Archive for November, 2004

Tales of the Hibernating Biker

So, what does a motorcyclist living in Minnesota do once it’s too cold and/or snowy to pursue her favorite hobby? She pursues her second-favorite hobby: The Winter Bike Project. Most the bikers I know who have a prohibitively cold winter make good use of their time off the roads to tackle a project on their bikes. Be it just adding some chrome or a full engine overhaul, it serves to keep one from getting too depressed about winter.

My project is an ambitious one. I bought a 1990 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6D 600cc sportbike this summer from a friend in Madison. This was one of a stable of bikes and was a bit neglected. So, my mission, which I chose to accept, was to remake this battered old bike into a sexy ride.

Thus, PROJEKT SPIDER was born. The bike gained the nickname “Spider” when I took apart the brake calipers to clean them. I kept finding spider webs and egg sacks. The same thing when I took the seat and side tail fairing. And again when I took the brake and clutch levers off. This bike was a home for wayward arachnids or something.

The plans for the bike are extensive. Here’s a short list of the plans thus far:

  • Full repaint of all body work (now black, will be silver)
  • Powdercoat the frame (now matte silver, will be glossy black)
  • Powdercoat or paint the swingarm (again, glossy black)
  • Replace broken lower cowl fairing
  • Replace cracked inner cowl/dash insert
  • Replace cracked right front signal lens
  • Remove rear signal lights
  • Install custom LED rear signal lights in tail fairing
  • Replace front sprocket (for more vroom!)
  • Replace throttle and clutch cables
  • General maintenance work on engine, electricals and cooling system

I did some small things to the bike already, like replacing the brake lines with steel braided, replacing the brake pads, cleaning the brake calipers, and replacing the grips and bar ends. With the help of my boyfriend, I’ve sanded down all the body work except the tank in preparation for priming and painting. We drilled the tail fairings for the LED turn signal lights last night. I have some back up fairings on the way (thank you, eBay!) which I can use if I dork these up.

I’ve been keeping a photo log of the progress of my bike project online. Check it out if you’re so inclined.

Stuffing Yourself Silly: A Minnesota Tradition.

There’s no doubt about it: Minnesotans like to eat. My family is no exception to this. Being primarily of German and Australian descent, my mother’s family is very meat-and-potatoes when it comes to food. Hearty comfort food rules the day. I chiefly look forward to the holidays because of the traditional recipes that come out.

But this year, we changed the tradition a bit. Due to scheduling conflicts, we celebrated the day after Thanksgiving. However, despite this change, just about everything else was the same.

My uncle hosted, putting on a modest spread by the usual standards: turkey, mashed potatoes, bisquits, and stuffing. My grandmother made some hardly-identifiable Jell-O mold, which we all take a small serving of out of obligation more than appetite. My aunt made her usual lemon bread, but spared us the green bean casserole (which, oddly, my family never calls a “hot dish” like every other casserole is called in Minnesota). Even though I’m thirty-one years old, my family still pours me a glass of milk, while they drink pop. There’s still a bit of a taboo at family gatherings with alcohol. I offered to bring wine this year, but my mother pooh-poohed the idea.

I didn’t remember to grab a camera and snap a shot of the spread to accompany my post. You’ll have to just imagine a Norman Rockwellian scene of a giant bird and dishes of food.

This was a slender selection compared to Thanksgiving’s past. I recall one year when we had a turkey, a ham, two kinds of potatoes, three kinds of vegetables, two kinds of bread, a rice dish, three desserts and ice cream. And we had the same amount of people we do now: nine. It was ridiculous. My whole family in one fashion or another has contended with weight problems. It’s no wonder why when you consider how much food is a part of our family interactions.

All in all it was a decent Thanksgiving. Very little family drama, good food and catching up a bit with the family. There was even a nice dusting of snow to make it feel a little more like the holidays.

Yippie!!!

I woke up this morning to find a nice layer of snow coating the ground. I have to say this makes me very happy. I did a little dance in my livingroom and a rather large smile spead wide across my face. Winter has come to Minnesota…it’s about time…

out of town

I’m not in the TC right now, and haven’t been since Tuesday night. Well, technically, Tuesday night I was still in the Metro area, but Wednesday morning, my family left town, heading south. Interestingly, the further south we got, the more snow there was, and by the time we hit the Iowa/Missouri border, there was six inches of snow on the ground. I thought maybe we went the wrong direction. I spent Thanksgiving in Springfield, Missouri with my extended family on my mother’s side. Springfield is also the place where I entered this world, lo these many years ago.

For urban areas, Springfield is an odd duck. It’s the third largest city in the state of Missouri, but for all that it still seems pretty rural. It resembles larger metropolises in that it has suburban sprawl, terrible traffic, and a downtown area that died out, but is now being revitalized. But many of the residents here refuse to treat it like a city, and want it to stay as rural as possible. The influence of Branson, an hour south, is immense, even though Branson is tiny in comparison. Many of the billboards are for Branson acts, featuring entertainers like Yakov Smirnoff, Shoji, and lots of blond women with too much hairspray. This is the most live country music you’re going to find west of Nasville. Wal-Mart is not only prevalent, it’s ubiquitous. At least four trips were made there in the two days I’ve been in town, one trip by my father who hates the place. A trip was also made to the Bass Pro Shop world headquarters. You could fit just about every REI and Cabela’s in the upper midwest into this megalithic shrine to outdoor living. Yet you still get the feeling that you’re in a city, albeit one that is more like an immense suburb, stretching from horizon to horizon.

This entry is being written at SGF, the Springfield/Branson Regional Airport, where I’m waiting for a plane to take me to Chicago. I have one forty minute layover in, believe it or not, Minneapolis. Not enough time to leave the airport and all the bars and restaurants are behind security, so unfortunately no one will be able to come and have a drink with me, not to mention that the MSP airport is almost large enough that 49 minutes is barely enough time to get to the next gate.

I hope everyone in the US had a happy Thanksgiving Day, and for the rest of the world, have a great weekend! I’ll be posting, WIFI willing and the creek don’t rise. I swear, I’m down here for a couple days, and I start to go all country. Good thing I’ll be back in the city soon, y’all.

no broken bones = good thing

For the first time in probably twenty years, I strapped thin blades of metal to my feet and attempted to glide gracefully across an incredibly hard sheet of solid ice. Incredibly, it worked. I didn’t fall even once, although there were a few times where my arms resembled a windmill in motion. I participated in this activity in the heart of downtown Minneapolis at the Depot ice skating rink, and it was a lot more fun than I ever thought it would be. My feet hurt, my legs ached, and I was terrible at doing anything other than moving around the rink in a slow circle. But I still had a good time. I think part of it was the setting. Right on Washington Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, you can see the skyscrapers towering through the giant windows. People in their cars waiting at the light gaze at you, some with wistful expressions in their eyes, as if remembering skating in their youth. The Zamboni is styled to look like a train engine. The only drawback is that it’s not cheap. Seven bucks to skate and six dollars for a rental means this is not going to be a regular activity for me, which also means I’m not going to get very good, but for once in awhile, it was a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Something was different

When I woke this morning from my clock radio springing to life, I noticed that there was something different. A different voice was softly speaking to me from the corner, different to the one that I was used to each morning at seven, preparing me for the day. WCAL, St. Olaf’s classical music Public Radio station is no more. Rather, it’s transitioning now, simulcasting with KSJN, MPR’s classical station, following the buying of WCAL by MPR, which was finalized this weekend. I’m not sure what all changes this will bring, but it does make me a little sad. I am a fan of MPR, but on the whole, I’ve liked WCAL’s classical programming better, especially in the morning, when MPR has done more talking than playing music. The announcers are trying to assure the listeners that classical radio in the TC will improve because of the buyout; I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Yawn….zzzzzzz

Since we’re talking about bodily functions, is it time for a nap today? Turns out that most Minneapolitans don’t need many naps, because we’re all getting good nights’ sleep. According to a NY Times article, Minneapolis has been named the #1 place to get a good night’s sleep. A survey conducted by Sperling’s BestPlaces, ranks fifty cities on criteria such as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, conducted annually by the CDC. Right, whatever. What it says is that we in Minneapolis are happier and thus we sleep better. Right behind us at number 2 is Anaheim, California, home of Disneyland, the so-called Happiest Place on Earth. Not so happy at being number two, are you, Anaheim? The survey was done in partnership with the makers of Ambien, but the data appears to be legitimate.

So what with the TC being the “Most Fun city in the US” and having the “best credit score per capita” (nice to know I’m bringing down the average there), we must all lead pretty stress-free existences. Interestingly, while we’re the most fun, we’re the third worst city when it comes to dating. I’ll just have to sleep on that, I guess.

Where to go in Minneapolis

Nature’s call in the comfort of your own home is not a topic worthy of much discussion. It’s predictable, safe, a nonevent for most folks. The thrill of one’s own throne inevitably wears off after a few hundred flushes.

That’s why we all owe it to ourselves to get out of the house once in a while and do our business in one of the thousands of diverse public restrooms here in Minneapolis. The selection runs the gamut from loos too plush to sully with human waste, to latrines so repugnant as to make you re-evaluate the urgency of your need.

The following entry is page one in the first ever (to my knowledge) public restroom guide for this city. It’s written by a man, so it only rates men’s rooms. Nevertheless, both men and women are encouraged to read on. In most cases, the state of any given ladies’ room should parallel that of its corresponding men’s room. However, if anything you read is inconsistent with your Minneapolis restroom experience, please, men and women alike, send your comments. Together, we can create a public john directory that is the envy of modernly plumbed cities everywhere.

Let us begin at the top, a five star Minneapolis commode…

The Oceanaire Seafood Room

What started out as the finest seafood restaurant in Minneapolis and then became a chain with locations throughout the U.S. is still today the finest seafood restaurant in the city. It absolutely shatters the notion that you have to be on a coast to enjoy quality seafood. The atmosphere is warmly elegant and the service is nothing short of astounding. But, if you live in the Twin Cities, you’ve probably already heard this. What you might not have heard, however, is that this 1930’s style, first class restaurant and bar provides facilities to match. Somehow, it’s just a little easier to pay the bill (this place ain’t cheap) when you get a fresh, real hand towel every time you wash your hands. What’s even better is that, unlike some other restrooms of its caliber, there’s no bathroom attendant! This says the Oceanaire respects you and trusts you to help yourself to these fine whites without stealing them to sell on ebay in order to offset the high cost of your evening out.

This restaurant would do well to add a couple tables to their underutilized restroom spaces. Diners could do much worse than a table for two in the Oceanaire bathroom. The atmosphere would be more conducive to dining than the dining spaces of many other restaurants and those of most people’s homes. Are you hearing this, Oceanaire Seafood Room? This old romantic is ready to make his Valentine’s Day reservation.

Wilde on Hennepin

Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of themed restaurants and coffee shops, since they have a distinct tendency to emphasize their chosen motif to the detriment of the food (see Newsroom, The). But I’m prepared to make a big exception for the beautiful new Wilde Roast Cafe, which I can’t believe I only just visited for the first time.

Wilde Roast, which is located where Central Avenue meets East Hennepin north of the river, is billed as a neighborhood coffee shop serving the Old St. Anthony/Near Northeast area, and its name is a tribute to Oscar Wilde, of all random ideas. And yes, the menu is packed with cutely named dishes taken from the author’s books, plays, and notorious personal life. But the Victorian influence never overwhelms the place, and the overall atmosphere reminds me of a more laid-back version of St. Paul’s Cafe Latte. According to the Wilde Roast web site, it aims to be “a comfortable place you can come alone or with friends to enjoy a latte or glass of wine by our 1900’s fireplace on a Chesterfield couch.” It is exactly that, and the moment I walked in, my first thought was that it will be even better in winter, as a warm and cozy respite from the freezing cold and howling Minneapolis winds.

And before I forget – the food is simple, original, and excellent. The barbecued pork sandwich is surprisingly light, with apples and champagne-soaked raisins subtly mixed in. The portions are coffeehouse-sized (meaning significantly smaller than the insanely overflowing plates you get at most restaurants) yet plenty big to fill you up. Most sandwiches on the menu come not with the usual choice of fries or chips, but with a small pile of Gardetto’s-style snack mix, which would seem tacky at another restaurant, but only adds to the charm here. Oh, and the coffee drinks are expertly made (meaning that your mocha will not arrive with a wad of chocolate settled on the bottom of the glass, or with a mountain of canned whipped topping attempting to compensate for the lack of barista skill) and delicious. Basically, the whole place manages to be exactly what it sets out to be: relaxed but efficient, elegant yet casual, and possessed of a distinctive neighborhood feel. I believe I have a new favorite haunt.

The Great Hennepin Avenue Theatre Brawl

Flying pretty much under the local media’s radar this week (the Star Tribune, where Rochelle Olson has been doing a bang-up job, excepted) is a major backstage battle over who will run the three anchoring theatres on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis for the next 30 years. The State, Orpheum, and Pantages Theatres have been overseen by the Historic Theatre Group, which is attempting to retain control of the strip with help from corporate behemoth Clear Channel. But the Minneapolis City Council has control over the decision, and may be about to delay their final vote until just before Christmas, due to serious questions concerning whether a Clear Channel-backed theatre district is good for the city.

The alternative is an interesting one: the folks behind St. Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts would like to take over the three Minneapolis venues, and run them, along with Ordway, as a huge local theatre conglomerate focusing on touring shows. As I see it, this poses a difficult problem for the Minneapolis pols – I’m assuming that no one on the city council really wants Clear Channel, which already controls most of our local radio stations and is dedicated to the premise that bland = profit, booking our theatres, but at the same time, the Ordway is in direct competition with the Hennepin venues for touring shows, and there’s at least a chance that an Ordway-based board would choose to put all the top-drawing shows in its flagship theatre, leaving Hennepin Avenue as something of a B-grade theatre ghetto.

The Ordway is stressing that its proposal would provide true local management of the Twin Cities’ most prominent theatres, which has got to be attractive to the left-leaning Minneapolis council. On the other hand, the Historic Theatre Trust has been downplaying Clear Channel’s role in their organization, and rightly stressing that it is the HTT which has been so crucial in the revival of a stretch of downtown that was a decided embarrassment only a decade ago. On a practical level, a Clear Channel-backed HTT would clearly not ever be in danger of defaulting on lease payments to the city (while the Ordway has frequently run in the red since its inception), and though it’s true that corporate consolidation of the Clear Channel variety has been systematically turning theatre to crap over the last few years, it’s also a fact that the company happens to have control of many top touring acts and shows, which might become unavailable to a venue which deliberately snubbed the corporate parent.

I’m not saying that the city council ought to knuckle under to such implied blackmail, you understand. To be honest, I have no idea which way I’d swing if I had a vote in the process. My heart says that Ordway would likely be a better protector of our local interests, but my head says that this probably isn’t the right time and place to be taking a stand on principle with a newly rejuvenated theatre district hanging in the balance. In any case, our councilmembers ought to get a chance to hear from the public on this issue – click here to give ’em a piece of your mind.

LATE UPDATE, 11/20/04: Apparently, city council decided they didn’t need more time to think about it after all. Voting over the objection of Council President Paul Ostrow, the council voted 7-4 on Friday to continue negotiations on the theatre leases exclusively with the HTT/Clear Channel group, effectively ending the Ordway’s takeover bid. I’m not sure this is necessarily a bad decision, since the Ordway’s pitch may have involved a fairly large civic leap of faith, but I’m fairly certain that letting Clear Channel run the show won’t mean good things for fans of serious theatre in the Twin Cities.

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