Introducing Sprinter (spring + winter), the Season You’ve Been Waiting For

[Sunshine + snowpack.]
People in Minnesota always say that "spring is so short here."

They also always say, with a resigned air, "Oh woe is me! We have six months of winter."

Many people wear these seasonal affectations like paper bags on their heads. In the grips of the seemingly endless winter, they wilt and feign helplessness. They insist they cannot do anything like ride bicycles, sit on patios, play football out of doors, or leave the banal containment of the downtown skyway system from November through May.

Of course that’s not true, but one of the problems I think we face as a northern (albeit rapidly warming) society is that we assume that because it *might/probably-will* snow at some point in April or November, that therefore winter lasts that long also. This kind of attitude subsumes all seasonal variation within a six-month period into once overarching and oppressive seasonal concept — “winter" — that to the untrained eye looks homogeneous and bleak and therefore sends otherwise reasonable people into a cycle of place-based self-loathing that leads invariably to seasonal affective disorders, anti-social architectural escapism, and misguided flights to Florida.

It's sad. But it doesn't have to be this way...

Listen friend, have I got a concept for you! It’s a brand new season that has already existed your whole life,  but you didn’t have a name for it yet.

It’s called Sprinter!

[Sprinter is when all these lines get tangled up at once.]
Sprinter is spring + winter, and it's the season that begins with the first 50ยบ day and lasts until the final bit of snow or sleet-type precipitation.

Like an actual fast-moving runner, sprinter comes at you fast and can be fleeting. But it’s a meaningful, distinct season that exists in Minnesota and helps us understand the fine-grained stuff happening in between actual winter (defined as mostly below-freezing temps) and actual spring (defined as when leaves and flowers appear out of the trees and ground).

Here are some hallmarks of sprinter season.
  • Mud! Lots of mud. In some communities, sprinter is also known as “mud season.” The earthy sickly-sweet smell of mud surrounds you in sprintertime, and you grow to love it in the way that a farmer loves the smell of manure or an old man loves the smell of his farts. It’s a sign that things are alive and working properly.
  • Heavy snow. I mean this literally, in the quality vs. quantity sense, where any snow that falls has a lot of moisture content and is heavy. Thundersnow might also be a thing that happens here.
  • Melting snow. The drips and drops of snow are all around you, forming into sidewalk ice flows and piles of snirt (snow + dirt). The constant dripping and evaporation fills the air with a crisp kind of cold humidity that’s sort of exciting, especially in contrast with…
  • Warm sunshine. Unlike in actual winter, the sprintertime sun warms your skin and you can legit get a sunburn in sprinter like I did at the Minnesota United home opener this weekend. The contrast between the still-existing snow and the warm sun is the hallmark of sprinter weather. 
  • Uneven landscapes. The “warm side” of streets that get all the south-facing sun are dry but the “cold side” of streets that face northward are full of ice. It’s weird!
  • Teens wearing shorts. Oh those teens!
  • Other things? Feel free to leave them in the comments.

Sprinter is what we need. They have more than four seasons in other places (e.g. Japan’s “rainy season” and India’s “monsoon season” and the Shire’s “second breakfast”). Why not here?

Sprinter is spring + winter and it’s a season for those who feel trapped in the eternal slog of wintertime and calendars and whatnot. Embrace sprinter, for it has already embraced you. Get out and ride your bike, bask in the warmth of the midday sun, and go on walks on the sunny sides of streets.

Sprinter moves fast, so enjoy it while it lasts!

[This kid gets it!]


Walking Tour of Old Nicollet Avenue on March 22nd

[Nicollet and 17th in 1950.]

Please join me for a walking tour next Thursday of what I call "Old Nicollet Avenue," the area between the south end of the Nicollet Mall (Grant Street) and Franklin Avenue.

This is a stretch of the city that's intrigued me for many years. This is a part of the city that, at least to me, survived in the margins between downtown and the Eat Street part of Nicollet to the south. It sits nestled by the freeway and the convention center on the edge of the Loring Park neighborhood. In a way, this half-mile stretch of Nicollet Avenue feels like what Minneapolis might have been like twenty or thirty years ago, back when the city was struggling with a changing economy, crime and disinvestment, and ongoing suburbanization. And at the same time, this was the era with lots of opportunities for small marginal businesses, historic fabric, and a thriving sense of a counterculture.

[The largest onion dome of its kind in Minneapolis.]
The street is also home to a bunch of antiquated restaurants that are not long for this world -- places from another era like the now-shuttered Jerusalem's (a classic "architecture duck") and the now-shuttered Ichiban Japanese Steak House -- as well as a number of marginal-but-doing-fine restaurants like Salsa a la Salsa, Ping's Szechuan, or Awkaaba, that offer cuisine from around the world. And yet I've always felt these places were ignored by local hipsters and the downtown office crowd. Maybe they survive only on the benevolent ignorance of tourists?

I was thinking about doing this tour for many years and, I swear to god, had it planned on my calendar BEFORE the most historical restaurant on the stretch, Market BBQ, announced they were closing for a new apartment development.

So carpe veteris nicolletum. Let's explore this forgotten and vanishing part of our city on the edge of downtown and see what we can appreciate. I'm looking forward to sharing stories about old Nicollet Village Video, the Triple Espresso theater, Gangchen / Tibet Kitchen, the Marigold Ballroom, and other things that I'm uncovering about this stretch of street.

Please come if you're interested!

[Some video of Nicollet, from Franklin to the freeway, in 1983, followed by a bunch of great downtown footage.]

What: Walking tour of Nicollet Avenue from Grant Street to Franklin Avenue.
When: Thursday March 22nd at 6:30
Where: Meet at Market BBQ, 1414 Nicollet
Who: Anyone! Free of charge, but will be collecting money for egg rolls
Why: Because it's there, but not for long it seems.

[Amazing Nicollet Village Video ad and more historic pictures below.]


Twin City Bike Parking #30

[West 7th Street, Saint Paul.] 

 [Winnipeg, MB.]

 [Ran-Ham, Saint Paul.]

 [Winnipeg, MB.]

 [Winnipeg, MB.]

 [Durand, WI.]

[Location forgotten... but somewhere with brand new sidewalks. Maybe Snelling Avenue?]

[Marcy-Holmes, Minneapolis.]


Twin City Street Musicians #20

 [Ukelele. Kansas City, MO.]

 [Drummer. Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [Banjo. Seward, Minneapolis.]

 [Trumpet. Downtown, Minneapolis.]

 [Saxophone. Lowertown, Saint Paul.]

 [Drummer. Lowertown, Saint Paul.]

 [Guitar. Mac-Groveland, Saint Paul.]

[Accordion. Longfellow, Minneapolis.]


The Incredible True Tale of the Northeast Minneapolis Flag

[They still have that "new flag" smell.]
tl;dr: Northeast Minneapolis has a little-known “neighborhood flag” with a wacky history that dates to the early 1970s. Flags are cool and this one is great.

Get yours today!

Slightly longer version: While clearly not as rich in historical pedigree as the Saint Paul Flag, from a vexilological perspective, the 70s era Northeast flag is superior. Best of all, its origin story is connected to Minneapolis’ most unique parking lot, the “Northeast Bank Parking Lot Park” on Marshall and Broadway. The flag was legit designed by a 10-year-old to celebrate a parking lot, and to me it looks great.

It’s been flying over the parking lot park for forty years, but is rarely seen elsewhere in the neighborhood. Given the crapitude of Minneapolis’ official city flag, and the great neighborhood traditions of Northeast itself, I say it’s time for that to change. Symbolically celebrate Northeast’s quirky history and creative spirit!

Get one today!

[The Northeast Bank at Marshall and Broadway. Note the Northeast flag.]
Long and detailed account: I first discovered Minneapolis’ Northeast Flag while doing research for my 2015 tour of interesting Minneapolis parking lots.

(Note: This is a true story, not made up by me, I swear.)

The first-and-only “Noteworthy Parking Lots of Minneapolis” bicycle tour still ranks in my top three favorite bike tours, and it all began with a moment of discovery and ongoing fascination with one particular particular parking lot by the Mississippi River.

[The Northeast Bank Parking Lot Park in early spring.]

Years ago, when spending the better part of a year cohabitating in Northeast, I used to regularly bike past a weird parking lot that stuck out in Minneapolis' drab surface parking landscape like a wedding cupcake in week-old oatmeal. Later when putting together a tour of the city’s most interesting parking lots, I went down a parking rabbit hole that led me to the Northeast Flag.

I began by calling the Northeast Bank folks and asking about their fanciful car-laden dreamscape.

"How could there be such a thing as a parking lot park?" I'd been wondering for years.
[The original location of the Northeast Bank, at 13th and 2nd, c. 1940. Image from MNHS.]

A week later, I was in the basement of the the Northeast Bank building getting a tour from a slightly bashful banker. She took me into the corner of the community room, where we examined a small collection of news clippings mounted on the wall. They told the tale of the bank’s history, which began in the building that currently houses Dangerous Man Brewing (pictured above).

[Rasmussen's 1991 obituary in the Star Tribune.]
Most of the articles featured the charismatic mid-century flag-obsessed bank president Walter Rasmussen, who was the brainchild of both the parking lot park and the Northeast Flag. Rasmussen seems like a real character, an ambitious kid who grew up in Pelican Rapids, hitchhiked to Minneapolis during the depression, and worked his way up from cashier to bank president. By the time he took charge, he wanted to lead Northeast Minneapolis headlong into its post-war future.

The first step was erecting a new modern building, which he did after re-branding the bank. The  early 60s bank headquarters is still there today, and still features Rasmussen's famous "quilt of 19 flags" exterior sculpture. (See the bank exterior two photos up.) The flag logo, still used today, was meant to represent the eclectic and diverse backgrounds of Northeast's cultures.

[Northeast Bank has long been a champion of flags, dating to its 60s headquarters.]

[Room for polka, bike races, and a place to sleep it off...]
Funnily enough, when he built the building, Rasmussen also dreamed of building a beautiful parking lot. He wanted it to be the finest parking lot in the city, one so wonderful and welcoming that kids would play in it when it wasn't being used for car storage. As described in the newspaper column below, Rasmussen was a pioneer of car-lite culture who "believed motor vehicles should not dominate our lives." 

Here's Rasmussen's vision for the parking lot park:
Out in Edina, Bloomington and South Minneapolis, a park is taken for granted. Up here in this hard-core industrial area, there aren’t any…. [In the parking lot park] we'll have picnic tables and encourage area workers to eat out here in good weather. There's room for dances, queen contests, bike races -- whatever the neighborhood wants to do. We’ll let our park grow and won’t dictate what happens to it. We know people will find their own uses. There's a bar across the street. If somebody gets drunk over there some night, they can sleep it off over here in the park. We won’t mind. That’s better than driving home drunk, don’t you think?
The parking lot park was finally built in 1973, ten years after the bank building. It was the culmination of Rasmussen’s life-long dream of combining parking for cars with spaces for young people to play, drunk people to sleep, and arm-wrestling people to arm-wrestle.

[This is real.]
During the kick-off celebration for the new parking lot park, Rasmussen invited ubiquitous Star Tribune urban interest and architecture columnist Barbara Flanagan to cover the festivity.

As recounted in her column, when describing at the park, Flanagan asked a crucial question:
Old bricks set in sand in the old-time manner provide a circular 'town square' plaza. Rasmussen thinks political candidates should love it. Above the plaza are three flags -- the United States, United Nations and the green environmental flag.
Where is the "northeast" flag, I asked? "That's a good idea," said Rasmussen. "Maybe we should design a northeast flag to fly over our annual arm-wrestling championships here next spring."

And with that, the Northeast Flag was born. Soon after the parking lot park opened to the public, Rasmussen held a contest to create a new flag, formed a flag selection committee, and within a year the winner was chosen.

[Ad for the 1974 Northeast Flag design contest.]

Amazingly enough, the winning flag design was crafted by a ten-year-old Northeast kid named Tony Di Giovanni.

(Side note: the Northeast flag process represents a neat inversion of the golden rule of flag design: a flag should be simple enough that even a child can draw it.)

Rasmussen celebrated the unveiling of the flag with a polka festival in the parking lot park, and throughout 1975 he went around gifting flags to various civic institutions like the Police Department and the Edison High marching band.

Sadly, the Northeast Flag did not catch on, and today you rarely see it flying. One flies over the parking lot park, of course, and I have heard that there’s one on display at 56 Brewing on the northern edge of the neighborhood.

Given the increasing interest in vexillology, economic growth in Northeast, and the always thriving sense of pride in the neighborhood, I think the Northeast Flag is poised for a comeback.

I recently got some Northeast flags made, and they’re now available!

I expect this batch to sell out quickly, so order yours today.

Note: The flags are perfect for wall hanging, but are a bit one-sided in that the colors on one side are brighter than the other. I will be looking at getting more in the future.   

Here's the link!

PS. Oh my! Here's a link to the official song of the Northeast Flag, the "Sven Ivan O'Myron Wisnewski" polka.

Yes, this is real. Thanks to Greta Kaul and Hymie's Records for the link!

[More historical photos follow.]

[The Northeast Flag: synonymous with premarital cohabitation since 1975.]

[You know, for kids!]

[The Northeast flag celebrating its 40th birthday in 2015.]