The best thing in life for me is hanging out with my family, but once in a while it’s good to spend a night and day with friends and alone.
Last night I went and played a gig at the Ginkgo Coffeehouse in St. Paul with some old buddies. I played some of my pretty songs rather than the booze songs I used to play in the bars. I hadn’t played in public for almost three years, and it went well.
Then I went and spent the night at my pastor’s house. My pastor is no longer a pastor, which seems appropriate for someone like me. Our old buddy Jon came over for a while, too, and we talked about art and jazz and God and politics and books.
This morning I got up and had coffee in the sun before Kyle got up. It felt like 60 degrees at 9:30 a.m. T-shirt weather. After Kyle got up, we went to the Spring Street Tavern, our favorite breakfast joint. It was 1 p.m. by the time we left.
I hit the streets at 1:30 for a 2-hour training run, which was warm, nostalgic, joyous and educational. My mentor in all things apocalyptic, James Howard Kunstler, never passes up a chance to insult Minneapolis, mainly for its crappy downtown and soulless architecture. He’s right, and he admits that there may be some nice neighborhoods in town.
But I think he remains unaware of this fact: Minneapolis is a great town for walkers, joggers and bikers.
Kyle lives near Lowry and Stinson, so I started my run on the Minneapolis Diagonal, a trail that heads from St. Anthony down toward the University. A little kid slapped me on the butt as a ran by his house. The trail dead-ended at the railroad yard, but I eventually found Dinkytown, then worked my way to the old railroad bridge where we used to drink beer and pee on barges. It’s been paved over and serves as a great shortcut between the east and west banks.
Once across the bridge, I followed the river past the Guthrie to the Mill Ruins Park. The riverfront was teeming with people, which was great to see. Everyone was smiling. Water pounded over the dam. An old violinist played. All generations of people and dogs were soaking up the sun.
As I ran, I felt like every step drove another nail into the coffin of the long winter.
Not that it was brutally cold or anything. I can only remember a couple nights that hit minus 20. But there was almost no mid-winter thaw, and we had snow cover from before Thanksgiving to April Fool’s.
I crossed back on the Stone Arch Bridge, then ran along St. Anthony Main and took the bridge to Nicollet Island. I circled the island, passing under the old Grain Belt sign and past De La Salle High School. On the end of the island, I surprised a hobo pulling up his pants on the banks of the Big Muddy.
By this time, I was getting tired and looking for a place to buy a smoothie, so I crossed the bridge, ran past Nye’s and found a coffee shop and a Mango Tango smoothie. I even ordered a whey protein shot for some reason.
I walked past the Terminal Bar where my crappy country band used to play for no one but the drunks, then sat on a curb and finished my smoothie, listening to every fire truck in Minneapolis scream north on Central.
I followed them, thinking about the old days at the Nordeast Bar, where my friends and I used to shoot pool and one night I heard Willie Nelson sing “Opportunity to Cry” for the first time on the jukebox.
As I ran north, I tried to remember where it was — 18th? 19th? 20th? I ran past the fire, which was on a block of Mexican groceries and restaurants. Even in the old days, this was an international neighborhood — Czechs, Poles, Slovaks, Serbs, Croats, Russians — but now it’s a different kind of multiculturalism: middle eastern, Mexican, Asian, Arabic.
Was that accounting office where the Nordeast was? Or that Subway? None of it looked familiar.
I got to Lowry and ran west through the 19th century presidents — from Polk to McKinley, where Kyle lives. Most of them I know nothing about — Taylor, Pierce, Buchanan, Fillmore — winner of the Funniest First Name Award (Millard). Regardless of party, they all have one thing in common: they’re dead.
I run past Rutherford B. Hayes and wonder if I should apologize to Fillmore. I find it interesting that Lincoln is utterly nondescript, while the busiest street belongs to Johnson, who is considered the worst president ever.
I run past Grover Cleveland (apologizing to Millard once again) and soon come to McKinley, who was assassinated at the Buffalo Exposition, his final photos taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, one of the pioneers of photojournalism.
A great run, a beautiful day, a fascinating town. So long, winter of 2010-11.