Feb 28, 2010

The Crazy Things We Do

Bob's Mom with the augur
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
I answered a call for help a few weeks ago.

A friend's Mom was coming to town and she wanted to try ice fishing. She loves to fish and has never done this, she lives down south and now she's in Minnesota in February, so this was her chance.

I dusted off the gear, gassed up the Jiffy and met them for an afternoon of piscatorial pursuit on the lake some know as Nokomis. The fishing absolutely sucked; we just narrowly avoided getting skunked, but it was 36 degrees and so sunny that I got a little toasted out there.

The best part was that I think Mom had fun and I was able to help make this happen.

Feb 25, 2010


A few weeks ago, I heard an interesting interview on the radio with Cinda Baxter, the woman who started the 3/50 project. I had not heard of the 3/50 project previously, but I like it and got on board right away.

3/50 started in response to an Oprah Winfrey show; Suze Orman was her guest, and she was admonishing everyone to stop spending money and quit buying things because the economy was collapsing. I am sure Suze and Oprah didn't mean any harm, but still, that's not the kind of consumer behavior that will help to pull us out of a recession.

Cinda thought that Suze and Oprah were not thinking about this whole issue correctly, so in response she wrote a blog post and suggested that we each pick three locally owned, independent stores that that you appreciate and support them by committing to spending $50 between them each month. Brilliant thinking on her part, and a lot of people agreed because the 3/50 project has over 46,000 "fans" on Facebook.

Supporting locally owned stores is important. According to Cinda, for each $100 spent in a locally owned shop, $68 stays in the community as compared to only $43 in a national chain store purchase. More important to me is the preservation of retail diversity. I just hate the vast placelessness of monoculture strip malls full of national chain stores and restaurants, and try to stay away from those things when I can.

For my 3/50 stores, I have decided to support a local bike shop (Hiawatha Cycles), a local restaurant (Turtle Bread Co.) and Nokomis Shoe Store. All three add to my existence and it'll be easy to do this. If you have any interest at all in supporting the local shops, consider making your own 3/50 commitment.

Feb 22, 2010

Good Times, Good Times...

We are back from a week long adventure to Southern California. I participated in a training seminar that my company was delivering in San Diego over the three middle days of the week and then took advantage of my geography to squeeze in a little time off and a weekend stay in the warm sunny part of the world for awhile.

San Diego seemed nice, and my wife enjoyed exploring it during the days, but I was pretty covered up with the conference and a bought of what I can only conclude was some sort of food poisoning that laid me out for a day or two or three. I have to say that having the digestive system running on fast forward and reverse simultaneously is a pretty rotten way to go through life. Fortunately I was able to participate in my panel discussion and represent the company despite the GI woes and was feeling better by the weekend.

After San Diego, we shot up to La Jolla to see the very rare Torrey Pine trees in Torry Pines State Reserve and then headed about 2 hours east of San Diego to Anza Barrego Desert State Park, in eastern San Diego County. Anza Barrego is the largest state park in the U.S., and it promised some good birding and desert hiking possibilities, both of which sounded good to our late-winter sensibilities.

Molly did quite a bit of research and concluded that our destination should be the Barrego Valley Inn in Barrego Springs. The place was fantastic; nice room, private patio, heated pools and hot tubs (including the "clothing optional" variety if you are so inclined) and the owners were very friendly and fun. Barrego Springs is no great shakes, but it's about the only town around and hands-down better than most of the other very small and very depressed towns in rural Southern California. There's a reason Stephen King set his novel Desperation in this region.

On Saturday we set sail for the Salton Sea, figuratively speaking, and were treated to some excellent bird watching. The Salton Sea is 300 feet below sea-level and is the largest lake in California. It's a brackish flat expanse that's a bird magnet with generally good access. The southern end of the lake receives fresh water from a river and is better for waterfowl, but the remainder of the lake holds all kinds of interesting stuff, including Black-necked Stilts, American Avocet, Eared grebes, American White Pelicans, Dowitchers and a possible Sprague's Pipit.

The real treat for me were my long-awaited Burrowing owls. I have wanted to see Avocets forever and scored those early in the day, but I have wanted a Burrowing owl for as long as I have been interested in owls. Molly gets the credit for scouring the bird reports and finding some choice locations to prowl through, but I was really skeptical that we'd come up with an owl. We ended up seeing several, just as easy as pie. That never happens to me, so I am always very appreciative when things work out like this. In addition to the BOs, we also picked up California quail, White-tailed Kite (2) and a few other new birds as well, so it was the best day afield that I have had in a long time.

More photos on the Flickr site located here.

Feb 12, 2010

Being Invisible

Invisible Man
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Several times, I have noticed a person on the 133 bus route who is entirely covered from head to toe. He wears a long green wool trench coat, a full-face balaclava and gloves. This is finished off with a pair of ski goggles (mirrored goggles, no less). Not even a nose pokes out, and I have never seen him remove a single article of this ensemble. What's more, he does not speak to other passengers, or even read, while riding the bus. He sits silently until his stop, then pulls the cord and shuffles off the bus.

I am afraid that there is some tragic story behind this - burns, or a skin problem, perhaps extreme light sensitivity or something... who knows? The other passengers don't really acknowledge him, but they are not uncomfortable despite the silent presence of this mysterious person.

I prefer to think that this person has discovered the true secret of invisibility. On days when he feels like being invisible, he dons his balaclava and goggles and gets on the bus, riding silently to his destination. On other days when he is feeling like being part of the world, he wears a jacket and stocking cap just like the rest of us shlubs on the bus, but we have no idea that he is the man behind the mask because we've never seen him take off the layers.

I hope that's the case and that he's laughing his ass off at all of us for not figuring this out.

Feb 11, 2010

Snow and Advocacy

We've had a lot of snow this winter. And ice. And I'm tired of it by now.

The City has declared a rest-of-the-winter parking restriction that amounts to no parking allowed on the even side of the street of the street for the rest of the winter (or April, which ever comes first). We lose on this deal because that means everyone has to park on my side of the street.

On the bright side, if winter really sucks again next winter, people will be parking on the other side of the street, so I can look forward to that for the next 11 or 12 months (sweet). Plus, now fire trucks can make it up and down our narrow, icy and snow-choked streets if needed (knock wood).

Despite the winter glum, there are some things to get excited about on the horizon...

We are potentially getting a Stone Arch Bridge bike boulevard which would ease your two-wheeled passage to (or from) downtown to the northern-most reaches of Northeast MPLS. The City is hosting two (count them: 2) public meetings to get input on the proposal. The first meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 16 at University Lutheran Church of Hope. The second meeting is the next day (Feb. 17) at Windom Park Rec Center. The links on these meetings take you to the official City flyer for these meetings. Don't be afraid - click them for more information.

We have also recently had some Complete Streets legislation introduced into the legislature. There are opportunities to support that as well. Complete Streets just make sense, and I think it's encouraging that the State is thinking about adopting a Complete Streets policy. However, if this legislation doesn't have any real teeth in it, I fear this will just be more window dressing and fodder for political credit-claiming for our elected officials, and won't result in much positive change. If you care at all, go to these meetings, support the legislation and then hold everyone accountable for delivering on this. Thank you Transit for Livable Communities for posting on this.

I am closing with a photo of the sidewalk to my bus stop. Enjoy!

Feb 8, 2010

Buses Lay Siege to Nicolet Mall

Lined Up on Nic
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Tonight due to the snow storm buses were typical lined up four per city block on Nicolet Mall this evening. In a few cases I saw as many as 6 buses squashed in between 7th and 8th Street on Nic (empirical evidence from tonight suggests that 6 is the maximum number that fit in a block). On a good weather day, it's typically only two buses per block, but that's still enough to make it pretty unenjoyable to ride a bike on Nicolet.

One of the results of the Marq2 project is that bikes will once again be allowed on Nic during peak hours, but unlessl the local buses get routed somewhere else, I doubt most people will choose to ride on Nicolet Mall due to bus conflicts. I just hope the low ridership is not misinterpreted by The City as low demand for suitable bike routes in the CBD.

Feb 6, 2010

The Golden Weasel

Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Senator William Proxmire, formerly of my ancestral homeland, used to make a big deal of awarding a "golden fleece" to public officials that he deemed to be wasting public money. I think Proxmire fashioned himself as a modern-day incarnation of "Fighting Bob LaFollette" and was pandering to the Wisconsin Populist tradition, but so what? It beats pandering to the religious right.

In the spirit of Senator Proxmire and in homage to Fightin' Bob, I am awarding my first "Golden Weasel" award to Sarah P. for shenanigans regarding a "cabin" worth "nothing" and the taxes she's not paying on it.

Way to go, Sarah! At least it's not your fault...

Feb 3, 2010

Trek 400 Restoration

It's no secret that I have been keeping an eye out for a vintage Trek for some time. The search has been slow because I ride a small frame, which is generally harder to come by, and because a lot of the "vintage" bikes that get posted on Craig's List are really just "not new" and most of the Treks are the modern, mass-produced units that I want nothing to do with.

My luck changed in a big way thanks to MBL. A Bike Lover was selling a project bike that she had not gotten around to finishing. The bike slaked my vintage Trek thirst, fit my in-seam, and it was a wicked good deal, so I ended up acquiring a 1985 Trek 400. The 400 was an entry-level bike, and this one was missing a few pieces, but it's a Wisconsin lugged steel frame and the paint was in good shape, and the wheels were salvageable, so I snapped it up.

The last thing in the world I need is another bike, but this one seemed to be too good to pass up. Still, I wondered what the f*ck I was going to do with this one (I am in that "one in, one out mode with bikes at the moment). Then inspiration hit - I have a co-worker that borrowed some slick MTB tires from me last summer for a duathalon that she was competing in on her mountain bike, which only had knobbies.

I mentioned my recent acquisition to her and inquired if she might be interested in taking this bike off my hands. I proposed a scenario where I would re-build it to her specification at cost. This was a win-win because I would get to pour over the bike for a few weeks and get the Trek lust out of my system, and hone my skills at home wrenching, and she would end up with a better ride than what she was chugging around on currently and be able to control the cost and final product. She jumped at the opportunity, which made us both happy.

As-is, the bike needed derailleurs, brake calipers, shifters, a chain, tires and a complete set of cables and housing. This must have been an aborted fixed-gear conversion bike before I picked it up (keep your left over parts, you damn hipsters, they might come in handy some day). The crank set had the large chain ring removed, but luckily it was found and included in the deal. Between my spare-parts bin and a helping hand from a friend with A LOT of bike parts, I was able to get period-correct front and rear derailleurs, calipers, and a set of downtube shifters on the cheap. The rest of the stuff was retail at the LBS.

Thankfully, the bike had decent, re-useable wheels that only needed truing and overhauls on the hubs. The seat post was stuck when I brought it home, but after several days of work with penetrating oil, and eventually ammonia, I beat that problem into submission and applied the Phil grease to prevent that from happening again. The bottom bracket and headset received complete overhauls, as did the hubs. Chain, cable and caliper installations were completed and my co-worker was able to come over and help out with some finishing touches, like crisp white bar tape and a white bottle cage. We gave it a final once-over and test ride two weeks ago and she took it home.

She loves the bike and can't wait until spring to ride it, and she's now on a classic road bike with a fresh overhaul for less than the price of the average piece of shit "vintage" bikes that get listed on Craig's List. If she likes the ride, we may upgrade to more modern parts, but for now the retro friction shifting set up was almost free and works like a charm.

Like a moron, I didn't shoot a good "after" picture, but here's a nearly finished photo of the bike:

This was a really good project because I learned a lot about fixing up bikes on-the-cheap and made a substantial deposit in the karma bank in the process. I made my co-worker promise that if she ever wanted to get rid of this bike, she'd offer to sell it back to me first, so this may just come back to me in other ways as well...

Feb 1, 2010

Best CL of the Week (So Far)

CAMPER BICYCLE - $400 (msp)

Date: 2010-02-01, 5:18AM CST
Reply to: sale-axsnu-1580353973@craigslist.org [Errors when replying to ads?]

Must sell, my legs just cant do it anymore, especially with my fat wife.

  • Location: msp
  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
image 1580353973-0