Reading the Highland Villager #237

[A Villager in a sunbeam.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]

Headline: Neighbors appeal approval of Grand apartment project; fear building near UST would add to student parking issues
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A developer wants to build a four-unit building on Grand Avenue. Neighbors are concerned about traffic, parking, and the presence of students. The BZA approved the variances it needed. Quote from neighbor: "There's just no room left on this block."

Headline: Mayor digs in, vows to appeal court order for referendum 
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People who don't like city-organized trash collection sued and a judge found in their favor but the city will still pay garbage trucks to pick up garbage and are appealing. [Sounds expensive! Thanks garbage people. Here's a blogpost I wrote about this from two years ago! This is embarrassing for Saint Paul.]

Headline: Design standards create a palette for Ford redevelopment; Guidelines for buildings, landscaping get public hearing on June 28
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is going to create guidelines [not rules] for things like building materials and landscaping for the new buildings that will be built. There are lots of little details about things like streetscapes. People want to avoid the "canyon effect." People can send in comments.

Headline: Study revives interest in Greenway extension; railroad bridge redesign would link Mpls./St. Paul bike and pedestrian trails
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A trail nonprofit commissioned a study to look at whether its possible to put bike access on the bridge over the river where the Greenway ends. It might cost between $8M and $28M. If that happens, a bike trail could also connect on Ayd Mill Road. [instead, we're spending $3.5M to repave it for cars.] The railroad seems uncooperative. [This would be a gamechanger for bicycling in Saint Paul and immediately vault the city into the top rank of US cities for bicycling infrastructure. Picture Saint Paul on the cover of national magazines... You'd think we'd find the money for this.]

Headline: Highland District's 10-year plan gets public hearing June 28
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A neighborhood is coming up with a plan for itself. Some things include things like pedestrian safety and encouraging walking,, bicycling, and transit. Also things like building design and mixed-use.

Headline: Pedestrian plan strides toward healthier, more resilient St. Paul
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city has a plan now for improving walking, filling in sidewalk gaps and creating safer streets, etc. Neighbors would like to see better snow and ice removal in the winter.

Headline: Last-minute scramble pays off with a Grand Old Day worthy of its name
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Grand Old Day, when people walk around on Grand Avenue and there are no cars, almost was not going to happen but then it did. [You'd think this long-standing event would help business people on Grand realize that designing the street for walking shoudl be the #1 priority, instead of all the complaints about parking.] A lot of people came. There was even a parade. The weather was nice. The business association will be "looking at its future." [I hope it includes more density and emphasis on walking.]

Headline: Spring flooding shortens summer season in city parks
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Mississippi River was high and some parts of parks were closed because they were underwater. [Cleaning this up costs the city millions.]

Headline: Time may have run out on proposed Cleveland bike lanes
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some people want bike lanes on Cleveland Avenue south of Ford Parkway but the city says they cannot do it. Instead, sharrows. [Pretty much useless, those are.]

Headline: Postponing street repaving is no longer an option in St. Paul
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: You cannot tell the city to screw off any more when they come to fix up your street.

Headline: City eyes $15M in capital projects
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city will spend money on stuff, including a fire station, fixing a downtown bridge, new sidewalks on Randolph Avenue, and some downtown parks.

Headline: Opus adjusts proposal for five-story senior complex along Lilydale bluffs
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: This is in Mendota, but someone wants to build housing for old people and others do not like it because of erosion or views. They are setting it back a bit more and changing he shape of the building from an E to an S. [Can I buy a vowel?]

Headline: Demand continues to exceed supply for new senior housing; despite new apartment projects that are under construction locally
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some new apartments are being built, but not enough. Older people want somewhere nice to live in Saint Paul.


Twin City Shop Windows #21

 [South Minneapolis.]

 [Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis.]

 [West 7th Street, Saint Paul.]

 [Troy, NY.]

 [Riverside Avenue, Minneapolis.]

 [Snelling Avenue, Saint Paul.]


[Milwaukee, WI.]


A Rare Southeast Dive Slated for So-Called Improvement

[Image from MN Daily.]
It is with a leaden heart that I report that another Minneapolis dive is slated to be improved.

Sporty's (formerly the Sportsmen's Inn) is one of the only dives in Southeast Minneapolis, an otherwise relatively quiet working-class and student-oriented slice of the city. Along with Manning's across the street, Sporty's displays a lived in patina and a idiosyncratic veneer that made it seem like someone's 1980s basement. I first came across it during a Stupor Bowl ride, and have returned there often.

The article in the Minnesota Daily reads:
The bar's last day of operation will be June 30, said owner Chris Chistopherson. A new restaurant, Como Tap, is expected to open at the location of 22nd Avenue Southeast and Como Avenue Southeast in late August. 
Christopherson’s lease for the bar, nicknamed Sporty’s for decades, will end in July after unsuccessful renewal negotiations. Renewing the lease would have included a substantial rent increase that Christopherson found unsustainable, he said.
During negotiations, Christopherson said he received a letter informing him the lease would not be renewed. 
“This is not my intent, it breaks my heart. Because I feel like we're allowing an institution to die,” Christopherson said. “But I understand it, I understand business. I understand maximizing profits and I don't know that I'd have done anything different if I was in Joe's spot, because he owns the building. He operated Sporty’s for 14 years.”
It seems like the place will remain a bar, so that's good. Less good is the certitude that it'll be a fancier and "cleaned up". I assume  all the cool kitschy idiosyncratic "your uncle's basement" stuff will be gone.

Here are some fun facts about Sporty's, from last year's Noteworthy Dive Bars of the Southeast Borderlands tour:

  • It's an old mixed-use building with apartments over the bar. Lots of people have lived here over the century, families and kids growing up above the place. Back in 1936, for example, a woman named Margaret Reimers lived upstairs and, in a classic "eyes on the street" moment, witnessed a group of men commit a burglary of company across the street. The place was called United Chemical Co., and the burglars spent two hours breaking into a "strongbox" to steal a grand total of $42. (The safe had had over $1,600 inside earlier in the day, so they were working with bad information. That's $30,000 in today's dollars.) Margaret did not call the police because she did not have a phone.  
  • In 1937, the city granted a license for a restaurant in this location. At that time it was not a bar, and only served soft drinks and sold cigarettes.
  • In 1962, the place was called the Como Inn. Being outside the Minneapolis' 1880s "liquor patrol limits", there's always been a struggle to allow alcohol here. For decades, concerned neighbors have pushed back against having bars on this part of Como. In 1963, organizations in Southeast sent 17 letters to the city to protest the (re)opening of a bar here. The Alderman at the time, a man named Robert McGregor, led the charge to stop the opening of the bar. (He failed, obviously.)
  • By 1969, the bar got a new owner and the name changed to the Sportsmen's Inn.
  • It became Sporty's more recently, and was remodeled about five years ago to add large windows. Maybe that was the beginning of the end? Fenestrating a dive bar is never a good sign. 

Go check out Sporty's before it changes. Be sure to make a pilgrimage to the Kramer painting.

[One of my favorite movie posters, because she is destroying a freeway.]

[The patron saint of Sporty's.]

[An excellent dive bar bathroom, one of the diveyist in Minneapolis.]


The Worst Thing about Cars is that Nobody is Even Happy

[Image from this.]
Driving in a car offers a wild privilege. Take, for example, the experience of your body. Sitting in the seat of a car is super comfortable, basically a Lay-Z-Boy slash couch with adjustable and often heated seats that have a complex system of electric motors in them to allow them to move in five different directions until you achieve perfect lumbar support, whatever that is. These seats are often made of thick upholstery, sometimes even from cowhide, and teams of engineers have spent lifetimes calculating how to make these seats slightly more comfortable. For the vast majority of people, it's the nicest chair they’ll ever sit in.

Think also for a moment about the air inside the car. It's basically a soundproof, climate-controlled wonder chamber. You can be in one of these machines in a downpour or in a blizzard, on a Wyoming plateau at twenty below zero or at 100 humid degrees in a Mississippi swamp, and you will barely notice a difference. Frankly, that’s amazing.

And most every car has a fancy stereo system with speakers that surround your head perfectly, and you can turn up the tunes as loud as you want. Here, too, teams of engineers have spent decades applying their sharp minds to the critical problem of slightly improving the audio quality of the inside of this steel box. These days much of the time, you can even talk to the machine, simply telling it to do things like “change the radio station to 96.5” and it will do that without you even having to lift a finger.

And, by the way, the entire machine moves at quite a high rate of speed! The dials on the dashboards often go up to 150 miles per hour or higher. The national treasury and many of the public functions of our government (like police) are dominated by budgets devoted to making it easier for you to move these machines around with ease. Tens of thousands of people labor for lifetimes working out how to remove obstacles, smooth bumps, and make your journey -- cushioned of course by a sophisticated suspension system -- slightly more comfortable. They use detailed equations to calculate the exact right kind of cement that might remove small vibrations during your trip. Diagrams with carefully calculated angles are created with the goal of distributing more easily the excess water that might fall before you on the road. Teams of people wake in the middle of the night to clear paths for you each time it snows. All told, over the generations, trillions of public dollars have been spent to literally move mountains to create wide smooth paths for your luxurious machine. Thousands of buildings in cities everywhere have been torn down. Entire forests full of trees have been cut down because they were in the way. All of this was done to make sure that, when you drive one of these miracle boxes, your path will be slightly straighter, your journey slightly faster, and your driving surface so forgiving that your attention can slightly diminish as you travel around the city in your luxury stereo climate couch.

And also, millions of signs, lights, poles, written messages, and reflective warnings have been erected all through the city and countryside just to decrease the chances that you might kill yourself in one these speedy fancyboxes. Generations of engineers have devoted their lives, formed entire institutions at major universities, trained tens of thousands of young people, all to make it slightly easier for you to distract yourself as you travel, perhaps to eat a burrito with one hand, perhaps to answer your hand-held phone, perhaps to drive after a few beers without killing yourself or anyone else. (Though this still happens every day, of course.) Governments have spent millions to mount billboards and hire creative people to create radio advertisements that remind you to do basic tasks, including things so simple as for example strapping a small belt around your waist because, for some reason, some people still refuse to perform this life-saving act.

Pause and think about how entire cities have been rearranged and rebuilt to make moving around in these machines slightly more convenient. These new cities are even sprinkled liberally with buildings designed so that you don't even have to get out of your comfortable climate-controlled mobile couch machine to go to a restaurant or a pharmacy. Instead, architects have worked out ways to make it easy for you to you simply pull up along a wall of concrete bricks, mumble a few words into a microphone, and, within minutes, someone will lean slightly out of a window in the side of the building and hand you a hot coffee or a hamburger or a bucket of fried chicken or the world’s finest pharmaceutical drugs in child-proof caps, all of this without having to remove yourself from your luxurious machine and walk a single step.

And it's cheap, too, if you think about it even for a second. A gallon of gasoline costs less than a cup of coffee, and only one of those liquids will transport your 3,000 pound miracle couch for thirty miles - a distance of 156,000 feet -- with only the slight movement of your right foot.

In fact, many of the costs of this amazing machine have been taken care of in advance. You need not pay the full expense of all the roads, steel beams, bridges, metal guard rails, aluminum poles, and hard surfaces made from petroleum asphalt and concrete. Nor need you concern yourself about the effects of the nitrogen monoxide or carbon monoxide that pour ceaselessly out from your machine's combustion engine, polluting the air for the people who might be near to your travels, and probably giving breathing children asthma. Nor do you have to think even for a moment about the carbon dioxide that transforms the atmosphere above, changing the climate of the entire planet in ways that are surely irreversible and devastating.

If somehow gasoline gets too expensive, you shouldn’t worry about that either. Chances are that the government will spend trillions to invade a oil-producing nation, killing countless people in the process, in order to ensure that the price goes down.

Speaking of killing, most of the time, even if you run someone over, even if you end another person's life accidentally with your large powerful expensive machine, as long as you weren't drunk, it’s fine. You might feel bad about it, but that's about the extent of what will likely happen to you.

And remember that, pretty much everywhere you go, businesses, homeowners, and governments have paved the earth with asphalt to make it easier to put your machine somewhere when you're not even using it. That's the case nearly everywhere, and most of the time it's completely free for you. Right now in this very country there are millions upon millions of 6’ x 8’ spaces waiting for your  privately owned movement machine to sit whenever you’re not using it. All these things have been done to make it slightly easier and simpler for you to sit in your comfortable personal climate-controlled stereo sound motion-couch and speed physically effortlessly around the city.

But here’s the thing that confuses me. If you stop and ask anyone what they think or how they are doing or how they feel about driving, what do people usually say?

Almost every time, they complain.

Almost every time, after an entire nation has been pretty much devoted to a single-minded purpose of improving the experience of driving a car, nobody's even happy about it.

Every day, almost unceasingly, people operating these miraculous devices bitch and moan. People complain that they cannot travel even faster. They complain that the gasoline -- a liquid whose pollution by the way is causing the extinction of a million species of unique and fascinating plants and animals as you read this --  is not even cheaper. They complain that they cannot place their large expensive device directly next to their destinations, causing them to walk two hundred or three hundred feet using their own two legs. They complain if they have to slow down slightly due to other people driving their luxurious machines, or if they have to stop for an old lady to cross the street. By far the number one reaction people have when you stop and ask them about these amazing technological marvels, the convenience of which more public money and attention has been spent than any another collective social activity with the exception of warfare, is to express displeasure.

When it comes to incredible luxury of driving in an automobile, nobody is even happy about it.

What if people driving down the street were content simply to exist in an insanely comfortable couch device with the best stereo they'll ever own where they can adjust the temperature to specific degrees and aim the flow of the air at their faces in a dozen different ways? What if people were pleased to be able to travel effortlessly around the city, moving barely a muscle, just by flipping their wrists and twitching their toes? What if people were happy about being in these miracle comfort coffins around which the world has been remade, and did not insist on getting incessantly angry, honking the horn at the slightest inconvenience, or speeding around each other in ways that have killed tens of thousands of Americans each year like clockwork for the past half century?

What if driving made people happy and not miserable?


Twin City Neon #29

 [Downtown, Minneapolis.]



 [Location forgotten. Highland, Saint Paul.]

 [Highland, Saint Paul.]

  [Location forgotten. Midway, Saint Paul.]

 [Milwaukee, WI.]

 [Milwaukee, WI.]


Flag Day Special - Enjoy 15% off all Northeast Minneapolis and Saint Paul Flags

In celebration of Flag Day, an annual day where we celebrate flags, I'm having a sale on Northeast Minneapolis and Saint Paul flags. Both of these flags are fine local flags with fascinating historical origin stories.

Fun fact: the Northeast Minneapolis flag was originally flown to celebrate arm-wrestling!

Also true: the original Saint Paul flag was lost to history by Chamber of Secrets Commerce.

Read all about each of them -- The Saint Paul flag and the Northeast Minneapolis flag -- in the archives.

And now through Sunday, take an extra 15% off the cost of each of these flags. They come in two sizes and different iterations and they can be yours. Buy one for a friend or a neighbor or a friend's or neighbor's dog! What the heck, buy two!

And happy Flag Day folks. Support your local flappable civic symbol.


Twin City Street Musicians #22

 [Grand Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [Downtown, Minneapolis.]

 [Cambridge, MA.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [State Fairgrounds.]

 [New York City, NY.]

[West 7th, Saint Paul.]


Twin City Bike Parking #38

 [West 7th, Saint Paul.]

 [University Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.]

 [West Side, Saint Paul.]

 [University Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [Hamline-Midway, Saint Paul.]


[Downtown, Saint Paul.]


Join me for a South Saint Paul Coney Dog Bike Ride this Wednesday

If you missed Coney Quest V: The Downstream Journey, which took place last October, now is your chance to make up for past mistakes. I'm leading another group of folks on the same route this week.  the weather looks great and the ride is amazing, right along the Mississippi River, right down to Celt's Pub in Inver Grove where they will have an amazing coney waiting for you.

Join me and enjoy the Mississippi River and Saint Paul's finest vernacular food.

What: bike ride to eat coney dogs
When: 6/12 at 5:30pm
Where: Amsterdam Bar in Saint Paul
Why: because they're there
Who: anyone with a bike and an appetite for coneys

[Tantalizing spoiler images follow.]

[Who let the dogs out?]

[One possible sight from along the way.]


Reading the Highland Villager #236

[A sidewalk Villager.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]

Headline: District court rules city must put trash collection on ballot
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A judge ruled that a petition to end the city's organized trash ordinance is valid. There is a lawsuit. The City Council thinks there are state statues that defend their position. The ruling states that trash collection must be suspended at the end of June. People upset about trash are happy. There is an appeal. [Thanks, garbage people. This is such a Saint Paul fiasco. Why can't we have nice things?]

Headline: City hearings resolve disputes over unpaid trash service bills 
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People who did not like or agree with bills they received for trash collection had a change to appeal them. Sometimes these appeals were successful. Article has some stories of people who owed money, including one guy who just didn't like the organized collection because "he handles it himself." Quote from another guy: this whole deal sucks."  The City Council tried to keep people focused on their specific bills rather than general ranting.

Headline: Carter opens city budget process with seven ward meetings
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Mayor Carter has to make a budget and is having meeting about it. Taxes will probably go up. One person is upset that the meeting was in a bar. The mayor's office had "game sheets" for folks to figure out how to set the budget.

Headline: City considering the scope of Ford redevelopment impact study
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There will be an thing called an alternative urban areawide review (AUAR) which looks at development impacts for ford. There will be public comment on it. Quote from developer guy: "we'll have two years of signifiant earthwork to do before reconstruction even starts." [That's a long time!]

Headline: Not practicing what it preaches? City sued for not offering workers sick and safe time
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some people who work as pool lifeguards are suing the Parks and Rec department for not offering sick time, against city ordinance. [This seems pretty wrong, on the "right and wrong" scale.] Article tells the story of someone who was not given his accrued sick time and who would not let him use his sick time when he was sick. Article includes some info about the city's ordinance. [Yikes.]

Headline: Planning Commission releases design standards for Ford site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There will be rules about what buildings can look like. Public comment is happening now.

Headline: Permit allows reuse of 1905 Ramsey Hill carriage house
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A guy can convert an old carriage house into an apartment. It has been empty since a pipe burst there in 2011.

Headline: $200,000 city loan to help pay Keg an Case project overrun
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is giving a loan to the Keg & Case people because redevelopment cost a bit more than they thought because of the "high costs of historic rehabilitation and the abatement of hazardous materials." [High cost of pizza slices is more like. $10, folks. For a slice.]

Headline: City considers encouraging an increase in homeless shelters
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The there is a study to think about how to increase homeless shelters. There are more people experiencing homelessness than there used to be.

Headline: City Council lays over vote on right-of-way assessments
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city cannot figure out how to have people pay for streets. Some people got hit with huge bills because the way the assessments work has recently changed to be more expensive. There are lawsuits [of course].

Headline: Corps seeks public comments on master plan for Mississippi
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There is a plan about the river. There's a map online about it at tinyurl.com/y539y5us. A meeting will happen someday, somewhere.

Headline: Friends of river oppose senior housing plan along Lilydale bluffs
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An old strip mall might become housing for old people in Lilydale / Mendota Heights. A nonprofit doe snot like it because it might affect the view. [Fun fact: the population of Lilydale is 623. Also, I sure wish this group would focus on access to, and appreciation of, the river as well as their #1 job, which should be removing pollution. The eternal discussions of views, as if the city does not exist, is irksome.] 

Headline: Central Baptist to raze two houses for new parking lot
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A church has bought some homes and will tear them down and pour asphalt on the ground and let people put empty cars there. [I hate when this happens. My sense is that condition for the church not protesting the development next door, removing the shared bank-owned lot they used, was that they get to build this new parking lot.] Neighbors are concerned about losing housing. Quote from the board of zoning appeals (BZA) person: "i understand the desire to not lose housing, but there is also a need for parking."

Headline: Commission paves way for apartments on Island Station site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A vacant parcel of land by the river might become a 250-unit apartment building. Neighbors are concerned about making sure they can get to the river, and high rents in general. Some of the apartments might be affordable in some vague way.


Notable Quotes #17: Chris Nieratko describes the Viking Bar, c. 2002

My back began crumbling after a week of sleeping on the couch. I couldn't even stand up straight. Much more, and I feared I'd be a permanent hunchback. Not wanting that, I made my way over to the Viking Bar to sit on some high stools with stiff backs in the hopes of straightening my spine while medicating my muscles. Somewhere between the first George Jones song and the eighth, an old lush fell into the bar, probably still drunk from the night before and most likely since that one night in 1976. He sat next to me, bumping his elbow against mine, too drunk to see the other 20 or so available stools around us. He looked at the barmaid, knowing what he wanted, just not how to say it.

"Odka nnn cubes," he grumbled.

"You want vodka with ice cubes?" she asked, trying to clarify.

"Um, yeah," he said.

"Do you want a beer or glass of water with that?"

"Uh, yeah, odka nnn cubes."

"Yeah, but which do you want, water or a beer?"

"Uh, yeah."

She became fed up and began to pour his vodka.

"No," he interrupted her, slashing his hand through the air and pointed assertively to the orange juice.

"Oh, she said, "vodka and orange juice."

He smiled and nodded. Then he started laughing to himself and didn't stop until his drink arrived. I wondered what it was he knew that he wasn't telling us. What the big secret was. I wondered if he knew what time it was or even what day it was. I wish he would have just turned to me and said, "Excuse me, son, are you aware that while you are sitting here staring at me staring at you in the mirror that you are missing your flight back to L.A.?" That would have been much funnier than going to the airport on Sunday and being told I was a day late, don't you think?

[From an article by skateboard writer and Big Brother Magazine editor, Chris Nieratko, describing a trip to Minneapolis in 2002.]


Twin City Doorways #49




 [West Side, Saint Paul.]

 [University Avenue, Saint Paul.]



[West Bank, Minneapolis.]