Feeling Minnesota – Got the Jimmy Legs

Feeling Minnesota

Jeannie's mom reunites with former school chum Nick, at his bar

I've been officially back from vacation for 8 hours and I'm already looking for some place to hide. I'm sure it's just the initial surge of work/stress rushing into the vacuum of leisure time and once the worst of it is over it will all feel normal again. But until then, ugh. Anyway, here's what I did last week.

Jeannie's Aunt Mary was turning 100 and there was to be a sort of family reunion in Gilbert, Minnesota. That's on the northern end of Minnesota, a small mining town which is about as opposite as you can get from life in Brooklyn while still seeing a good number of SUVs parked on the street. We stayed at a lovely motor lodge in Virignia, MN, which was situated between two lakes. It was a cheap motel but was pleasant and restful. There were ducks on the lake, plus some kind of small mammal I saw at dusk but has so far been unable to identify. It looked like a small otter, but that's about all I got so far.

The party was enlightening as I got to meet many of Jeannie's relatives (so did she, many intros were first times for her too). The party moved from the VFW to local watering hole, Nick's (one thing these small towns had LOTS of is bars). the bar was already filled with a decidedly older crowd but they were there to get down. Just after we arrived, a polka band kicked off a 4-hour set (!) and the dancing went into full tilt. We polkaed for hours, drinking Old Style Light and PBR (not a hipster in sight, neither), until the band played a final medley of Depression-era songs (when most of the crowd were teens apparently), including "Good Night Irene" and "You are My Sunshine."

The next day we spent at another relative's house in Eveleth, MN, a house on yet another lake (Minnesota has a lotta lakes). I usually prefer the pace of the city but speaking with Denny, the man of the house, I admit his philosophy of 'build a house with all the stuff you want in it, hang out on the lake and watch bald eagles fly around while your dog tries to catch fish in the shallows' was very persuasive.

We headed to the Twin Cities the next day, but before we leave the so-called "Quad Cities" I must mention I had Grain Belt Premium beer there for the first time and I really liked it. I also had Chili Beer at a Mexican restaurant in Virginia, which is just what it sounds like and it too was awesome.

Minneapolis put us into a lovely Super 8 motel, whose decor appeared to be from the Target collection. This is no surprise since Target is headquartered here. In fact, one of our friends, as it turns out, works for them and he tipped us off to a Salvation Army store that gets much of its stocks from the chain. There is no sign or mention of Target, but the lower level at the store on 4th & 10th is full of Target samples and other sundries. I can't imagine this is that big a secret in town but perhaps the hip, thrift-store shopping set of Minneapolis would avoid Target clothing in any case, but it's right up my lame alley. I got a couple of things, but Jeannie really cleaned up. Many of the items she bought had the word 'SAMPLE' scrawled on the inside in Sharpie.

We hit a few other spots around the Twin Cities over the next couple of days, including a trip to see another aunt of Jeannie's, this time on her Dad's side of the family. Aunt Lorraine is 86 but still seems pretty sharp. She was temporarily at an assisted living home while she recovered from an injury and was jonesing to get out. "Oh, I don't wanna go down there and hang out with those IDIOTS," she said of her home-mates. It should be noted that this was the swankiest old-folks home I've ever seen; if Lorraine still has time on her lease I'd take it over.

We spent most of our time with our friends who showed us their amazingly fancy house and took us to a bunch of really good restaurants. I had been hearing for years how Thai food is better there, and I will admit it was damn good. Also Indian and Vietnamese. We went to the Seward Cafe, a worker-owned diner with a vegan-heavy menu and no wait staff. I didn't particularly like the stuff I got (no seasoning on brown rice? come on!) but Jeannie was way into her Righteous Pancakes, possibly for  nostalgic reasons.

Other highlights included visits to the Mill Ruins Park, in which the old grain mills that helped shape the local ecomony are left to collapse of their own accord (it's pretty cool the way they built the modern-style museum literally upon the ruins of one of the old mills), Nicolett Island, the hidden-in-plain-sight island in the middle of town, Lake of the Isles and Summit Ave, where an endless stream of incredible, enormous mansions raises the question, "Where did all these rich people come from?" My theory is there is a big underground cocaine cartel that built this city.

It's good to finally be home and get back into the swing of things, but I'll tell you something: I didn't miss my job or cleaning litter boxes once the whole week. Needless to say it's been a rude awakening since getting home.

Check out our friends' house! Makes our house look like a pile of crap.