We Never Get Used To It, Do We?

After spending the past few days feeling like I’d been donkey-kicked in the noggin, I popped a Vitamin D this morning. Finally, I feel better. It’s (-11) degrees outside and I think my body is telling me it can’t handle much more winter.

I have to tell myself it won’t be long until the lakes thaw and the Minnesota Twins open Target Field. The snow? That’s going to be here until July, but we’ll make do. The parks will open along with the golf courses, while shorts and flip flops will replace long underwear, slacks and dress shoes. Jack Johnson, the Zac Brown Band and Jimmy Buffett will provide the soundtrack. Finally, Twin Citizens will be able to park on both sides of the road, no just the odd-numbered side.

And me? I won’t have to pop Vitamin D pills to get my mind right.

Had a nice chat with a taxi driver the other night coming home from the airport. He was born in Somalia but moved to Minneapolis when he was 11. (He must’ve been in his early 20s.) I told him this was my first winter back in Minneapolis after living in Portland last year.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “We never get used to it, do we? Just when you think you’re used to it, it’s spring.”

And then it’s warm. Insufferably warm. Pollen coats cars, sidewalks and windows and the air conditioning can’t get cold enough. Your dashboard nearly buckles under the harsh sun rays and just when the temperature becomes comfortable, the wind comes up. There’s thunderstorms – big, rumbling, untimely thunderstorms to interrupt softball games, picnics and weddings. And the humidity. That godawful humidity, only made worse by the swarms of mosquitoes.

We never get used to it, do we?

Jason DeRusha — The Rare Broadcast Journalist Who Gets It

Good journalism is hard to find, especially on television.

A career in broadcast journalism usually equates bouncing from market to market every few years, so by the time a reporter finally gets a grasp of the community they’re serving, it’s on to the next city. It’s a tough gig to be sure, and few do it well.

Jason DeRusha does it well. Really well.

I’ve settled on DeRusha and WCCO-TV as my go-to TV news source in the Twin Cities. He’s been in the local market since 2003, acting more as a concerned citizen than the know-it-all news guy. DeRusha’s bursting with curiosity — an essential trait for any journalist — and that’s most apparent during his Good Question segment, which seeks to answer viewer submitted queries that run the gammut.

Last night, DeRusha took on a tough one — “Why have so many Somalis chosen to come here?” Most journalists would avoid the question in the name of cultural sensitivity, but DeRusha went for the jugular:

It is perhaps the least likely place to find tens of thousands of African refugees: the cold, snowy, middle of America. So why are there so many Somalis in Minnesota? … The Somalis are here as legal refugees, largely. The Somalis Minnesota story tracks to 1991, when civil war broke out in Somalia. Millions fled to refugee camps, many in Kenya. Two years later, the first wave of Somali refugees were sent to Minnesota.

Is it a sensational story? Is it riddled in scandal, sex, crime, blood — the accoutrement we expect to make the 10 p.m. news? No. But it’s answering a matter of public curiosity with facts and research — you know, actual journalism.

Kudos to DeRusha and WCCO-TV for winning this viewer over. Why can’t we get more broadcast journalists like him?

Good question.

The Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium? I Was There

I went to last night’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium so I could say, for the rest of my life, I was at the game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium.

I didn’t intend on going until late afternoon, when a co-worker not-so-gently coerced me into looking for tickets. I posted an inquiry on Facebook and within 15 minutes we had two upper level tickets for $40 a pop. We darted to Target to buy long johns, wool socks and hand warmers. We caught a few pre-game drinks at Sally’s nearby the stadium. We gaped at the stadium itself, illuminated by the falling snow and electricity of a fan base that had been subjected to indoor football for three decades.

Of course, the Vikings got smoked 40-14.

The game was meaningless to the Vikings, but it wasn’t without intrigue. It was their first outdoor home game since December 20, 1981. It may have been Brett Favre’s last start, despite being ruled out 48 hours to kickoff with a bum shoulder. It was a night the franchise celebrated it’s 50 best players in the team’s 50-year history.

It was a spectacle, albeit a drunken one. We sat by a gang of buffoons who felt it necessary to throw snowballs at innocent Bears fans while yelling things I’ve never before heard at a sporting event. (“Run like you’re a second grader!” and “F_ck you, Chicago!”) We saw paramedics working on several fallen comrades throughout the stadium. We saw liquor-dispensing gadgets that must’ve been invented by Q from the James Bond movies.

Was it cold? It was tolerable. There was a light snow which turned to drizzle, very little wind and the temperature hovered in the 20s all night. On TV, the field appeared a sheet of ice and the players appeared on the verge of frost bite. Someday, I’ll feel inclined to fudge the details — just as generations before me did with Metropolitan Stadium folklore — and say it was in fact a blizzard, the wind was whipping and it was so cold, you could see your breath turn to snow if not for the zero visibility.

The question was asked last night where the TCF Bank Stadium game would rank on my list of all-time best fan experiences. I have been privileged to see a lot of great players and a lot of great teams in some of the most historic sports arenas in the country. (To clarify, I’m not talking about the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.) I would rank last night’s game as the best fan experience of my life. It brought together past, present and future in football’s version of Back To The Future. It felt like a game at the Met, but it also felt like a game at the Vikings’ next outdoor stadium (if it ever gets built).

You buy a ticket to see something memorable. You might see a 40-14 drubbing. You might see the greatest quarterback of all time make the last start of his career. You might see shirtless men in 20-degree weather. You might see something no one’s seen for 29 years.

Last night, I saw it all.

Kluwe Cries Foul in Fear of Player Safety at TCF Bank Stadium

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe is worried about player safety tonight.

Yesterday, after the Vikings held a walkthrough at TCF Bank Stadium to test field conditions, Kluwe tweeted the field was “unplayable,” adding, “The field is as hard as concrete an hour and a half after they took the tarp off, and anyone that hits their head is getting a concussion.”

Thousands of people — many of whom were temp workers – worked around the clock the past week to help remove the 17 inches of snow that fell on the Twin Cities last weekend. A few weeks previous, TCF Bank Stadium had been winterized and put into hibernation until spring, but when the Vikings faced playing a second straight home game outside of Minneapolis, a deal was made to revive/thaw the field for one more game. In Minneapolis, it’s being considered the sporting event of the year, even if the Vikings are 5-8 and out of the playoff picture.

Back to Kluwe. He’s right in that the NFL should’ve considered moving the game if player safety is the concern they claim it is. However, everyone outside of Kluwe — who won’t be a part of more than eight or nine plays — claims the field is hard, but playable. Maybe everyone else is playing tough guy, though.

You know what drives me up the wall? Football players who refuse to wear long sleeves when it’s freezing out. They have no problem gathering around the portable heater or heated bench on the sideline, but when they’re in the game, they wouldn’t be caught dead whilst properly dressed for the conditions. Wearing long sleeves in a commercial? Well, money talks:

Luckily for both teams, it’s supposed to snow 4-6 inches today and overnight. That could create more padding on the field, but more importantly, it’ll keep the temperature up. (Pardon the meteorological nerdery.) Monday’s forecast has gotten a little warmer each day since TCF Bank Stadium was officially named the site of tonight’s game. Originally, the guess was anywhere from 5-10 degrees at kickoff with something like a (-15) wind chill. If that was the case, players could’ve suffered frost bite to exposed skin in 45 minutes or less.

Kind of offsets Kluwe’s concerns about player safety, doesn’t it? Hard to ask the NFL to move a game hundreds of miles to Indianapolis or St. Louis for player safety when half your team refuses to put on a long-sleeve shirt like petulant children.

In 2002, I played in a high school football game where the temperature was 12 degrees. The field was actually frozen — our cleats were more like tap-dance shoes, unable to penetrate the rock-hard sod. We wore layer over layer and huddled around a propane space heater at every chance. On punts, the ball would bounce upward as if it’d landed in a parking lot. We won that game, no one suffered frost bite, and — most importantly — no one got a concussion.

It’s not something I would ever want to do again, but it wasn’t “unplayable” like Kluwe would probably claim.

I Got The Job

Today seems like a fitting day to announce I’ve accepted a job offer at Fast Horse. Effective mid-January once my internshipexpires, I’ll be hopping on full time as an Associate.

I waited until today to break the news — I found out last Friday — because it’s Lose the Laptop Day at Fast Horse, which is ironic considering laptops had everything to do with me earning my internship and eventual employment. The reason I’m so excited about this job opportunity is for the fact I work at an agency that stays on the cutting edge, but not without challenging itself to get better. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, the whole staff is working away from their computers. That’s like an auto repair shop saying, “All right guys, no drills today.”

But as with mechanics and their power tools, marketing and public relations existed long before the Internet. It’s a relationship industry, after all, and while social media makes it easier to maintain contact, Lose the Laptop Day forces us to go out and engage, to meet people, to re-hash friendships, to learn the world we’re selling to, to be a consumer, to be inspired. We’re channeling our inner Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons, as my boss writes.

This isn’t a stunt or a drill. This is an exercise about checks and balances, well-roundedness, self-awareness, moxie and avoiding complacency when it’s just so damn cozy. Forget an arbitrary seminar, workshop or motivational speaker — we’re living the lesson today.

So, thank you, again, to everyone who voted in the Intern Search back in June. Every week, I seem to meet a new person who voted in the contest. Recently, the conversations would end with me saying, “Now I just I hope I get the job,” and I would walk away a bit sullen, fearful of the reality things might not shake out the way I’d hoped.

But, I got the job. Holy shit, I got the job. Thanks again!

[Powers laptop down.]

Mayor R.T. Rybak Sticks It To Greedy Tow-truck Terrorists

I’ve been towed exactly seven times in my life. Each time, it’s been a kick in the pants, because you never want to be in a position where a) someone has taken your vehicle without asking and b) they want a lot of money before they return it. That’s a ransom where I come from.

Approximately 400 vehicles were towed in Minneapolis over the weekend. A total of 17.1 inches of snow fell on the city, leaving many vehicles stuck during the snow emergency. The good news is Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak offered amnesty to anyone who was towed over the weekend, citing in many cases that vehicles couldn’t be moved because the streets simply wouldn’t allow it; stuck not by negligence but by Mother Nature.

So, high-five, Mayor. Thanks for preventing the tow-truck terrorists from fleecing helpless citizens.

No one’s ever happy to call a towing company and I can’t imagine a more miserable job than receptionist at a towing company. It’s a business of doom and gloom, legalized robbery, a damn racket. What never ceases to amaze me are the names these towing companies go by. In the Twin Cities, we have:

  • Always Available Towing — Seems like more of a threat than an assurance.
  • Cheap Towing — Define “cheap.”
  • Yeah Buddy Towing RecoveryTowing like a big shot?
  • A+ Towing Inc. Not a lot of A+’s in the towing industry, you know?
  • Gopher Towing — If the name was literal, I’d pay double to see that.

We’re blessed to have an off-the-street parking so we don’t have to park on the odd-numbered side of even-numbered streets running North or Northwest during the waning crescent if it’s a Tuesday in the second week of the month in an odd-number year if you’re a Libra and you live in a zip code with a square root between 245 and 247. Sure, MnDOT’s gone gangbusters on the social media front to help inform the general public of snow emergencies and dangerous travel conditions, but snow emergency parking procedure reads like an algorithm, and I can’t handle that math.

I’m just an English grad.

The Metrodome Blizzard, Or, That Just Happened

A foot-and-a-half of snow fell on the Twin Cities before the Metrodome’s Teflon roof buckled early Sunday morning, providing one hell of a finale for the city’s fifth largest snowstorm on record.

There’s plenty of takeaways from this catastrophic event, and not the least of these is what happens to the Minnesota Vikings for their remaining home games. Yesterday’s bout with the New York Giants was pushed back on Saturday when officials feared the facility wouldn’t be safe for a noon start on Sunday. (Good looking out.) After the roof caved, the game was moved to tonight at Ford Field in Detroit, thus eliminating home-field advantage.

Now, there’s concern the dome won’t be repaired in time for next Monday’s game against the Chicago Bears, raising the possibility, however remote, the game will be moved to TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

Of course, the timing couldn’t be better. Better, because the Vikings are unlikely to make the playoffs, so they’ll avoid any playoff berth without a home. Also, if the Vikings should venture over to The Bank, it would give fans/voters a chance to see what outdoor football in late December is really about. The Vikings’ Metrodome lease expires after next season and ownership has said they will not renew as they wait for a stadium bill to pass. Given this weekend’s weather, perhaps ownership will think twice about romanticizing outdoor football.

Here’s what I’m taking away from The Blizzard That Did In The Dome:

  1. Most of residential Northeast Minneapolis was left to single-lane traffic, making it extremely difficult to back out of driveways or turn corners. It was more snow than the city could immediately handle, so discouraging all travel made sense. The problem is the city can say no travel, but that’s not practical because people need to go places. My heart goes out to anyone who got stuck on their way to work. There should be a state law forbidding employees be punished if they cannot make it to work while there’s a no travel advisory.
  2. Shoveling isn’t so bad. It’s a great workout and you get to see your progress along the way. We live on a corner which means we have to shovel more than most, but it’s pretty cool to see the sidewalk with four-foot mounds of snow surrounding it. It’s like walking through a maze.
  3. Twitter was nothing short of entertaining — at first. Starting Friday, locals went mad with hyperbole, making fun of the severe forecast and basically retelling the same stupid jokes over and over. Someone died in this storm. Someone lost their job because of this storm. Imagine if the Metrodome had collapsed during a game. This was not the storm for hyperbole — its severity couldn’t be overstated. So, ultimately, clowns who made jokes about the storm — myself included — wound up looking like ignorant, insensitive buffoons.
  4. I admit it was nice having the winter off from shoveling last year in Portland. However, the best thing about a storm like this weekend’s is you get to see strangers helping strangers. Make it a personal mandate to help someone else if someone has helped you. The only way we’ll survive this winter — which starts Dec. 21 — is by paying it forward.

I’m Back in the Saloon (Again)

That's a mix of Blue Steel and the no-look pour.

I’m doing everything I can to hang on to the job title “bartender.”

I’m something less than part-time right now — most accurately, an on-call bartender — but even after a particularly taxing week at work, I can’t wait to shoot down to Mankato tonight to spend a couple nights slinging drinks to college kids.

I’ve written about my affinity for working at South Street before. I’ve since put in a few shifts only to find I’m getting older and college kids are staying the same age. More depressingly, the only people I know in Mankato anymore are those I get to work with at South Street. It’s good to see them, but it’d be nice to serve an old friend now and then. Apparently, they’ve all graduated and moved away.

My most recent shift at South Street was about a month ago on a Sunday night. Business was slow and I didn’t see a single familiar face, save for my girlfriend’s. I had to work at 9 a.m. the next morning and didn’t make it back to Minneapolis until about 5 a.m. All told, I drove 160 miles to work a five-hour shift for just $43 in tips. On the way home, I started thinking maybe I should hang it up. Maybe the thrill is gone. Maybe it’s time to put the bartender shtick behind me.

But I can’t quit it.

It’s graduation weekend in Mankato, and hundreds of mid-year grads will pretend this is their last night in town before they set off for an adult life with full-time expectations. Sure, they’ll visit for homecoming, but they’re putting college in the rearview, thinking about bigger and better things. Who can blame them?

I did that. I did that twice. I graduated, then stuck around Mankato to dabble in graduate school, then moved to Portland and came back again. Now, I get to Mankato whenever I can, usually to work the same job that carried me through college. Maybe I’m the loser. Maybe I’m the one who should grow up. Maybe I should put bartending in the rearview.

But why?

I love the sense of community I feel at South Street or any bar, for that matter. My parents owned a sports bar during my formative years, and though the crowd was drastically different than South Street’s, I admired the way my mom and dad would float throughout the bar, saying hello to regulars and always meeting new people, organizing events like the Bogey’s Golf Tournament or the Bogey’s Super Bowl Party. I started working at a bar when I was 12 years old, filing dried-up cheese and ketchup off dinner plates for $3.25 an hour. Forget college — maybe working at a bar reminds me of my childhood.

Maybe I have nothing to apologize for, because I’m now closer to 30 than 20 and I don’t want to end up a bitter middle-aged man who too hastily let go of the things that made him happy. If anything, I’m lucky. It’s not like I’m trying to sneak my way into the Minnesota State University intramural basketball league or the Gage dormitory, for that matter.

I’m trying to play some loud music while pouring a few drinks with my friends, maybe while having a few of my own. There are worse ways one can make a buck.

A Bitterly Cold Winter – Just The Way We Like It

As I write this, it’s no degrees out. It’s neither above or below zero – it is zero. As Minneapolis winters go, this one’s already proving to be quite the brute, and that’s saying something.

For those of you living below the Mason-Dixon Line who see the national weather forecast and think, “Man, why the hell would anyone live in those conditions?” – let me offer a little context:

  1. Intense cold is better than intense heat. No, really. If you want to be appalled by a climate, move to Tucson. Below-zero weather may be unpleasant at first, but you can dress for it. If you’ve got a down jacket, gloves and a hat, you can survive almost anything. As for intense heat? Lest you live in a nudist colony, there’s not much you can do when it’s 107 degrees out, dry heat or not.
  2. Cold brings out the good in people. Yesterday, for instance, I got stuck backing out of my driveway. Whenever the streets get plowed, it leaves a wicked wall of snow packed at the end of my driveway. I had forgotten about the Great Wall of Snow and wound up spinning my wheels for a few minutes. Then, a neighbor across the street came out, started shoveling the snow out from underneath my tires and helped push me loose. Never met him. Never asked for anything in return. Minnesota Nice, maybe, but I give credit to the weather.
  3. What does (-24) degrees feel like? No different than zero or five or 10 degrees. As soon as you get below 15, it’s all the same. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. (That is, assuming it’s not windy. If it’s windy and (-24) degrees out, you better have good survival instincts and a love for the indoors.
  4. We’re really proud of the cold weather. Discussing weather is actually one of the biggest hobbies in the region. Try going to a liquor store, video rental store or grocery store before an Alberta clipper is about to bear down – we don’t mind being forced inside. In many cases, it brings us out. Drive along a country highway at night from December through February and you’ll get used to seeing the snowmobile headlights in ditches. Don’t even get me started on hockey.

So, while this winter has already shown it’s teeth in the first week of December, I’m not complaining. Coffee, beer and soup never taste better than when it’s cold and seeing your breath is – admit it, no matter how childish – pretty cool. And in general, we’re pretty boring people up here in the frozen tundra. If nothing else, the extreme climate gives us a mystique, an aura, a reputation.

Tough, though? Hardly. You should hear us whine at the first sign of a summer heat wave.

Atmosphere at First Avenue on Nov. 28

Two firsts on Sunday night: My first Atmosphere show and my first show at legendary First Avenue.

The concert was gravy, because a few hours before the show, I stopped by Fifth Element to buy a shirt. Slug, Atmosphere’s emcee, was hanging out, talking merchandise with the store manager. I have no autograph or picture or cool story to tell. I said, “See you tonight, man.” He said, “Aw, cool, thanks.”

For just a moment, I felt like an 11-year-old girl. I’m rarely star-struck, but that was pretty damn cool.