traffic-rattled nerves.

From Como Avenue then, a right on Lexington Parkway took us into the heart of Saint Paul. The traffic is heavy, but well-behaved on this road. I don’t know why. Maybe it is the cathedral effect of the big trees that line the road. Regardless, it was a pleasant ride to Randolph Street, where we turned left and headed towards downtown.

West Seventh Street is still a bastion of old-time Saint Paul charm. Because of their proximity to the river, the streets are cut at odd angles, which makes some of the architecture quite interesting to behold. There are trapezoidal structures, and wedge-shaped buildings on the corners. I couldn’t get a good photograph tonight, due to the heavy traffic, but rest assured I will, eventually.

My dinner stop was a place called Joe and Stan’s Home Cooking Cafe.

Taco Night at Joe and Stan's...

Tonight was Taco Night, and a large, fried flour tortilla filled with fresh, spicy ground beef, lettuce, tomato and lots of cheese cost me two bucks. All the nightly dinner specials at Joe and Stan’s are two bucks. That’s right… incredible. Tomorrow night is spaghetti and meatballs. Maybe I should just tell Amy to quit grocery shopping and just meet me here every night for dinner.

Owner John Kelly tells me that he kept the name Joe and Stan’s because of the long-established clientele. I was one of the youngest people in the joint. The sound system seemed to be stuck in 1975 or so. I heard songs in there tonight that made me feel the first stirrings of adolescent lust all over again.

After dinner, Scarlet and I rode home over the familiar High Bridge route, but something had changed. I was noticing details that I had overlooked before. Like the cobblestones and short length of old streetcar rail that was visible in one certain pothole, in front of the Old Man River Cafe. Like the way the houses all looked different, because they were built by different people, to unique blueprints, rather than the cookie-cutter crap we have to settle for today.

Ramble Plan One was a smashing success, in so many ways. I don’t know how I’m going to top it, but I’m going to give it a hell of a try. Being a tourist in your own hometown is a rewarding experience. You should try it sometime.