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.

50 Tyson’s Sudden Fame Raises Concerns Over Handlers

I live about three blocks from Edison High School, where one of the most popular rap artists on YouTube is a senior.

Antonio Henderson-Davis, 17, is better known as 50 Tyson. His viral YouTube videoshave been viewed more than 10 million times, he’s been featured on Comedy Central’s Tosh.0 and even landed a record deal with former NBA point guard Troy Hudson‘s label.

One more thing: 50 Tyson has autism.

On Sunday, the Star Tribune ran a feature on Henderson-Davis and the story is now free online. It’s a gripping tale about the autistic teenager, bombarded by newfound fame, whose eager to please. He’s surrounded by watchful parents, concerned teachers, supportive classmates and handlers, like Hudson, who may or may not have his best interests in mind.

You can read the story here. And if you do read it, I’m curious what you think. Please come back and comment.

 

The Fire Frazier Campaign: Well, That Escalated Quickly

I don't really believe Leslie Frazier should be fired. However, I question the hiring of anyone who participated in the Super Bowl Shuffle.

The Internet is completely wacked.

Consider: Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf fired head coach Brad Childress yesterday, and before newly promoted interim head coach Leslie Frazier held his first press conference, I’d already registered and began tweeting from @fire_frazier.

It started as a joke between a few co-workers, as we’re in the business of making things catch fire. Attempts to make things go viral often fail, but this ludicrous Twitter handle had potential. After all, it was completely bunk to call for the head of a coach who hadn’t even held an official practice, no less coached a game. I saw @fire_frazier as a poke at irrational Vikings fans who were willing to blame Childress for every last failure, not acknowledging some, if not most, of the blame should’ve fell on his underachieving team.

So, who started following @fire_frazier on Twitter?

  • MinnPost.com
  • DJ Tony Fly of 96.3 FM NOW
  • Rob Olson, sports reporter for KMSP-TV Fox 9
  • Jason DeRusha, reporter for WCCO-TV
  • Brandon Warne, founder of TwinsMVB.com

@fire_frazier was also mentioned or retweeted by:

  • Erik Perkins, anchor for KARE 11
  • Joe “Phunn” Anderson, host on ESPN 1500AM
  • Dave Schwartz, sports reporter for KARE 11
  • Lynn University Sports Management in Boca Raton, Florida

Remember the Chicago Sun-Times story the week of the Vikings-Bears game? Bears beat writer Sean Jensen, formerly of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, wrote that Childress had long ago lost the locker room and included quotes and sentiments from six unnamed Vikings players who admitted they’d be happy to see him go. Jensen wasn’t so impressed with @fire_frazier:

@fire_frazier was even mentioned during Fox 9’s fan response story on the 5 p.m. broadcast. Go to the 2:40 mark:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Olson was right — @fire_frazier was started as a joke. I wish the new coach well. The one thing I hate about pro sports is coaches are too often made into piñatas because of their team’s shortcomings. I suppose that’s management, though. Forget the NFL — it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world.

Kanye, Cam, Snow, Trader Joe’s, and a Doodle Update

I'm so short on time this morning, I'm going with this completely arbitrary image I found Googling "minneapolis snow."

It’s 8:10 a.m., my girlfriend’s parents are staying at our place right now and I’ve got to leave for work in a half hour. I’ll be honest — I’ve got nothing. I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more rarely with me trying to write 500-word posts five days per week.

So, pardon the scattered nature of this post, but here’s what’s on my mind:

I caved and downloaded the leak of Kanye West’s new album My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy. It’s a clean version, which matters. You wouldn’t just cut 10 percent of Maya Angelou’s poetry and expect it to read the same. Nonetheless, all of the perfect reviews are dead-on. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone gave the album five stars (out of five): “[West] goes for the grandeur of stadium rock, the all-devouring sonics of hip-hop, the erotic gloss of disco, and he goes for all of it, all the time. Nobody halfway sane could have made this album.”

***

The Twin Cities area is expected to get 5-8 inches of snow on Saturday. Most of it will melt by Monday, but it’s safe to say winter is here. That’s a pretty significant snowfall, too, especially when you spent last winter living somewhere where three inches does this:

***

With allegations of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton demanding money to sign with a school and Kentucky freshman Enes Kanter being ruled ineligible for receiving improper benefits while playing pro basketball overseas, the NCAA finds itself at a crossroads. I would love to say cut all college athletics, but that’s unfair to the 99 percent of athletes who follow the rules, as well as though who wouldn’t be able to afford school without their scholarship. The biggest problem is cash-strapped state schools are relying way to heavily on their athletic programs to generate extra revenue. That’s exploitation. It’s time we consider giving athletes stipends.

***

Earlier this year, I wrote about giving in and finally shopping at Trader Joe’s. What I wouldn’t give to live within two blocks of one, as we did in Portland. Trader Joe’s has become our primary grocery store, especially now that my girlfriend has gone gluten-free and dairy-free. (To combat her allergies, not because she’s becoming a hipster.)

For those of you who’ve never shopped at Trader Joe’s, below is a list of items you must try. And let me just murder the myth — Trader Joe’s is NOT expensive. All of the items below are $2-$5, and I swear, if this is what my diet was solely comprised of, I’d be a happy man:

Chipotle Salsa — $1.99

Mandarin Orange Chicken - $4.99

Edamame - $1.99

Go Raw Trek Mix - $4.69

Charles Shaw wine - $2.99

***

A quick labradoodle update: Our landlord gave us permission to get one. All we need is a $200 non-refundable deposit. We’re still looking for puppy-friendly furniture on Craigslist. Finally, we spoke with a breeder in South Dakota. A doodle will cost between $600-$800, depending on size, gender and color. That’s a setback. We’re certainly open to adopting one, but they’re nearly impossible to find in the Twin Cities-area. So, for now, we’ve established a Labradoodle Fund. We’re throwing spare change and cash into a coffee can until we can afford everything. If you’re interested in donating or know of an adoption center, e-mail me at atmiller14@gmail.com.

In Defense of Brad Childress and Player Accountability

This photo was taken, appropriately, from firechilly.com, which was established in 2008.

The Minnesota Vikings eked out a 27-24 overtime victory yesterday against the Arizona Cardinals, despite trailing by 14 with under four minutes remaining. At least for now, head coach Brad Childress and the Vikings have life.

Thousands of fans missed out on the late-game theatrics because they’d long left the Metrodome before Ryan Longwell’s 35-yard field goal sealed the win. Of course, those fans were probably exhausted from spending a better part of the game booing at any and every chance. Those same fans probably came with their “FIRE CHILDRESS” signs and T-shirts, as if attending a protest and not a football game. Those same fans actually wanted their team to lose just so they could be adieu to the mustachioed one.

You know how other fans decry the Vikings fan base? Call them fair-weather fans? Easily on and off the bandwagon? This is why.

I know fans who hoped the Vikings would sandbag it yesterday, purposely lose, just so that coach Childress would be fired. Never mind the Vikings are still technically in the playoff chase. Never mind an NFL lockout looms after this season, meaning the Vikings may not play a meaningful season for two years. Never mind the Vikings have the talent to win now, and only get better this week when star wide receiver Sidney Rice returns from injury. A division of Vikings fans wished failure for their team just to have a different coach at the helm, virtues be damned.

Childress has made for a convenient target all season, despite some serious shortcomings by players like Brett Favre, Jared Allen, Phil Loadholt and the entire defensive secondary. Then there’s the Randy Moss debacle. Childress turned fans’ disappointment to fury last week when he decided to waive the future Hall of Famer after a series of tirades and perceived poor effort on the field. Many felt he not only should’ve informed ownership of this decision, but he should’ve consulted the fans, as well.

Please. This isn’t the St. Louis Park Pee-Wee Football League. If Favre throws a pick-six, that’s Favre’s fault. If Asher Allen whiffs trying to tackle something called “Danny Woodhead,” that’s Allen’s fault. If the Vikings defensive line is made to look like an elementary school recess with it’s paddycake pass rush, that’s the defensive’s lines fault. Coaches are responsible for putting players in a position to succeed. Coach Childress put basically all of the same players in the same position last year on the way to a 12-4 season. Don’t kid yourself — that this team is 3-5 has nothing to do with a shift in strategy or philosophy, but rather execution. Until there was 3:34 left in yesterday’s game, the Vikings looked like a team waiting for something good to happen.

Then, finally, they made it happen.

Speaking on Vikings fans after the game, Childress said, “I think they came expecting to see an execution, and it ended up a pretty good football game at the end.”

Childress isn’t off the hook. In fact, nothing short of the most improbable Super Bowl win could bring Childress back for another go-round. I’m not arguing to bring Childress back, either.

As fans, consider who you’re shooting at before drawing your bow. In fact, make sure you’ve got more than one arrow, because this year’s futility has been a group effort. No matter how poorly Childress has coached — and his blunders are plentiful — it hasn’t impacted a single player’s ability to perform at a high level. Don’t kid yourself there.

“Do I always get along with my head coach, quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator? No,” Favre said. “Do I always agree with the plays that were called? No. Why should that factor in to me wanting to be the best player I can be?

“It is easy to point blame at this person and that person. To say the coach, coordinator, running back or quarterback is at fault is being a coward.”

Fans, take note.