Sunday, February 28, 2010 By Aaron Brown
Regardless of whether the candidate is Rukavina or Bakk, a united Iron Range campaign is bound to be more competitive at the convention than two competing ones. Further, it would help either of them as they contest the remaining labor endorsements.
It bears mentioning that the Iron Range share of the convention floor will practically include less than 10 percent of the vote, 10-15 percent more if you include Duluth (which you shouldn't because it will be less unified). This entire enterprise is based on the premise that one of these candidates can garner support from delegates beyond the Range faithful.
Sunday, February 28, 2010 By Aaron Brown
Rukavina represents District 5A, which is the core of the Mesabi Iron Range's active mining zone (Check out my interview with Ruk). Bakk represents District 6 (Here's my interview with Bakk). That massive district includes a small part of the eastern Mesabi and the old Vermilion Iron Range by Ely and Babbitt, along with rest of the vast Arrowhead region and parts of Duluth.
So while SD-05 was most assuredly Rukavina's home turf, the size of his victory has to be troubling to Bakk, particularly because Rukavina could be competitive, if not victorious, in the 6th as well. Rukavina's home is just a few miles away from the 5/6 line and he's a well known quantity in the Ely area.
Next week I'll be attending my local Itasca County Unit convention in Bovey on the western Iron Range. There the remaining 12 "Iron Range" delegates will be pledged. Rukavina was the leading vote-getter in the Itasca County precinct caucus straw poll. Bakk finished third.
Meantime, a cursory glance at the totals coming out of the conventions around the state show that Rukavina is picking up a few delegates elsewhere, but only a few. He'll be back in the pack at the state convention this April and will need both a plan and a miracle to break out.
ALSO: If you're interested in the unique culture and politics of the Iron Range, check out my book "Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range," winner of the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award from UM-Duluth and the Friends of the Duluth Public Library.
Sunday, February 28, 2010 By Aaron Brown
Oh, brother, I am NOT a fan of how this newspaper vs. teachers debate is unfolding in Hibbing. It has all the makings of a lose-lose for both sides (that being the teachers, who still don't have a contract, and Wanda and the Tribune, who are bleeding subscribers like, well, a newspaper). I'd link the whole works but they have the paywall up now. I'll try to elaborate if I have time later this week.
Friday, February 26, 2010 By Aaron Brown
Spend some time looking at that website. Read the blogs. Read about the people. Read about some of the programs. Then listen to the station. Listen to the archives of programs that sound interesting. Listen to the variety of music, of voices, and -- most of all -- listen to how different it is than everything else in the media.
KAXE is public, but not slick. It's a large and growing organization, but it's not corporate. It's creative, but it's not amateurish -- even when programmed by volunteers. It covers news, birds, politics, trees, events, lakes, but mostly KAXE covers people. It plays music -- every kind you can imagine, except for Top 40 -- and celebrates local and Minnesota musicians, too. It provides family programming but isn't afraid of edgy and challenging material, either. Most of all it celebrates the unique culture and attitudes of the people of northern Minnesota.
The most remarkable thing about all of this is that KAXE is able to do all of this -- pay a professional staff, support a huge network of volunteers, broadcast a 100,000 watt signal with two translators and a web stream to boot -- predominantly with member support. They do this on a freaking shoestring. This is coming from a guy who volunteers in nonprofit arts event planning, so believe me, I know shoestrings.
But the economy is bad and KAXE's spring fundraiser is running behind what's needed. Don't mess around, people. This station will outlast the newspapers. This station is developing a media model that will integrate the internet with radio and print content. This station will outlast the blaring shock jocks and mindless droning of zombie MTV. This station will cover the people of northern Minnesota, forever. Unless you fail to become a member today.
Be a member of KAXE. Join, join, join. As I've said, if you're a fan of what I do here at the blog or in my column or my recent book, I beg you to pay it forward and help the organization that's helped me over these past five years.
I'm "on assignment" this week and won't be a part of the "Between You and Me" program this Saturday morning. Nevertheless, Michael Goldberg and Gail Otteson will be guest hosting and taking calls between 10 a.m. and noon. Tune in and join us again next week, and the next week and the next. If...
Thursday, February 25, 2010 By Aaron Brown
I keep hearing rumors the DNT being shopped around for sale, but they are only rumors. I suppose all corporate-owned papers are always available -- for the right price. Buy me a drink and I'll explain how that relates to the layoffs.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 By Aaron Brown
"Inadequate" was the word used to describe Polymet's plans to mitigate the environmental protections for the new-style nonferrous minerals mine on the former LTV site in Hoyt Lakes, one of the Range's pioneering (and now defunct) taconite mines. At minimum this equals a delay of several months to the permitting process for the state DNR to respond.
This is a divisive issue in northern Minnesota. That's why I've used a sarcastic Simpsons reference as a headline. Because that makes it better, see.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 By Aaron Brown
Theory of the day: We haven't heard the last of Pat Medure insofar as elections are concerned. The pages of any paper in Itasca County on any given day over the past year would probably yield at least one picture of Medure serving spaghetti, pancakes or a pantheon of ethnic Range dishes. That's not the mark of a dude who's short-timing it. Either he WAS a really active sheriff to the end, or he IS planning a new phase of his career.
Sunday, February 21, 2010 By Aaron Brown
First of all, reader -- and I mean you, singular reader who is reading this right now (there haven't been too many of you lately since my ongoing Waterloo of a novel-writing attempt) -- take notice. He's talking to you.
Lately I've been enjoying watching or being a part of productive conversations between people who have fundamental disagreements about political issues. It's so different from what you see on cable news or even in the actual government that runs the country/state/local political machine near you. If you watch those sources you'd think we were living in a dysfunctional democracy, incapable of avoiding America's inevitable decline into the small European nation-that-used-to-have-an-empire of your choice (but with guns). I hope we aren't.
I have had several such conversations with a colleague at work. I explain what I've read over at Daily Kos. She tells me what Fox News is saying. Our conversations allow us to better understand opposing viewpoints without having to subject ourselves to the meth-like partisanship of the opposing extremes. It works well. My talk with Chip Cravaack was also productive. We didn't solve the world's problems or end up agreeing on a political platform, but we staked out some important, real choices that voters need to consider.
Cravaack is running with hopes of facing U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Chisholm), a 36-year incumbent and chair of the House Transportation Committee, who is heavily favored to win re-election against any of his Republican challengers. The fiscally progressive, socially conservative Oberstar represents the gold standard of the DFL index in MN-08, easily outperforming DFL legislative, Senate and Presidential candidates over the years. Cravaack is running on the Republican message of fiscal conservatism amid the massive, rising national debt. He'll need much more than a national wave to be successful.
"I don't doubt that when [Jim Oberstar] got into Congress he did so for all the right reasons, but the times have changed and we need to take charge of our future," said Cravaack.
Cravaack believes that the stimulus bill, the health care bill and other current spending is adding up to a disastrous addition to the national debt that threatens future generations. I'd say we agreed on the idea that the national debt as it now stands is untenable and dangerous. We did not discuss the origins of the national debt, an issue at minimum attributable to both parties. And our solution differs. He proposes that earmark and tort reform will suffice as first steps to government cuts and cost savings for things like health care. I'd prefer a more comprehensive approach that included entitlement reform combined with the end of "tax cuts" as a form of political candy. These two viewpoints are different, but not necessarily exclusive.
Later, we talked local politics. Cravaack agreed that the Iron Range needs jobs (not an unusual position to take) and we spent some time discussing my theory that the Iron Range needs a 21st century economy, not just jobs. On the whole this talk was productive, too. The key to the revival of places like the Iron Range is less attached to Democrats and Republicans as it is to the abstract concepts of innovation and attitude.
We differed on a few points. One, he used the line that government needs to operate more like a business. While a more efficient government that responds faster to the "market" of human needs is a probable solution to some problems, I argued that many aspects of government can't operate exactly like a Fortune 500 business. The nature of caring for the despondently ill, paving roads to rural towns, or educating people below the poverty line are fundamentally unprofitable (on a ledger anyway, if not in cultural value and long term effects). Rather, the term I prefer is that government needs to operate like a well-run nonprofit. But that's not a very good sound bite, is it?
The most interesting aspect of Cravaack's message to me was that, while he has lived all over the country and world as an airline and Navy pilot, he seeks to understand the entire 8th district and is trying to learn more. (Yes, friends, he even read my book). Specifically, he stressed to me his Iron Range-friendly understanding of unions and his experiences being on strike and laid off at various points in his career. That seemed an unusual, if politically prudent, approach for a Republican trying to win MN-08.
All told, I had a nice chat with Mr. Cravaack. I wish he, and Republicans in general, would own up to the specifics of their government reductions plans and admit that unpopular reforms to Social Security, Medicare and the defense budget are the only substantive ways to "reduce" government (if that's the true objective, another point of contention). I'm sure he has his wish-list for me as well.
Cravaack joins 2008 GOP nominee Michael Cummins (who talked to me in 2008), Justin Eichorn, Rob Farnsworth and Darrell Trulson in the pool of candidates that will seek the 2010 GOP endorsement on April 10.
Sunday, February 21, 2010 By Aaron Brown
Driving into the sun
By Aaron J. Brown
Last year a woman described to me how her dad was worn down by the grind of commuting from the Itasca County portion of the Iron Range into the St. Louis County portion of the Iron Range. Locals know this means driving along an east/west line in a particularly wooded, iron tinted corner of northern Minnesota. This woman’s dad worked in the mines, like so many dads around here. She described that driving from the Bovey area over to the Virginia area every day for more than two decades eventually drove her dad mad.
You see, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west (I know you know that, but they teach us to write an at 8th grade level). That means that if you commute west to east you will ride into the sun every morning and ride back into the setting sun every evening. Have you ever done that? Ride into the sun both ways to work every day? That little eye shade in your car above your forehead stands like a stick in a gunfight, a tiny reminder of your inferiority to a giant, burning ball of gas some 93 million miles from Earth. This is a heavy truth when you hold noble earthy desires, like arriving at work on time without hitting deer or oncoming traffic.
According to this woman, her dad’s routine eventually caused him to tell her mom that he wanted to move the family east closer to the mine where he worked. And, further according to the woman, the mom refused. And her dad left the family. Ouch. I wonder if the sun was the only factor in this story. I think not, but I don’t know and therefore will not judge except in a way that ends in a question mark?
Back to the present. Technology has advanced considerably since this person’s dad drove into the sun. Windshields have more tinting at the top edge than they used to and Lord knows that sunglasses have made leaps and bounds, both in quality and in the ability of men to wear them without seeming like pothead hippies from the devil. And yet, there’s no arguing with the power of the sun.
I bring this up because I also drive into the sun to and from work most days. Driving from Itasca County into the central Range is like driving into heaven, or my version of it, and driving back is the same. You drive into this bright, stunning light and you can’t really see the road, not in the way you’re supposed to, and yet you know road is there, or at least it was last time, so you keep driving and, thus far, everything has gone just fine. I expect this will continue until it doesn’t.
This is a particularly grueling problem this time of year. With the sun rising before 8 and setting just after 5 most traditional day shift workers have to contend with at least one sunrise or sunset, maybe both. And it’s the over-the-road commuter who faces the brunt of this radiant glowing gas ball of luminescence, a light so bright it makes you turn down the radio. And in this season the sun rises earlier and sets later every day, a promise you can count on.
When you commute into the sun you are reminded every day that the silly routine of life is joined by the unchanging routine of the heavens. Even if blinded by the light you fail to reach your destination, you will – by virtue of those who tell the story – reach the future. That’s something worth remembering when you squint toward an unknown horizon. Light is always better than dark.
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the iron Range.”
Friday, February 19, 2010 By Aaron Brown
91.7 KAXE is an independent public station pumping out 100,000 slick, smooth watts across northern Minnesota -- Brainerd, Bemidji, Grand Rapids and the whole Iron Range. Unlike certain fancy pants public stations that kick up the snooze powder for their fundraisers KAXE turns the week into a radio adventure, complete with characters, plot lines, multimedia experiments and random surprises. And when the theme itself is FUN, the only thing to worry about is whether the fun particles in the universe are sucked into a dense core, begin to fuse, and crush the earth in a gravitational implosion.
Experts say such an event would sound like funder without lightning.
Puns are fun! That's why my contribution to the show this week is entitled "The Fun-damentals of Life." Will it be funny AND poignant? You bet your fun-maker it will.
The fundraiser starts today and "Between You and Me" will air tomorrow, Saturday, Feb. 20, from 10 a.m. to noon on 91.7 FM in northern Minnesota or streaming live all over the world at www.kaxe.org. If you are a fan of this blog or my book please consider becoming a member of KAXE. It's one of the best media organizations I've ever encountered and provides a home base for many aspects of my writing. Also, it's just fun. Get it? Full circle. Nice.
Thursday, February 18, 2010 By Aaron Brown
Suburbs exist for a reason. We don't want to live in your big city. Period. I was raised in Plymouth, Minnesota. I now live in an inner ring suburb. Off peak rush hour I can get to pretty much anywhere in the Metro area in less than half an hour. Unlike people living in Minneapolis, I have five full grocery stores within five miles of my house. There are more than ten gas stations to choose from, all withing five miles of my house. There is a Frattalone's hardware store a little over a mile from my house, and I can get to Menards, Lowes or Home Depot in less than fifteen minutes.Essentially, how dare liberals attack suburbs. It's reverse elitism.
You might think that I'm going to hit back hard on a piece like this. After all, this little vaguely liberal Iron Range blog has featured anti-suburb writings of mine like this, and angry diatribes like this, but I'm going to be diplomatic. I've been to Plymouth. I don't remember anything bad about it. I bought pack of tube socks and a road map at the Wal-Mart there. Parking was ample. The experience more than met my expectations. However, I do have a few statements for my many friends in the suburbs, both liberal and conservative (and your politics really doesn't matter):
- You overpaid for your house.
- Kermit uses the article "a" several times in reference to proper nouns in his community. Unless you know the Frattalone family but forgot the names of all the brothers, this would suggest yet another chain store.
- Because there is a cost advantage to living in a city doesn't mean you aren't free to live in the suburbs or I'm not free to live in the woods.
- Seriously, you could buy the same sized house on the Iron Range for half the money. That is, if you can handle the dense urban core of our Range cities (which close down at 5 by the way, except for the bars).
- The kids make snowmen here, too.
Why? Why are these manufactured mountains everywhere? Why is the land upside down? Why the pits? Why do the towns have 16 bars and 16 churches for every 1,000 people? Why do the graves read like an Eastern European soccer roster on one side of the cemetery and a deposed Italian government on the other. Why are the schools so nice and the houses so close together? Who was Victor Power and why did Hibbing name a park after him? Why did they pave the streets of Hibbing at night? Why does every town have a Legion? Why does every town have a story? They'll find vinyl siding for sure, but also stucco and cedar, tar paper and aluminum, steel and plywood.
Curb appeal? Well, if I'm a producer for one of the HGTV shows that ladies watch when they eat their special yogurt I'd probably go with the suburbs, too. But I'm not a fan of curb appeal. Come to think of it, I'm not a fan of curbs. To each their own. Long live the Iron Range.
Thursday, February 18, 2010 By Aaron Brown
Nevertheless, the electoral math of the 8th CD remains largely the same, regardless of the national mood. Oberstar, a pro-life, pro-gun labor Democrat, has enjoyed wide victory margins in his stunning 36-year tenure. If you think this year's GOP field is large, wait until you see the size of both DFL and Republican fields if and when Oberstar retires (a prospect that remains planted firmly on a distant, unknown horizon).
Sunday, February 14, 2010 By Aaron Brown
My Frugal Valentine
By Aaron J. Brown
I hereby dedicate this column to my Valentine. A lot of guys complain about how much money their wives spend. “Gotta’ work some OT,” they tell me. “Credit card bill weighs more than a dump truck fulla’ rebar.” Yeah. I don’t have that problem.
Maybe it’s not unusual for women to excel at running a family budget. That’s certainly true of my wife Christina who does a fine job of making sure the bills get paid on time. It is, however, a little unusual to have that family budgeting serve as the fodder for her blog and weekly radio segment. If you didn’t know, my wife is the “Northern Cheapskate,” (www.northerncheapskate.com) who monitors bargains and dispenses financial advice to people all over northern Minnesota and beyond. If you read her blog a while back you’d know that I was eating free string cheese in my box lunch for a month and a half thanks to Christina’s creative use of coupons.
There’s a lot about being married to a self-described cheapskate that I accept freely and have even come to regard as normal. We’ve only bought about eight boxes of fabric softener sheets in our whole marriage because she always cuts them into twos or threes once they come home from the store. I’ve learned not to develop any sort of brand loyalty. One day my corn flakes may come from Kellogg’s, but the next day I might be pouring them from a giant yellow bag marked “Super Happy Clown Time Fun Flakes.” I’ve learned it’s best to just have faith in the FDA, eat the flakes and say nothing.
Though I don’t consider myself a big spender, I’ve been known to have trouble keeping track of my money. One time in high school I went on a school trip to the Twin Cities. I brought enough money for all my meals and a little shopping at the Mall of America. When I got to the big mall for my first time ever, I was amazed at all the unusual things I could buy. For instance, a boomerang. By the last day I was counting out my last dimes at McDonald’s for a cheeseburger. At that moment, I wished my money would come back instead of the boomerang.
So I’m pretty lucky that I fell for a cheapskate who has since kept me on a path of balanced financial strategy by plying me with free cheese. And I’m a pretty good match for a northern cheapskate. I don’t hunt, fish, buy snowmobiles or ATVs or race stock cars like most other Iron Range men. My favorite hobby is to work. My favorite work is to write. And writing is free. Not lucrative, but low overhead.
There are challenges. When I come home from work and say that I gassed up the car she asks, “Did you buy a pop?” (pause) No, I say. “Did you buy a coffee?” (pause) Yes. I did buy a coffee. It cost 89 cents. And 89 cents a day for a 30-year career equals $6,408 – and when you compound interest on that amount over the same period it roughly equals a year of college for 1.7 of our three sons.
Which is why it’s better to fill up your coffee mug at the car dealership like all the other cheapskates. Would I like to buy a truck? Maybe, but today I’m just looking. Say, is that coffee … free?
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com or in his latest book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”
Friday, February 12, 2010 By Aaron Brown
"Between You and Me" airs on 91.7 KAXE from 10 a.m. to noon every Saturday. Each week host Heidi Holtan, myself and a few other contributors, and the people of northern Minnesota explore a broad topic with stories, perspective and great music.
Monday, February 08, 2010 By Aaron Brown
Dan favored poetry and was well known for the highly descriptive and colorful verse in his clues. I took one attempt at mimicking this style and, for the good of the English language, decided to do it my way. Hence, for posterity, here is my six part mystery story that led to the discovery of the 2010 Winter Frolic Medallion this past weekend.
The Case of the 2010 Winter Frolic Medallion Clue #1
Winter’s the name. Sal Winter. I’m a private eye. Hibbing is my town.
It was cold that morning, the kind of cold that made you want to stay inside and provide exposition for a story no one asked you tell. She wore blue.
Her name was Mystery and her eyes told you what to do. The way she wore her dress could get a guy to settle down and accept his mortality. I wasn’t in the mood.
“We need to find the medallion,” she gasped, out of breath. My office is on the roof of the Androy.
“What medallion?” I asked. She was wearing a colorful button that drew my attention south.
“The Winter Frolic Medallion,” she said. “It’s a clear, round disc that will win a $1,000 prize for the person who finds it.”
“Where is it?”
She scowled at me the way snow packs under a man’s wheel well. “If I knew,” she said, “I wouldn’t be here. All I know is that it’s on public land somewhere here in Hibbing, Minnesota.”
“Public land,” I said. “So you’re saying that it’s not on any private property, such as homes, businesses, churches or land controlled by private steel trusts?” I was thinking about an old run-in I had with a fee holder over the Oliver Mining Co. Medallion. A ghost or two could tell tales in this town.
“That’s right,” she said. “It’s in a park, or by a school or college, maybe by some city building. And anyone with a Winter Frolic button can search for it and win the prize.”
“There’s a lot of public land in this town,” I said. (I would know. That’s where I sleep.) “I’ll help you,” I told her, “but just one thing. What’s in it for me?”
“There’s a reason I came to you,” she said in a sultry voice that melted my skepticism. “I think you know why.”
Winter Frolic 2010 just got a lot more interesting.#2
“We don’t have much time, Mr. Winter,” said Mystery, a stunning brunette in a blue dress. “Everyone is looking for the Winter Frolic Medallion. The person who finds it gets the prize, even if they don’t deserve it. You’ve got to help me so that a good person finds the prize, instead of … my ex-husband.”
It was a story I’ve heard a hundred times as a private investigator. Some pretty dame needs to find a translucent medallion that wins a $1,000 prize. You’ve got to have a Winter Frolic button to be eligible. The medallion is located on public land somewhere in Hibbing. Again and again; you could almost set your clock by it, just like the steam trams that run by my 1930s-era office.
Yes, his name is Ted Dastardly.
That was a name I’d heard before. He was on the Parks board. A real hard case. “Dastardly?” I asked.
“You probably saw his name in the paper a few months ago,” she said. “For pushing children on the playground.”
“On the swings?”
“No, just in a general sort of way.”
“So your name is Mystery Dastardly?” I asked.
“It used to be,” she said. “I’ve gone back to my maiden name, Mystery Tobesolved.”
“That sounds hard to pronounce,” I said. “And this medallion sounds hard to find.”
“You know what they say, Mr. Winter,” she purred. “Mysteries are never easy.”#3
I saw Mystery again the next day. She wore a tight purple Vikings shirt and threatened to sack the European port cities of my heart. We had made arrangements to meet at her house on the east side. As a detective I’ve been to a lot of houses in Hibbing. Big ones, small ones, most of them built in the 1920s. This one was different: newer, and yet not quite new. Spilt entry, just like my mind when she brought my drink.
"I could have found any private detective, Mr. Winter, but I came to you because of your family history,” she said.
She knew my secret.
“We don’t have much time,” she said. “I think my evil ex-husband Ted Dastardly has hatched a scheme to intercept the Winter Frolic Medallion and take the money for himself and his Arctic whaling business. He hates whales, and also Hibbing since they dropped him from the Parks board for pushing down children on a playground. He’s figured out a way to plant the medallion and hire one of his whaling goons to claim it for himself. I found some of his paperwork when I packing up my things to leave him.”
“What’s in this for you?” I asked. I’ve heard plenty of conspiracy theories in my time.
The Winter Frolic Medallion hunt is a special tradition,” she said. “Anyone with a Winter Frolic button, from a miner’s daughter to a millwright’s son, can find the medallion on public land and claim the prize. It’s part of who we are, as a people. “
“That’s a nice speech,” I said. “But why me?”
“Because of your great-great grandfather, of course,” she said. “Former Hibbing Mayor Victor Power.”
I’ve lived in Hibbing 30 years and she was the first to connect the dots. But there was something she didn’t know.
“I’ve got to go,” I said. “I need to clear my head out by the edge of town.”
The road always brings me comfort at night. It’s the mother I never had, the father I never caught fishing in my piggy bank for gambling money when I was 6. Tonight, the road was 25th Street. Most folks who drive this byway, which becomes DuPont Road, head out to Carey Lake where the old blasting powder factory blew up, but not me. Not tonight. I pulled my Dodge Sunfire up to the snowy edge of Vic Power Park. I thought of Mystery, how to help her save the 2010 Winter Frolic Medallion for someone pure of heart (or at least wearing a Winter Frolic button) to find on public land in Hibbing, and how to kiss her without getting slapped.
Vic Power. It was a name I couldn’t escape. He was my great-great grandfather. He was a popular progressive Republican who fought the mining companies for the rights of Hibbing’s citizens when no one else would. Me, I was Sal Winter, a private eye just trying to get by, whose only political belief was that a man should have access to as much health care, whiskey and bullets as he needs, no questions asked.
As I wandered the edge of the park named for my kinsman, I saw something moving down the Carey Lake trail. A swooshing sound grew louder. Two cross country skiers approached. I overheard them talking as I crouched in the bushes.
“They’ll never figure this out, boss,” said a big man with a gravely voice.
“Just tell Beluga to head south on that avenue back there,” said the other man, in a voice I recognized from Hibbing Public Access Television. “I’ll have Bergan fix the clues so no one sees this coming.”
I couldn’t stay quiet any longer. “Bergan’s not writing the clues this year,” I said to the pair, now spitting distance from me and my older compact car. “And I’d know that voice anywhere, Dastardly. You won’t get away with it.”
Dastardly laughed. The other, much larger ox-like man pulled brass knuckles out of his pocket and sneered. Of all the days to forget my panic whistle in my other pants.#5
I was having a dream about the 2010 Winter Frolic Medallion. It was clear, the size of a big man’s fist. I was wearing my Winter Frolic button. I was on public land. But this medallion was just out of reach. I leaned and stretched, but just …. couldn’t …
“What does this mean?” screamed Mystery, the alluring brunette who’s made my week both a dream and nightmare. She had just burst into my office like a passionate hurricane with nice legs.
“What?” I burbled. It had been a hard night’s sleep on my office couch after crawling back from my beating at the park last night. She was waiving something around. It appeared I would have to look at it.
“Look at this,” she said, holding a tattered old political leaflet. “I found it in my ex-husband Ted Dastardly’s personal files which he stored in my underwear drawer for some inexplicable reason.”
The document was strange to me. “Vote William Jennings Bryan,” it read, featuring a picture of the 1896, 1900, and 1908 Democratic Party nominee for President.
“Bryan?” I said. “It doesn’t make sense. I thought you brought me on this case because of my great-great grandfather, Vic Power.
“No, Mr. Winter,” she said. “Vic Power Park was a trap set by my ex-husband, evil former Parks board member Ted Dastardly. I think the medallion is at a park a few blocks away from there, but which one? There’s a note on the back of this pamphlet that reads ‘1982.’ I don’t get it.”
“Mystery,” I said.
“It’s a Mystery.”
“Oh, right. Anyway, I think we should go look around.”
I agreed and hobbled with her out the door.
“I heard Dastardly talking about heading south from Vic Power Park,” I told Mystery. “I think he was talking about 19th Avenue.”
“19th Avenue?” she said. Why, there aren’t many public places out there, are there?”
“No, not many,” I said. “But there is one, and if my hunch is right it was founded in 1982, it has a playground, and that somehow seems a fitting narrative twist.”
“I’m trying not to fall in love with you, Mr. Winter.”
“I know,” I told her. It was already too late for me.#6
We arrived at Bryan Lake Park on 19th Avenue in Hibbing. We were hoping to intercept the villain Ted Dastardly before he cheated the Winter Frolic Medallion away from its rightful winner: You.
“Look over there,” said Mystery, the beautiful woman who spurred me, and a city, to action. “There’s a man over by that tree, in between the playground and the basketball court not far from 28th Street.”
I didn’t need to see the man. I knew it was Dastardly.
“That medallion is for the people,” I called out. “Provided they have a Winter Frolic Button.”
Dastardly looked up, his thick black moustache contrasting sharply with the February snow.
“You’ll never stop me, Winter. You’re just a remnant of the past, a leftover.”
“You don’t know me,” I said. “And you just pushed the wrong button.”
With that I summoned the only true super power I had. The power of running fast in the snow after some dude that made me angry, while dialing the police.
CHOP CHOP CHOP CHOP!
That was the sound my feet made through the snow along 28th Street. Dastardly tried to get away, but he was slow and also evil. I caught him in no time. The police arrived quickly. He was convicted of medallion fraud, a felony in this town.
“You’re so brave,” said Mystery, with a look that said “hello, you are not what I expected.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Just doing my job.”Denouement
Our first kiss happened the moment we heard Tim Staudahar and his family had found the medallion at Bryan Lake Park along 28th Street in Hibbing.
“I am so happy, Sal Winter,” said Mystery. “Someone has found the medallion and Winter Frolic 2010 was a huge success.”
“I’m happy, too,” I said. “Because we found each other.”
But I had a sneaking suspicion that we haven’t heard the last of Ted Dastardly, the enemy of Winter Frolic, peace, justice and everything in which good people believe. I only hope next year he doesn’t come around Hibbing. We’ll be ready for him.THE END
I had fun writing this nonsense, but the best part -- BY FAR -- was choosing the location, hiding the medallion and keeping the secret. There are dozens of people who spend the entire week looking for the medallion nearly full time and they go wherever the writer sends them. Good times for a small time blogger like me.
Monday, February 08, 2010 By Aaron Brown
Sunday, February 07, 2010 By Aaron Brown
Let the 2010 Winter Kid-lympics begin
By Aaron J. Brown
Next week the Winter Olympic games open in Vancouver. I’ve said this before, but I sure miss the Canadian TV station. Several Iron Range city cable systems still feature Canada’s CBC network, owing to a mapmaker’s error or else some remnant from a colonial cable commission that endured the War of 1812. Five years ago we moved from Hibbing out to the woods and switched to satellite, which doesn’t carry the CBC. I guess typical American satellite customers wouldn’t understand the appeal of curling and parliamentary politics. But I do. I actually called DirecTV about this, but they gave me the same old run-aroond.
The situation is made worse because now I have to watch the Olympics on NBC. The National Broadcasting Corporation deliberately loses money on the Olympics games every two years and forcibly ruins them by pumping raw sugar through the tube into our eyes. The American Olympic team is no longer selected for talent alone, but rather as the product of a complicated formula that calculates speed, endurance, common-man appeal, childhood cancers and then multiplied by the number of family members who died tragically before their time. By the 2014 games we’ll field a team comprised entirely of fast orphans who were laid off from combine factories. NBC is already stockpiling licensing agreements for sad, trendy songs that have yet to be written.
So I might watch a little less of the Olympics than I used to, and that’s not all bad. After all you don’t watch anything for long in our house, dominated the way it is by three small boys. But I do think the little guys will enjoy watching some of the events, when they’re actually on, especially all the ones that resemble sledding. Doug and George are 2 and a half this winter and Henry’s 4, so we’ve been out on the sleds more than last year. On the maiden voyage I sent my beloved children down a small hill not realizing that their collective weight was some sort of gravity to friction magic number. Their super velocity sent them shooting into a brush pile six feet into the woods by our house. Good news! No impalements! So we get to categorize this as adorable. The boys don’t slide together anymore, though, and I don’t blame them.
I recently grew to understand the appeal and challenge of winter sports. My limited athletic routine is usually entirely devoid of physical activity from November until about March. But sledding with the boys ends up being grueling at times. A couple weeks back I had the bright idea to pull the three of them across the lake near our house. At first I enjoyed the thought that one of the boys’ earliest memories might be the view of a sprawling forest seen as a panorama from the center of the lake. That’s such a Minnesota thing. Then I realized that distance is easily distorted on a snowy frozen lake and that I was about a mile from the house with three increasingly disgruntled young boys in a sled. My arms and back hurt for a week and I had newfound respect for sledding as cardio.
Yes, I just might have to sneak the family into town someday to see the proper Canadian coverage of curling. If I ever follow through on my dream of learning how to curl it sure would be nice to have three boys who know their way around the pebbled ice to round out my family rink. Sledding is fun, but we might be pushing our luck if we overdo it.
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at his blog MinnesotaBrown.com or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”
Friday, February 05, 2010 By Aaron Brown
"Between You and Me" is a call-in and music show featuring the voices and attitudes of northern Minnesota. You can listen between 10 a.m. and noon on Saturday at 91.7 FM up north or streaming online at www.kaxe.org.
Thursday, February 04, 2010 By Aaron Brown
Nelson built Business North into a respected and authoritative voice on business and economic issues in Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. As residents of this region know, the economy is important news and no one understands this place's unique economy and business community the way Nelson does. Bily and Brochu are worthy successors and it's nice to see that Business North will sustain itself beyond the legacy of its founder.
On a related note, it's becoming clearer that niche publications like Business North and many small town community papers are finding ways to survive and even grow during the bad economy and the declining newspapers. There is a future for journalism: one that involves producing stories that people are willing to pay for. And perhaps this sale is an example that the best model might involve the content producers finding ways to operate without the layers of corporate pressure currently suffocating the industry. You know, old school.
Monday, February 01, 2010 By Aaron Brown