A Brief Summary of South Florida

Those individuals within my immediate circle of friends and family know of and are aware of a career move I made in mid-February. After finishing a masters degree in computer science at the end of 2017, I caught my breath, stepped back and took a moment to reflect on where I was at professionally. Over the course of 2018, I ruminated on whether now was the time to continue the academic push together further graduate studies in computer science, or if I should make a change with my career’s direction.

Ruling out doctoral studies, I started to look for open positions in the Twin Cities’ area, as well as entertaining discussions with technical recruiters.

After many interviewers, phone calls, and all the machinations involved, I received an offer for employment from the analytics wing of a large, publicly traded, renewable energy focused, electricity company. I accepted the offer.

And so, five weeks into my latest career move, I found myself in South Florida, visiting the corporate headquarters, and meetings coworkers who I had only seen and interacted with via video conferencing.

Jupiter Beach Resort & Hotel

As I told a few coworkers, I had never been to Florida. If you are a long term lurker of my musings on this blog, you will be aware of my global meanderings, but I had never been to Florida. The farthest south in the continental United States was South Carolina, and even then, I have only been to Lancaster, which is near the border with North Carolina.

When I arrived in West Palm Beach, Florida, the sun had not gone down, yet, and the weather was pleasant – in the mid-60s, light breeze, and more humidity than back home.

My preconceived notion was Florida entirely built from media accounts of events that I had taken notice of over the years, as well as a narrow thread of inputs from former coworkers who had, at one in their lives, live in South Florida. Publix grocery stores, garish cars & culture, Cuban sandwiches, stand your ground laws, and truck nuts were all things that I have associated with a Florida writ large.

Two hours north of Miami, along the coast, I found low key communities, snowbirds winding down their winter stays — looking forward to returning homes in states north, and open air restaurants. One of the most interesting things I found was architecture. It had a similar incorporation of outdoor and indoor spaces that made me think of the similar use of indoor and outdoors that is found in the Presidential Palace in Ho Chi Minh City. I encountered a few covered walkways here and there. There is no snow, but there is plenty of rain. Likewise, the majority of the street light poles and power poles were concrete, reminding me of Japan. Similar to Japan, Florida has to deal with massive storms with high winds.

Jupiter Beach

I’m certain that my three days in South Florida does not represent a meaningful sample of the place and people, but it was a pleasant place, with friendly people. There were Publix grocery stores, and I did shop at one. There were fancy cars, but the truck nuts must have been hidden.

World’s Tallest Salesman

World’s Tallest Salesman

IMG_3763Towner, Rugby, Minot.  Where was I going?  Some where in north central North Dakota, that’s about all I really needed to know.  The trip was four months away.  It was early April, and I was in North Carolina, in the Triangle, for work, but had managed a side-trip to visit my sister and her husband on the coast, near Jacksonville.

My brother-in-law’s grandfather was to turn ninety years old in August.  Due to circumstances outside of his control, my brother-in-law would be unable to attend the birthday.  My sister, on the other hand, intended to attend the festivities.  She loves the grandparents.  I, too, would be attending the birthday party.  Who was going to be at this party, again?  I think I met the grandparents – once – at Meg & Bruce’s graduation.

I’m not entirely sure who initiated the conversation.  Myself, volunteering to attending the event, or my sister asking me to attend.  Maybe somewhere in the fuzzy middle.  Maybe there was not really an ask whether Meghann would want me to go with her, and maybe there was not really me making an explicit volunteering.   I honestly cannot remember.

Where did I just say I would go in early August, was it Towner or Rugby?

_DSC3328Plans firmed up somewhere in early summer.  Meghann would fly from Raleigh, NC, to Bismarck, ND.  I would drive to Bismarck, and we would then drive to…where were we driving to, again?  Two or three hours north of Bismarck, maybe.   Near the Canadian border?  Close to the border?

August seemed to have arrived, as did the trip.  Shortly after noon, I was on the road.  Didn’t I just drive through Bismarck, less than a month ago?  Yes, yes, I did.

I tend to have, what I consider to be a minimal needs plan.  An MNP is something that has the least number of steps required to have an event be successful.  It is something akin to the Minimally Viable Product of software development and project management.  It is not that I am against details and minutia,.  When I am driving, there usually is little need for me to do things like plan my exact stops for fuel or food, or even figure out the the fastest route between points A and B.  Beverages and food get packed in a cooler in the car, the car tells me when is likely going to be in need of fuel, and Google Maps finds me a decent route.  All I really need to think about, and it is often a brief thought, is when do I need to leave, to be at the place I need to be at?

12:00pm on Friday, August 5th, is the answer to that last question.  Basically, I needed to be to the Bismarck, ND, airport by 7:00pm.  It’s a 6.1/2 hour drive with 30 minutes built in for fuel and bathroom breaks.  Five miles over the speed-limit; I would get there with a nice cushion of time.  A couple cold Bragg’s vinegar+juice drinks in the cooler, a few snacks, and Gareth Emery‘s album, Drive: Refueled, on my phone, I headed out.  The track, Long Way Homeseemed fitting; I pressed play and headed westward.

Meghann and I pulled into the driveway of her brother-in-law’s house in Bismarck, close to 7:20pm – Meg’s flight had been slightly delayed.  Her brother-in-law had nicely offered us a couple rooms at his house for us for the night.  I still really did not have a clear picture where we were going to be driving to the next day.  North.  Towner, maybe Rugby.  Why were staying at this house?  It was an incredibly nice gesture, allowing us to stay at his house.  Sleeping on an air mattress felt very early-twenties-college-esque.

I was the first to wake in the house.  Other guests had also showed up later in the night.  Meg’s brother-in-law forgot that he had also told some friends from out of town that they could stay at his house.  It really did feel like I was back in a shared-college-house.  I ducked out for coffee and returned to find the house still a sleep.

Once Meg was up and called some of her in-laws who had a better idea of where things were going to take place and when, we kIMG_3769new we had the morning the kill in Bismarck.  After breakfast we headed to the capitol grounds for a walk – Bismarck’s annual Capital A’fair arts & crafts festival was taking place.

After enough wandering, we headed out.  Meg was on the phone a bit with her in-laws.  Two aunts might be in Garrison.  We headed to Garrison.

Miscommunication.  The aunts were going to be Minot.  We were in Garrison when we found this out.

Garrison, North Dakota, is a small town.  A small upper midwestern town.  Like many upper midwestern towns with water supporting fish, fish that tourists like to catch & eat — the town has a large fish statue.   Garrison is located just north of the east end of Lake Sakakawea. Other upper midwest towns that one could happen upon a giant fish statue include Bena, MN – they are home to a diner shaped like a muskellunge, or the fiberglass walleye in Kabetogama, MN, or, not to be outdone, Garrison, MN, also has a large walleye statue similar to its neighboring state’s Garrison.  Most places that have waters that contain walleye fish, will also have signage and statues proclaiming that place to be The Walleye Capital of the World.  Not to leave Wisconsin out, in Hayward is home to the North American Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.  A giant muskellunge statue can be found there.

We headed to Minot to meet the aunts at a McDonalds for coffee.  Driving to Minot, I kept thinking of a book that I had read a long while ago, Big Mutt, by John Reese.  It takes place in the North Dakota bad lands – which were just to the west of where we were driving.  The book has nothing to do with visiting family in North Dakota.  It’s just one of those odd memories that gets triggered periodically by place.

The aunts recalled meeting me at Meg & Bruce’s graduation – years ago.  I probably did meet them, but that graduation was a month prior to one of those hard turns in life – our father having a stroke.  It is like when I think of around Thanksgiving 2014.  I immediately think of our grandmother, Clarice, passing away.  However, two days prior to Clarice’s passing, I was best man in a wedding; that fact rarely crosses my mind.  Those perceived larger events tend to over shadow those seemingly smaller ones.  I’m sure I met the aunts, they remembered me.  They gave Meg some old family photos; gave each of us a hug, and we were on our way.

IMG_3774Towner.  That was where we were going.  The festivities were in Towner, ND.

A family, in general, is odd to an outsider.  It might even be weird.  There is nothing wrong with this.  Every family has that relative, maybe it’s a cousin, or a cousin’s spouse that gets talked about in hushed tones.  You know what went on with them, but you still act like you are ignorant.  Maybe there is an uncle who hugs just a few seconds too long.  Every family has these characters.   Some characters are just perceived to be stranger or weirder by outsiders than other characters in the family.  Every family is a bit of a community, even if the members of this community are scattered around the country.  The birthday party went off without a fuss.  Meg and I, not being much of meat eaters, managed to eek out a meal of pasta salad (we eat around the pepperoni), potato chips, and mixed fruit.  Many tributes were raised to the birthday boy; he is much loved within the family.IMG_3778
I am not sure how long we were actually in Towner.  When a few people left, Meg took the cue that it was time to head to Rugby – the nearest town with a hotel.  Rugby is a twenty minute drive east from Towner.  When we pulled into the hotel’s parking lot, the sun was still hanging a bit above the western horizon.  We were in the hotel for a short time.  At 8:30pm, I ran to a store in town to pick something up for Meg.  That was about the first time all afternoon and into the evening that I actually knew the current time; the store closed at 9:00pm, but it was just across the road.

The next day, Sunday, we had a small window of time to get in some small town attractions.  Rugby claims to be “The Geographic Center of North America.”  I immediately started to wonder how this was determined.  Was a map used?  What was the projection of the map?  Would the center be different if the projection was Albers Equal-Area Conic Projection versus Robinson Projection?  What is different with this center from the Geographic Center of the Nation, in Belle Fourche, South Dakota?

IMG_3780In addition to the Center monument, which just happens to be in the parking lot of a souvenir shop, Rugby has the World’s Tallest Salesman Exhibit.  It was closed, because it was Sunday and still early in the day.

I started to think about these road side attractions as we drove out of Rugby.  Next stop: Silva, ND.  Yup, another road side attraction.  This time, it was a bank vault in a pasture.  You see, Silva, ND is a ghost town.  There are a few buildings remaining of the what used to be the town.  Down a dirt road for a few miles, a left down another dirt road, and we had arrived.  Before leaving the hotel, I had read about Silva.  It was originally home to Cliff Thompson, the World’s Tallest Salesman.  As it turned out, Cliff only lived in Silva until he was seven years old.  He eventually ended up in Portland, Oregon where he practiced law, presumably as World’s Tallest Lawyer.  Like many small towns, a certain segment of that town’s populace build a cottage industry around the hometown hero who, often, has moved on from that town.  Some towns’ heroes have long passed away, like Cliff Thompson, who died in 1955.  Other town heroes are still around – like Bob Dylan – who is claimed by my hometown of Hibbing, MN.  Small towns are like families, a bit weird to outsiders, but perfectly normal to those that reside within them.

Back to Bismarck where I dropped Meg off at the airport.  With Long Way Home streaming from my phone to the car’s stereo, I headed home.   I stopped at two more small town attractions, both fitting into the same category of World’s Largest of certain types of bird.  In Steele, ND, you can find the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane.  And, in Rothsay, MN, you can find the World’s Largest “Booming” Prairie Chicken.  Sadly, the prairie chicken statue does not “boom.”

Small towns and families are weird, but, hell, you cannot help but love both of them.

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Lure of the Road (Part 1)

Lure of the Road (Part 1)

Duluth Pack Backpack with Patches
Duluth Pack Backpack with Patches from places traveled.

Now and again, I go venturing.  Some times by train, sometimes by plane, but more often, automobile. West coast, east coast, the Bible belt, back to the Iron Range, northern Europe, Canada, Japan or Vietnam.  I tacitly wander.  It feels good to have a place to call home, though.  But, for short periods of time – I like to wander.  As a kid, our family would drive from Hibbing, Minnesota, to Longmont or Boulder, Colorado, now and again.  My mother’s sister and her family lived there.  The drive seemed impossibly long.  Spread-out over two days, we would spend the night in Nebraska – Grand Island or North Platte.  My father was, and often still is, impossibly impatient.  In the 1980s, with the National Maximum Speed Law (NMSL) still in place, being in a vehicle as my father pushed it – a Chrysler minivan or Ford Bronco II – up past 70 mile per hour seemed fun and exciting.  He was beyond irritated when he was pulled over for speeding.

Traveling, as a child, with the exception of a circle tour around Lake Superior in the early 1990s, always involved traveling to family.  In 1998, a month before my 18th birthday, my mother’s brother, Mike, needed to get a 1997 Toyota Camry from Hibbing to Portland, Oregon.  The car had been my grandfather’s.  It was still traveling with family, but it felt different.  One way or another, I convinced my mother that I should be allowed to go with Mike.  I’d be helping by being able to drive.  To add to the how the hell did I manage that category, I secured a one way ticket back to Minnesota from Portland.  I’m not certain who actually paid for the ticket.

Montana Highway 200

Using MapQuest to plot our route, we printed off our travel plans, packed a bit of food and headed west.  Hibbing to Glendive, Montana, is about a nine hour drive.  No cellphone – we used pay phones along the way if needed or a phone card.  Mike and I switched off driving midway in North Dakota.  For a seventeen year old who had never done any long-haul drives before, four and half hours behind the wheel was tough.  Glendive to Wallace, Idaho (where there is a Bordello Museum and a silver nugget “as big as a steering wheel”).  Similarly, we switched driving midway.  From Wallace, thru the the Columbia River Gorge into Portland.

Four years earlier, NMSL had been fully repealed.  A boon for states’ rights proponents.  Montana, shortly there after, enacted a during-daylight speed limit of “Reasonable and Prudent” (little did I know that “Reasonable and Prudent” would be struck down later that year by the Montana Supreme Court for being “unconstitutionally vague”).  A seventeen year old me, no parents, and an uncle with a known wild streak riding shotgun — hell yes, I was going to see what that Camry could do on the open roads of Big Sky country.  I nearly panicked when I passed a Montana highway patrol.  He was clipping along at 90 miles per hour; I was doing 105.  He did not care, 105 must have been Reasonable and Prudent enough for him.  On this trip, I saw an ocean for the first time in my life.  The waves and tide around Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach.  Seattle with Pike’s Place Market, the Monorail, and the Space Needle.  It was a cornucopia of things-Pacific Northwest.

No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes

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Yukon Territory, May 2013

Two years later, my sister had just finished her undergraduate academic career, and would be starting her doctoral academic career in the fall.  She wanted a road trip.  Replace wild-streak-uncle with high-energy sister, and replace 1997 Camry with a 1998 Dodge Stratus (“forest green” no less), and needing to drive back to Minnesota instead of flying – the trip was exactly the same, just different.   Even with “Reasonable and Prudent” no longer in play, we still drove fast.  Meghann, tells the story of slowly waking up from napping in the passenger seat, having the sensation that we were “moving quickly,” realizing that I had a cassette tape in the tape deck – playing Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” – in her version of the story, I’m singing along with the music; she glanced at the speedometer – 100 – and calmly asked me, “Are we going 100 miles per hour?”  Putting on a thick layer of bullshit and likely channeling our late grandfather, Charlie, I quickly dismissed the question with, “No, no, it must be the angle that you’re looking at the speedometer.”

Montana State Highway 200
Montana Highway 200

Wallace, Idaho, the Columbia River Gorge, Seattle – Pike’s Place Market and the Space Needle – all the places that Mike and I had ventured – Meghann and I were now seeing these same places.  Speeding through Montana on the way back to the Midwest, we passed through clouds of birds with the Stratus.  Stopping in Fargo to drop Meghann off at her apartment also afforded a trip through a car wash to remove bird bits.

Between the time Meghann and I ventured out to the west coast and the near present, there was plenty of travel.  Melissa and I drove several times to New Hampshire and the East Coast when my sister was residing there.  A drive to North Carolina over a long weekend to pickup a dog.  Train trips to both coasts – Melissa was able to see Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock in person.  And of course, the somewhat epic trip that Andy B. and I took to the Arctic Circle (or Andy’s version).  That trip took a similar path as previous westward trajectories but took a hard right in Bozeman, Montana and nearly 2,500 miles to the northwest into Canada.

Aside from driving up to the Iron Range to visit my parents and work on things on the familial land, road trips have been sparse since the Canadian & North Carolinian venturing.  In April, I made the drive from New Bern to Chapel Hill, NC (and back) – but this had a similar distance and time to that of the drive from St. Paul to the Iron Range.

Earlier in 2016, word from Andy B. (now living outside Seattle) was he and his long time girlfriend were going to be getting married.  I looked at plane tickets – it would have been the sensible thing to do, but that perennial itch to drive somewhere crept into my consciousness. Maybe I should drive solo to Seattle?  I started to look at routes.  I will reiterate that the sensible thing to do would have been fly, spend nearly six days in the Seattle/Portland area and split the remaining single-day’s amount of time for sensible, efficient air travel.

I did not do that.

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park Painted Canyon

I set my sights on Great Falls, Montana for the first night, and Federal Way, Washington (just outside Seattle, where the wedding would take place) the next day.  I left St. Paul at 4:00am on a Thursday.  The first four hours to Fargo, North Dakota, seemed to go quick enough.  SiriusXM in the car, ample music on my iPhone.  Entertainment options were covered.  No using MapQuest this time, either.  I believe I had at least three GPS enabled devices with me.  Jamestown, Bismarck, Dickinson, a stop near Belfield and Medora at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and its Painted Canyon.

Heading west, you gain an hour for each new time zone.  Great Falls, like the rest of Montana, is in Mountain Time.  I rolled into Great Falls around 8:30pm local time.  Getting to Great Falls involved taking Montana Highway 200 for 350 miles, starting from Glendive.  Two lanes stretching out in front of you, just a ribbon of road dropping off the horizon miles ahead of you.  This road reminded me of the Dempster Highway in Yukon.  A lonely strip of road, few if any roads that crossed it.  Very few other vehicles.  Unlike the Dempster, there were a few towns along the road.  Circle and Lewistown.  Little towns that reminded me of the Iron Range.  Pickup trucks, four-wheelers and abandoned gas stations.  Great Falls had the feeling of Jacksonville, North Carolina.  A military town – Malmstrom Air Force Base to the east.  Jacked up trucks with out of state license plates, pawn, tobacco and vape shops.  It was still a nice little city.  There was a festival of some kind going on in Broadwater Bay Park.

Up and out and on the road by 6:30am the following day.  Great Falls was waking up.  Traffic was light.  Instead of the predominate direction – west – that I had been taking, it would be south for a short time.  Helena, the state capitol of Montana was my first stop of the day.  I needed to pickup Andy & Jen a card – something from Montana, as Montana is where they both went for their undergraduate degrees (in Bozeman, but I was not headed through that city) as well as that’s where they met each other.

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Entering Idaho from Montana

The distance of Hibbing to Duluth, Great Falls to Helena is about an hour and twenty minutes.  It was still early, but prior to my departure, I had looked up gift shops in Helena.  General Mercantile.  It markets itself as a Gift Emporium, Espresso Bar & Tea Room.  It opens at 8:00am on weekdays.  It fit the bill for me.  I perused the many shelves of chotskies and eventually found my way back to the cards.  I picked out a nice card, printed in Missoula, with a print of Monte Dolack’s “Mirage” on the front side.  An Americano from the espresso bar for me, a card for to-be-weds, and I was on the road once again.  Helena and part of the city that General Mercantile was located in, felt sort of like a Minnesota river town.  A larger version of Cannon Falls, Hastings, or even Lanesboro.  Onto the Bitterroot Mountains of western Montana and Idaho.

The panhandle of Idaho is just mountains.  The interstate is a series of curves, inclines and declivities.  The exit for Wallace zipped by, as did Kellogg and Smelterville, Coeur d’Alene with the lake that shares the same name.  Post Falls where the northern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene drains into the Spokane River.

Comparing eastern Washington and the part west of the Cascades is a juxtaposition of both climate and way of life.  Eastern Washington could only be more different if they decided drive on the left side of the road and go full-metric.  But, they will not.  Eastern Washington is ranch land with near desert conditions.  The politics of the region fit more with that of the panhandle of Idaho than that of the western part of the state.  West of Spokane, and you will find vast, open stretches of country and road.  Along the sides of the, you will see hay bales stacked high – covered with tarps.  I passed numerous Trump for President signs, as well.

About eights hours from Great Falls by way of Helena, the landscape starts to change over from browns and tans of the rain shadow of the Cascades into the greener foothills and slopes of the Cascades.  Thru Snoqualmie Pass, and the interstate widens out to three lanes then four lanes heading west.

Onto Washington Highway 18 near Snoqualmie, WA, heading southwest to Federal Way.  Melissa had called me earlier in the day to say that the hotel in Federal Way that I would be staying at had called and informed her that they had upgraded my room to a king suite; I guessed they needed my original room for a block of rooms for large grouping of people.

I checked into the hotel and dragged my camera equipment, backpack + laptop, food cooler, and suitcase up to my room.  A quick shower, a change of cloths – I had been wearing the same thing for the past two days – and I was off to the rehearsal dinner in Issaquah, Washington.

The highlight of the evening, aside from seeing Andy’s parents (who no longer live in Hibbing, but instead, live in South Carolina) and watching people play Kubb, was watching Jen & Andy saw off a log with a two person saw.  It was symbolic of what a marriage will be – two people, working in tandem, trying to tackle life’s challenges.  Two days, 1,700 miles of road, driven solo, and I had made it to my destination.  The wedding would be the next day, in the evening, at the Pacific Bonsai Museum.

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Jen & Andy (working the saw), Andy’s father (standing), and Andy’s uncle (sitting)

Part 2 of Lure of the Road

Enter Summer

_DSC8353The summer solstice is tomorrow, it’s the official start of astronomical summer for the northern hemisphere. Meteorological summer, however, has been in full swing since the beginning of the month.  In Minnesota, in Saint Paul, the weather has been remarkably mild with lots of rain.  The gardens and yard are progressing nicely.  The ample rain has meant little supplemental watering of vegetable garden.

Today, however, I find myself in the central coastal region of North Carolina.  I accompanied my mother here to visit my sister.  Seasoned readers of this blog may remember that, for a time, my sister had been living in Japan; she returned to the U.S. last year, and now resides in North Carolina.  By my upper Midwest standards, it is humid here and it is hot.  When leaving indoor places with air conditioning (which is everyplace), my glasses fog over.

_DSC8301Aside of the climate-difference from my usual place of residence, this region of North Carolina is a decent area to visit.  While heading out to a state park on the coast, we spotted dolphins in the coastal inner waters.  No wild dolphins in Minnesota; no sharks, either.  There is quite a different growing season here, too.  In the rural area where my sister and her husband now reside, there are several small plots of corn.  The corn in these plots has already tasseled; corn, in southern Minnesota, is barely knee high.

Melissa tells me that back in Minnesota, it’s been a bit rainy but otherwise nice.  The mom and I head back Monday.

Juxtapose

_DSC7472I spent the past weekend on the Range.  That’s what those who inhabit the region call it, that’s what I called it when I was growing up there.  The Range.  While traveling to the Range and to my specific destination of Hibbing, I stopped in Duluth.  Compared to an average Saturday morning and the time I would get up, it was very early.

I love arriving in Duluth at this early hour – minutes after sunrise; you get the feeling you have the town to yourself.  Maybe there is a jogger or another amateur photographer in the harbor area waiting for that rosy-red-orange sliver of sun to sidle up at the edge of the horizon – out there, where the big lake bends with the curve of the Earth.  Battling the wind and heavy spray from the lake, I took several photos, and then headed back to the car to roust the hounds up for a pee-break.  My hands were getting a bit numb — two of our hounds were with me. The coonhound and basset just wanted to get their business taken care of and then back into the warm car.  The coonhound looked at me with a bit contempt – all while nearly getting his own urine blown back at him; the look was that of seriously? you lived in this area for how long; and you miss this place?

With the hounds packed up, the camera and lens separated and wiped down from the mist, I headed to a cafe in the Lakeside neighborhood.  Breakfast with a couple friends.  Good coffee, good cafe-food, good company; one of my friends reiterated that I should come to Hawaii in December for his wedding.  I said I’d give it serious thought, but at the moment, I needed to get on the road again.

Heading north from Duluth, you pass through Hermantown, and onto Pike Lake; as the highway curves and then flattens – going east/west – you pass the familiar Fisherman’s Corner, then a Dairy Queen on one side and a gas station on the other.  You then cross a Midway Road.  There is a distinct feeling of crossing into a different region.  While living in the Duluth area, and those sporadic travels back to the Range, I  noticed this division, this line that Midway Road draws, but never really had noticed it as much as I have the last few times I have headed back home.  And heading back to Hibbing is something that I have done more of since moving to the St. Paul area than when I actually lived in Duluth.

The drive to Hibbing was uneventful.  The drive was that kind of drive where you are watching and are fully alert, but when you try to recall what was witnessed on the drive, you draw a blank.  Maybe I recall seeing the small grouping of white pines just before the juncture of Highway 33 with Highway 53 near the Cloquet River.  Maybe I’m just conflating the dozens and dozens of times I have take that exact same road north over the last 15 or so years.  Did I actually and actively look at the building in Cotton that was once a Bridgeman’s ice-cream shop, but now is vacant and for sale?  Blended memories.

Hibbing, Winter 2014
Hibbing, Winter 2014

Hibbing is and was Hibbing.  Those who have lived in Hibbing, and have lived the majority of their lives there, might be standing too close to discern trees from forest or vice versa.  There is nothing wrong with this.  My parents likely fall in this category, even though both spent a few years during the 1970s, living elsewhere, I feel that because their span of years in Hibbing since their return is greater than my age, they qualify.  There are also the individuals who have never ventured to the northern region of the state; those individuals, too, know little of the string of towns and cities in the state’s rust-region.  Then, there is a cohort of individuals who spent an amount of time on the Range – two years, four years, maybe twenty years, but for reasons – whether a conscious, thoughtful decision, or just wandering thru a bit of their life – they left, but have reason to return now and again.  I fall into this category, my sister falls into this category, I have a colleague who also falls into this category. As an aside, the picture above is of what you might expect if you looked to the west, down Howard Street in Hibbing; it was taken this past winter – there was no snow this past weekend; the temperature did go below freezing at night while I was visiting, but, during the day, it was remarkably spring-like.

Puttering around Hibbing in my Volkswagen, I often found myself reflecting upon or evening humming a song by Canadian folk singer Nathan Rogers (son of the late Stan Rogers).  The song is called Hibbing (lyrics here).  The song paints a fairly bleak picture of Hibbing, to an extent, however, it is spot on. It is spot on with the boom and bust of the mining cycle and the rhetorical grind mining.  The lyrics, laughing at the tourists in their silly foreign cars, flashed across my mind as I filled up the tank of my car with gas at a station near my parents’ house; a family – I assume family – of locals – I assume locals – just stared at me; they walked and moved but their eyes stayed on me, on my foreign car.  I overlaid staring in place of laughing as I ran through Nathan Rogers’ words with my inner monologue.

Internally, I feel like I am one of them.  I’m still a Ranger, I’m from Hibbing, aren’t I?  That group of individuals does not know that.  They do not know that I lived in Hibbing for nearly twenty-one years.  They do not know that, as I teenage, I jumped into and swam in that rusty mine pit Nathan Rogers’ sang about.  The family just saw my car and saw me; two things they hadn’t seen in town before.  Maybe, I’m just self-conscious.

357ec8df10ca83c4f2e33ccde455ab4e317e382e3fb28f11b535ae742af65a0f_fullI spent much of time, while in Hibbing, visiting with my mom and bit with my dad.  We talked about a bit of this and a bit of that.  Some politics; my mom and I watched The McLaughlin Group.  It was an enjoyable time.

My mother and I did take a walk-thru her mom’s house.  The house that my grandmother occupied for many decades.  Clarice, my mom’s mom – my grandmother, passed away just before Thanksgiving, last year.  Walking thru the house felt weird.  Even though I had stayed at the house since Clarice’s passing, the house, this time, was nearly empty, save for a bit of furniture, which was being used to stage the house for its sale.  The front porch did not smell like the front porch of my grandmother’s house.  Whatever was the source of that familiar scent had been removed; cleaned out by my mom’s brother or maybe even my mom.  Traces of the scent stirred when I moved an empty box.  It was quickly replaced with the sharper smell of clean.

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 10.17.43 PMWandering around the small backyard, I remembered several of photos or videos that had been take of people and things in that backyard.  Somewhere, I have a photo of my grandfather in a similar lawn chair.  But, he has aged quite a bit and he has a nasal cannula hooked into his nose – a plastic tube leading to an oxygen tank; he wore a light green or tan plaid-like lightweight shirt and had a hat.  The photo is from the early 1990s. I am now the owner of the light mesh fedora that was perched atop his head. I probably also have the shirt somewhere, too, in the back of a closet; likely pressed up against half a dozen or so of his wool coats.  Maybe I’m conflating photos, videos and memories of photos and videos, again.

I videoed a walk-thru of the first floor of the empty house with my phone, and messaged it to my sister.  My mom and I locked up the house and left.  So many memories of people and gatherings at this house.

I grabbed the dogs from their slumber in my parent’s basement and then headed north.  I wanted to get a bit more time to myself in the woods before completely packing up and heading south back to my regular, present day reality of living in St. Paul and working in Minneapolis._DSC7488