Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘St. Paul

Doin’ Lowertown

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Last weekend was all about the Lowertown district on the edge of downtown St. Paul for us. We attended a concert at the Palace Theatre for a Valentine’s date on Friday night and met our friends, Barb and Mike on Saturday for dinner at the Handsome Hog restaurant that overlooks Mears Park. The drive from home feels quicker than the 35-40 minutes it takes when we exit directly onto 6th street and instantly find ourselves at our destinations, with no other turns required.

The highlight was by far the food and company on Saturday night. The contemporary Southern pig-centric menu is incredibly well-executed, based on the variety of delicious selections we all shared family-style. The location worked as an exact half-way point between our two homes, with the Wilkuses coming from the west and us from the east/southeast. They are the bestest of friends!

The concert on Friday was a meld of Calexico (Joey Burns and John Convertino) and the endearing Sam Beam who performs under the moniker Iron & Wine. They are a good match and clearly enjoy each other and performing together for an audience. I am a fan of Sam Beam’s songwriting and performance and generally can appreciate the Americana Tex-Mex indie rock of Calexico.

Unfortunately, I’ve reached an age where I too easily let the peripheral aspects of going out to see live performances tarnish the ultimate impression of events. The music was good, and the performers wonderfully engaging, so I was happily entertained in that regard.

We were impressed that the opening entertainer, 22-year-old Madison Cunningham, started exactly at the time the show was billed to begin, regardless the many unfilled seats. The first thing I noticed when I sat down in the balcony was that the rows were so tight I would be breathing into the hair of the person sitting in front of me. Luckily, there was no one there for the opening set.

Cyndie and I were unfamiliar with Madison and were pleasantly surprised. It would be fair to compare her singing and guitar skills to Joni Mitchell. No wonder we both liked her.

When the headliners took the stage, the seats in front of us filled and the fog machine pumped a mist to better show off the lights. I’m not sure where the director of the light show was sitting, but it’s a good guess it wasn’t in the balcony. They kept turning the fog machine on so often it was getting difficult to see the performers through the constantly thickening haze.

To make matters worse, they too frequently turned bright lights on behind the musicians, shining the beam up into our line of sight.

While I was fighting to see through all that, my eyes started to water from the essential oil or exotic shampoo aroma the woman in front of me (right beneath my nose) was radiating into the atmosphere. Maybe she had just pulled her coat out of moth-ball storage. It was hard to tell. It evoked a blend of rancid spices rubbed into an old dirty rug.

Much as I appreciate Lowertown, and as fun as it was to hear Iron & Wine music live again, I’m afraid the return to comforts of home with tunes playing through my speakers seems just as good, or even better.

Definitely a sign of aging.

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Without Pause

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I barely had time to unpack and catch my breath on Friday evening upon arrival home from the weeklong adventure of biking and camping, before the next flurry of activity began. At this time yesterday, I was in Cyndie’s car finishing up yesterday’s blog post as we raced west toward Chaska for a morning wedding of the daughter of one of our old school mates.

We didn’t have time to linger at the reception, because our afternoon and evening were reserved for the celebration of our daughter Elysa’s birthday. With their slick planning, Cyndie and Elysa had everything set for an excellent combination of activities.


Dressed in our summer wedding fare, we started the afternoon with a visit to Elysa and Ande’s garden plot near their home in St. Paul where we dumped 5 bags of Wintervale compost to cover their sprouting potato plants. Another gardener commented that we seemed a little overdressed for the task.

After that, it was an exploration through the bizarre collection of miscellaneous goods at Axman Surplus. They have everything you couldn’t possibly need, but always find some way to use. Birthday glasses!

Early dinner at On’s Kitchen on University Avenue to avoid the rush for Thai cuisine (Mmmm, Pad Thai!), and then Can Can Wonderland for entertainment.

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We chose to pass on the two-hour wait for the artist-designed mini-golf and settled for old-style pinball from my days of youth, skee-ball, ping pong, and bubble hockey, topped off with a round of beverages. A perfect birthday extravaganza.

Elysa got a candle in her drink.

I think I got more rest last week during the bike trip. Yesterday was like an added bonus day of adventure.

Now I could use a vacation from all my vacation.

Happy, happy birthday, Elysa!

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Written by johnwhays

June 23, 2019 at 10:00 am

Out Late

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Cyndie and I had a night out on the town with her brother, Ben, last night.

Guess what city we were in?

We met for dinner in a historic diner.

Guess who we saw in concert at the Palace Theatre?

Guess who didn’t get enough sleep last night?

Yeah, that’d be me…

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Written by johnwhays

March 20, 2019 at 6:00 am

Climate Forum

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Last night we attended a fascinating climate discussion at the MPR building in St. Paul, hosted by Chief Meteorologist, Paul Huttner.

I fully expected to be left in a downtrodden mood, but they actually did a fair job of offering some hope and encouragement about things that individuals can do, as well as sharing some accomplishments of young people who are getting involved to influence municipalities to take some timely action. It’s the kid’s future at stake, after all.

It has me wanting to put more effort into figuring out how we might make further progress toward utilizing renewable energy like wind and solar, in addition to the geothermal furnace we installed when we moved here. I’m also wondering about the possibility of getting a fully electric car. For the long commuting I am doing to get to work four days a week, that would feel like a most tangible change, to no longer burn gasoline and spew the exhaust.

We almost didn’t get a chance to burn fuel on the way home after the event. Upon arriving downtown, we had pulled into the first parking ramp we found near our destination. Signs indicated it was open until 10:00 on weekdays, so we felt satisfied. Unfortunately, when we returned to the building shortly before nine, it was all locked up!

After walking the full circumference in search of an unlocked door, we happened upon a back door with a security intercom. It seemed like the solution, but communication with the person was not entirely clear, and we found ourselves standing and waiting for someone who never came.

We were saved by the coincidental arrival of two police officers who were able to open the door and direct us to the elevator that led to the parking levels below ground. There were no humans around at that hour, but a machine at the exit swallowed our five dollar bill and gates automatically opened.

We gladly hustled the car onto the city streets and headed for the freeway back to Wisconsin, dumping our carbon emissions all the way home.

The data is pretty obvious folks. The climate is changing and the effects on our weather are underway.

It only makes sense to take this into account and make decisions accordingly. Not just for the immediate future, but for the lifetimes of those who will be dealing with it for the next 50-100 years and beyond.

From the “Eat local, think global” catch phrase, try this morph: Act today, with a plan for tomorrow.

And turn off the lights on your way out.

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Written by johnwhays

April 27, 2018 at 6:00 am

Downtown Again

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Once again, we made the easy dash from our beautiful countryside into the metropolitan energy buzzing just 45-minutes away. Last night, it was the precious Palace Theatre in downtown St. Paul for the Iron & Wine concert.

It was another fabulously successful adventure for Cyndie and me. As a soaking rain settled over the land, Cyndie was able to escort the chickens into the coop early, allowing us to venture through fading daylight and blurring road spray to compete for parking with NHL’s Minnesota Wild hockey fans.

My first parking ramp option just happened to be closed for construction, so it was a single trip around the block, barely squeaking through an intersection on the brink of gridlock, to reach an easy and convenient second choice.

We arrived at the theatre early and took some time to explore the layout, as this was our first event at the renovated historic venue. It is a wonderful mashup of new and old. The almost scary looking ceiling made an early impression, but every other sense was extremely positive for a place to enjoy music performance.

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I had chosen to buy reserved seats in the balcony over the main floor standing general admission. Even though I purchased the tickets as early as possible, the best available was half-way up from the front of the balcony. Cyndie captured a shot while I was checking out the view from the first row. Really nice seats, if you can get them.

We aren’t overly familiar with the full career of Sam Beam as Iron & Wine, but being repeatedly struck by the sound every time I hear a cut played on the radio, I wanted to see where it comes from in person. We weren’t disappointed.

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The giant hanging cotton balls were a little funky, but they captured the colored lights nicely. The dancing light on the back curtain was perfect, every song.

Sam Beam was wonderfully social and totally obliterates any concept of a fourth wall separating the performer from the audience. At one point, he graciously interacted with a fan who shouted a knock-knock joke.

Almost every time, just as the interactive banter approached a point of being too much, the imaginary veil would fall and a song would swiftly transport the ambiance to a far away place of Sam’s creation. He does well with plying a craft of sparse quiet guitar work with delicate instrumentation from his supporting musicians, bolstered by moments of full momentum and volume.

Even though the show started around the time we often head for bed, we hung around for the full show, including the perfect encore song, for which the female members of the band returned wearing beards that looked mysteriously similar to Sam’s.

What?

A wonderful time was had by all. We chalk it up as one more good experience heading downtown from the countryside, again.

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Written by johnwhays

October 15, 2017 at 10:37 am