Archive for June, 2008

Nine month update on Minneapolis car-free lifestyle

[While this post is full of interesting, super important information, you may also want to read the 2012 carfree, downtown Minneapolis living update.]

Having recently been in the company of another heroic, car-free radical like myself, who rode her bike through the rain without a second thought like a badass to meet me the other night, I realized that a status report on living car-free in MSP was long overdue.

Now, before I get too smug, I recognize that a car-free lifestyle is not possible for people with certain careers and obligations. At some stage, cars are absolutely necessary. Of course they are. My argument is that 75% of the people on the road at any given moment don’t really need to be in their cars – or alone in their cars when, say, commuting – but refuse to consider the alternatives (public transport, car-pooling, biking, walking) due to being a glassy-eyed victim of media programming, a false idea of time-saving convenience and/or utter laziness. That’s my premise. If you’re a professional errand runner or a door-to-door baby grand piano salesman, then ignore my taunts and scolding, but in return do us all a favor and cease with the cell phone fiddling. I know you think you can do both, but 98% of you can’t and I have video to prove it.

Since my last report, it’s finally gotten warm, I’ve left town three times and I’ve relocated to my 26th floor, bitchin’ new condo, bang in the center of downtown Minneapolis. I’m still shopping around, but with the right pair of porro prism binoculars, with something like a 7 x 50 magnification/aperture rating and image stabilization, I’ll soon be merrily enjoying the drunken antics outside the Dome as well as the tattoos and piercings of the sun bathers on the deck 11 floors below.

As I’ve highlighted before, a near-European lifestyle can be attained here in downtown with only a little planning, few concessions and the willingness to engage in modest walking. Virtually every important bus line as well as LRT passes within four blocks of my building, so I’ve become a wizard of public transport and can get pretty much anywhere in a single ride. And while car-burdened people continue to slam public transport with their nah-nah-nah whining about wasting their lives standing at LRT stations and stewing on slow-moving buses, I’m still convinced that after you factor in searching for parking spots and sitting in traffic jams, people in cars spend pretty much the same amount of time in transit at the end of the week as people on public transport. Plus, when you’re on public transport you can play with your smart phone to your heart’s content without fear that I’ll put a Romanian curse on your reproductive organs.

Though I can effectively stock my kitchen with items from Target, the farmer’s market and Haskell’s, I’ve taken to hopping on LRT every other week or so and visiting the Cub Foods on Minnehaha and Lake for the superior selection and prices. Also, though it hasn’t yet been necessary after all the wine I hoarded during Haskell’s Nickel Sale in April, I imagine I’ll be biking over the Mississippi, armed with my largest backpack, to restock the wine closet during frequent sales at Surdyk’s. It sounds like a pain, but something about carrying an $8 bottle of wine on your back for two miles makes it suddenly taste like a $20 bottle. Cider too, but wait a while before opening it.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over the giddying novelty of being connected to the Skyway. I’m actually kinda looking forward to next winter. I plan to make a habit of running errands over lunchtime, wearing shorts, a tank top, flip-flops and a three-foot diameter sombrero, while carrying an open Strongbow (are open cans legal in the Skyway?). I can’t wait to drink in the wretched envy of all the people wearing five layers, trying to save shoes ruined by oily slush and dunking their frozen hands in the Crystal Court fountain to get the feeling back after hiking in from their $150 per month parking spots.

On a disappointing note, my grand intentions to ride my bike everywhere have been sabotaged by a freak, enduring hip boo-boo that is clearly not going to go away on its own, but I still haven’t done anything to correct it for a number of denial-fueled reasons. The few times I’ve been on my bike, it’s been a slow ride on the small chain ring, using more deliberate, sluggish caution with my movements than a senior standing in my way at the grocery store.

Here’s some stats for the statistically inclined:

– Amount of money I’ve spent on (local) transport so far in 2008: ~$60 (this is a misleading number, because I work from home and I’ve been out of town for a cumulative seven weeks)

– Number of times friends have picked me up instead of letting me get myself our destination on public transport so far in 2008 because “God dammit Leif, it’s just easier!”: ~8

– Number of times plans were ostensibly made at my place, instead of a friend’s place due solely to my carlessness: ~4

– Number of times that I really needed a vehicle: 2 (both times for trips to IKEA)

– Number of social engagements I’ve wimped out on due to poor bus connections or laze: 2

I’ll concede that some of the numbers seem to indicate that my car-free lifestyle is simply making my friends drive a little more, though in those cases I have been careful to make this worth their while by tempting them with food, drink, or movies on 50 Absolutely Not Excessive Inches of Plasma TV Goodness.

Finally, because I haven’t said it lately, I must reiterate how much I love my bitchin’ new condo. The location, the tranquility, the comfort, the convenience. I get weepy when I think about how I have to leave it again next week for my second trip to Romania. Though 606 square feet seems small on paper, it’s absolutely perfect for one person who is diligent about not buying unnecessary crap and can control the packrat impulse.

And sweet Buddha, the view:


Car-free lifestyle, Downtown | 30.06.2008 13:25 | 13 Comments

This is why I love Bill’s Gun Shop

target.jpgDoes anyone else have that friend where everything they say or do is peculiar at best and cause for alarm at worst? Trying out for the Rollergirls at age 38? Taking up the accordion? Rather than just humoring me a little, wanting to seriously learn how to juggle?

So, when I casually said to this person, “What do you want to do?” on a recent weekday night, thinking along the lines of a nice walk, ice cream or shopping for my replacement hip, I shouldn’t have been surprised when she said “Let’s go fire lethal weapons at pieces of paper and scare ourselves shitless!”

Actually, it was much less spontaneous than that. The dubious suggestion was made a week in advance, giving us time to figure out the one, and possibly only, place in the Twin Cities where you can walk in off the street having never touched a real firearm in your life and be fretfully squeezing off 9mm bullets in a matter of minutes, Bill’s Gun Shop.

We were full-on terrified before we even touched the guns we eventually chose: a Springfield EMP and a Beretta 92FS. This was largely due to the nonchalance of the nice man that helped us get started at Bill’s basement firing range. We were candid about the fact that we’d never touched handguns in our lives, so he patiently demonstrated and explained the pros and cons of several guns during the decision making process, including a ludicrously enormous ‘bear gun’ that looked like it could vaporize a rhino.

However, once we’d settled on the guns, he was like “OK, here you go! Enjoy!” And we were all “Um, can you show us how to use these so one of us doesn’t commit an accidental murder-suicide?”

Actually, the firing range guy was far more cautious than I make it sound. It just seemed as if that there should be more, you know, supervision before handing over semi-automatic weapons to two people turning stark white with panic.

He demonstrated the barrel slide twice at our request. Showed us the safety, how to load, how to hold the gun so as not to get ‘bitten’ by the hammer, and where to point the gun at all times or else.

It was finally time to throw the birds out of the nest. We donned our dollar-store eye and ear protection and inched into the firing range through the double muffler doors just as an overly-confident, overly-compensating man was demonstrating his shotgun proficiency to his young, impressionable girlfriend. It was very loud. The sound alone felt like I was being shot in the brainstem and my sphincter narrowed to first-night-in-prison tautness. We shakily loaded our clips during this racket and my companion, forgetting that this was all her idea, shoved me forward to take the first shots.

For such a tiny gun, the Springfield had a kickback that felt like I was catching Johann Santana’s warm-up pitches. Every time I pulled the trigger it felt like the gun was going to explode out of my hands and embed itself three inches into my beautiful, beautiful forehead. The Beretta’s kickback was less violent, but it felt as if my aim was less accurate. I say this as someone who only made a passing effort to aim, being far more concerned about averting death-by-self-pistol-whipping.

The Springfield clip only held eight rounds, so it was quickly my companion’s turn with the Beretta (15 rounds). Going completely wooden and succumbing to alarm that was plainly visible through the back of her head, she carefully and admirably emptied her clip into the bull’s-eye target we’d picked out. I learned later that she’d held her breath for about five minutes. When you factor in the near-asphyxiation, her aim was exceptional.

After another round, we switched to the human outline target, passing up more creative targets like Osama bin Laden and douchebag-with-your-sister photos.

Though Tiny Dick Shotgun Man had left, someone new had arrived with a handgun that was just as loud, which caused no shortage of distraction and involuntary flinching as we went about blasting our 100 rounds of ammunition.

All told, we were only in the gun range for about 30 minutes. The post-traumatic stress took about three hours to shake off, even with the help of an M&M Blizzard at DQ. The upshot is that apparently my ass looks really hot when I’m firing a gun. Yours would too if you were flexing enough to dead-lift a car.

And you know what? It wasn’t all that expensive.

Gun rental: $15 (first gun), $10 (second gun)
Range fee (two people sharing): $30
Hearing/eye protection rental: $4
50 round box of 9mm ammo: $13.99 x 2 = $27.98
Targets: $2
Tax: $5.92
Total: $94.90 or $47.45 per person

It was a memorable experience and despite the purposefully self-inflicted anxiety that most people pay good money to medicate, we enjoyed ourselves. It was fun like jumping out of an airplane is fun when you’re afraid of heights. Once pretty much does the job. Needless to say, however, I get to pick what we do on our next outing. I’m thinking a Valium tasting.

Incidentally, why don’t they have Valium tastings here? Sometimes I wonder why I ever came back to America.

Bill’s Gun Shop & Range
4080 W. Broadway Ave N.

Sports | 22.06.2008 17:01 | 2 Comments

Am I too good or not good enough for newspaper work?

If you’re not in the mood for a bitter, vain rant, you should probably click away now.

This is turning into a banner week for head-shots to my normally death-proof ego. First, a teller at my credit union mis-took an attempted witty comment as a come-on and now visibly shrinks when our eyes meet (girl, you aren’t that cute) and now a certain local newspaper has passed me up for a part-time, 9-month gig in their Travel department, citing my lack of experience.

OK, valid point. I haven’t been doing this for long – just over five years. And people have only been paying me a living wage for three of those five years. And my resume is conspicuously lacking in certain eye-catching words like ‘editor’ and ‘columnist’ and ‘masters degree’ and ‘writing classes’.

Nevertheless, my name has appeared in five wildly popular international travel guidebooks, several glossy magazines, web sites that receive 100 times the daily pages loads as this newspaper and I’m a minor journalism celebrity on Guam. I also speak three foreign languages (Spanish, Romania & Italian) well enough to live, work and play with those folks, I’ve lived in and traveled through dozens of foreign countries, I write a hilarious, almost-award winning travel blog (never mind that I sometimes use it as a forum to curse like a 75-year old comedienne and post cheap insults about hacky foreign media), and I can escape from a straitjacket in under a minute. What the f*ck else do these bitches want?

Having seen the caliber of writer that this particular newspaper chooses to employ and the caliber of writer that this newspaper chooses to dump after decades of admirable work, I suppose it’s foolish of me to act surprised. I’m the first to admit that I’m a little nave about print publishing and I’m well aware that cold, clammy newspaper editors are still writing for people born in the 30s, 40s and 50s instead of people born in the 70s, 80s and 90s (which is why they will die an ungraceful death in the next decade), but was I passed over because of experience and talent or because of style and content choices? Pardon my borderline dangerous conceit, but I’m finding it difficult to imagine that there’s really a more engaging and entertaining writer out there with nothing better to do than to apply for a part-time, local rag temp job.

I’m aware that my style is generally too informal for crusty newspapers, but I find it endlessly frustrating that these people seemingly choose to pass over people who may offend readers with the liberal use of the word ‘doo-doo’ and unashamed, enthusiastic discussions about Micronesian islands full of topless women and instead print material that will potentially offend readers with it’s staggering narrow-mindedness and blatant prejudices. I can stop saying ‘boobies’ whenever I want. Can the same be done with your writers that apparently stopped evolving in the early 60s?

I’ve indulgently slammed newspapers for their ridiculous approach to dealing with freelancers, so I would genuinely like to see what it’s like working on the other side (thus the appeal of this particular temp job), but I suppose I should start listening to Buddha’s benevolent hints and just let that form of media go.

It wasn’t a complete blow-off. My rejection email invited me to draw upon my vast experience of travel in 43 different countries on five continents and knowledge of developing tourism trends and resources by pitching stories about day and weekend short-drive trips from the Twin Cities for $0.36 a word, with no compensation for expenses. Natch.

OK, OK, let’s just calm down and see who they hired. Maybe Tim Cahill decided to slum it for a while and I’m truly being passed over by the sheer weight of staggering talent.

Local media, Rants | 18.06.2008 11:41 | 7 Comments

Local bloggers unite

Paraphrased message sent to a select few people this morning, before I realized that posting it here was more effective:


I woke up this morning and decided that I wanted to meet other bloggers tomorrow and drink too much cider (that was gonna happen anyway), so I’m inviting you and others to Grumpy’s tomorrow (Friday, June 13th). They have free parking so you can drive into downtown without the usual anxiety. Plus they have tots.

Since I’m the newbie, please invite your friends or blogger counterparts or any red hot smokin’ babes that you know that have excellent health insurance and are open to marrying me in the next week, so I can get my achy hip MRIed for less than a squillion dollars.

I’m going to arrive at 6pm. I’ll be the one that looks like an exhausted David Beckham look-a-like in need of a haircut. Other Leif telltale signs include at least one open Strongbow in hand, several empties off to the side and a hint of sex personified.

Hope to see you guys there.


Uncategorizable | 12.06.2008 12:54 | 10 Comments

Sweet home Minneapolis

I’m so happy to be home that I get weepy if I dwell on it too much. Lately I only get weepy about two things: missing my new condo and the Celtics almost pissing away a 24 point lead Sunday night. I can even overlook the worse-than-usual jetlag, the increasingly unsettling hip/knee injury that has me limping like an amateur daredevil and the exact same ca-ca weather that was here when I left except more humid.

I’ve done trips that were ten times longer and more taxing than my month in Romania, but for a variety of personal reasons this trip really knocked the wind out of me. Chiefly because I think buying the condo has transformed me into an insta-homebody. Having been effectively homeless for nearly five years must have accelerated the bonding process. Then, like young lovers dry humping on a park bench in Madrid and interrupted by someone’s grandmother, we were torn away from each other too soon. I think while I was away I missed my condo more than my family and friends.

I’ve made the most of my first week home. In the past five days I’ve eaten food from Maria’s Caf, Tum Rup Thai, Caf Levain, and single-handedly consumed half of a chocolate birthday cake from Wuollet Bakery.

I’ve slept in my ridiculously comfortable bed, albeit fitfully, waking repeatedly to wonder for several minutes why the hostel I was in was so quiet and roomy. I’ve stared out my 26th floor window at my suddenly very green city, anxiously awaiting the day when lithe young women start frequenting the sun deck 11 stories below, rather than the grunting, paunchy, middle-aged men that have monopolized it thus far. I’ve repeatedly ridden our reliable and clean public transport . I’ve run numerous errands during torrential downpours, never leaving the pricelessly controlled environment of our Skyway. Also, I’ve now enjoyed two games of the NBA finals in pulse-quickening High Definition on my 50 Absolutely Not Excessive Inches of Plasma TV Goodness (you get to capitalize it when the screen is that big).

And I must fawningly plug the person who is largely responsible for my instant transition into sustained repose after a month on the road. As the end of my time in Romania approached and various parts of my brain and body went into emergency shutdown, I realized that all I had to eat in my condo was frozen chicken breasts, a stick of butter and a half bottle of Wild Turkey 101. Since the thought of having to Light Rail directly to Rainbow after 23 hours of ass-spanking travel made me want to dive under a horse cart, I hesitantly secured the services of Alexis at Personal Touch Errands. I really like to do my own shopping, on account of my autism-like food requirements, which, if they are not precisely met, causes me to run around in tight circles, smacking myself in the head with my IKEA cutting board. After four agonizing drafts, I sent her an exhaustive final grocery/liquor store list, painstakingly designed so that I wouldn’t have to step foot outside my condo for two weeks if necessary (as it was, I only lasted 16 hours). She arrived just after I got home, having satisfied my grocery list to the letter, and minutes later I was enjoying pizza and Strongbow, like Buddha intended. With the possible exception of my Blackberry, it was the best money I’ve spent in my adult life.

Though obsessive writing duties must resume tomorrow, I’m looking forward to getting out to the Mill City Farmer’s Market this weekend, some light biking if my hip injury allows for it and more loitering in the Skyway, catching the eyes of the cute office workers as they accelerate past wondering if HCMC’s psyche ward security door failed again.

By the way, no big deal or anything, but today is my 38th birthday. As such, I’ve just taken a long, hard look at myself in the mirror and I’ve concluded that I look fantastic. The occasional mysterious hip injury notwithstanding, aging has treated me well. I plan to head to Bev’s Wine Bar tonight in a pseudo-fruity Euro-shirt to lubricate before Game 3 starts at 8pm, when I fully expect that, like me last month in Romania, Paul Pierce will play through his leg injury to further heroics, leading to imminent lucrative book deals.

Uncategorizable | 10.06.2008 13:16 | 8 Comments

This is whats pissing me off today (June 2nd, 2008)

Posted over at Killig Batteries (last cross post for now, promise).

KillingBatteries | 2.06.2008 13:17 | Comments Off on This is whats pissing me off today (June 2nd, 2008)