At the office. Column day. Nothing in the tank. I lied! It’s actually the afternoon, and I have a few tablespoons in the tank. Something will arise; it always does, and then it’s off to the races.

That cliche just fell out there and I’m not sure why. I wouldn’t say that, except to mock it, because like the straw that caused severe spinal damage in the came, it makes no sense. There is no inherent speediness in the act of going to the races. It’s the races that are speedy. If you’re in the race, yes, you would be fast, but you wouldn’t run fast to get there, because you’d be spent by the time race began. It should be off like the races.

Or, as someone would probably say, off to the proverbial races! To which one should always respond: what is the proverb about races?

Just returned from a walk around downtown, seeing the new construction. On the way back a fire truck screamed up -

No, rewind a few minutes.

I went down to look at the Nicollet Mall, which is being ripped up and renovated. The end result will be gorgeous, and modern. The old version has a early 80s feel - liverish stone, puce. Most cities that ripped up their main street for a pedestrian mall realized the error long ago and went back to that archaic idea where cars drive downtown on the street where all the stores are, but Minneapolis will never give up the Mall. And that’s fine. Downtown is reasonably healthy. I don’t think this will lead to a retail resurgence, because that horse left the barn in 1965 and canters around the shopping malls of the suburbs. But there are big new apartment buildings and corporate HQs going up, and if the “boom” can hang on long enough to break ground on a few key plots, the aching holes left by the last great urban renewal scheme will finally be filled.

There was a nice lady in a yellow Downtown vest sweeping the street. (They clean up, ask questions, walk around looking useful. It’s a nice touch.) I noted that her job would be much more difficult in the coming months, what with all the construction; how do you know what to sweep up? So much rubble. She grinned and agreed and I walked on, and I thought later “I should have thanked her for sweeping up.” As it turns out I had the opportunity, a few blocks later; I paused to sit in the sun and take some pictures of the construction, and she came by, sweeping. So I thanked her for keeping the streets clean and we had a nice Minnesota Chat.

And then the best possible thing, from a flaming egotist’s point of view: “Excuse me,” she said. “Are you -“

I mention this for two reasons:

A) If you write, you write alone. With nobody else. When you write alone, you prefer to be by yourself. To quote the poet. There is almost no connection between the work and the outside world; you stand at the kitchen table blathering on at midnight, shove it in the office computer like a steamship stoker, and you’re slightly surprised to see it in the paper WITH YOUR PICTURE. So there’s nothing more gratifying than to meet people, strangers, who read it and like it and say so. I have had this since college, when I wrote for the paper and slung beer and pizza for the readership in the Valli pub at night. Any author who tells you they’re not pleased to be recognized on the street is either lying or so famous it’s their default experience and they’re a dead, jaded soul.

I remember hanging with Dave Barry at SeaWorld to report on a Newt Gingrich speech (long story) and watching Dave deal with a long line of well-wishers. Every one of them got the Full Dave and came away feeling as if he appreciated their patronage, because he did, and because he’s a good guy.

B) While it was fortuitous that I had been spotted by someone to whom I had just had a Nice Social Interaction, it reminded me that I was probably a passive-aggressive ass in the computer store yesterday. Weary sighs, conspicuous displays of disbelief over the length of the transaction. In replaying the conversation I realized I said something possibly awful to the clerk. Didn’t intend it to be so, but that’s how it must have sounded. I have his card with his email. I am going to send an apology. I’ll tell you what I said tomorrow.

Anyway. On the way back a fire truck screamed up to the Wells Fargo tower and shut down the street; another did so a block away. The ambulance and a police squad car and a car from the sheriff’s department followed. Robbery? Fire? A robber on fire?

Then I note that people are doing . . . this.

I go to the cops, get out the press badge, ask what’s happening; they’re laughing and joking, and say nothing, really, just a scaffold broke. I walk around and take some video, just in case, and then leg it back to the office where I hear that someone fell. That’s the buzz at the moment.

I say: but no one fell. I was there. Unless someone fell after I left. Over to the news desk, where they’re already on it: the Fire Department had tweeted out the situation.

QUICK download the video and get it into the system. And that was my Spot News Moment of the week. Note: I only get one about once every other month. If then.

The video did go up, and someone complained about the quality of the image on the zoom. "Jeez, buy a decent camera."

Sigh. But I probably deserved that.

PS: Column just wrote itself, in the end. Tank overflowing.

Again, it's either smaller fridges or Amazonian women:

What woman woulnd't like an old-timey bike in her kitchen? What dangerous minx wouldn't want a cliched bartender drawn in the UPA style?

Number of sales for both, I suspect: low dozens.





You want a ghost sign? Here. Here's a ghost sign.

I cannot imagine why they painted it over. This is a remarkable piece of history, and it's something completely forgotten - except for the memories of a few old folks and some commercial archeologists. The Broadway of America was, and I suppose is, US Route 70. The current issue of the Society for Commercial Archeology has a big story on the road, and the men who did all the PR to convinced new car owners to drive this remarkable stretch of road.

Why was it remarkable? ALL PAVED! Mostly.

Lots of battered sadness here.

  Nothing on the S & T chain anywhere I can find. That's remarkable.


If you're keen on mid-century design, things like these make you smile. It's so modest, and to contemporary eyes so featureless - but all you had to do is slant some poles, and it's au courant!

Angle the edge of the canopy a bit, why don't you . . . there. Perfect.

Says its very own website: "The hotel was constructed in 1913 and is one of the few remaining examples of a railroad hotel in a small Tennessee town."


It's a museum now, which is nice. The next town over, by the way, has the Haltel Holbrook.

This was always an unattractive look.

If nothing else, it looks like an exhausting amount of work - unless it came in slabs, and they glued it on.

Farm country.

Old battered door: back up your pickup and they'll throw in the feed. As for the sign: looks like it was animated.

Chicks hatching in perpetuity, all night long.

Looks like some flinty Yankee came to town.

We're not spending your money on a fancy building. We put it all in the safe. Not to name names, but, well, folks, look up and down the street and tell me who looks like a high-stepping strumpet.


This is a bizarre building. It looks like Petra, the famous Roman temple cut into a rock face.

The state of small towns, right here.

But there's also this to offset the decline of the Family:

Closed, but preserved. Sometimes on the Boardwalk of America, that's the best for which you can hope.

Is that all? No! There are motels. It starts where last week ended, to give you context. Enjoy, and I'll see you around.


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