Believe Me, Electronic Pulltabs Will Ruin Everything

What makes Minnesota special? Almost nothing. Sure we have curling and hockey and ice fishing, but Canada does all that a bit better. We have to share our woods with Wisconsin, our prairies with Dakota, our balls of twine with Iowans, while Stupid Michigan stole our Superior island. What do we have that is truly special, a uniquely Minnesotan tradition? You might be surprised, but the answer is pull tabs.

See, years ago I read a statistically sourced article that I can't find any more about different pulltab usage rates across different parts of the USA. Minnesota has far and away the highest rate of pulltab use per capita, blowing the other states out of the water when it comes to the pulling of those little tabs. But all that may be about to change...

See, there are many things wrong with the fiasco that is the Vikings stadium, and the passage of that bill will likely haunt Minneapolis for decades to come and go down as one of the big boondoggles of city history next to the Lake Street K Mart, the gateway project, and the downtown lock and dam. (Rybak's stadium will make Sayles-Belton's Block E pale in comparison.)

Next to the huge civic financial burden, complaining about pull tabs might seem trivial, but I’m going to do it anyway. Some of the stadium funding comes from a brand new source: electronic pulltabs.

What are electronic pull tabs? Well, nobody really knows because they don’t exist yet. But I’m going to hazard a guess and say that they’re going to be yet another electronic flashing screen, an iPad with a pulltab gambling app, sort of like a video slot machine that you can have in a bar. Electronic pulltabs will be mini-personal-casino things that fund billionaire owned professional sports that give people concussions. And that’s not even the problem with them.

The problem with them is that, apart from craps, paper pulltabs are one of the most honest, intimate, and social forms of gambling you can find in our society. Why are pull tabs beautiful? You can throw them on the ground like peanuts, or put them into those plastic baskets normally reserved for popcorn. Minnesota pulltabs are invariably staffed by a pull tab lady (sometimes a man) who sits behind a plexiglass booth reading a Nora Roberts novel looking uncannily serene like a statue of Buddha in a parking lot, dispensing fate and occasional advice with transcendent detachment. Pulltabs have stupid themes whch are pretty much meaningless because every winner has a huge stripe through it. Pulltabs have a neat texture and make a cool sound when the perforations unfurl.

At the bar in my neighborhood, there’s a special lucky plastic moose figurine that people take turns borrowing when they buy and pull a new batch of pulltabs. At the Lyndale VFW, people often stack their pulltabs into strange shapes that resemble the floating eye pyramid on the back of the $1 bill. Pulling pulltab tabs together builds community. Everyone gathers round the pulltab basket and shoots the breeze.

“Havin’ any luck?” they ask.
 "Not yet," she said, pulling a tab.
“Win one?” said the guy across the room?
“Not really,” mutters the man.

[Soon, all this beauty will be but a faint memory.]

And we’re going to replace all this with yet another flashing electronic screen, as if the smartphone epidemic isn’t doing enough to reduce social interaction to jump-cut muttering, as if our thirdspaces didn’t already induce mental seizures. For shame, Vikings stadium. For shame.

This is my promise to you, dear reader. The first electronic pulltab I see, I'm going to "accidentally" spill my Grain Belt all over it. Will you join me?


Sidewalk Poetry #22

In the Magnifying Glass

In Atget photos some people dissolve in long exposures.
A white blur tells me someone was there, someone moved and disappeared.
But under my magnifying glass I can make out a wisp of girl,
dress like a crumpled flower, a face in the hedge, a dog at loving attention.

The streets glisten with rain and the sky above the filthy
scarred buildings is white: clouds are always moving.
There’s a boy at a window, looking own from the dark
triangle made by the drape caught on his shoulder,
his face as grave as a hero’s on a coin.

None makes an impression on the severe beauty of the streets—
not the man with alert ardent eyes or the woman whose white dress
skirts the damp road, clasped hands like two tiny lockets,
or the white flames of the sycamore leaves or the blazing white stairs,
not the hidden long-dead Atget reflected in the glass door
of Au Tambour, spindly tripod draped in black to shut out light.

[A corner, rue de Seine, c. 1924. Photo by Eugène Atget.]

Also: This

Signs of the Times #55


[Pavilion. Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis.]

December 15, 1791: Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation. 
(U.S. Constitution 5th Amendment)

June 23, 2005: A sad day for the United States as the Supreme Court makes all 
private property vulnerable to being taken and transferred to
another property owner. (Kelo v. City of New London)

"There is no freedom without private property"

[Wall. Mendota.]

up s-t-a-i-r-s

[Pavement. Swede Hollow, St Paul.]

Welcome to

[Tree. Powderhorn / Phillips, Minneapolis.]

Gardener: #######

[Fence. Stevens Square, Minneapolis.]


[Device. Powderhorn Park, Minneapolis.]


[Pole. Stone Arch Bridge, Minneapolis.]


[Pole outside bar. Old Cottage Grove.] 

do not

[Fence in construction zone. University Avenue, St Paul.]

Dave Hamalton
Left This

[Mattress. Welch Village.]


Sidewalk of the Week: Prescott, WI

River towns are older then the rest of them, and river sidewalks more so. Because rivers are the oldest roads, have always massed marvels on their banks. Because when you walk through a river town you follow many paths, some faded or flooded or forgotten, walking a forest of footprints by water. River sidewalks disturb my categories and I don’t know where to aim my eyes.

River towns are important, and Prescott doubly so. Here just past the rail bridge lies a confluence. Two rivers coming together, colliding, mixing, the muddy river flowing into the clear river until they are the same light brown. These river meeting here means that behind the main street of this river town there’s another sidewalk even older than the brick one, fronting the river street. The riverbank is a sidewalk, it’s the path along the edge where people gather and land, dis- and re-embark, trade supplies and rumors. This isn’t a street corner, it’s a river corner.

That’s why the buildings in Prescott have two fronts. On the main street you’ll find the front(back), like any other town with trains and automobiles. It has its shops and windows. But behind you’ll find the back(front) side, with terraced topography and decks rising from the water. River towns are like that, pressed up to bluffs climbing steep to the sky, a few streets flatly fitted. Next to the flowing water, the actual sidewalks of Prescott seem neglected, far the stage like a theater balcony where the rules are relaxed, where you can put your feet on the railing and whisper more loudly.

[Boats under the railbridge.]

[The riversidewalk.]

[A clocktower with two clocktower banners.]

[Parallel parking with a boat is easier than with a car, methinks.]

[Townfront parking.]

One thing is beyond doubt: few Wisconsin sidewalks are lacking for bars. Gravity seems to pull people down to the street where they collect like rainwater to eat cheese and drink beer. In the summertime this sidewalk, like all the sidewalks along the river, fills with grumbling motorcycles and convertibles with women in hats. In the winter it must be lonely. These people flow through here like streams, living out grimy escapes through time, reaching for the youth of these river towns to recollect when rivers meant more to us.

In Prescott, there’s a banner of the clocktower on the side of the clocktower so that everyone knows where to look. They’ve painted long dead people on the sides of empty streets, and the illusion holds for a moment until you realize that nobody blinks or moves or shouts your name. River towns are wrapped in illusion, the fantasy that the river is still carrying fates. Any maybe they’re right, because no matter how empty the aging brick buildings, the river is still there, moving quickly past the riverbank sidewalks, a swirling sulking musty flooding ebbing power that couldn’t care less about what we think it means.

[Old paintpeople on a sidewalk in Prescott.]
[Main street Prescott with angle parking.]

[Folks watching traffic go by on a sunny Prescott day.]
[One of the few sidewalk front(back) cafés.]
[A back(front) riverfacing bench.]


Has Francis Alÿs been strolling in Gold Medal Park?

I was spending some time in William McGuire's Gold Medal Park yesterday and noticed a thin line extending down the spiral path that leads from the top of the parabolic quasi-mound.

Naturally I thought of Francis Alÿs, easily the best extant sidewalk artist in the world. Alÿs has made sidewalk art by (among other things) pushing ice around Mexico City, unraveling a sweater on a walk, dragging a magnet around the city, and having British fur-hat guards march around the financial district.

One of his more explicitly political walks was through the 'green line' in Israel/Palestine, where he dripped green paint along the route of the old 1949 border. The line made corporeal an invisible border through Jerusalem, as well as depicting how the actual public footpath of one person can be traced on a journey through the city.

So, seeing this paint line through the park I was wondering what the Alÿs impersonator might have been thinking about this paint trace. Was it an attempt to depict the gravity of the situation? Was it a giant spiral intended to mesmerize people gazing down from the sky on Google Maps?


New Post at Streets.mn: What Minneapolis planners should have told Trader Joe

[The terrible Lyndale site plan.]
Anyone who has talked to me personally about Trader Joe's will know that I am not a fan of the store. But I did my best to be fair in my post about the new Lyndale Avenue site plan over at Streets.mn today. I've been past other Trader Joe's stores in other cities, and almost all of them look better than the one planned for Minneapolis.

Check it out. And stay tuned to this blog for more anti-TJ's diatribes in the near future, including these future posts currently in the works:

The Case Against Trader Joe's
What's Really in that Trader Joe's cheese?
Point/Counterpoint: Why is Trader Joe's trying to destroy the world?


Wake Up People! Trader Joe's is evil and is eroding your soul with edible mind control, FYI.


*** Sidewalk Weekend! ***

Sidewalk Rating: Semi-Cozy

When I’m walking around New York I’m always aware of the smells around me: the rubber mats in office buildings; upholstered seats in movie theaters; pizza; Orange Julius; espresso-garlic-oregano; burgers; dry cotton tee-shirts; neighborhood grocery stores; chic grocery stores; the hot dogs and sauerkraut carts; hardware store smell; stationery store smell; souvlaki; the leather and rugs and Dunhill, Mark Cross, Gucci; The Moroccan-tanned leather on the street-racks; new magazines, back-issue magazines; typewriter stores; Chinese import stores (the mildew from the freighter); India import stores; Japanese import stores; record stores; health food stores; soda-fountain drugstores; cut0rate drugstores; barber shops; beauty parlors; delicatessens; lumberyards; the wood chairs and tables in the N.Y. Public Library; kitchen appliance departments; photo labs; shoe stores; bicycle stores; the paper and printing inks in Scribner’s, Bretano’s, Doubleday’s, Rizzoli, Marboro, Bookmaster’s, Barnes & Noble; shoe-shine stands; grease-batter; hair pomade; the cheap candy smell in the back of Woolworth’s and the dry-goods smell in the back; the horses by the Plaza Hotel; bus and truck exhaust; architect’s blueprints; cumin, fenugreek, soy sauce, cinnamon; fried plantanos; the train tracks in Grand Central Station; the banal smell of dry cleaners; exhausts from apartment house laundry rooms; East Side bars (creams); West Side bars (sweat); newspaper stands; record stores; fruit stands in all the different seasons – strawberry, watermelon, plu, peach, kiwi, cherry, Concord grape, tangerine, murcot, pineapple, apple – and I love the way the smell of each fruit gets into the rough wood of the crates and into the tissue-paper wrappings.

[Andy Warhol, from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol.]

 [Turkey hanging out by a bench along the river in St Paul.]


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Melody: So there’s not this fear that the stereotype of it being for white bicyclists, it doesn’t seem to be a problem?
Rybak: No, we’ve done some things that are intentional about getting bike facilities and paths into areas that aren’t traditionally bike culture. Midtown Greenway is the most visible but the Nice Ride stations in North Minneapolis is another one. Another small program I liked a lot we gave environmental grants a few years back, one of which went to a program that taught Somali women to bike which I just loved. And bike cops for kids where if they get caught wearing a helmet they can win a bike. Series of things like that. The bike center in North Minneapolis.

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