Friday, December 4, 2009

Found! Bone Zodiacs Leather Armband

July 7, 2010 UPDATE: Reunited and it feels so good.
After receiving an email from a lovely member of the Inland Empire Lady Zodiacs, I am happy to say I will be sending this armband home to its rightful owner, Bone, this week. What an unexpected and exciting project this was! It seems as if this armband has been logging plenty of miles, whether on the arm of its owner or not. If only this armband could talk -- I'm sure it and its owner would have many travel stories to swap.

UPDATE: Thanks to my readers, I have found out that Zodiacs is the name of the motorcycle club, or M.C., and Bone is more than likely the name of one of the members. Inland Empire is a region in California, southeast of Los Angeles. I am currently waiting for a reply from their president in the hopes I can get this patch back to its original owner.
Check out their awesome club!

SOMETIMES PEOPLE BRING THINGS into the office in the hopes other people in the office will help get rid of it. Halloween candy comes to mind first. Heck, finding a used pair of slippers in the breakroom would come to mind before what I found last week.

A large palm-sized piece of black leather, boldy hand-painted in school-bus yellow immediately caught my eye against the greys and cold blue hues of the office lunch area. I picked up what looked to be a patch of some sort and found that it was an arm band. Attached to the sides of the leather with brass studs, a tough, thick band of elastic loops around the back. It would look at home over the arm of a leather biker jacket.

As you can see, the armband announces something called Bone Zodiacs and specifies in smaller hand printing, Inland Empire. I'm guessing that its original owner has the initials M.C.

A co-worker found this in a rental car in California a few years ago and tried to find the armband's owner as best he could. He held on to it for a while until it ended up in the lunchroom, not orphaned for long. It's a pretty interesting piece of leatherwork, and I'm quite curious to find out what the Bone Zodiacs are, and where the Inland Empire is.

There is a message on the back. If this is your patch, tell me what the message on the back is and I will happily return it to you, if you want it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ben Franklin: In Search of A Better World, at the Minnesota History Museum

In honor of Mr. Franklin's 304th birthday, the Minnesota Historical Society has recently added another fascinating artifact to
Ben Franklin: In Search of A Better World. This late edition to the exhibit is a rare draft of the U.S. Constitution -- it's a version that is older than the hand-written document in the collections of the National Archives.

I LEARNED A VALUABLE LESSON AT THE MINNESOTA HISTORY MUSEUM'S Ben Franklin exhibit: If I ever decide to curate a show about Ben Franklin, I'm going to fill a room with things he didn't have a part in creating. It will be easier that way.

The guy pretty much invented para sailing, for pete's sake -- he'd float in the water while flying a kite because he enjoyed being pulled around in the water. This is one of his lesser-known kite experiments, of course. I guess he really liked kites.

With that, Ben Franklin: In Search of A Better World, opening at the Minnesota History Museum on Friday November 27, has many interesting surprises along with new ways of looking at the more commonly known Ben Franklin facts.

There are interactive displays throughout, including touch-screen choose-your-own-adventure style games in which you recreate Franklin's trek from New York, south along the Eastern seaboard, using up shillings to buy food and passage. Here's a tip, kids: don't pick the option to sleep in the flop house. All your food and money will get stolen.

Besides his affinity for lightening, Franklin may be most well-known for being a printer (or creating libraries or organizing fire departments). A touch-screen printing press demonstration is part of the exhibit, which is in the same room as Franklin's actual printing equipment and publications.

There are many Franklin originals in this exhibit, including his books and even his wallet which hides a receipt for rum, as well as an original item that belonged to Franklin's father, who was a soap and candle maker. Much like the red and white spiral poles denoting barber shops, Franklin's father used a big blue ball to represent his store. The MNHS has this ball on display.

The original one.

This exhibit is host to an oddly touching reunion, one that involves Franklin's china breakfast bowl and his silver spoon, gifts from his wife. At some point the bowl and spoon were separated, perhaps filling exhibits at separate museums. For this exhibit however, after being separated for 100 years, the bowl and spoon are reunited and share a clear protective display box.

It's difficult to not list each and every object in this exhibit, as every item is fascinating. But, in keeping with Ben Franklin's lifelong lust for learning and discovery, I will leave you to head over to the Minnesota History Museum in St. Paul to make some discoveries of your own.

If anything, though, just go to experience the fan chairs.

Visit my entire photoset from this exhibit on my Flickr page.

When you visit MNHS, be sure to check out another of my favorites called Open House. Here's what I have to say about it, as published in City Pages:

"Open House: If These Walls Could Talk," is the recreation of a house that still exists in the Railroad Island neighborhood of St. Paul. The Minnesota History Museum is always bursting with hands-on exhibits, and "Open House" is no exception. Upon entering the house, every object in the Victorian-era living room begs to be touched, including a piano that acts much like its stage-fright-addled owner. Each successive room is dedicated to a later era and other families who lived there. In the bedroom there is a sign on the pink chenille-covered bed that says Sit On Me. Sitting on the bed awakes an audio recording of a woman telling a hilarious—and startling—story about a troublesome bed she owned when she lived in the house in the '50s. Even the littlest objects trigger stories and home movies. The dining-room table has an amazing setting, which will only whet your appetite for more stories and delightful surprises.

Follow MNHS on Twitter!

Minnesota History Center
345 Kellogg Blvd W.
St. Paul MN 55102-1903
651-259-3000, 651-282-6073 (TTY)
800-657-3773 (toll free)

$10 adults, $8 seniors and college students, $5 children ages 6-17; free for children age 5 and under and MHS members.

Hours for Museum and Stores:
Tuesday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (free admission 5 to 8 p.m.)
Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

Closed Mondays except Monday holidays year round (open Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day). Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's day.

Library Hours:
Tuesday noon to 8 p.m.
Wednesday through Friday noon to 5 p.m.
Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sunday noon to 4 p.m.

Closed Monday, Memorial Day and Labor Day Weekends, and major holidays including the day after Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall at The Dakota Jazz Club

"DEAR MR. ALPERT," SAID A WOMAN FROM THE SECOND FLOOR. She began speaking before the applause died down after Herb Alpert's final song at The Dakota Jazz club this past Tuesday. At the very beginning of his show he insisted that the mood be very casual and he encouraged questions from the audience, "but no song requests."

"Dear Mr. Alpert! Dear Mr. Alpert!" She said again, and finally Mr. Alpert looked up. The woman then told a story, starting with the fact that she had been a nun. It was 1968, and she said that A Taste of Honey "wafted in through my cloister window" from across the way one night, "and it inspired me to leave the seminary."

The applause was deafening.

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall react to a former nun's story

But let's get back to the beginning of the show.

The opening act is worth mentioning: Mr. Smooth Irv Williams. I found out that Mr. Williams has been a mainstay of the Minnesota jazz scene for over 50 years. So what does that make him? 90 years old! He plays at the Dakota every Friday during happy hour from 4:00 - 6:00. He'll be playing in the evenings at The Dakota in January or February as well.

Herb Alpert and his wife, Lani Hall of Brasil '66 fame, are touring to promote their first recorded project together entitled Anything Goes (warning, instant audio). As the title eludes, the album includes new takes on old classics, such as Fascinating Rhythm, It's Only A Paper Moon and I've Got You Under My Skin.

After his first song, Alpert asked if anyone had any questions. A hand went up and Alpert called on a fellow. I'd like to note how polite the Dakota's audience was that night -- the fellow stood up to ask his question. "Sir, is it true you and Tom Jones met the Queen together?"

To which Alpert responded, "How did you know that?" Alpert then told how in 1974 he performed for the Queen, but was instructed not to acknowledge her during the performance. If she liked what she saw, she would send a note after the show. Sure enough, Alpert received a note backstage. "I forget who else was there," said Alpert. "Ginger Rogers or somebody like that." The Prince told Alpert that he liked his music and listened to it in the palace den. This surprised Alpert, not because the Prince listened to his music, but the idea of what the den in the royal palace could have possibly been like.

Alpert and Hall then played an especially sultry rendition of Let's Face the Music and Dance. "First, Lani and I became friends," said Alpert, telling a story of when they first met and later when they became a couple. "This is an angel from another planet," he said. "She's from Chicago and she changed my life for the better." Hall then sang a very slow version of That Old Black Magic. She noted the fast version made famous by Louis Prima, but said she wanted to "slow it down in order to really understand that lyric." At many points during the show it was clear that Alpert and Hall still have quite a bit of magic in their marriage -- throughout the show they hugged and smiled at each other, and at one point she sat on his lap at the piano.

Hall did most of the singing at The Dakota that night, backed up by a driving rhythm section. Alpert added vocals here and there, but mostly trumpet flourishes whenever he wasn't taking over the melody. Toward the end of the show he took out an instrument he developed himself. "I called the guy, I paid to make it," said Alpert. I didn't catch what he named the instrument*, but it's two trumpets in one. One bell is sans mute, and he pulls a "trigger" to switch between muted and unmuted trumpet sounds.

There were more questions for Alpert before the evening ended, including "What is your favorite song?" Alpert couldn't really answer the question fully until he finished his next song, which must have jogged his memory as he ended it in an improvised flourish of This Guy's In Love. He was reminded of a story. "I called this friend of mine," Alpert said. The friend was Hal David, and at the time he had just written a song called This Girl's In Love. Alpert asked him if he could change the gender and some of the lyrics. In the studio, Alpert got the recording in one take.

It's no wonder Alpert is still going strong -- not only has he reinvented the music he's playing, but he gives songs sex-changes and turns nuns into the marrying type. It would seem that his trumpet's big bells rival his own.

*Update: That twin-belled trumpet is called the "Gemini." Thank you to Scott Allman, "CherryStreet" on the Beat 0f The Brass TJB Forum, for that bit of information!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Micachu and the Shapes via The Walker Art Center

IT WAS ODD NOT TO SEE THE YOUNG band rushing back to the stage after what must have been a solid five minute frenzy of applause and foot stomping. The wood floor at the Cedar Cultural Center in the Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis was taking a fine beating, for sure. The very place that Mica of band Micachu and the Shapes described as, "The most dignified place we've played."

Here it was, roughly 45 minutes after their first song and the audience wanted more of lead singer Micachu, a diminutive blond tough, and her band The Shapes. Of course they did -- the music was jaw dropping, futuristic, and demanded at least a bounce and bob. And when they were finished with their set of what Micachu categorizes as Pop music, I wanted more, too. Even when, at one point of the show when she adjusted her ukulele-thing to be perfectly out of tune. The audience groaned in agony; I felt a bit of excited anticipation. How was this going to work?

Micachu, aka Mica Levi, is in her early twenties and has been writing and playing music since she was four. The band was invited here from London via The Walker Art Center. From the program: "She is classically trained and is best known for experimental music in a variety of genres. Levi was born in Surrey (1987) and raised in Bow, East London...While a student at Guildhall, Levi was commissioned to write an orchestral piece for the London Philharmonic Orchestra which was performed at the Royal Festival Hall in April 2008."

With a background like that, it's no surprised she made a wildly out of tune Uke ultimately sound great. It worked. And it was exciting.

Mica's Shapes clearly have a great time on stage, too. Raisa Kahn plays the Midi keyboard, cowbells, and cymbal. Marc Pell is a drum machine. The both of them also do backup vocals. They're a young lot, like I mentioned, but they are a complex rhythm section to be sure. A few of us in the audience stopped bobbing, hypnotized by the synchronized blast of electronic blips, cow bells, a small zither (zina?) backing up Micachu's modded, heavily strummed over-sized ukulele-looking thing.

And here we were, begging for more of it. Our shouts remained unanswered. Turns out they couldn't decide on what their encore should be. Lucky for us they figured it out eventually. They had to dig way back to some earlier material.

I'm sure they have many more dignified performance venues in their future -- let's hope more in Minnesota, too. In the meanwhile, find their album Jewellery on iTunes. My favorites at the moment are Calculator, Wrong, and Guts.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Raimund Hoghe, Boléro Variations at The Walker Art Center

RAIMUND HOGHE AND HIS TROUPE HAD TWO shows at the Walker Art Center this past weekend. He showed audiences his closeups. It was an interesting show, considering he didn't display photographs or paintings on a wall -- he zoomed in using dance on a stark black stage.

The show, entitled Boléro Variations, included Hoghe himself along with dancers Ornella Balestra, Lorenzo De Brabandere, Ammanuel Eggermont, Yutake Takei, and Nabil Yahia-Aïssa*. They danced to 15 different songs in the style of Boléro; all the songs were beautiful except for one version which I thought was funny. The music itself was fine, but the version they danced to was also used for an ice-skating competition. So the audience heard how it sounds on tv -- cheering, the commentators, and worst of all, that booming echoing and distorted sound of classical music in a large stadium.

To put it simply, the dance moves were slow. But slow does not by any means mean simple. Slowing down the motions caused the small details become larger, and then those details seemed to morph into something different altogether. Like when you stare at a word until it no longer looks like a word, for instance. It was in this way that Boléro Variations began to feel like a show of closeups. To even the untrained eye -- mine -- many dance steps and postures were recognizable throughout the show. They were glimmers of recognition throughout the performance -- the flourish of a matador, the smooth steps of an ice-skater skating backward, the precise pose of a flamenco dancer with castanets, and even roboto! At one point I think I even saw the I'm A Little Tea Cup pose, but again -- my dance eye is not a trained one.

It quickly became obvious that this must have been a very physically demanding show for the performers. It was like watching a strong-man show, but the men lifting 500 pounds in each hand were not allowed that initial burst of energy to get the weights in the air. And again, the slowness of the dancing couldn't help but force a closeup look, and the repetition caused second guesses at what I was actually seeing. At many points during the 2-hour long performance I was no longer seeing people, but organisms moving about. At other times I was seeing human bodies, but unable to distinguish what may be different or strange from one set of bulging muscles to the next.

There were a handful of moments when the action sped up, such as during a Jitterbug sequence, or when Hoghe zig-zagged about the stage, sashaying and spraying what could have been perfume. Highly enjoyable.

Here are some interesting facts about Hoghe via Galen Treuer for the Walker Blogs, as well as Hoghe's website

*Nabil Yahia-Aïssa, sadly, was not able to perform due to very last-minute problems with his Visa. The Department of Homeland Security has a problem with the fact that he was born in Algeria.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum, Hayward, Wisconsin

THE FRESH WATER FISHING HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM in Hayward, Wisconsin is home to the biggest fish that I have ever seen in my life.

Of course, I knew that well before I arrived, but it was quite surreal to have what I pictured in my mind outdone by what is actually there. They have world record sized fish on display, including a 40 pound, 4 ounce Brown Trout and a 22 pound, 11 ounce Walleye.

But the large fish I am specifically referencing is also the hall of fame's focal point: Muskellunge!

This musky was made by Jerry Vetrus of F.A.S.T. Corp (Yes! The very Vetrus that is the subject of the forthcoming documentary Bunny and I are working on). In 1978 the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame added a four and a half story tall, half a city block long fish to their pond. It actually is in -- rather, above -- a pond stocked with real fish. Additionally, the musky's innards are stuffed to the gills with museum memorabilia! Old fishing lures, taxidermied fish, fish sculptures, and photos literally line the stomach all the way up to its gills. At which point visitors are welcome to stare out over the museum's grounds from the musky's spike-toothed mouth.

The musky isn't alone in the backyard of the museum. There are many other bigger than life fiberglass fish in various jumping and swimming poses. In fact, when it's raining, one might think they've fallen into a pond á la Land of the Lost. There is a giant sun fish, trout, and a Walleye to name just a few. There are countless photo opportunities and even more "I caught one this big" jokes.If you're not familiar with Hayward, Wisconsin, it might seem odd to put such a vast museum seemingly out in the middle of nowhere. But according to Emmett Brown, the museum's Executive Director, the location is sort of an epicenter for cabin-goers and fishing enthusiasts. And there certainly seems to be a steady stream of vacationers visiting the museum. While looking at a display of fish I heard one little boy say to his dad, "I caught one like that today!"

Downtown Hayward is just a few blocks away and is definitely a touristy little vacation town, so there is plenty to see and do. I recommend stopping in to the candy store -- it's spectacular. There is a huge center island with glass jars full of jaw breakers, gummy this-and-thats, and atomic fire balls. There is a wall of jelly beans. There are baskets of every candy you can think of. Most exciting though are the rooms set behind glass where you can watch candy being made, such as their famous almond-brittle.

On the drive home we went through Shell Lake, which also has a fiberglass fish made by F.A.S.T. Corp.!

Hayward, Wisconsin is about a three hour drive from Minneapolis.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Stick 'Em Up! Jesse James Days in Northfield, MN

APPARENTLY WHEN I READ THAT AN event is happening, say, on a Friday, I will think that it is happening on whatever Friday I want. With that said, I went to Jesse James Days in Northfield, MN a whole week early. That's just how excited I was to see a bank robbery.

Granted, it's a re-enactment of a bank robbery, but it's based on quite a famous actual robbery by the James-Younger gang. On September 7, 1876, Jesse James and the Younger brothers rode their horses into the town of Northfield. The gang had their sites on the vault in First National Bank. Townspeople soon realized what was happening and decided to fight the robbers. A gun fight erupted in the street and when the smoke cleared, two members of the gang were dead, as well as two civilians. The other gang members fled.

The re-enactment is a lively one.

The first time I saw the re-enactment was 18 years ago and I remember the horsemen with their authentic clothing billowing and flapping outward as they galloped full-force through town. They went into the bank -- the actual bank! -- for a short time and then came out, blank guns a-shootin'. Clearly the robbery was botched! There was a shootout in the street and a few of the gang members took to their horses and galloped out of town. One cowboy, the one playing Jesse James, put his hot gun back into his holster too soon, though. As he was high-tailin' it out of town, there was a growing plumage of smoke rising out from under his duster.

Little Coco with the James Gang in Northfield, MN. September 7, 1991

The actors ended up having to take a few moments during the re-enactment for some non-factual action: snuffing out Jesse James' smoldering hindquarters.

Here is a great video about what happened after the Younger Brothers were captured, as told by Charlie Rogers, a government records specialist with the state archives at the Minnesota Historical Society.

Despite arriving in town a week early, Bunny and I took advantage of exploring historic downtown Northfield without the crowds and found some excellent places to visit again when we go today, this Friday, the weekend of September 11, for the actual Jesse James Days.

Not only are there re-enactments, there are other activites going on all weekend, such as a horse shoe hunt. Here is a list of events on the Defeat of Jesse James Days website.

I recommend eating at The Tavern of Northfield Restaurant, a restaurant that boasts being a "scratch" kitchen. Which means many of their items, you guessed it, are made from scratch, in-house. For instance, they make their own red and alfredo pasta sauces, bread, and soup. Bunny and I started with a ridiculously wholesome, fresh, Granny Smith apple, cheese, and bread plate. Then for our main dish we split a full order of fettuccine alfredo, served with a giant slice of homemade garlic bread. Everything was so scrumptious, especially with that home-made taste.

"It's a good thing to work here in the mornings and eat all the fresh bread you want," our waiter said. Then jokingly, "It can be a bad thing, too."

There are always two soups on the menu, one of them is always their chicken soup and on the day we were there, Bunny and I had a hearty tomato basil soup. There is also a full bar and a specialty drink menu including a deliciously tangy, peppery, bloody mary that comes with a jalepeño pickle. YUM!

If you're not hungry, I suggest stopping in just to look at the place. If you're over 5'10" you'll want to watch your head. The restaurant has low ceilings, as it's in the basement quarters of the historic Archer House. The ceiling is arched and the floor plan is small. But once I sat in the spacious, high-backed booth, I didn't feel cramped at all. The ambiance, coupled with the home-cooking, was worth the hour drive. If the inside isn't to your liking, there is patio seating along Northfield's excellent River Walk. A Bald Eagle flew right over us while we were walking along the river!

Northfield, MN is only an hour's drive from Minneapolis going South on 35W.
Tavern of Northfield Restaurant: 212 Division St S. 507.663.0342

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

South Dakota, Part 2: Wall Drug, Rapid City, Cosmos Mystery Area, and Mt. Rushmore

Here's Part 1, if you missed it.
I REMEMBER SEEING PHOTOS FROM A family vacation to South Dakota in a photo album before I was, as my mom says, "Even a glimmer in your daddy's eyes." Or something. But I didn't remember any specific photos before Alie, Bunny, and I headed out on the road. It wasn't until I visited my parents after the trip, and looked again through the photo album, that I realized I had pretty much retraced their trip exactly, approximately 29 years later.

My photo album had startling similarities: there were the photos on the giant rabbit at Wall Drug, the photos in the old mining town of Keystone in the Black Hills, photos at Cosmos Mystery Area. Granted, of all the trips people take, I would think all South Dakota photo albums look the most alike. In any case, it was eerie and exciting to see that I took the same trip my family (mom, dad, older brother and sister) took before I even existed.

Too boot: I found out we stayed at the same Holiday Inn in Rapid City that my family did, too! Pure coincidence.

So, we arrive in Wall, South Dakota and it's like someone has made a town just for me and Bunny. It's touristy, sure, but it's far from boring. It's darn right fun. Hell -- there's a whole yard full of standees, a giant rabbit, and replica stagecoach to climb on! We stayed there for about two hours, but for my time-to-be-determined return trip, I would like to get a room in one of the tiny motels in town and spend an entire day in Wall.

I was able to find a cheap pair of cowboy boots, pink ones, and I wore them for the remainder of our trip. I also got my refreshing cup of free ice water -- the very gimmick that put Wall on the map -- and also picked up my free Have You Dug Wall Drug bumper sticker.

I love Wall.

High on all the fun we had at Wall Drug, I couldn't wait to move on to the next leg of our journey: Rapid City and Mount Rushmore! We were only a little over an hour away! We stopped at a Holiday Inn in Rapid City to relax for a moment and freshen up before heading out to Mt. Rushmore. The room was huge. I wonder if I managed to stay in the same room, much less the same hotel, as my parents!

We take the long, winding route, higher and higher into the Black Hills. There is something luxurious about being surrounded by pine trees growing out of the rock. We wound our way through Keystone (which looks incredibly fun, but we didn't have time to stop) and up to the four faces carved into the side of the mountain.

Do you know? The pass to get into Mount Rushmore is good for an entire year!

Bunny was first to point out all of the different license plates in the parking lot. No two seemed to be from the same state! A new walking path opened recently that leads to the base of the mountain. You can get up close and personal with the blast rubble! There is also a great photo opportunity to take a photo of the Presidents from the inside of a bolder. We also were lucky enough to see mountain goats! I knew something was going on when everyone was aiming their cameras into the woods rather than at the mountain!

I got a pressed penny souvenir (I'd been collecting them the whole way), and we drove back the way we came, but this time stopping at Cosmos Mystery Area.

Cosmos Mystery Area, according to our tour guide, is the location of some sort of unexplainable vortex. A vortex that warps and binds the trees, architecture, and gravity itself! Whoa! So that's a load of crap, but it was highly amusing and a ton of fun. We arrived just as the last tour of the day was getting ready to depart -- we were pretty lucky with our timing!

We walked up an uneven, steep, paved path to a crooked house-like structure surrounded by twisted trees. There were all kinds of tricks. I'll let the photo, above, say it all.

After that, the three of us were pretty punchy. But we were also hungry, so stopped at a Mexican restaurant before calling it a night back at the hotel. The food was delicious, the margaritas were huge and delicious, and in entered a mountain man. Well, he was more of a prospector looking fellow. We couldn't believe our eyes. That, coupled with being sleepy, punchy, and full of half a giant margaritas -- we got a little giggly, too. We were baffled and didn't quite believe our eyes. The prospector had continued walking toward the back of the restaurant.

That's when we started hearing knocking on the wall behind us. And more knocking. And then some more. By now we were full on laughing, probably being a touch annoying to the other diners. When the waiter came by to ask if we needed anything, I asked, "Did I just see a mountain man walk by? And is he knocking on the wall? I don't care, I'm just curious." The waiter shook his head with one of those "I don't know" shrugs. And then almost immediately we saw the prospector get escorted out of the restaurant. I felt terrible! I don't know if that was a direct result of me or a coincidence.

But the knocking stopped.

We brought our leftovers back to the room, watched some bad cable tv, and we all slept as hard as bags of bricks in our giant room. I woke up sad that we had to leave for home, but as I got dressed and put on my pink cowboy boots, I and made a promise to myself that I would return again someday.

But there was one more stop to make before we made a bee-line back to Minneapolis. The Dinosaur Park.

To get to this area, you have to drive through a regular old neighborhood and, once again, we wound our way up the side of a small mountain until we could see the city around us, unobstructed. The Dinosaur Park was made as a part of WPA Project #960 in the 1930s.

Basically what you do when you get here is climb on the dinosaurs as much as you want and take silly photos. It's a good thing that's what me and Bunny do best. The gift shop here is wonderful -- all kinds of goodies, including snacks like popcorn, hotdogs, and slushees.

Home again home again jiggity jig.

See the entire photo set on my Flickr page!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ben Vereen at The Dakota Jazz Club

BEN VEREEN HAS ENOUGH PERSONALITY to fill Radio City Music Hall. So when he took the stage at the relatively diminutive Dakota Jazz Club in Downtown Minneapolis on August 31, 2009, it felt like the walls were positively going to burst.

The man himself even seemed as if he were going to burst; every song he sang became shows on their own. They were like mini-plays with entire story arcs, accompanied by piano, upright bass, and drums.

Before he came on stage though, actress Tina Fabrique, currently starring as ELLA at the Guthrie (or Gut-tree as Vereen pronounced it) sang a couple of songs. She's a great singer with impressive (necessarily!) scat skills. But I was most impressed by the fact that she was introduced to the stage as "The woman who also sings the Reading Rainbow theme song."

There were a couple of standout moments from the evening's 7pm show. Vereen's version of Misty was spooky, like something from "one of those space channels," a phrase he used to describe the radio channels that only come in at odd moments in the middle of the night. He used the description in a story prior to singing this version of Misty. It was just his voice, a breathy quiet version of an otherwise booming instrument, accompanied only by drum set, which the player tapped with his hands instead of sticks. I expected to see satellites floating by during such a lonely, weightless song.

Vereen spoke often of Sammy Davis, Jr. during the evening's performance. After all, he was Davis's protégé. "I'm not going to do Sammy Davis," Vereen said. He put his hand up to the middle of his torso and continued. "He was this big -- I couldn't fit into his suits. Big shoes, though."

At one point in the evening, they showed a clip from the Jack Paar show in which Davis and Vereen sang a duet, then sat for an interview with Paar. Davis said, "It's like I've been running a marathon and now I'm passing the baton [to Vereen]. Just go! Go! Go with it!" Then Paar suggests the two sing a little more. And as they sang on the tv screen, the lights slowly transitioned to Vereen, nearby at the piano. He had begun singing the same song. It was a stunning bit of staging -- like he had come out of the television itself.

Dressed in a light gray pinstripe suit, accented with an ankle-length top coat and bright red silk scarf, Vereen thanked the Dakota for inviting him out at the end of August. It turns out his very first visit to Minnesota was in January. "I got off the plane and I had tears in my eyes," he said. "I wondered what did I do to you? I mean, it was so cold it hurt my feelings!"

More Ben Vereen:
• His blog
• Article in the Star Tribune
• He's currently writing a book. Be on the lookout for it!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

To St. Peter, MN and Back

BUNNY FOUND THAT THERE is a pharmacy museum in St. Peter, Minnesota. We're both fond of those ancient supplements and their highly stylized labels and promises, so off we went to Soderlund Village Drug in search of show globes.

And a free cup of root beer at their soda fountain.

The 68 mile trip south on HWY 169 is an easy one with fun stops along each way. On the way to St. Peter we stopped at Jim's Apple Orchard in Belle Plaine. It's a hard stop to miss, both because of size of the brightly painted place, and because of the extremely large variety items they have to offer.

• 56 kinds of licorice
• Jalepeño pickled eggs
• Candy, boy have they got a ton of candy
• Homemade pies (you can see them cooling from the oven)
• Strudel
• Bacon

Oh! And 24 different brands of root beer. Among tons of salsas, sauces, and pickled veggies.

Bunny bought an apple strudel stick, homemade walnut peanut roll, and a Fitz's strawberry soda. I bought a jar of pickled jalepeño hard boiled eggs. They just seemed like something I had to try.

From Jim's Apple Orchard it's only 26 miles to St. Peter.
Soderlund's Drugstore
201 S 3rd St.
Monday - Friday 8:30am - 7pm
Saturday 8:30am - 2pm
Sunday Closed
There is a small parking lot and plenty room for 2-hour off-street parking.

Bunny and I found this to be less of a pharmacy museum in the traditional sense and more of a display. The back wall of the now modern pharmacy is devoted to this display and is definitely a worthwhile stop if you're already in the area.

There are tall shelves containing various old liniments, salves, pills, bottles, and show globes. The old-fashioned soda fountain has a few stools where you are welcome to sit and enjoy a free cup of 1919 root beer; the museum self-guided, though I am sure the staff would be happy to answer questions.

St. Peter is a cute town, many of the businesses on the main street just a block east of the museum are located in well preserved old brick buildings. There are a couple of pizza places, one of them offering .99 slices, a couple of bar and grills, and a few stores. Bunny and I decided to get on the road home and see where else we could stop and eat lunch.

Not far from Jim's Apple Orchard is a restaurant called Emma Krumbees and I was pleasantly surprised to see that this establishment still had, for the most part, its old-fashioned flair. There are plenty of seating in booths covered in light-blue/sea-foam colored vinyl. Rounding out the end of each bank of booths are adorable horse-shoe shaped lunch counters with individual seating. They have a large selection of food; Bunny got the fruit cup yogurt parfait, and I got an egg-salad sandwich and cup of chicken and dumpling soup. The food was delicious and definitely had a homemade taste.

Home again home again jiggity jig.

Want to see more photos from this trip? See them here on my flickr page!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

New Brighton to New London Antique Car Run

ON SATURDAY AUGUST 8, AS A PART OF New Brighton's Stockyard Days, was an exciting event involving pre-1920s cars racing along a 120 mile route from New London to New Brighton, Minnesota. Since all of the cars are unable to go faster than about 18 miles per hour (not because it's not allowed, but because these cars flat out won't go faster than that), the run takes all day.

It's really more of an endurance test than a race.

This year's run started out in a déluge of rain and the starting gunshot in New London was postponed from 7am to 8am. Many of the cars do not have roofs or windshields, so when the rain didn't let up by 8am, drivers donned their rain gear and putt putt putted toward the finish line anyway. Unfortunately the rain caused one participant to bow out of the race.

The antique car run is a relatively new tradition for Minnesota, dating back to 1987. The original antique car run, however, originated overseas and dates back to 1896.

Over 30 pioneer motorists set off from London on the 1896 Run to endure the rough roads to the Sussex seaside resort but only 14 of the starters actually made the journey, and some evidence exists that one car was taken by rail and covered with mud before crossing the finishing line!
The next run was staged in 1927 as a re-enactment of the 1896 Run and organised by the motoring editor of the Daily Sketch. The Run has taken place every November thereafter, with the exception of the war years and 1947 when petrol rationing was in force. From 1930 to the present day the event has been owned and professionally organised by The Royal Automobile Club.
In the Minnesota version of the race, the cars are not allowed to cross the finish line in New Brighton before 3pm (there doesn't appear to be any kind of a concern about that happening). In the meanwhile there is a county fair atmosphere to keep people occupied. This year included a petting zoo, possibly the best petting zoo I've ever experienced. Among many of the usual animals, there were also fainting goats, a wallaby, a Zebu, a lemur, and a Z-Donk.

There were also rides and fair food -- Bunny tried a deep fried PB&J -- as well as a Dixieland band playing in the bed of an old-fashioned truck.

Drivers are encouraged to stop at various points along their route. I imagine small towns along the way have their own festivals and traditions surrounding this race, and perhaps even entice the drivers to stop and eat. I'm sure a few of the stops are unscheduled, as well, in order to make repairs or crank the engines.

I should also note that just down the road from the finish line is the New Brighton History Museum, which is very much worth visiting. The building used to be a train depot. Visitors are also welcome to climb aboard the caboose behind the museum.

See more photos here on my flickr page!

South Dakota Part 1: Souix Falls, Corn Palace, Badlands National Park

MAX "BUNNY" SPARBER, OUR FRIEND ALIE, AND I took a whirl-wind road trip to South Dakota. About 1,279 miles round trip between July 24 - 26, 2009.

My goals on this trip:
• Visit Badlands National Park
• Find cowboy boots at Wall Drug, get free ice water
• Visit Mt Rushmore National Memorial

Everything else we'd end up doing I'd consider it a bonus. Turns out we were going to have plenty of bonus rounds.
We arrived in Sioux Falls, SD in the late afternoon and, since this is Alie's old stomping ground, she showed us a nice area downtown to window shop and eat. Then, we saw the Big Sioux river and had some "old fashion" [sic] ice cream.

My excitement grew exponentially when we started heading west from Alie's parents' house in Sioux Falls at around 9 or 10 in the morning on July 25th (after a quick stop at Queen City Bakery where I bought a homemade, lemon-flavored marshmallow). That's when the terrain began to change and the adventure of going west really hit.

The land turned from rows of corn and soy beans to fields of soft, grassy hills cut with bluffs and sprinkled with cattle. I was hoping to see Bison, but the only ones I would end up seeing were fiberglass or cement.

Alie spotted a billboard advertising a garage in an upcoming town. I don't remember the name of the garage, but their billboard touted excellent "toe service." These roadside signs along the way are great. I didn't do any research beforehand and they really made me realize how many fun activities South Dakota has to offer -- and all with the feeling of good old-fashioned fun, too. I hadn't eaten my lemon marshmallow yet, so I know my ever-increasing excitement was not a result of too much sugar.

We stopped at a wayside rest and I grabbed a localized map and a couple of free magazines so I could read the short histories of where we'd be visiting. I walked as far back behind the building as I could so I could no longer hear the traffic, just the wind blowing through the field. It really got to me and I decided that, at some point, I want to spend some time on a ranch riding horse and being a cowboy.

We continued on, taking a quick detour to Mitchell, South Dakota to see the infamous Corn Palace, where, according to their website, each year they use over 275,000 ears of corn to redecorate the façade. There are tours and shops here, but we just had time to hop out of the car for a quick photo before we continued westward.

We had a pleasant surprise in Mitchell
-- we found a F.A.S.T. Corp. bison!

And then, after 200 miles of being silly in the car and eating from our bag of goodies (so we wouldn't have to stop when we got peckish), we reached Badlands National Park. We paid $10 for a pass, which is good for a week, and stopped at the first and second lookout points.

I was awestruck! I could have stared out over the alien terrain for hours. Trails where water from the last rainfall still remained on the hills, cutting into the dusty, layered mounds like veins. The wind was hot and the sparse greenery was of the tough, bristly sort that stays close to the ground. There were license plates from all over the country, and accents from all over the world. It would be this way at Mount Rushmore as well!

Our second and final stop in the Badlands, in addition to being spectacular, was also amusing. It was like the Badlands and the children at this stop were engaged in the Battle of Skinned Knee. Since the land is so sandy here, there isn't much traction -- especially when climbing. Children were especially ill-equipped to dealing with this fact. So when they'd go to climb a hill, their feet would slip out from under them, their knees would meet the tiny granules of rock on the ground, they'd slide slightly down the hill they were attempting to climb, and then start to cry. I heard one mom say to her little child as they walked toward the hills: "Better be careful, every other kid here is crying." It was surreal to experience this small pocket of brightly dressed people in the desert, especially with the din of at least a dozen crying children from all different families. Surreal and highly amusing.

We continued climbing and turning and turning and climbing the narrow road through the Badlands. I'd like to spend more time here at some point, as there are activities here throughout the day, such as nature talks, as well as into the night. They have a night-sky talk; I bet it's stunning to see the stars from here.

Here's Part 2: Wall Drug, Rapid City, Cosmos Mystery Area, and Mt. Rushmore!