Friday, July 30, 2010

Culture Shock (part 1: Walleye vision)

As the state fish, Walleye is a delicacy in Minnesota, commanding prices on par with Salmon. Many a Minneapolis menu proudly displays the freshwater perciform, usually dipped in beer batter, deep fried, and served on a bun. On occasion it finds it way into more creative offerings like Fish Tacos:

or even in a sushi roll.

Of course it’s not really a Minnesota Sushi roll unless it incorporates Wild Rice.

Having lived on the banks of the muddy Maumee, I find the proliferation of Walleye in MN restaurants one of the oddest things about our relocation. It’s not that I’m unfamiliar with the creature as a dining option - no it’s the higher price the fish commands here (on par with Salmon), along with the native’s desire to actually consume it.

It seems like Northwest Ohio’s abundance of the critters makes it an economical choice for many residents. Given the low market price, and the questionable source the fish comes from I've been hesitant about consuming Walleye.

The source for Walleye in our former region includes a lake known for catching fire in the 70’s, and a river that most locals are afraid to swim in. Understandably it’s not particularly appetizing to think of eating something from that poisoned well.

Despite the river’s obvious location (formerly at the end of my street) when I purchased a kayak last year most of my friends and family curiously asked “where are you going to use it?” The Maumee just isn’t considered an option for water recreation by most locals, who frequently joke about the level of contamination. Only a few brave souls dare to venture out on the water for fun.

People have a hard time with the concept of eating something from a dirty river. How dirty? Just one two mile stretch of the river in Lucas County contains over 100 pipes discharging industrial and septic waste into the waters where the walleye run.

This is a drop in the bucket to contamination further upriver, at the Maumee headwaters of the St Joseph and St Mary’s river, where the combined sewer overflow of more than 20 cities dump sewage into the river if it rains more than a tenth of an inch.

One Ball State University study found over 300 pharmaceuticals passed into freshwater via human waste. Byproducts of caffeine, nicotine and acetaminophen were found in the waters supplying the Maumee, along with the mood altering lithium which makes for some manic depressive energetic fish who need cigarettes badly. Given that you are what you eat, I always chose to eat something other than Walleye, lest I get the disease Jon Cryer had from Hotshots.

With time (and a steady income), I may eventually overcome my Walleye stigma, but until then I’ll stick with whitefish.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


No, I'm not cursing at you in Klingon.
It’s not a typo, nor did I make it up.

is a German term, (rough translation: flight day), used by power drink peddler Red Bull to describe a celebration of bird brained humans and their homemade flying contraptions. You’ve probably seen a commercial featuring some zany aviator plunging off a pier while riding on an ACME rocket, or in a giant shoe.

The Twin Cities hosted one of America’s Flugtags yesterday, which meant we were bound and determined to witness the largest gathering of oddly dressed people this side of the San Diego Comic Con.

Unfortunately for us, we were a bit late in getting to the show. I-94 was shut down for resurfacing, detours, accidents and other special events herded us all over town. On our way to the launch pad at Harriet park, we crossed the Mississippi and noticed a number of people watching events from the bridge.

Rather than fight the traffic and the crowds on the ground we decided to stop nearby and backtrack to the bridge, and I’m glad we did - the event planned for about 50,000 people but over 90,000 showed up to watch wannabe wingmen bellyflop on the ole’ Miss. Helicopters hovered overheard, and the river was a parking lot of boats.

We were able to snap a few photos of the events, but our telephoto lens-less camera really didn’t do the spectacle justice from that height.

Attendance wasn’t the only record broken by this year’s year’s Flugtag - the Loon state lived up to it’s nickname when Major Trouble and the Dirty Dixies set a world record for distance, flying a whopping 207 feet.

While I’m glad St. Paul holds the record, the Dixie’s B52 bomber left me uninspired compared to memorable Minnesota flavored theme teams like Prince’s Red Corvette, the flying Cherry Spoon Bridge, or Favre’s Wingmen.

Perhaps if they had painted their craft to look like the state bird they would have won me over. Not only is the Flying Loons a good team name, it works on multiple levels.

Almost forgot: Total Miles Biked: 1493

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Drawing The Day Away

Jonathan and I rode our bikes to the Walker Art Center recently. We didn’t actually set foot inside the Walker itself, instead we meandered around the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden seeing all sorts of artwork like rabbits jumping over bells and a frame featuring the Basilica of Saint Mary.

And we couldn’t miss the most iconic sculpture there--the Spoonbridge and Cherry.

I kinda wanted to run underneath it because the day was hot and the cherry stem is a fountain. Alas, I restrained myself.

Eventually, we wandered over to the Walker Open Field, an ongoing summer art event that’s free and open to the public, taking place on the lawn adjacent to the Walker. At the “toolshed” you can check out ipads, books, kites and any number of other fun items to spark your creative fire. Did I mention that it’s FREE? If you’re feeling a bit peckish, then walk a few feet and chow down at the Open Field Bar & Grill by Wolfgang Puck (NOT so free).

We arrived to find all sorts of people buzzing about. Children chased a soccer ball while their parents sat reading in the shade. A local artist constructed an interactive sculpture from branches and reeds, eventually forming a hollow egg that the kids adopted as a fort. All types of people gathered around long picnic tables drawing with an assortment of pencils, markers and crayons, creating sketches of cityscapes, cartoon characters and various abstractions as part of the Drawing Club.

The Drawing Club is an ongoing collaborative art experiment where anyone in the community can sit down and . . . draw. All the material is provided, and you either start a drawing from scratch or add to a drawing someone else started. When you’re done, leave your sketch behind for someone else to play with. Jonathan drew a relaxing beach scene with brightly-colored umbrellas and I drew a flowering, rainbow mandala and then we set down our pens and moved on down the road.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Street Legal!

Our driver's licenses came in the mail today, and the MN DMV lived up to their promise: we got them on the six side of 5-6 weeks. Personally, I thought it would be the first week of August before we'd be legit. As always, the pictures accompanying said IDs are hideous.

Awful. So bad, you have to wonder if the License Bureau saves yours and puts it in with the worst of the worst album that they pass around their break room for laughs. I know I would.

Rather than show you our actual photos, I'll leave you with this:

the JEEP, all decked out in Loon State colors.

Today's bicycle odometer: 1426

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why Minnesota? (Part 2)

Job prospects aren’t the only reason we moved to Minnesota, though employment opportunity certainly holds the highest rank. We looked at a number of factors, and a variety of cities before coming to a decision.

Cost of living: On a limited budget, and making a leap with no “job” safety net and no relocation reimbursement, cost of living was a huge factor, that all but eliminated our prime choices on the coast. The Twin Cities proved compatible with our former region - slightly more expensive, but not as outrageous as other economically stable regions we considered (like Chicago).

Distance from home: Minnesota has the advantage of being a day’s drive from our parents homes. Granted at 11 to 13 hours it’s a long, somewhat tedious drive, and Chicago traffic can prove to be a hassle at times, but it can be done. If we want to visit family for a long holiday weekend, (Thanksgiving, Christmas) it’s not out of the question.

By plane, the trip is an hour and a half, which means we’ll likely spend more time in the airport than on the jet. If we can’t afford an airline ticket, and don’t want to make the drive, we can always hop on the Megabus, and leave the driving to someone else. Round trip tickets start around $20 per person, per leg of the journey (two legs total) with about an hour and a half layover in Chicago.

Public Transportation: while not an immediate priority, with only one car between the two of us, we needed to account for other ways of getting around. The Twin Cities have a robust bus line, but more surprising to us was their Light Rail Transit, a relatively new addition to the city. Groundbreaking on the project began in 2001 and the train that now travels from the Twins stadium in the heart of downtown, to the Mall of America in Bloomington started running in 2004.

Think about that for a moment - there’s wasn’t a single rail of track on the ground prior to 2001, and yet they had a system up and running 3 years later. Most cities would still be arguing the logistics of such a feat (as well as fighting the NIMBY crowd). How was so much progress made in such a short amount of time?

Blame then Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura, a staunch advocate of the rapid transit system. Sure, other people had their hand in it, but none of them were ex-Navy SEAL professional wrestlers capable of an overhead gutwrench backbreaker rack, with intimate knowledge of waterboarding. HUAH!

Light Rail aside, the Cities boast a third, viable means of transportation: bicycling. Bicycling Magazine recently named Minneapolis as the #1 Bike City in America. Exploring the area in the month since we relocated revealed that this is truly a city built for bikes.

We mentioned the Greenway in a previous blog post, a series of trails that run for miles, upon miles of uninterrupted pedestrian paths. A superhighway for cyclists that is at times broken down like any other highway - with speed limits, construction detours, off ramps and even occasional medians splitting traffic headed in opposite directions.

Since arriving we have literally ridden our bicycles to places faster than we could drive there, and have switched most of our routine errands (post office, grocery runs) from gas to pedal power. As a new feature here on Minnesota or Bust, we’ll be updating each post with our odometer readout, to give an example of just how much we’re riding.

When I posted the Vogon update last week the cycling odometer read 1258 miles. Today, it’s at 1406. Stay tuned to see how much farther we’ll have gone next time we post!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


When asked how my experiences in Minnesota compare to my life back in Ohio, I usually describe the Twin Cities as a parallel universe... where everything is a little bit better. For instance, drivers stop at crosswalks for pedestrians and cyclists (compared to NWOH where you get yelled at or run down), there's any number of stores and restaurants to choose from in short distance (compared to a drive to Detroit for Ikea or Whole Foods), and while the weather is hot it's not as humid as the Black Swamp region. Yup, so far everything's been great...

Except for the Vogons.

For the uninitiated Vogons are the fictional slug-like race steeped in bureaucracy from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a bizarre sci-fi people who prefer killing with paperwork and poetry instead of phasers and lightsabers.

Eager to become Minnesota citizens, we set out to change our Driver’s Licenses and pick up some Minnesota plates for the Jeep in one fell swoop. We arrived at the county DMV, inside a huge building that hosted a well stocked public library, cafe, and several courts. A sort of all-in-one public service building, which I found incredibly efficient - except for the fact that it was run by Vogons.

At one point I thought we had actually crossed over from reality to a Judd Apatow film as we were greeted by a Jonah Hill look-alike who asked us why we were there.

“We just moved into the state and need to get new ID’s”

We responded with cheerfulness, unaware of the events to come. Cyrus handed us a pair of forms to fill out and a ticket reading C253, then directed us to a waiting area that was reminiscent of a scene from BeetleJuice.

We sat, filling out our forms, while, scenes from old movies played on television monitors around us. I was trying to discern if there was any significance to the slice of Casablanca showing, as compared to the clip Breakfast at Tiffany’s, when a robotic voice announced “A521, please report to counter 18, A521 please report to counter 18...”

A521? A521! I looked at my ticket again. C253...

For the next hour we sat next to G608, a Somali man with a nice smile and a strong sense of humor at the situation, trying to figure out a method to the madness. There were over 20 counters to report to, though only 4 or 5 were operating at one time. Furthermore, one employee would occasionally desert his post for another counter.

Numbers kept rolling out from the squawk box - and I caught a glimmer of hope as C248 was called, followed shortly by C249. Then B207. Then F119. C250 failed to show up, lost their spot in cue, and we rejoiced hoping others had bailed out or died from starvation.

The Somali confided that he had gotten there a full hour before us, and had planned on leaving soon if his number wasn’t called. Within 5 minutes of his ultimatum, G608 was called up, and we said good bye and good luck to our temporary friend. Then C53 was called, and I wanted to shout BINGO! at the top of my lungs.

We practically ran to the counter to turn in our forms to... Jonah Hill!

Apparently Cyrus had moved from information to an active station. He asked us what we were there for, and we told him again, showing him the forms he had given us.

“Oh, you have the wrong forms. You can’t even get ID’s at this office,”

he said tearing them up and explaining that we needed to take a written test at another office across town to get a license to drive.

Grrrrrrrrr. Vogons.

We eventually filled out all the necessary forms in triplicate, took the tests, paid the fees, and are now waiting the 5 to 6 weeks we were told it would take them to mail us our state IDs. It's a far cry from the Ohio DMV, where they print an ID on the spot, and even give you a preview of your picture, offering to retake it if it's horrible.

One thing we were allowed to do in MN that isn't allowed in OH? Smile at the camera. Somehow though, after everything I'd been through, I couldn't grin when the Vogon photographer said "Cheese."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Restaurant Review: Yum!

Back in Ohio, Friday night was date night. It usually meant dinner and a movie or driving up to Ann Arbor for a leisurely stroll around town. Now that we’re in the Twin Cities we have a plethora of new experiences available to us. And even though we’re restricted by a much tighter budget right now, we still want to keep some version of date night alive.

The latest version of date night? Well, it’s more like date afternoon because lunch menus tend to be cheaper, and instead of a movie we precede or follow our meal with a bike ride. That’s about it at the moment. We’re hoping to visit museums soon as well.

Last Friday we found ourselves at Yum! and I have to say it pretty much lives up to its name.

The bright, crisp atmosphere showcased high ceilings, an open kitchen, white walls and deli-style counters. Large menu displays hung from the ceiling filled with delicious options. Whether it be mini chuck cheese burgers or champagne lemon penne or even the Yum! veggie sandwich, there seemed to be something for every palate.

We ordered the cajun chicken panini and savored its melt-in-your-mouth avocado aioli. We also enjoyed a side of fries, wrapped in a newspaper printed cone, seasoned with large flecks of salt and pepper and served with three dipping sauces: ketchup, cajun mayo and red pepper aioli. Definitely worth having.

The side of mac and cheese lacked flavor, though young ones would probably like it--nobody likes bland starchy food more than little kids. I would have liked some seasoning or caramelized onions added to the mac ‘n’ cheese. Or maybe go southwestern with pieces of lime-infused rotisserie chicken, fire-roasted chilies and seared corn...but I’ve digressed. Needless to say, that dish was not our favorite.

Yum! is also a bakery. From red velvet, buttercream frosted cupcakes to blackberry streusel, you’ll be thinking about dessert before your finish your lunch.

After agonizing over the choices we decided on a slice of super moist coconut cake which also served as Jonathan’s belated birthday cake. But the real treat for our taste buds was something we didn’t even order...the nut goodly bar. They were giving samples of this chocolate, maple-y, peanut-filled confection and one taste made us grin from ear to ear.

Yum! is worthy of a second date.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Meow ?

Another great reason to live in Minnesota?


Not the urban definition, mind you - I’m talking about the actual 200+ pound feline with claws and fangs known for stalking moose, cattle, horses and fighting bears.

I bring this up because one was spotted just yesterday near Lake Elmo. This wasn’t the first time a cougar was caught lurking around houses, as evidenced when police caught a kitty on video last year.

With anywhere from 40 to 60 reports of mountain lion sightings in Minnesota each year it’s comforting to know they’re running loose in the wilds surrounding the cities, occasionally wandering inside the metro area. Why?

For one thing, healthy cougars are a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Pesticides, pollution, and human encroachment have taken a toll on wildlife in some areas of the country, wiping out food sources for larger predators. As the food chain dies out at lower levels, food becomes scarce for the mid sized animals that are in turn the menu choice for the bigger carnivores. Apparently, the bunnies, puppies, and fawns in Minnesota are thriving, which means lots of full cougar tummies, and eventually - cougar babies.

Who doesn’t like cute, cuddly cougar babies?

Further benefits of mountain lions living in the area? These big cats prevent deer from running rampant. Deer overpopulation can quickly become a nuisance as the creatures dig up flower beds, destroy saplings and devastate crops. Other trouble besides deer’s feeding and rutting habits is their propensity to play chicken with traffic and the occasional carjacking.

Sure, the population can be controlled by hunters with guns - boring.

Using cougars is more natural, and less stressful on hunters who might get accidentally caught in crossfire. In fact, if you live in an area overcrowded with deer I strongly recommend breeding cougars in your basement with the intent to release them into the wild, sometime around hunting season. Be sure not to domesticate them too much - keep them as feral as possible by encouraging roughhousing - a sort of cougar Fight Club in your own home, if you will.

Finally, cougars bring with them the adrenaline rush of knowing where you stand on the evolutionary ladder. There’s really nothing quite like understanding that there is a possibility, however remote, of biking down a trail in the early morning, and having a cougar pounce on you.

Man could use more interaction with predators - it builds character.

Minnesota: proudly showcasing
the circle of life!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Why Minnesota? (Part 1)

The question we were most often asked, when we told people about our plan: Why Minnesota?

Consider the numbers. At the time of my downsizing, Toledo had a 12%+ Unemployment rate, and the outlook for Northwest Ohio didn’t appear much better. For the uninitiated, the Glass City is sandwiched geographically in an uncomfortable economic region between Detroit and Cleveland, both of which have their share of unemployment problems (among other things).

Earlier this year Detroit made #4 on Forbes top twenty most depressed cities, charting factors like unemployment, crime rate, suicide rate, and cloudy days. Cleveland beats out Detroit, taking home the #1 spot. Other day-trip cities on the list? Flint MI (#5), Canton, Akron, & Youngstown (at 9, 12, & 18 respectively). And here we are at #15 living right in the middle of this economic mess, on the shores of the Black Swamp.

Could Forbes be wrong? As we began looking at the bigger picture one thing became clear - while there was opportunity in NWOH, it was limited. The Akron Beacon Journal had it right when they said: Misery, thy name is Northern Ohio.

To further illustrate the point, and reassure my wife that we were making the right decision, I snapped two photos of Craigslist job postings, refined to my industry of expertise (Manufacturing) and emailed them to her. Here’s the listing for my home town:

Toledo’s picture shows that there are companies hiring - new postings are listed every day. Maybe it wasn’t doom and gloom after all. In fact, while I was being downsized my cousin took a job in Cleveland.

Still, compare Toledo’s Craigslist job board to Minneapolis’s.

Note, while it's hard to see in this photo it’s the exact same date, and exact same search criteria (Manufacturing), I’m not manipulating the photo in any way with search filters. Where Toledo had one or two postings per day, MPLS (as the natives abbreviate it) had literally too much information to fit on one page, and rightfully so. Minnesota has more Fortune 500 companies per capita than any other state in the nation.

So why Minnesota? The first rule of fishing - go to where the fish are. You’ll have an easier time catching them in the river, than you will in a gravel pit. The same holds true with jobs.

Oh, remember my cousin? The one that put a year's lease down on a Cleveland apartment to take a new job? She got laid off after a month. Downsized. Misery in Northern Ohio, indeed.