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Dave Sorensen Posts

One Foot After the Other

Dave Sorensen - Saturday Essay“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” — Yogi Berra

Most days after work I pick up my wife and we spring her mom from memory care for a stroll around the block. According to my wife’s high-tech pedometer it’s almost exactly half a mile. There’s a view of the big lake, and the weather that goes with it, and for fifteen minutes or so the three of us are happy to be walking, and walking to be happy.

My dictionary’s third definition of “pedestrian” describes its figurative sense as, “ lacking in interest or imagination; prosaic, ordinary and dull.” While, at speed, the crosstown freeways of Minneapolis may not be dull, they are certainly ordinary, it being lost on us that driving seventy miles an hour is a violent act, and this we only realize when running into something. We could’ve toured as daredevils a hundred years ago. But existence in our rolling cubicles is mostly quite prosaic, and life encaged is dull.

When I was three years old my friend and I decided to walk to the Ashland A&W, a mile away and across an interstate highway. Hudda Martenson saw us traipsing outside the neighborhood, and gave us a ride home to strict punishment. Grounded! For three days! This proved walking was a precious freedom, indeed, whose revocation was a penalty most cruel and severe.

Hell of a View

Saturday Essay - Dave SorensenNot having grown up in Duluth, I missed the purported crosstown rivalry. My tribe lives next door, across the border: the People of the Cheese.

Duluth: “Where rail meets sail.” Where rustic meets rustbelt. Where woodtick meets moonbeam, and uphill meets down. You’re a microcosmic casserole, a dichotomous hotdish, Duluth, where stone meets water, and water meets sky. Actually, between water and sky is a thin slice of Wisconsin, appearing blue because of the way light scatters across the distance, and sometimes distance is good. You see, people often end a sentence with the phrase, “but there’s always Wisconsin,” as in, “we can’t get no drunker here, but there’s always Wisconsin,” or, “we don’t make lampshades from human skin, but there’s always
Wisconsin,” and so on, lending a certain comfort to the color blue, and the distance it conveys.

Driving into downtown from the west feels like entering an architect’s model, as the street burrows between stubby office buildings along the table of land between harbor and hill. When I moved here, freeway and mall had already drawn and quartered the business district, and it was the nadir of the Reagan recession. The industrial boomtown started busting as the high-grade ore played out in the 1950s, and by the late ’70s competition from abroad arrived, along with bumper stickers reading, “ Eat Your Foreign Car.” While the early ’80s were cloaked in a campaign slogan touting, “Morning in America,” around here we wondered if there was a bottom to this freefall, which might at least afford a dead-cat bounce.

Klobuchar votes to comfirm Pompeo as CIA director

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar was one of 14 Democrats who sided with Republicans on Monday in voting to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA director, Mike Pompeo.

Dark in the Daytime

Saturday Essay - Dave SorensenHaving populated the northern reaches of this place, atop an oily veneer of civilization, we once more ride our tilting Earth into the shady side of its orbit, where things get slippery. For millennia natives traveled well in winter. Nowadays, however, snow-tires or no, wheels and ice don’t jibe. You probably noticed this the first time your car twirled like the Tea Cup ride at the fair, while sliding through a stop sign. Most types of winter recreation — snowshoes and sleds, skates and skis — not only start with the swishing of the letter “S,” they’re also atavistic. No fancy-schmancy wheels. Recreational snowmobilers are an evolutionary dead-end, though, as one once told my friend, “dinks gotta have fun, too.”

The Norwegians say there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing. Then again, the Norwegians gave Henry Kissinger a Nobel Peace Prize. So take that with enough grains of salt to cure a barrel of cod.

Before the deep snow, or the deep cold, the darkness begins. Is it any wonder that people light up the Christmas season like some sort of Jesus-in-Vegas act? There are long shadows at lunch, and the afternoon light shines all day long. My friend Tim, who no longer orbits the sun, used to putter around his house in late December, muttering, “ dark … dark in the daytime.”

Hop In

Saturday Essay - Dave SorensenWhen I was nineteen my parents dropped me off on US Highway 2. I had a pack, tent and sleeping bag, a couple hundred dollars in one pocket, a polished agate for a lucky charm in another, and a cardboard sign that said “Seattle.” I’d soon learn it’s better to have a sign that says “west” than the name of a specific city almost two-thousand miles away.

The first person I met was another hitchhiker, a distinguished fellow, grey at the temples, traveling the country playing piano in nursing homes for his meals. Though he carried a miniature book of musical scores to lighten his pack, the odd thing was, as he stood along the road waiting for rides, he lifted weights. About fifty pounds worth. He couldn’t see leaving them at home. Maybe it was a ploy to weed out the wrong drivers, some sort of immediate ultimatum: love me, love my barbells. Those fearful of excess baggage need not engage.

A local woman had us throw our gear into the back of her truck and got us out of town. Then, straight out of my youthful road-trip dreams, I was picked up by a semi and rode high in the cab all the way to North Dakota. I spent the night in the open on a bit of scruffy highway median, sleeping in the dew.

Down Town

Saturday Essay - Dave Sorensen“I’m from New Jersey, I don’t expect too much
If the world ended today I would adjust.”
–John Gorka

New York, New Jersey. San Francisco, Oakland. Duluth and Soup Town. The Deep North, top of the map, and shallow end of the gene pool. Ugly sister-city. Can you feel the gravitational pull of the swamp it was built on? This force that bends us, slouching like the lowland willows. That drives water, beer and whiskey to seek the lower ground. Rains and fortunes falling, down and down. The banker’s son becomes a biker. The executive’s boy delivers pizza and sells dope well into adulthood. Sociologists call this “regression toward the mean.” Or maybe the swamp is pulling them. Down.

Of course the place tosses off an astronaut or Nobel winner once in a while. But folks mostly seem to understand they were born in second-place, and second place, as we know, is first loser. You get used to it. It helps to have negative role-models. Don’t do what he did. Look out for that. Rest in peace.

Waving at Strangers

Saturday Essay - Dave SorensenIt started when I was twelve years old and my father consented to buy me a mini-bike. It was the real deal, a miniature motorcycle, not some boxy frame with a lawn mower engine. Sixty CCs, one hundred and twenty pounds, it would do fifty miles per hour. What a foolish gift.

There had been a couple of go-carts around the neighborhood before bikes took over. Two brothers had cobbled one together but had yet to master the complexities of throttle control or brakes. We put their sister on it, wound it up, and let it go. I don’t know how she eventually came to a stop, but she was last seen careening between the trees in our beloved public park. It was obvious from that experiment their machine had two too many wheels.

I probably knew a dozen kids with mini-bikes. My friend two blocks away had one identical to mine, and ours were among the coolest. Most common were the Honda 70s. Ugly, but they could keep up. The boy across the street had a Suzuki Trail Hopper. Pathetic. Honda 50s were tiny. The clown car of mini-bikes. One kid had an Indian which sounded like a chainsaw cutting sheet metal, yet law enforcement was strangely absent for a couple of summers when the world was young.

Welcome to Clough Island

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Duluth City Council votes to oppose Trans Pacific Partnership

Thanks to the Duluth City Council for voting 8 to 1 to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership. The DNT article is here. 

The TPP has been negotiated in secret for years, and has been called “NAFTA on steroids” and a “corporate coup d’ etat.” If you’ve never heard of it that’s no coincidence. It will offshore jobs, raise the price of medicines, threaten net neutrality, threaten environmental protections, undermine human rights, roll back Wall Street reforms, and perhaps most frighteningly of all it will establish unelected tribunals whose courts will take precedence over U.S. and other national court systems with regard to trade disputes. Laws passed by democracies will no longer be the law of the land. This is an assault on our republican form of government. Please read more about it here and here.

Please email Senator Al Franken and Senator Amy Kobuchar.

Souvenir Folder from the 1920s

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Lovit Soft Drinks from Fitger’s

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I read that Fitger’s made soft drinks during prohibition, but this wooden case I found doesn’t look all that old. Does anyone know when they stopped making soda?

Heating towns using cold water

Does anyone know about this or understand it? A town in Norway is using cold water to create heat for its municipal heating system.

BBC News: Heat pumps extract warmth from ice cold water

This is not the same as pumping ground water through a building.

The more things change …

A 1972 cartoon featured in the book “Minnesota in the 70s.”

Net neutrality under attack

The Federal Communications Commission is once again planning to put an end to net neutrality. I can’t weigh in on the geek end of this issue, but it is surely a bad idea, considering that print and broadcast media are so tightly controlled, with six corporations owning 90 percent of U.S. media. Big Money should not be able to control internet traffic. What to do?

Great Lakes as Carbon Corridor

Maude Barlow published a report on March 17 about plans to make the Great Lakes a carbon corridor for oil from the tar sands of Alberta and the fracking wells of North Dakota. Mayor Don Ness recently stated his support for more pipelines, saying his previous commitments to lowering carbon emissions were irrelevant because “the pipeline makes no impact on carbon consumption in the city of Duluth.”

I think Mayor Ness is a good mayor with a good heart, but this sounds like sophistry considering the global nature of climate change. And it may show the type of compartmentalization of thought we all indulge in to protect ourselves from larger truths.

Mayor Ness also recently stated on MPR that he was not well-enough informed to have an opinion on shipping oil by tanker across Lake Superior. I hope he will appreciate a lot of respectful pressure from his constituents on this issue, because here’s the deal: On one end is Tar Sands and fracking devastation and on the other end are climate-changing emissions. In the middle is a lot of fresh water we would be absolutely mad to put at risk. Now is the time to stand up for the big lake we all love and depend on.