Positively Howard Street: July 2002

Editor’s note: Ten years ago today, July 10, 2002, I awoke at a rest area near Duluth, Minn. The previous night, I’d sat in a bar in Hibbing, Bob Dylan’s hometown, watching the All-Star Game that never ended. Now it’s July 12 already. Two days have passed since I wrote that first sentence. But since baseball is still paused for the annual midsummer festival of corporate gluttony, I’ll take the opportunity to sneak in a little retrospective covering my trip in the late BMW 325 from Sioux Narrows, Ont., to Hibbing.

A Little Knowledge

You can get gas at any Petro-Canada station for right around 70 cents a litre (liter). After making a befuddling series of metric conversions and then factoring in the Canadian dollar’s weakass status visa vis the greenback dollar bill, you’re still paying way over $2 American a gallon.
The other day I found myself loitering in a Winnipeg espresso bar and came across this note in the Globe and Mail. This bit of wisdom was offered up by a Cal psychologist and scholar named Sonja Lyubomirsky. Ms. Lyubomirsky is hard at work unraveling the mysteries of the human condition.
Her research has led her to the following groundbreaking conclusion which should have wonderful ramifications for people of the future.
“Life appears to be easier for happy people,” she wrote.
As a corollary discovery, she finds that discontented souls tend to be self-absorbed:
“They think that if they really understand themselves, life will be happier.  It doesn’t appear to work that way.”
The unexamined life, it turns out, is the only life to live.

Positvely Howard Street

That was long ago, yes, and far away. In the meantime, I’ve nursed a Labatt’s at a place bearing the promising name of “Big John’s Mineshaft Tavern,” and a pint of honey weiss for the low, low price of $2.25 at Zimmy’s, a Bob Dylan tribute bar in his hometown of Hibbing, Minn.
Big John, according to the hazy story relayed by a cute-little-thing (apologies to Betty Freidan) of a bartender named Ashley, is a former miner and indeed big.
The bar is not, sadly, located on the site of a former copper mine. It is situated on rambling Lake of the Woods (this is the Lake of the Woods that turns up as backdrop to a Tim O’Brien novel, not the Lake of the Woods with the subterranean property values where I reside in the methamphetamine wilds of the Key Peninsula) in southern Ontario in a place called Sioux Narrows, beneath a bridge billed as “the world’s longest single-span wooden suspension bridge,” or some such dubious superlative.
Big John wasn’t around. He was gone fishing, which is apparently what he likes to do now that he spends his days above ground.
The best thing at Big John’s was little Ashley,  a fourth-year religion/philosophy student at Wilfred Laurier (by now I had become conversant enough in Canadiana to screw up my eyes thoughtfully at the mention of the late Mr. Laurier, and say, “isn’t he a former prime minister?) outside of Toronto.
I guess I’m getting a little lonely. I was a little smitten with that silver ring protruding from her dainty left nostril. Then again, who wouldn’t be?
Near me sat Kerry, a lip-glossed, giant-heeled good-time gal who toils in a bank in Greenfield, Wis., outside of Milwaukee. This zoology student likes the nightlife and thus found herself bored shitless in bucolic Sioux Narrows. She wanted to go to Florida, but her fishing-crazy beau and his nephews carried the popular vote.
Old Carl, who looks like Walt Whitman up from Florida on a lakeside vacation, got the wrong idea and assumed Kerry and I were together. Silly Carl. He’s been coming to these parts since 1967, when he piled into a ’64 rambler with his future wife, her parents, brother and brother’s girlfriend and bounced along madly at 65-70 mph all the way from Indiana.
As you can see, nothing of note went down at Big John’s, though I dutifully went on to note it anyway.
As Ashley was headed to the Winnipeg Folk Festival, I tried to convince her to check out Sam Bush.

I also informed that she might take a look at Tim O’Brien’s novel, “In the Lake of the Woods.”
“Well, if you’re spending the summer in the Lake of the Woods, you should read it, too,” I offered. “But you should first read his collection of Vietnam-era stories, ‘The Things they Carried,’ if you haven’t yet.”
End of summer syllabus.
Guess I was trying too hard to sound intelligent. Or interesting. I’m left to consider the regrettable possibility that I was hitting on her.
How embarrassing.

My stop at Zimmy’s was the result of an obligatory pass through Hibbing just to see if there were any outward homages to Bobby Zimmerman. I never expected to find such an obvious trove of Dylanania. The place was strange combination of sports bar and Dylan museum, though none of the patrons or employees seemed likely Dylan devotees.
I asked 18-year-old bartender Michael, who looked like a young, lean Opie Taylor, about his personal feelings concerning Dylan. His response captured the way I feel about sleeping in the passenger seat of a two-door, 15-year-old BMW 325.
“You get used to it after a while.”
I sat at the bar, eyes wandering from the TV, where baseball’s All-Star Game was taking place 500 miles down the road at Miller Park in Milwaukee, and the Dylan art on the walls.
Omar Vizquel’s triple off Robb Nen scored Robert Fick, bringing the American League stars into a 7-7 tie in the top of the eighth inning.
It stayed that way for a while. A long while.
I stuck around through the 11th inning, hoping to have the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th as company for the sleepy, deer-infested drive south toward Duluth. As you might’ve heard, I wasn’t so fortunate.

2012 interlude
I’m sitting here in the McDonald’s on North Pearl Street. I’ve been here for six hours.
Some guy just came up to me and asked, I think, if I was from California.
Then he proceeded to tell me about a guy called “Super Dave,” a homeless guy he ran into recently. Super Dave told him he had taken his bike, with his dog Jasper attached, back and forth to California 10 times in the past 10 years.
He has a thousand stories, the guy said. Kind of a dorky guy, my friend.
Kind of reminds me of one of my old bosses. Soft-spoken. Thin, with glasses, sunken cheeks, cardigan sweater.
I looked into his blue eyes, seeking clues. What the hell brought him to me?

I have never given much thought to my facility for running into oddballs on the road. Now I wonder about the deeper mysteries in the universe. I don’t often dabble in metaphysics. But …
He seemed to recognize me as a guy who would probably fall all over Super Dave in an effort to hear his stories. I’d love to hear about the steel plate in his leg. Or the time the Mexicans came for him, only to be shooed off at the last second by a cop who showed up serendipitously.

Super Dave. I might be able to find him at the Federal Way Walmart. I might go looking for him. You knew this.

State of the Industry
Major League Baseball is so dead that it doesn’t stink anymore.
And it’s too late for the John Henry Williams treatment. It’s hard to give a shit anymore or lament that once upon a time an out-and-out scoundrel like Pete Rose obliterated Ray Fosse just to win an All-Star Game.
We found out, it’s not a game anymore. It’s a  beautiful-people gala, baseball’s answer to the Academy Awards.
Yet pining for the days when the All-Star Game mattered (did it ever, really?) is a little like crying over the fact that the Soviet Union no longer exists or that you’ll never hear B.B. King play on Beale Street for nickels and dimes.
It ain’t what it used to be. It never is.
The most compelling nugget from Hibbing was gleaned from the window of the tourist information building, which unfortunately was closed by the time Bud Selig closed the All-Star extravaganza after 11 innings with the teams tied at 7.
With the help of headlights, I was nonetheless able to learn that Hibbing is home to the world’s largest open-pit iron ore mine. Taconite, to be specific.
Chamber of Commerce types are so proud of it here that they bill it as the “Grand Canyon of the North” and post directions so curious tourists can find there way around town to catch a glimpse of the 9th Wonder of the Word (the 8th being Bud Selig’s protracted stint as baseball commissioner).
That’s Hibbing, friends, located on Minnesota 73 just a stone’s throw from Chisholm. …
In Chicago now. There’s a radio ad running here featuring Chicago sports columnist Rick Morrissey. In the spot he lists the No. 1 job requirement for being a columnist as …. “opinions.”
Right. You know what they say about opinions.
Was driving south of Madison, Wis., yesterday when I chanced to hear some radio programming that set my head a-reeling and my heart longing for the North American radio army of the living God.
If I not ready for the Lake of Fire, I certainly was not prepared to hear  “The Dan Patrick Show” on Espn radio. This afternoon it came sans Dan Patrick and was headed up by addle-brained co-horts Sean Salisbury and Rob “Dibs” Dibble.
Thought they might want to discuss last night’s All-Star farce.
And they did. Especially Salisbury, who gushed several times that he felt “like a kid in a candy store” hobnobbing among baseball’s glitterati. He didn’t say “glitterati,” for the record. Nor did he or Dibs find anything untoward about the Milwaukee fiasco.
Dibs, however, did feel compelled to defend the fact that the duo had landed such awesome jobs:
“Both of us busted our asses to get into this industry,” he said.
I’m sure my head fell sharply and nearly reached the vicinity of my own sorry ass.
Well, I’m sure that makes all my scuffling newspaper pals feel better about breaking their own beleaguered asses in this wondrous industry.
At least they had on Art Thiel later in the show. I don’t think either of them were up to the task of fathoming just where the hell crazy Art was coming from. but when you run into Art Thiel, you know that it isn’t an utter wasteland out there.

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One Response to Positively Howard Street: July 2002

  1. Blind Charlie says:

    Questions, questions, questions. Omar Vizquel was in the 2010 All-Star game? Where is Sean Salisbury now? And, well, who killed Freddy Cohen?

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