January notable nine

For perhaps obvious reasons, this month’s list has been a little harder to write up. And the most important item was also the hardest to find any good words for at all. The pictures will have to do.

  1. Mocha Java, Empress of All North America. I let the old girl go on Jan 21. It was time. She went quietly and peacefully. I still miss her, of course. And I’m sure I will for a long time to come.
    mocha1.jpg     mocha2.jpg
  2. Paris. Right before classes started, I spent seven days in Europe, mostly in my capacity as Acting Chair of the Association for Cultural Studies. The bulk of my time was spent in Paris to help survey the facilities for the Crossroads in Cultural Studies conference . . . and I think it’s shaping up to be a fabulous event. Here, though, I simply want to note how weirdly comfortable Paris felt, given how awkward my “command” (much too strong a word in this context) of the French language is. If you believe my undergraduate institution, I’m “proficient” in French and German. Even then, I knew that institutional proclamation overstated my abilities to handle either language with real comfort. Twenty-five years later (and with little real practice in the interim), as I boarded my flight, I felt even less confident. And yet, on this trip, just enough of that ancient training came back to me to make me feel as if I could stumble my way through with only minimal embarrassment. With a little (okay, a lot) of practice, I might even be able to hold brief conversations about something more complex than purchasing train tickets or sandwiches. This sounds like a laudable goal for me to aim for between now and next July.
  3. Ghent. The small chunk of time I didn’t spend in Paris on that European trip was spent in Ghent. Also on ACS business, but this time to do some advance planning for the first ever ACS Summer Institute. Which I’m also very excited about. Not the least because Ghent is a wonderful little city, and will be even more exciting when (a) I have more than 24 hours to experience it and (b) it’s summer. I even found a Belgian beer (Westmalle Dubbel) that made me feel okay about spending so much time in countries where the hop-heavy brews I generally prefer are nowhere to be found.
  4. European trains. The one major blemish on my otherwise thoroughly enjoyable week abroad was a small (but expensive) curse that appeared to settle over my attempts to move around the continent (even in a small way) by train. I booked my train tickets between Paris and Ghent prior to leaving the States, hoping that this would help make things easier for me. Which it totally would have done . . . had I not misread my own timetable and missed my scheduled train to Ghent. Or had I not managed to lose my ticket for the train back to Paris in the short walk from grabbing dinner in Brussels (where I knew my ticket was in my hand) and walking back to the train station (where said ticket was nowhere to be found). The trains themselves were comfortable, pleasant, and quick. But my ability to manage my timing and my tickets was clearly beset by some bad juju.
  5. Car troubles. The flights to and from Paris were absolutely fine — especially the flight back, which was only about a third full, and where everyone got to stretch out quite comfortably indeed — or else I might think that bad juju covered just about any form of transportation I touched in January. The first time I tried to drive my Beetle after I got back into the country, it stalled out on me . . . and wouldn’t start up again. At some point, it seems, I must have hit a rock or a chunk of jagged ice or something that ripped a hole in my oil pan. Which, of course, drained all the oil out of my engine. Which, in turn, caused the engine to lock up. For good. Ouch. On the plus side, my insurance covered this. And my usual mechanic (who I’m delighted to recommend as fast, friendly, and affordable) happened to have a used Jetta they were looking to sell, and that I’m very happy with. But losing my dog and my car in the same week did have me wondering whether I’d stepped into some old-time country song.
  6. Ice dams. For folks who live south of the frozen tundra that is Minnesota, ice dams may be an unknown beast. I certainly knew nothing about them until I moved here. But they’re a plague that can beset snow-covered roofs if just enough heat escapes for some of that snow to melt and then re-freeze . . . so that any subsequent meltage gets blocked by the wall of ice that’s formed on your roof . . . and, with nowhere else to go, said meltage can then trickle underneath your shingles and into your walls and ceilings. And you can only imagine the fun that results from that. Unfortunately, my knowledge of such “fun” was not simply imaginary this year. Fortunately, the internal damage I suffered was very minor — and caught before it grew into something much more serious. Still.
  7. Lauryn Hill. Her First Avenue show could have been fabulous. I certainly wanted it to be. After I’d already dropped money on not-so-cheap tickets, I started hearing tales of other recent shows where she would wait hours to appear on stage and then perform badly . . . but I was still hopeful. But that hope was misplaced. Even at the end of a loooong day on campus, I could probably have weathered the 2.5 hour wait (doors opened at 9, with nothing but a so-so DJ to entertain the actual show started at about 11:30) if Hill had truly rocked the house, or if her band had been tight, or if her grooves had been compelling. But none of those things happened. My friend and I toughed it out till about 1 . . . but then decided that we hadn’t seen her do anything strong enough to make us hopeful that we were going to get anything better in whatever was still left of the show.
  8. Beer Dabbler. Minnesotans love their winter. So much so that they do things the rest of the country (the world?) would think are insane. Like hold outdoor Winter Carnivals in January, even (or especially) when the thermometer is well below freezing. Or hold outdoor beer festivals in the midst of that Winter Carnival. Done well, the Dabbler could have been a truly special event. Even on one of the coldest days of the year. There were lots of good breweries present. There was plenty of room in the park where the event was held. There were certainly lots of people who wanted to be there. Sadly, though, there were not enough volunteers to help ticketholders enter the park when the gates opened . . . and so the line still stretched for a full three blocks half an hour after the event began. And the Dabbler only used about a third of the actual space of the park . . . so all those people were crammed into not enough real estate. And, most amazingly, no one had bothered to actually clear the park’s walkways of snow . . . which, even for a Winter Carnival, seems like a major safety issue when you combine (a) 12-15″ of the frozen white stuff, (b) a few thousand people, (c) minimal post-nightfall lighting, and (d) what is effectively an open bar. Again, we left early. And, again, leaving early was a damned good idea.
  9. The new semester. January was (clearly) a month filled with challenges this year. But it was also the start of a new semester. And new semesters always begin — at least for me — with a certain spirit of hopefulness. Sure, the last few days before that first class meeting tend to be filled with sizable measures of stress and strain, as I try to get all the pieces in place so that Day One can come off smoothly. But there’s also something exciting about meeting a new group of students, watching them start to gel as a group, and seeing them start to wrestle with the course material in productive fashion. And, so far anyway (even more than a third of the way into February), I’m still feeling a large dose of that Day One optimism.

December notable nine

  1. Mocha. Damned if the old girl isn’t a trooper and a half. The tumor has taken over an awful lot of her face. And she’s clearly not excited about the never-ending snowfall. But the Empress of All North America continues to have noticeable pep in her step more days than not. And so she continues to be the lead item here.
  2. Devious friends. Mocha also makes it into the second item this month, courtesy of two dear friends of mine: one who housesat for me while I was in San Antonio for the ASA meetings last November, while the other served as her partner in crime (and brought along her boyfriend and his photography skills). A few weeks later, they presented me with a series of holiday photos taken chez moi that involved ugly Christmas sweaters, cheesy Christmas decorations, . . . and festively costumed fuzzies.
    xmascard_006.jpg     xmascard_005.jpg
  3. Snow, snow, and more snow. The same storm that broke the roof of the Metrodome was severe enough that both the state and Hennepin County pulled snow plows off the streets for safety reasons. When Minnesotans think it’s too snowy for plows to operate, we’re talking about a lot of snow. And it kept coming after that. In smaller doses to be sure, but every few days since then, another inch (or six, in some cases) has piled up.
  4. Saji Ya. I’ve long thought that the best sushi in the Twin Cities is at Origami in downtown Minneapolis, with Fuji Ya in Uptown coming in as a very strong second. And while neither of those establishments has slipped, I now think that Saji Ya — which I experienced for the first time last month — has to be a part of any serious conversation about the finest raw-fish-and-rice in the area. For now, though, I feel comfortable saying that it’s the best sushi in St. Paul. And if there’s better sushi in St. Paul (or Minneapolis, for that matter), I definitely wanna know about it.
  5. Marwencol. I saw better movies (though not many) in December, but most of those were old favorites (Double Indemnity, Fight Club) or movies you already know you should see (the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit). But you probably don’t know about Marwencol. And you should. If it’s playing near you, catch it before it leaves. If it’s not playing near you, find it on Netflix or at your local video shop as soon as it appears. I won’t try to describe it for you, since I don’t think I can do it justice. Just trust me. If only this once.
  6. Chinook of the North. A few months back, I’d mentioned that I grew my own hops in 2010, and that I was looking forward to using them in a forthcoming batch of homebrew. Well, in December, I finally bottled that first (partially) homegrown batch: a Chinook IPA I’d previously made (and enjoyed immensely) using nothing but store bought ingredients. The version using hops I harvested myself was ready for its first proper tasting right before New Year’s Eve. And it sucked. Badly. Not sure if it was a problem with the hops or if I botched something in the brewing process or what. But it was bad enough that I wound up dumping it all. Which I’d only done once before in nearly two dozen batchs since I started homebrewing again a few years back. You win some, you lose some. We’ll hafta see how the 2011 crop comes in later this fall.
  7. Beg, Scream, & Shout!: The Big ‘Ol Box of ’60s Soul. I’d known about this boxed set for a while. I’ve got at least one friend who has had a copy for years. And somehow I managed to have (most of) a digital copy of it sitting on my external hard drive. But I had mostly forgotten about it . . . until I was trying to locate a suitable Christmas gift for a friend (not coincidentally, one of the perpetrators of the photos directly above), and I had a sudden epiphany that this set would be the perfect present for someone (like her) with a penchant for the likes of Otis Redding and Sharon Jones. The trick, as it turned out, would be finding a copy that didn’t require me to take out a second mortgage — or even finding a copy at all, since the set has been out of print for almost a decade now. But the fates were kind to me. Twice, actually. Since my neighborhood Cheapo turned out to have one . . . and then I found another (for myself) on eBay. Why I never picked this set up before is beyond me. Six CDs, and not a bad track on any of them. Truly funky packaging: each disc comes in an oversized sleeve that looks like an old 45, and the box itself is modeled on an old 45 carrying case. And the set comes with a box of trading cards: one for each song.
  8. All Day. Evidently, the new Girl Talk album dropped on November 15. But I didn’t learn about it till December. Not surprisingly, it’s a damned fine bit of mash-up work. What did surprise me, however, is how I learned about it: I heard a track from it on the radio. And while it still amazes me (even if it also pleases me) that Girl Talk hasn’t been hit with cease-and-desist nastygrams from the RIAA and all their cousins, it amazes me (and, again, pleases me) even more that GT would actually get played on an over-the-regular-airwaves radio station.
  9. The Muppets vs. Nine Inch Nails. Speaking of mash-ups . . . well, why speak at all? Just watch. And enjoy.

November notable nine

Nine days late, I know, but it’s been a busy week or so.

  1. Mocha. She’s still with us. Believe it or not. She’s had a couple of spells where she stopped eating for a few days, and I thought she was ready to go . . . but then she’s suddenly rediscovered the joy of kibble.
  2. In like a lamb, out like a frozen four-pack of lamb chops. Our slow arriving fall treated us mellow and fine deep into the second week of the month, when we had highs in the 60s . . . and then we got walloped with 6-10 inches of snow. By month’s end, the city had already declared its second snow emergency of the season, and we’d all forgotten what outside temperatures above freezing felt like.
  3. The American Studies Association conference. I got to escape some of those early sub-freezing days by flying off to San Antonio for the annual ASA meetings. And, as scholarly gatherings go, the ASA is routinely much more interesting and enjoyable than the annual ICA and NCA confabs. It didn’t hurt that I got to wear sandals for four days in mid-November without putting myself at risk of frostbite. I did struggle to find anything that resembles good beer in San Antonio . . . but the margaritas made up for that.
  4. Town Hall Tap. My fave brewpub in town anywhere opened up a new location at 48th and Chicago in south Minneapolis. And, not surprisingly, it appears to already be a huge success. The official opening happened at 3 pm on a Friday. By 4, the place was standing room only. By the time I left that night, the wait list for tables was about 45 minutes long. The opening was even sweeter for me, thanks to the unexpected pleasure of not one, but two different former undergrads — neither of whom I’d seen in years — spotting me and making a point of saying how much they’d enjoyed the classes they’d taken from me.
  5. The collapse of the Cowboys. It was not a good month to be a fan of Washington’s professional football team. An embarrassing loss to a bad team (the Vikings). A humiliating loss to a good team (the Eagles). A squeaker victory over a mediocre team (the Titans). On the other hand, it was delicious to watch the Cowboys self-destruct so thoroughly. Even more delicious to have The Onion capture the joy I felt so perfectly.
  6. Apple pie. Thanksgiving found me baking my very first ever pie. From scratch, no less. The filling, if I do say so myself, came out quite nicely. At least in terms of its taste. A little more cornstarch would probably have helped it firm up a bit. The crust, on the other hand, needed some serious help. Again, it tasted fine. At least insofar as it stayed intact, since the bottom crust basically disappeared during the baking process. Perhaps it melted into the filling. But there was little to no there there when it came time for dessert.
  7. A kind mention. Proud as I still am of Elvis After Elvis, I also don’t figure it gets much attention these days. It’s nearly fifteen years old (as a book, anyway), and so it’s well past the usual “freshness” date of an awful lot of scholarly volumes. So I was quite surprised to stumble across the brief shout-out for it in this interview.
  8. Bettye Lavette, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook. Wow. Just wow. Worth it for the opening track alone (a stunning cover of an otherwise little-played Beatles track called “The Word”), but the rest of the album is awfully sharp too.
  9. Mavis Staples. Also wow. Only this time for a live performance at The Cedar. If the opportunity presents itself to see her in concert, run (do not walk). You will not be disappointed. Promise.

October notable nine

As before, these are in no particular order . . . except for #1.

  1. Mocha. Given the unhappy prognosis for her long-term health back in March, she stays at the top of this list for every month she remains on this side of the topsoil. The past week or so, she’s actually seemed a bit perkier. And the slow, perpetual nose bleeds that had made my living room floor look like it had been decorated by Jackson Pollock with a one-dimension palette have slowed down as well. If she’s still with us this time next month, I’ll have had to go back to the vet twice to re-renew the prescription for her meds. And, given how she seems to be faring right now, I’m not gonna be surprised if I have to do that.
  2. A long delayed fall. We knew it couldn’t last. And it didn’t. We saw our first snow flurries of the season here in Minneapolis last week. But earlier in the month, we were still rocking temps in the 80s. Not just fleetingly, but for several days at a stretch. Patio dining was still feasible — and comfortable — more than halfway into the month. And when those sorts of days aren’t likely to roll around again until April, every little extension of the summer is a glorious thing.
  3. Lake Wine and Cheese. Newly opened, and a short four-block walk from my house . . . and with a marvelous selection of craft beers and microbrews. If I didn’t have a fridge full of beer I brewed myself, this place would tempt me to part with a bit more of my take-home pay than would be wise.
  4. Town Hall Brewery‘s Fresh Hop. Speaking of places where I spend money on beer, it’s tough to top the stuff THB brews and pours on a regular basis. But it’s extra tough to top their Fresh Hop: a once-a-year, get-it-while-supplies-last batch of hopped-up ale made, just as the name implies, with hops picked fresh off the vine . . . or at least as fresh as possible, given that the vines in question are still 1000 miles or so to the west.
  5. Washington, 17, Philadelphia 12; Washington 16, Green Bay 13; Washington 17, Chicago 14. On a day when my lifelong football allegiance were sorely tested (i.e., the day when, for the second year in a row, my team lost to the otherwise woeful Lions), I need to remind myself that we had a winning record for October, that two of our three wins came against teams that made the playoffs last season, and that the season is still far from over.
  6. Teaching via IM. Once every year or two, I’ll have a moment when I think I know what I’m going to do in the classroom that day . . . and then, at the last second, some wild idea pops into my head for something totally weird that I should do instead. I can’t predict or control those flashes of inspiration, but I’ve learned to trust them. ‘Cause they often wind up working much, much better than whatever I’d originally had planned. This time around, the course was “New Telecommunication Media” and one of the two readings on tap was from Shayla Thiel-Stern‘s book on adolescent girls and instant messaging. And I’d been prepared to lead the group in our usual conversation about the issues raised by the readings for the day — until I realized that it would be far more productive, at least with respect to one of the topics at hand, to hold our discussion using IM. Or at least a primitive, pre-digital version of IM, where our entire conversation took place using the whiteboard at the front of the room. It took my students a little while to warm up to the idea . . . but, eventually, we had 3-4 separate threads running on the board at once, and we were able to have a much smarter, much more embodied discussion of the material at hand than we ever would have if I’d stuck with my original lesson plan.
  7. So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities. Yes, it’s one of those videos that has already been around the world about 40 times, thanks to Facebook and listservs and such. But that doesn’t make it any less funny. Or sad. Or true.
  8. Chastity Brown @ the Kitty Cat Klub. This show was already down as a “must-list” for this month’s Notable Nine, and I figured I’d be able to find some suitably representative performance already online to give folks who’ve never had the pleasure a sense of what went down at the KCK on Oct 16. But, o frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I found a clip from that very show. Enjoy.
  9. Paul Beatty reads Slumberland. A last-second addition to this month’s list. But that’s because I only became aware of this video in the last hour or so. If you haven’t read Slumberland yourself, run (do not walk) to your nearest independent bookstore, buy a copy, and stay up all night to finish it. While you’re at it, do the same with his first novel, The White Boy Shuffle. But if your nearest independent bookstore is closed at the time you’re actually reading these words, you can whet your appetite by watching the video below.

Who dat?

One of the most amazing little serendipitous moments of . . . well . . . who knows how long? And way too sweet not to mention here.

Was out with a couple of friends, celebrating a birthday (not mine). The Super Bowl was not an official part of anyone’s agenda though, as it turns out, all three of us were rooting for New Orleans. Even the birthday girl, who’s not a football fan. At halftime, we leave the bar we’d been and start walking back to where 2 of the 3 of us had parked their cars. And we hear this noise up ahead from several blocks away.

We get closer, and it sounds vaguely like a Mardi Gras parade. There’s music. Horns. Shouting.

Bear in mind, this is Minneapolis. In February. And it’s snowing. So we figure that can’t possibly be the case.

We get closer still. And, yes. There’s a small brass band standing in an alleyway. There are a dozen people dressed in black and gold (Saints colors, for those who are not NFL-savvy) dancing in the street, having the time of the fuckin’ lives.

This is one of the reasons I love Minneapolis.

Better still, it’s one of the reasons I love N’awlins. Even though I’ve never lived there. I can’t think of any other city in the US that could generate enough passion and love and community and loyalty to have people dancing in the snow like that. Not for people who were 1000 miles from home, anyway.

Monday musical mayhem

  1. Perez Prado, “Mambo #8.” Say what you will about Lou Bega’s cheesy 1999 hit, “Mambo #5.” It was catchy enough to make me want to know more about the sampled song at its core. Which led me to Perez Prado’s infinitely better tune of the same name . . . and while Bega was a one trick pony, Prado was not. I don’t pretend to have tapped his oeuvre very deeply, but what I’ve found makes me very happy indeed.
  2. Ray Charles, “What Would I Do Without You?” A weeper and a wailer from Brother Ray. I don’t think this was ever a major hit (not on the pop side of things anyway) — and that’s a cryin’ shame.
  3. Elvis Presley, “A Big Hunk O’ Love.” I know. There’s Elvis . . . on my iPod? Surprise. And that’s not really a wishbone in his pocket: he’s just glad to see you.
  4. Tom Waits, “Shiny Things.” There’s a lot of Waits on my iPod, too. He’s come up three times now since I started the MMM game. And it’s always been one of the more obscure and less remarkable tracks from Orphans. And so you get an unremarkable bit of commentary here. Ah well.
  5. Warren Zevon, “Werewolves of London.” For years, I thought the exclamation point line towards the end of this track was “And his hair was purple!” Why I ever thought it made sense for Zevon to be singing about some sort of punked-out lycanthrope, I dunno.
  6. Dinah Washington, “All Because of You.” Straight-up sweetness from the Queen of the Blues.
  7. Aretha Franklin, “Call Me.” Speaking of soulful sweetness from musical Queens . . .
  8. Gladys Knight & the Pips, “If I Were Your Woman.” Sometimes, the shuffle feature deals you a lovely three-part history lesson. Or at least a sequence of artists, each of whom arguably owes an awful lot to the one who shuffled up immediately before. I don’t plan these things. They just happen. Does the chain continue past Gladys? . . .
  9. Eddie Cochran, “Summertime Blues.” . . . No, of course it doesn’t. We jump backwards in time and skip over a genre or two. But this is a nice forward-thinking tune on the first day since October or so where Minneapolis has seen the thermometer push past 60 degrees. Let’s keep that rhythm going now, okay?
  10. Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Pride and Joy.” And we finish up with some fine, fine, superfine grind-it-out Texas blues. I gave up on fetishizing most of the guitar heroes of my youth a long time ago. But somehow Stevie Ray’s licks — like the love he has for his pride and joy — never seem to grow old.

Fun with surveillance

Yesterday, my car was involved in an accident.  Sort of.  It was parked on the street in front of the house at the front end of a series of three vehicles.  Someone managed to drive their car into the back rear corner of the truck at the back end of that line. They did a serious bit of damage to their own car.  The truck, at least from what I could see from inside the house, appeared to be virtually unscathed.  But the force of the collision seemed to push it forward a notch into the car that was parked directly behind mine . . . which, in turn, was pushed forward into my rear bumper.  No one was in my car at the time.  Neither Margaret nor I talked with the police officers who showed up to handle the accident.  And if there was any real damage to my car, it’s the sort of damage that only shows up much later when one discovers that one’s rear end alignment is slightly out of whack.

Today , I received a phone call from City Chiropractors.  The woman on the other end of the line asked for me by name.  She said that I’d been involved in an accident yesterday and wanted to know if I needed their services.  I said (in effect), “What the fuck?”

As far as I can tell, the best explanation so far (if we want to assume that Minneapolis’ Finest aren’t getting kickbacks from selling information to local businesses, anyway) is that the officer of record on the scene ran my license plate number in the course of filing his/her report . . . and then mentioned me by name in said report.  Which meant that my name showed up in the public record of the accident . . . and that trolling lawyers and chiropractors could then call me at home the next day to see if I wanted to avail myself of their services.

Not-so-random Monday: Nikki Schultz edition

I hadn’t planned for this entry to be entirely about my friend Nikki. And, after a fashion, it’s not really all about Nikki. But it’s been a day where multiple circumstances have had a strong Nikki aura to them, so it only makes sense to put a name to that.

  1. Today, I wound up having lunch at the Dinkydome after my morning teaching. Which meant that the most convenient route for me to take to the strike location for my afternoon graduate seminar [sorry, no link yet, since the syllabus is still in flux] took me across the 10th Avenue Bridge . . . which gave me my first up-close, in-person look at the wreckage of the I-35W Bridge . . . which, even more than a month later, is a mind-blowing sight to behold. I’m not even going to try to capture in words what it feels like to see that much twisted steel and buckled concrete in one place — if you can count the full expanse of the Mississippi River plus several hundred feet on each bank as “one place” — since words won’t do it justice. But it makes it even harder for me to imagine what it would have felt like to be on the 10th Avenue Bridge precisely when the bridge right next to it crumpled without warning. Nikki didn’t have to imagine such a thing (though I’m sure she wishes that things were otherwise), since she was there.
  2. My graduate seminar — which happens to include Nikki — looks like as strong and promising a group as any I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching. And I’ve taught my fair share of stellar groups of students. Saying something like this in public, of course, will undoubtedly inspire some former student to wonder what was wrong with the cohort they were in when I taught some previous seminar. So let me assure any such folks, here and now, that any shortfalls in their cohort were someone else’s fault entirely. If nothing else, the occasional weak links in my graduate seminars — they’ve been rare, but the ones that I’ve had have tended to be pretty memorable in their weakness — are probably not folks who’re keeping tabs on my blog.
  3. The ongoing saga of the AFSCME strike at the U. continues to be . . . well . . . ongoing. If there are active negotiations underway again between the administration and the union, neither side is saying so publicly. So folks like Nikki — who’s also one of the striking workers — will apparently be walking the picket lines for the foreseeable future. And I’ll be teaching my graduate seminar off campus for as long as the strike lasts.

Catching up, checking in

I’ve been meaning to post about the Cultural Studies Now conference and my trip to London ever since I got back . . . but Margaret’s mother arrived for a week’s visit three hours after I got back . . . and then three hours before she left, the roofers showed up to start what turned out to be a three-day job that drove Margaret and I out of the house for much of the duration (have you ever tried to write coherent prose while half a dozen men pounded on the ceiling directly above you for hours on end?) . . . and then three hours or so after the roofers were done, the I-35W bridge collapsed . . . which has been its own distraction for the past 24 hours or so, partially for the “disaster porn” that goes along with tragedies of this sort, but mostly because of the varied and multiple rounds of “checking in” that have taken place since last night.

Sometime over the past week, I did actually manage to HTMLify my presentation from the conference, but let me save a more detailed report on the event as a whole for a later post. For now, I’m still processing the bridge collapse. So far, at least, no one from my circle of friends and colleagues and acquaintances was on/under the bridge at the crucial moment yesterday . . . but given the where and when of the situation, it’s still perfectly plausible that someone I know wasn’t so lucky, and I simply don’t know it yet. The bridge is — was — right next to campus, and I-35W is the major north-south highway running through Minneapolis. I didn’t use that bridge every day, but it also wouldn’t have been unusual for me to have done so: I crossed it at least twice last week, walked by it on two other occasions, and was more or less right around the corner a mere hour before it fell.

For me, though, I think the biggest chunk of my “there but for the grace of Elvis” reaction to yesterday’s tragedy is the fact that Minneapolis is very much a river-straddling city. Unlike, say, St. Louis or Memphis, where the river marks the line between the city and the suburbs (and not always the most desirable of suburbs either) and one can plausibly spend years living and working in the area without ever needing to cross a bridge, here the river pretty much runs through the heart of things. I’m sure there must be people in town whose lives are such that they rarely have to cross the river, but I suspect they’re the exception, rather than the rule. There are six or seven different bridges across the Mississippi that I might use on any given day for any number of reasons, and I can easily need to cross the river a dozen times (or more) every week. I’m not exactly worried about crossing those bridges again — the odds that a bridge that’s stood for decades will crumble at precisely the moment you’re on it are still pretty damned small — but I’m also mindful of the fact that I could very easily have been on the I-35W bridge at the wrong time yesterday . . . or that those long odds might’ve kicked in during any of the other bridge-crossing moments that routinely happen.

The cruelest month indeed

On Monday, March 25, the high in Minneapolis was 81 degrees. Record for the day. Two degrees shy of the record for the month. I don’t think anyone had any illusions that we’d simply bypassed spring and headed straight into summer for good — or even that we’d seen the last of temps in the 30s and 40s. But spring appeared to have well and truly sprung.


It’s snowing today. For the second time since that balmy March Monday. And we haven’t seen the sunny side of 50 in more than a week. This does not make me happy.

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