Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy holidays? (unedited)

I'm not a big fan of the holiday shopping crowds, but there's something I dislike even more during the holiday season, an empty mall.

For the second consecutive season I made a cameo at Knollwood Mall in the days before Christmas. It's in the Twin Cities suburb of St. Louis Park, and it's home to the most bizarre mall around.

The good folks at have a page dedicated to Knollwood, even though the mall ain't dead yet. What I learned from the contributions at the site is that Knollwood was once a normal mall, with anchor stores, a four-screen movie theater and a thriving food court. It was big enough to have a McDonald's in the food court, evidently, and McDonald's doesn't open franchises on a whim, so there had to be good traffic in this mall once upon a time.

I have driven by this mall for more than a decade. It doesn't look like a mall, it looks like a glorified strip mall, but indeed, it is a mall.

Except that over the years a portion of the mall has been walled off to create stand alone stores that have no connection to other stores nearby.

There's still one major anchor store at one end of what's left of the mall. There's a Kohl's department store that indeed opens into a mall. I was never there back in the days of the food court and movie theater, but I've seen it worse than it is today. Although it's not as bad off as it once was, it's still empty.

There are chain stores in the mall, independent businesses and a few atypical mall businesses. There's a swim school in a portion of the mall, which means there's a swimming pool in the mall, and there's an Army recruiting office. There's also a decent size furniture store in the mall, which is surprising because you don't typically see furniture stores in malls.

Despite numerous businesses in the mall, there are signs that it isn't what it use to be. There are empty storefronts in the mall, which is not highly unusual in a mall, but there are several at Knollwood, and it's most obvious where there use to be lower level stores. There are escalators in the mall that go to a lower level, but there's a barricade in front of them. It's hard to tell how many storefronts are down there, but it doesn't seem to be many. Nonetheless, it's quite clear that several retail spaces have been abandoned.

Knollwood has tried to adapt to changing times. Reading the anecdotes, however, suggests its demise is a result of its own missteps.

Despite it all, you'd think Knollwood would draw a fair amount of shoppers during the holiday season, right? You'd be wrong.

Once again Knollwood has opened its hallways to crafts and merchandise vendors during the holidays. There are numerous vendors selling all sorts of things, from handmade goods to clothing, Beanie Babies to cheap jewelry. There are a couple dozen people hawking goods, and they're not confined to a tiny kiosk, they have big tables and displays for their goods. Despite it all, it's still eerily quiet in that mall.

What I can't figure out is how these people find it worth their time to spend hours a day at the mall for what has to be a small return. I don't care if the mall gives the space away to these vendors, if they're standing around doing nothing a few nights before Christmas, they're not making enough money to make it worth their trouble. I must be wrong, they have plenty of retail vagabonds filling the hallways again this year.

You'd think a quiet mall would be a blessing during the holiday season. But you'd be wrong. It's creepy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What If?

I was a comic book collector for about a decade, spanning my teenage years and most of college. Many of the books I collected were from Marvel Comics, home of Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four, to name a few.

One of the titles I'd buy occasionally was a book called "What If...?" Many issues featured a story that imagined how the Marvel universe would be different if a character had made a different choice, or the outcome of an event had turned out different than it had in the original story.

In 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow starred in "Sliding Doors," a film that followed Paltrow's character through two parallel stories. The difference between the two stories was based upon whether or not her character made it through the train doors as they were sliding closed. I saw it once many years ago, and it was entertaining. I don't remember it being spectacular, as it was rather predictable, but there wasn't anything wrong with it. It's not regarded as a cinematic classic, but few movies achieve that status. I should watch it again some day.

I often enjoy movies and stories about alternate realities, time travel or parallel worlds. It should come as no surprise that I'm a huge fan of the "Back to the Future" trilogy.

Most of us probably play the "what if" game with our own lives. We often wonder how our lives would be different if we did or didn't do something.

The one event I think about most often only affected my life indirectly, but it changed Roast Beef's life dramatically.

Roast Beef is a college friend who I haven't seen much in the past 10 years. I've referenced him occasionally in this blog, but it has been nearly two years since the last time I did so. Eleven years ago half the stories I told seemed to have a Roast Beef reference.

Here's the short version of my sliding door, all dates are approximate:

In the first months of 2000 I organized a small group gathering at the Mall of America comedy club on a Sunday night. I had a bunch of comp tickets for off nights at the club, and Sunday was considered one of those off nights. I organized the trip to see a comedy duo that used hypnosis as the premise of their act. I had been to one of their shows, gratis, the previous year, and it was entertaining. So going back to see them the next year seemed like a good idea.

The duo worked two consecutive weekends during their visit to Minnesota, and in 2000 I organized the trip for their final Sunday night show. That turned out to be a mistake. What I didn't realize was that the final show of their two-week stay was their "erotic show," and the erotic show was considered a special event, making the comp tickets worthless. My group decided we didn't want to pay $10 or $12 a head, whatever the cover charge was, and instead went to the nearby bars for a drink.

We started in the sports bar, playing darts, then went to a beach-themed dance bar for another drink. We ended up at a table next to two blonde women. As members of our group departed, Beef and I were the last guys sitting.

I got up to go to the restroom, and as I came back to our table Beef was chatting it up with the blonde women next to us. I wasn't the least bit surprised. He has always been a smooth operator.

The women were from the Detroit area. They were sisters, Dorothy and Peg, chaperoning a group of teens, Dorothy's daughter and her friends. Her daughter had turned 16, I think, and a shopping trip at Mall of America was her present. It was their last night in Minnesota and the sisters decided to leave the girls back at the hotel and visit the mall bars that night.

The younger sister, Peg, was separated from her husband, as I'd eventually learn. We ended up chatting with these sisters for quite a while, and I didn't worry too much about impressing two women from Michigan, two women who were older than us, married, with children, and living in Michigan.

I don't remember if I knew it that night, but Roast Beef got an e-mail address from one of the sisters. Through e-mail correspondence he began communicating with them. Now here's where I speed up the story. Again, dates are approximate.

In May 2000 Beef flew Peg to Minnesota for a weekend visit. I stopped hearing from him on a regular basis that summer, and when he didn't return my e-mail asking for his new home address, he didn't get an invite to my 30th birthday party in September. In October he was packing a U-Haul truck with his belongings and moving to Michigan, quitting a job he wasn't thrilled with and selling a new townhouse he moved into in April.

I talked to him periodically by phone, and he always talked about how things were going to work out for him and Peg. It was never a question of if, but how.

End of summer 2001 Beef and Peg got married in Indiana. They had a small, civil service in some small town. About a year later they held a formal ceremony here in Minnesota. Chip and I were both groomsmen.

Beef attempted to find a new career in Michigan, but struggled to do so. Their debts mounted and Beef got desperate. In his early 30s he enlisted in the Army.

But the day he was to leave for basic training his plans unraveled. The government claimed there was a discrepancy in his documentation. They claimed they didn't know he had four stepchildren that he wanted covered under his insurance benefits. He never ended up serving his country.

He had been working part-time at a hospital prior to his planned enlistment, and after the Army fell through, he wound up with a decent full-time gig at the hospital. But that didn't last long. He opted to take a job in Iraq, as a government contractor working for Halliburton, He left in early 2005, I think.

His first trip home from Iraq was during the Fourth of July holiday. Chip and I had visited him in Michigan a couple of times, and I had wanted to do so that summer, but I couldn't work it out. My last visit was in late 2004, as it would turn out.

Not long after Beef's summer break Peg decided she didn't want to be married to a guy who was working 12 hours a day, or more, seven days a week. He was expecting to net six figures during a year in Iraq, wiping away their debt and putting their family on solid ground. Peg changed her mind about Beef, allegedly. I never spoke to her once I learned of their separation, and I've only heard the story through Beef's filter. I've never pressed him about the details, and I've always sensed there were meaningful details he never shared with me.

So Beef, slightly devastated, made peace with his future. He negotiated a divorce agreement with Peg, assuming their collective debt and leaving a lot of his non-personal possessions with Peg. He decided to continue working in Iraq to eliminate the debt and build up a nice bankroll for his future. He spent more than four years working on a military base in the desert.

And during those years he met a woman from Washington, a woman who took a similar job as his and wound up working at the same base. I talked to Beef by phone in December 2007. He was planning to marry her in February 2008, on a beach in Hawaii. And he did.

But by the end of the summer he had the marriage annulled, while still working in Iraq. He decided that he had made a mistake. (Gee, do you think?)

He has finally left Iraq and is now living in Boston, allegedly. I haven't seen him since August 2008, and when he does make a cameo in Minnesota, I'm pretty much an afterthought.

I've heard from him a couple of times the past four months. He was in town at the end of this past summer, but I wasn't able to get together with him. He recently rejoined Facebook, but his profile is quite vague about his life.

Beef and I spent a lot of time together during our post-college years. and I've only scratched the surface of his life's story. He was engaged during 1994-95, but called it off. A few years later he lived with a girlfriend who tried to stick him with some of her debt. Another girlfriend moved into his townhouse after about five or six months of dating, and was a bit devastated when he ended their relationship in 1999.

What did you do on Christmas Eve 1999? Late that night I went over to the apartment where Roast Beef was temporarily living and played Nintendo with Beef and his younger brother until 4 a.m.

His family wasn't particularly close knit, and after getting together for dinner on the 24th, it was every sibling and parent for himself or herself on Christmas day. The two brothers spent Christmas day watching television and playing video games at the apartment. I was a part of that until 4 a.m. that morning, and then again Christmas night.

Little did I know how substantially Beef's life was to change in 2000. One of my best friends would soon be leaving Minnesota and on his way to being a footnote in my life 10 years later.

Peg may be wondering to this day how her life would be different had she and Dorothy opted to stay at the hotel that Sunday night instead of visit the Mall of America bars.

Beef may be wondering how his life would be different had our group decided to pay the cover charge and see the comedy hypnotists that night.

I, to this day, wonder how my life would have been different had Beef's life been different. Beef's life is my sliding door. How would our lives have been different had I not tried to organize what was supposed to be a free night of comedy at the Mall of America?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Blizzard of the century (unedited)

Combine the snow of the past 24 hours, and the cleanup afterward, and you have the making of a storm we'll be talking about here in Minnesota for decades.

In my adult life, there's one blizzard we keep going back to when we talk about the worst of the worst, the Halloween blizzard of 1991.

I was a college student in 1991. It was my fourth year in school, I had barely turned 21 and I was living off campus for the first time after three years in a dorm.

I did a lot of running during much of my college career. I ran laps around campus, and when I moved off campus, I sometimes ran to campus in order to run the same laps I had run in previous years. I went running early Halloween night in 1991, and I remember gingerly traveling down the snow-packed sidewalks, thinking back to Halloween 1990. During my Halloween 1991 run, there were few people out and about early that evening, snow was coming down, and it was a tough walk anywhere across campus.

The previous Halloween was much different. I went running early that evening, and it was rather mild for late October. People were in costume, roaming across campus in every direction. It was quite a site.

It snowed continuously Halloween night, as best as I recall, and I think I went to the bar that night. I vaguely remember walking back from the bars that Thursday night and marveling at the fact we had several inches of snow on Halloween.

It continued to snow overnight and there was plenty of accumulation during the day on Friday. I think the snow turned to freezing rain for a while. I swear I hiked to campus for my first class at 11 a.m. with an umbrella, that was covered with a layer of ice pellets by the time I got there. It never occurred to me that the storm was so bad many classes would be canceled that day. All three of mine were, I learned.

I don't remember much more about the storm. I walked to my job at the local hospital that Friday afternoon, which I'm sure was tough, but I must have made it, as I remember getting a ride home that night from a couple of high school girls I worked with. They were more than happy to give me a ride home, as they wanted me to buy malt liquor for them.

So I don't remember a lot about that blizzard, but the storm is historic. The Twin Cities received somewhere in the vicinity of 20 inches of snow, with reports claiming areas received two feet of snow. The fact I remember details from that storm are a testament to how significant it was.

Today the Twin Cities received 16-20 inches of snow, according to reports I heard today.

Weather terrorists pimped the storm as having the potential to match the Halloween blizzard, and they were right. Usually their terrorism oversells the end result, but not this time. We were clobbered all day Saturday. It started snowing late Friday night and kept coming down all day Saturday. It stopped by Saturday evening, but the winds picked up when the snow ended, not that it mattered. Snow had already drifted to heights easily topping two feet by the time the snow stopped falling from the sky.

The snow came on a Saturday, which kept many of us off the roads this morning. As the day progressed, things got worse, not better. Major retail centers announced they were closing early, which is no small concession given it was a Saturday two weeks before Christmas.

By Saturday afternoon the public busses were pulled off the streets because too many of them were getting stuck on city streets. Many plows were pulled off the streets as well since they couldn't keep up and visibility was poor. By that point the airport was shut down, to nobody's surprise.

Highways in the rural outstate areas are close every winter due to blizzard conditions. Those closures usually aren't that close to the Twin Cities, but on Saturday evening the interstate was closed for approximately 150 miles, beginning at the western Wisconsin border and heading east. That border is 45 minutes from my apartment. That's about as close as I've been to an interstate shutdown in this state, although technically it is in a neighboring state.

The timing of the storm is about as good as you can ask for in Minnesota. It started late on a Friday night, ended by Saturday evening and will allow for a day to dig out before we all go back to work on Monday. The dig out will take a couple of days to complete, and it will be subzero on Monday morning, but we'll be able to go back to life as we knew it last week, but with snowbanks that are waist high, or higher.

This storm wasn't the most crippling, thanks to its timing, but I am confident it is one we will remember for years to come.

Hard to believe winter is almost over.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Factually speaking #5

1. I am not rich by commonly accepted definitions, but I am thankful for what I have, and thankful that my life isn't any harder than it is.

2. I am my own worst enemy.

3. I do not own any gold jewelry, coins or lamé.

4. I am interviewing an owner of a "we buy your gold" business on Wednesday.

5. I have never purchased anything from a pawn shop, to the best of my recollection. Perhaps I did once and just don't remember doing it.

6. Pawn shops are perfect examples of what is wrong with society.

7. I own very little that a pawn shop would pay me $5 or more for.

8. I collected comic books in the 1980s, baseball cards too. It was better than spending my money on cigarettes, but almost all of my comics and cards are worthless to me, and worthless to most others, too.

9. Growing up my favorite baseball player was Carlton Fisk.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I still hate karaoke (unedited)

When something is fresh, new and exciting, people want in on it.

That's why karaoke was such a big deal when it burst on the American bar scene in the early 1990s. Everybody who ever wanted to sing in a band now had a chance to perform for a crowd of disinterested alcoholics, and you didn't even have to know the lyrics to do so!

For reasons I can't figure out, the fad didn't die. It's not the rage it once was, but bars continue to cater to singers who just never caught a break, as well as singers who have no business in front of a microphone.

Years ago I was visiting a buddy in the city where I worked for 2-1/2 years during the mid-1990s. We went to one of the better local watering holes one night, only to find it was karaoke night. This city was lacking for entertainment options most of the year, unless you lived for hunting, fishing and snowmobiling, so its inevitable that dozens of people filed through the bar that night, karaoke or not. (This brings to mind a whole other blog I have to be sure and get to in the near future. Memo to self: icebox Internet.)

Surveying the crowd that night, one thing became crystal clear, people don't really enjoy karaoke unless it's a member of their group performing, good or bad.

When somebody is belting out a tune, it's hard to have a conversation with anybody else in the bar, so whatever song the forlorn songstress is crooning inevitably dominates the room. As I surveyed tables throughout the bar, you'd think you were looking at prisoners sitting in their cells, waiting for the march down death row to the electric chair. Only those sitting at the table where Donny or Marie hailed from seemed to enjoy the song. It didn't matter if the singing was spectacular or painful, it was their friend or relative singing, that made it enjoyable.

That was one depressing scene.

Fast forward 10 years or more and I'm heading out to a Twin Cities restaurant on a Wednesday night. This restaurant has the token bar area, and on Wednesday nights the establishment favors the poor saps who mysteriously find their way into the bar with a night of karaoke. So why was I there?

I have worked at a haunted attraction for the past five Halloween seasons, and several of my co-workers from said establishment find their way to this bar for karaoke on Wednesday nights. Despite my distaste for karaoke, I bit the bullet for a night in order to get together with a handful of these folks. Since my girlfriend has abandoned me for nearly two weeks in order to travel west of the central time zone, I decided I should reward my loneliness and tempt my suicidal tendencies by enduring two-plus hours of karaoke.

The ringleader of the weekly gathering is a woman who use to live walking distance from this bar, and enjoys putting on a show for the crowd on a weekly basis. I don't know if she ever tried out for American Idol, but I would bet your left arm the thought has crossed her mind more than a dozen times.

I'm not sure if Sheila sings Evanescence songs because she kind of looks like lead singer Amy Lee or if she kind of looks like Amy Lee because she sings Evanescence songs. Either way I sense the crowd is favored to a couple of such tunes every single Wednesday night. Lucky me, I got to hear "Bring Me to Life" twice tonight. It's not a bad song, I'm just not into it, and Sheila represents the karaoke divas of the world. She can sing, and when she does, she overpowers the room. I don't know why that so easily irritates me, but it does. Sometimes you can tune out somebody you don't want to listen to, to a limited extent, but the Sheilas of the world are vocal gymnasts, and when they step up to the microphone, you're going to notice the vocal equivalent of the uneven parallel bars, you don't have a choice.

Did I want to kill myself when Sheila was singing? No, and given she is somebody I know, I actually appreciated it slightly. But I don't get hot or bothered when people sing songs I'm not interested in, and when their performance doubles as a Star Search audition, I'm less than excited, because they're never singing a song I really dig.

Besides Sheila there were several others who sang during my tenure at the bar, although the bar was rather empty. I was told this was an anomaly. One dude sang a couple of songs after I arrived, and he was horrid. Was he Bob Dylan's illegitimate child?

Another dude, he was a poor man's Marvin Gaye. The dude could carry the tunes without being overbearing. I appreciated his efforts.

A couple members of my group sang, with varying degrees of success. If they weren't part of my group, I would have been totally disinterested, however, and not impressed.

Despite all the things I dislike about karaoke, I have to admit I was entertained a few times tonight. Several members of my group did a competent job of singing "Bohemian Rhapsody," and Sheila did an impromptu duet of "Summer Nights'" with a guy who seemed to favor the 70s lounge tunes when it was his turn on the mic. Those were more fun than I expected. Another duet featuring two other members of my group was better than I expected, too. At the moment, the song escapes me.

No, nobody asked me to gouge my eyes out or set my hair on fire, it wasn't really that painful of an experience. And I vowed to return some Wednesday night this winter if Sheila agreed to sing a song I requested. (She either claims not to know pop songs from the 80s or says she only knows the chorus. She's too much of a diva to attempt to sing a song if she doesn't know the lyrics and melody by heart, evidently.)

I guess you could say I softened slightly when it comes to karaoke, I still contend karaoke is the entertainment of the criminally insane.

Factually speaking #4 (unedited)

I have a lot on my mind, but it is late and I'm not ready to begin a 30-minute writing exercise, so for now, facts will have to suffice.

1. If I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I'd be tempted to do it. I'm pondered this question quite often and wondered what that says about me. I think it makes me a lousy person.

2. I went to see one movie during the Thanksgiving weekend, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It was the weekly retro flick at a nearby theater. I had seen it once in my life. I enjoyed it. I am certain I'll take in another retro flick this winter.

3. I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on the big screen, by myself, at the budget theater, four months after it was released. I thought it was lame.

4. There is talk of a fifth Indiana Jones movie. I hope it happens, even if the last movie disappointed me.

5. I was born in Indiana.

6. I have never lived in Illinois, but my favorite sports teams are based in Chicago.

7. I'm not determined to live in Minnesota for the rest of my life, but I don't foresee moving any time soon.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On the Patch (unedited)

Oh joy, the savior of community journalism has arrived here in the Twin Cities. We now have Patch! “Hyper local” media will never be the same.

What’s Patch? It’s the parent name of a billion local websites being rolled out across the United States by AOL. You remember AOL, don’t you? AOL was the way we connected to the Internet 10 years ago. Nobody dials up AOL from a home phone any more, so AOL quickly became a footnote in Internet evolution.

But not so fast, AOL somehow determined the best way to make a name for itself 10 years later is to fund thousands of city-specific websites. Basically the Patch websites are local media outlets. There’s no television station or newspaper, just a website to host Patch’s hyper local journalism.

Don't be fooled into thinking Patch has reinvented the wheel. It hasn't. Patch is doing the same thing newspapers, radio stations, magazines and television stations have been doing for centuries, they’re simply delivering their product via the Internet.

Hyper local is a fancy was of saying community journalism. It sounds impressive and cutting edge, but it’s just another way of saying we don’t cover the state, nation or world, we cover your city, just as a newspaper does.

In an era when newspapers and broadcast outlets are stretched thin and hemorrhaging advertising revenue, it’s hard to imagine a truckload of community news sites are going to be financially viable. Newspapers have been giving away their news content for years via the Internet, and earning a fraction of the advertising revenue they use to because of it.

People don’t read want ads when they want to buy a car or a house, they go online to shop. Newspapers have tried to capture that web traffic through their websites, but they were a little late to the party, a variety of online destinations have already filled the online niches.

And I can’t say that I blame the realtors and car dealers of the world for nearly abandoning traditional media. Why spend money on an expensive ad in a Sunday newspaper (and believe me, it’s expensive) when you can dump that money into an up-to-the-minute website with your current inventory? Once Internet access went from being a luxury to a necessity in American homes, newspapers quickly found their delivery model – dead trees – out of favor.

I have no idea how Patch intends to turn a profit. They plan to hire dozens of journalists to chronicle happenings in every community they stake a claim to. And they're paying decent wages for people who are basically newspaper reporters who pimp their content via Twitter and Facebook. Each reporter is issued equipment for the job, (a laptop, digital camera and police scanner are among the goodies you're issued, I think.) And there's a freelance budget to help pay for high school sports stories and other content the one-man show in each community cannot produce. Add in the cost of management for each region, and a sales staff to sell ads for each site, and there's a lot of overhead for a business that isn't selling a product, memberships or subscriptions.

It's fascinating to watch Patch try to convince people they want to spend their free time reading community news through the Internet. I'm skeptical, I doubt Patch will succeed. But nobody has tried to set up a nationwide community news network as ambitious as Patch. Perhaps they're breaking ground, just as eBay, Netflix and MySpace did.

But if I was betting $1,000 on whether or not Patch will succeed, I'd bet against it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Factually speaking #3

I have yet to turn on my heat this winter, in part because I have to have building maintenance come every year and fire up the old furnace for the start of winter. If I didn't pay for heat, I'd be much more liberal with the heat if I wasn't paying the bill. With that bonus fact in hand, here's today's list:

1. I have been too tired/lazy to write about things on my mind during the past week. Perhaps I'll find that proposition more appealing when my girlfriend goes on vacation.

2. My girlfriend leaves on Tuesday for 12 or 13 days. She's going home for Thanksgiving, and further west after celebrating the birth of the turkey.

3. I'm drinking a Lakefront Klisch beer as I write this.

4. I have toured 12 or 13 breweries, small and large, during my lifetime.

5. I have toured three macro breweries, Miller in Stinktown, Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis and Coors in Golden, Colo.

6. I have toured the Summit Brewery in St. Paul 5 or 6 times.

7. My favorite Summit Beer is the Oktoberfest seasonal.

8. I miss October.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Factually speaking #2

Five fast facts since it's late and I'm tired:

1. I wrote a blog about Megabus in 2007. I have no idea how many people have read it, but last I looked, this site linked to my blog entry. (My link is the top "story" on the list.) I liked the headline he/she/it/they wrote for it.

2. For years I have wanted to take Amtrak from Minneapolis to Stinktown. One day I finally will.

3. The last time I visited Stinktown was March, 2008. I'd like to go the weekend of Dec. 3-5, but I'm not sure if that will happen.

4. For years I have heard about this cool Stinktown bar/restaurant called the Safe House, but I have yet to visit it.

5. My buddy Chip lives in Stinktown, and during the past week he spent $287.50 for a one-year eHarmony membership. I'll be blogging about online dating in the future. You've been warned.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Factually speaking (unedited)

I decided that I needed to do something, anything, to make blogging slightly more meaningful at this point in my life. I've had my "super secret" blog for more than three years. Instead of just killing it, starting a second blog or finding a job that doesn't bankrupt my soul, I decided to quasi-promote my anonymous blog for five months or so, primarily through a simple Twitter account. I'm not interested in turning my blog into some lucrative destination that will pay bills, I'm not smart enough to do that. I simply wanted to see if there's an audience for my bitter sarcasm and fairly obvious observations. Even if the Twitter universe has no interest in seeing what I have to say, it's fun following random people and commenting on their fairly obvious observations. Most of them don't care, but maybe that will change, too.

With all that being said, I figure I need to do a few new things with my blog. When inspiration hits, I can spend a lot of time writing about why the BulletBoys shouldn't exist, questioning if Joe Mauer is gay or chronicling a Facebook debate. But part of building an audience is giving that audience a reason to come back regularly. Some nights, however, I'm less than inspired, and ranting at length about how Bob Barker is a fraud seems like too much work. Therefore, after two long paragraphs, I present a new, recurring feature: factually speaking.

The premise: I present a list of facts, according to me, probably with a sentence or two of commentary tacked on for good measure. If I say it's a fact that Zsa Zsa Gabor is alive, and then she dies a week later, you can't hold that against me. Some of my facts will be opinions in disguise, and therefore subject to change, naturally. But they'll be factual at the time of my writing. ("Amy Sedaris is hot" would be one example.)

Without further ado:

1. My uncle died on Friday morning, shortly after 4 a.m. CST. He came home to die on Wednesday, as I understand, and less than 48 hours later his pain and suffering ended.

2. I turned 40 recently, and my co-workers had no clue. I don't hide my age, any more, but I don't bring it up, either.

3. It snowed in parts of Minnesota today, and my city received several inches of snow. I have come to hate winter exponentially with each passing year. If the economy wasn't horrid, I'd get a job dealing cards in Las Vegas. I'm white and can speak English proficiently, I'd have been an easy hire five years ago.

4. I'm already tired of self-important clowns who can't miss a text or can't turn their phone off for two hours in the movie theater. If I find them annoying now, what will life be like in 10 years?

5. I was in New Orleans last New Year's Eve. This Dec. 31 won't be nearly as exciting.

6. I have jumped in Lake Minnetonka at least five times on New Year's Day. Lake Minnetonka is in the west suburbs of Minneapolis. They cut a hole in the ice for the annual event. I have little interest in doing it a sixth time.

7. I spent New Year's Eve, 2007-08 in southern Florida. Midnight was rather anti-climatic.

8. I love the "Back to the Future" movies. My favorite of the three is part II.

9. Four or five years ago I spent New Year's Eve babysitting my nephew, who turned 15 years old on Saturday. We watched the Back to the Future trilogy that night.

10. I never promised my "factually speaking" lists would comprise 10 items.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Serenity now!

I'm sitting at home, typing on a laptop computer I don't own, and for a fraction of a second, I am at peace.

I have had a lackluster week at the office, attempting to churn out something that passes for journalism. Or as I like to call it these days, hyper-local content. Somehow community journalism doesn't sound so impressive when your medium is the internet, I'm learning from the web geniuses out there. You need a fancy name for your paperless words, evidently.

Ooooooooh, hyper local. Sounds impressive! (/sarcasm)

My lackluster week just got a lot worse. I made a cameo at the office this evening and learned that committing a cardinal computer sin is going to make my life a living hell for the next week or two. The sin: I turned my computer off on Wednesday.

Normally I leave ye olde computer on, opting for a restart every few days. In need of a fresh start at the end of the day Wednesday, I turned the old girl off instead of restarting her. Big mistake.

Now I can't get it to fire up, and I smell another dead hard drive in the office. I say another because I went through a similar crisis last winter. Does it sound like I'm cursed? It gets better.

The first time I fried the office hard drive, it was less than 48 hours after my home computer crashed and burned. Suffice it to say I'm not touching the rehabbed home computer for a few days if I can help it. Thank Jehovah for the office laptop.

As I fumbled, mightily, to access my e-mail and create files on another office computer earlier tonight, it dawned upon me that yes, without a computer, my life is devoid of meaning. We can't produce newspapers without computers, and as soon as there's a glitch in the system, all hell breaks loose. And without a computer, how am I going to keep abreast of the pointless activities of so many via Facebook and Twitter?

I'm not the first genius to come to this realization, but the fact we're so tied to these machines makes me wonder how anything got done without them 30 years ago.

Computers have made life faster and easier in many ways, but they've brought us a lot more work because of that, and they've handicapped us to the point of no return when the day comes that they stage their rebellion and collectively blow up in our faces. Every last one of them will go "poof" and anarchy will reign!

Facing such a future, perhaps I should have pulled a Cosmo Kramer and beat the daylights out of every last computer in that office. But no, I opted for serenity now.

I'll save the Insanity for later.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Here's to your health

On an unrelated note, I'm going to make an effort to ramp up my blogging this winter. It's the only way I'll survive another one here in Minnesota. I'm also going to pimp my efforts via Twitter. (I hope I don't regret this.)

Then spring will come, I'll tire of blogging and decide what comes next. This all assumes I still have my sanity, which I wouldn't bet upon.

As I start a new chapter in blogging, I start it on a depressing note. My uncle has come home from the hospital, and things aren't looking good.

My uncle was diagnosed with some form of rare cancer. My mother explained it to me, but I don't remember the details. And they don't matter, ultimately.

My uncle ran a marathon this summer, went to a doctor days later because he wasn't feeling well and wound up diagnosed with his rare form of cancer. His diagnosis came after the cancer was already spreading, and he spent weeks receiving treatment in Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic. He is now back home, under hospice care, because further chemotherapy isn't going to do a lot for him, according to my mother.

The man ran a marathon in June, and now he has cancer, and is in rough shape. I have no idea what happens next, or when, and I'm afraid to ask. All I know is that his daughter's wedding was scrapped in favor of a small, private ceremony with the immediate families, down in Rochester. She had to give up her elaborate wedding plans just to ensure her father could be a part of her wedding day. Weddings are overblown, but it's unfortunate such a joyful occasion had to be compromised. You take what you can get, I guess, and be thankful for what you have.

I've long considered myself fortunate when it comes to life and death. Both of my grandmothers died during my adult life, but neither one lingered in poor health for months or years. Each grandmother had her share of health issues during her senior years, but their deaths, albeit unexpected, weren't so painful for me. It was harder knowing my cousin's young life was snuffed out due to cancer. That cousin was one of my uncle's two daughters. Now his surviving daughter and my aunt are watching a similar scenario play out again, and this time at a far more rapid pace.

We all know life is short, that you have to make the most of every day. Sometimes I wonder if that's possible.

As I said, I've been rather lucky for the first 40 years of my life. I've been far less affected by death than most people who spend four decades on Earth.

The hardest thing for me in pondering my uncle's death is wondering if I have made the most of my life. I don't regret that I'm not married and raising a family. But I do question what I should be doing with my life instead of working at a lackluster weekly newspaper chain. What could I be doing that would make me happy? And if not me, then everybody else who deals with me. What should I be doing with my 168 hours per week?

We all wonder what the meaning of life is, what the purpose of our life is. I'm running out of time to figure out my answer. If nothing else, I can be thankful for one more night of good health.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

It takes all kinds (unedited)

Take horror movie fans, mix in a dose of art enthusiasts, toy collectors and would-be filmmakers, then and add a dash of metalheads and porn stars. Collectively you have a day at Crypticon.

Crypticon is the convention for those who love the creepy, gory and scary movies churned out by Hollywood and independent filmmakers around the country, and probably the world. It's Minnesota's annual foray into the horror movie fandom and is marking its fifth year this weekend.

There are similar conventions around the country throughout the year, but Minnesota didn't have one quite like this until 2006, I learned today. We have Star Trek gatherings a few times a year, evidently, as well as a science fiction/fantasy gathering in the summer. But Crypticon appears to be the preeminent gathering for those who treat horror film stars like they're the Backstreet Boys circa 1999.

I've been to the big comic books shows here in the Twin Cities many times, and there are a few similarities, but Crypticon is something very different.

Crypticon offers a variety of entertainment throughout the day. There are starts and creators of horror films past and present who attend, and several of them speak during panel presentation. Most of the celebrities and creators in attendance aren't household names, but they've been in films many of us have heard of, even if we're not horror film aficionados. Today I met the guy who plays Dr. Satan in "House of 1000 Corpses," Walter Phelan, who oddly doesn't have his own wikipedia page. I also met Dee Wallace, best known to us as the mom in "E.T."

Wallace has been in a slew of horror films, before and after E.T., but hasn't been in anything nearly as successful, or done anything nearly as prominent. Nonetheless she has kept busy in film and television for more than three decades, and somehow finds it worth her time to appear at a few of these conventions each year.

I can't swear to it, but from the sounds of it, the celebrities and creators are flown to Minneapolis for the convention and provided accommodations during their stay. They make some sort of appearance during the convention and spend the rest of the time hawking merchandise, primarily photos, that they autograph. I was surprised that a standard color picture of Phelan, autographed, was $20. If you brought something of your own to have autographed, he still received $20. Pictures with the celebrities seemed to be free.

In addition to the celebrities and creators, there were several merchandise vendors hawking T-shirts, DVDs, toys and all sorts of random things. One woman I met was hawking custom-made handbags with spooky themes and designs. They were nice bags, but at $65 they seemed a bit expensive. She had a great shtick, however, she was dressed as a zombie and would often play the part. She was there with her fiance who was selling "zombie" caricatures. It was a cool idea, one I hadn't seen done before.

Besides merchandise vendors there were booths hawking independent horror films, some that you could buy on DVD, some you couldn't. One table was handing out DVDs of the movie trailer, although it wasn't clear to me when or how the movie was going to be available. Perhaps my DVD will tell me more.

Another table was for a group of Minnesota filmmakers who are shopping their finished movie, filmed here in the Twin Cities. They have screened it a few times thus far and are hoping to sell it to a studio for either distribution or as the premise for a major motion picture production.

One of their screenings was during Crypticon, which shows horror films throughout the weekend.

That's not enough for you? On Friday and Saturday night of the three-day convention they have live music. I'm guessing they're all metal bands, but I couldn't say for sure. One of the bands, Mushroomhead, signed posters and all that for about 30 minutes Saturday afternoon. They're one of these bands that wears masks on stage. I'm guessing their stage show has a theatrical horror element to it. Just a hunch. They're been around a long time, but are still considered an underground band, I guess. They were the headliner for Saturday night's music lineup, I suspect.

It's the weekend after Halloween, so there are plenty of people walking around in some sort of costume at Crypticon. Several people hawking merchandise weren't dressed for a Monday at the office, and that's to help draw attention and sell their wares, no doubt.

I saw a few women waking around that could just as easily have been attending a porn convention. One of my favorites was the amazon woman dressed as a DD Freddy Krueger. Some of the women I'd see walking around were there selling something, I'd eventually learn, when I'd see them behind a table and notice their "vendor" wristband. But some women were there purely to put on a show for the masses.

There were dudes who dressed the part, too, and on Saturday night there was a costume contest. I didn't stick around to see that, but I'm sure there was quite a show.

It was quite a spectacle, and there were dozens of people in attendance. I don't know how many people will attend during the weekend, but it's not a cheap proposition. A one-day pass for Saturday was $30, and that didn't include Saturday night's music. If you wanted to attend the live music, that would cost you more. There were individual tickets for each day, as well as for the live music, and a weekend pass that made the most sense if you want to make a weekend of it. And apparently some people do. I didn't see proof of it, but I know people decorate their hotel rooms at the convention in a theme, and I think there's a contest for that, too.

Like I said, it didn't come cheap to be there, and most of the goods and services in the convention weren't cheap either, although three of us pooled our money together and bought a two DVD set for $15. I figure seeing two low-budget horror movies for $5 was no different than renting a couple of old horror flicks at Blockbuster.

The horror crowd is not my scene, and if I wasn't being comped to visit today, I wouldn't have spent $30 to be there, I'm pretty sure. But it was fun, and if I happen to find my way back again some day, I'll definitely enjoy it, without a doubt.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"You scream like a girl!" (unedited)

In September 2006 I made what seemed to me like a bold decision at the time, I decided to go to work at a new haunted attraction here in the Twin Cities.

It wasn't the first time I made such a decision. Years earlier I had applied, and been hired, by Spooky World, a one-stop shop for haunted fun and games, the first of its kind in the Twin Cities. That model is now the norm in the haunt industry, it seems, at least here in the Twin Cities.

But for a couple of key reasons I decided working at Spooky World wasn't the right fit for me, so I declined the job.

Years later I finally took the plunge, I decided to wear a costume and attempt to scare people. I was pretty good at it.

Some people are physically scary. Some people, not so much. Some people make weird, terrifying sounds or grunts. Some people have a great gift of gab when it comes to interacting with guests. I found ways to look scary and intimidating, scare people with sudden moves at unexpected times and dish out a variety of creepy and/or sarcastic comments.

What started as a four-weekend challenge to experience something I've long thought would be a lot of fun turned out to be a five-season job. I've blogged extensively about those experiences elsewhere. But not this year.

I knew at the beginning of the season, a season that now extends over seven weekends, it was most likely my last. There is a laundry list of reasons, and I won't go over them all tonight. All I know is that every weekend I was tempted to walk out, or retire abruptly at the end of the night. But I hung on through the season, opting to retire one day ahead of my last scheduled day in order to attend a pair of Halloween parties. I'm glad I did.

By the end of the Halloween season, we've all worked a lot of long hours on multiple Friday and Saturday nights, and are ready to be done working in our haunted maze for a while. That's no exception this season, but for me and possibly several others, we're not interested in going back.

Yes, a part of me will miss being a part of something that I've been with during its first five seasons, but I'm pretty sure I won't miss it that much, not when my memories of the 2010 season are all the things I hated about this year instead of all the things I loved.

Perhaps I stayed one season too long. But if I had left before this season, I'd probably have missed the experience, and wondered what I'm missing out on. At least I know I've hit the wall, and therefore won't regret my retirement.

I wish most of life's decisions were as clear as this one was.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


It's official, Taste of Minnesota is dead.

The food festival that has been a Fourth of July tradition for nearly three decades has been pronounced dead by its ownership. This is the fifth time I have written about the festival. You can backtrack through my writings by following this link to the previous chapter.

When I first wrote about the new-look festival I had no idea that the geniuses running it were on the fast track to kill it. But now the obit has been written. The ownership group has unpaid bills from the 2010 festival, has lost its right to use St. Paul's Harriet Island in 2011 and has announced it will not be able to sustain the festival or pay off its debt. People are disappointed and/or angry. As I noted before, I haven't been to the festival in many years. If it does go away, I couldn't care less. But the attempt by the ownership group to repurpose the festival has been interesting to watch.

When I read an obit story on the Star Tribune's website, I read a few of the comments readers made in response. I try not to read the comments, because reader comments are generally petty and/or ridiculous. But sometimes the temptation is too great.

One person suggested the reason that the festival changed into a music showcase with expensive food, and an admission charge, is that the festival was failing to break even under its previous ownership, and the new ownership group that took over prior to the 2009 festival was saving the festival from bankruptcy.

Perhaps so, but I have yet to read anything suggesting that to be true. If the ownership group was trying to save the festival, it would have been in its best interest to say so at some point. But I never heard an explanation of why the festival needed to change its emphasis, and charge a gate admission in doing so.

I'm skeptical the festival was in danger of financial ruin. I'm inclined to believe the festival owners saw an investment opportunity and tried to convert a marginally successful festival into something more profitable, but failed.

Whatever be the case, the festival is dead. St. Paul had already revoked the festival's claim to Harriet Island for next year's Fourth of July holiday, so perhaps the writing was on the wall.

But I am expecting some enterprising group to create a new, eerily similar festival at Harriet Island next summer. St. Paul is entertaining proposals for use of its riverside park, and it sounds as if there's interest.

So the festival is dead, but from its ashes we may see a new festival in 2011.

I'd say it's too bad that the baby had to be thrown out with the bath water, but perhaps in doing so Minnesota will end up with an event that will peak my interest enough to show up. Stranger things have happened.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

State fair (ch. 2): On the inside somebody is getting rich (unedited)

The Minnesota State Fair is its own little economy. The laws of supply and demand don't work the same way as they do in downtown Minneapolis.

The state fair is a perplexing, mysterious operation that most people probably don't think twice about. Who owns the land? Where does all the revenue go each year? Who runs it?

Each year the fair draws more than 1.6 million people, some years close to 1.8 million. That total is a bit mysterious, as it includes just about everyone on the grounds that day. I work at the fair nine or 10 days per year, and each day I have to have my own admission ticket. That's how it is just about everywhere. My bosses sleep in an RV each night on the north end of the fairgrounds, and each day they need a ticket to go to work.

The price of a ticket varies, but we'll assume the fair draws 1.6 million and every one of those people buy the ticket for $9, the per-fair price. The fair would generate $14.4 million from those tickets.

Now add it all the revenue the fair gets from every vendor who hawks jewelry or Shamm-Wow. My bosses are one of hundreds of businesses that set up shot at the fair every year, paying plenty for the privilege to do so. They pay rent for their space in a crappy, hot building, but that doesn't include utility or trash service. They are charged an additional fee for how much electricity they require for the 12-day run. And they pay some sort of separate fee for garbage service, even though they generate very little trash. I'm sure there are other fees I'm unaware of.

Besides all the vendors hawking merchandise, there are tons of food booths at the fair. I have no idea how the economics of the food booths work, but I do know that the state fair gets a cut of food sales from many, if not all, of the food vendors. You want the privilege of selling hot dogs to the prisoners of the fair? You'd better be ready to pony up pennies from every dollar you take in. If you don't like it, somebody else will gladly replace you, I'm sure.

Yes, there are many costs associated with running a 12-day fair. There are hundreds of employees working each day, picking up garbage, offering directions to food booths and selling those $11 tickets to the unwashed masses on a Saturday morning. There are also plenty of police officers available each day, and they don't come cheap, I can assure you.

There are the costs of full-time, year-round employees, building maintenance and marketing, just to name a few other costs. It can't come cheap to run a massive 12-day event, but the organization is well funded, without question.

Does the state fair turn an annual profit? It's hard to look at all the money flowing through the gates every year and determine it doesn't. Yet there's a nonprofit foundation that claims money is needed for capital and program improvements. Sounds like a scam to me.

And on top of the tens of millions of dollars the fair takes in every year, there are a variety of events, big and small, taking place at the fairgrounds throughout the year. Hard to believe there's a financial need for program improvements.

I can't answer many of the questions I ask, but if you take a look at the big picture, you have to wonder what the hell is going on inside the prison walls.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

After Taste

Surprise, surprise, the Taste of Minnesota ownership group owes money to the city of St. Paul for use of Harriet Island, and has other unpaid bills as a result of their failed effort to convert the Taste of Minnesota to a music festival.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, read this.

I have no idea who owned the Minnesota food festival prior to Andy's group taking it over a couple of years ago, but if it survived for more than two decades, they must have been doing something right.

The unpaid bill for leasing St. Paul park space could result in the festival losing its claim to Harriet Island. That wouldn't be a bad thing, but I'm not sure where they'd move it, assuming they'd try to keep it going.

Here's an idea, why not the Minnesota State Fair grounds?

The fairgrounds have plenty of space for vendors, a decent amount of parking and a perfect facility for big time musical acts. The grounds are too large, actually, and not ideal for a food festival, but I think you could make it work without too much difficulty.

I have often wondered why the grandstand at the fairgrounds isn't used for more summer concerts. We've been told the Twin Cities lacks an amphitheater for summer concerts, so why not the grandstand? But I digress.

The future of Taste of Minnesota is in question. Some people think it's done after its failed 2010 experiment. I won't go that far, but if it does return next year, it will be dramatically different than the 2010 version, which left a bad taste in most everybody's mouth.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

State fair (ch. 1): From the outside, looking in (unedited)

I worked 79 hours at the Minnesota State Fair this past season, that's about nine hours less than usual.

Add to that a few hours I spent before or after work (mostly after) and I spent about 84 hours within the voluntary prison known as the state fair. Many business owners and some of their employees spend at least half of their day on the fairgrounds, each and every day for 12 days, so my 84 hours seems paltry, by comparison, but it's more than enough for me. I don't love the fair, but that fat payday at the end of the 12-day run keeps me coming back each year.

I'll examine life on the inside in the coming days, but for now I want to commemorate my life on the outside of the fair this year. Yes, there's a life outside the fair, even if the world, or at least Minnesota, centers upon our great Minnesota get together at the end of the summer.

There are hundreds of busses that run every single day to and from the fairgrounds, from points all around the Twin Cities. Some service parking lots near the fairgrounds -- you drive close to the fair, park and then get on a free bus for the final few miles to the entrance. Others service the fairgrounds from afar. You pay $5 for a round-trip ticket from an outlying suburb and ride to and from the fair. I order roundtrip tickets in advance of the fair, at the discounted rate of $4 per ride, and jump on the Eden Prairie limousines to and from the fair. I rarely have to wait more than 10 minutes from the time I get on an Eden Prairie limousine until the time it departs. It takes 35 minutes, on average, to make the trip from point A to B. Some days it takes barely 30 minutes to make the one-way trip. Other times it takes 40 minutes. Many factors influence the commute.

The busses pick up and drop off at three places outside the fairgrounds, as far as I can tell. My bus stop is on the south side of the fairgrounds. Many days I see dudes hawking bottled water along the perimeter of my bus stop. They have coolers on wagons and bottles in hand. I see some of the same dudes at 11:30 a.m. as I do at 9:15 p.m., and they all appear to be wearing ID badges that show they have peddlers licenses.

You frequently hear calls of "ice cold water" from these vendors. A few of them have catchy pitch phrases, such as "if you have a buck, you're in luck," or "if your throat is dry, I'm your guy." Bottom line, they're trying to sell you ice cold water for $1.

This year's fair started out rather hot and humid, so there was plenty of water to be sold outside the gates of the fair. By the latter half of the fair the weather turned windy and cool, and ice cold water wasn't such a hot commodity. Some mornings I didn't see anyone hawking ice cold water, and thanks to evening rain on Labor Day there was nobody hawking water outside the fairgrounds on my way home that night.

Besides the water guys, and an occasional water gal, there are sometimes people hawking light-up toys and glow-in-the-dark novelties at the end of the night when I head out the gate for my limousine.

But the real action is on the west side of the fairgrounds. The main gate for the fairgrounds is along Snelling Avenue, and plenty of busses drop people off across the street from it. On top of it, there is plenty of on-street parking in the neighborhood to the west, and plenty of people willing to sell a parking space on their lawn or in their driveway.

I made my way outside the Snelling entrance more than once during the fair, and during some of my breaks I would peek through the fence along the entrance to see what the crowd was like at the admission and ticket gates.

There was a guy on the corner across the street holding up a sign with his parking rate for a spot feet from the fairgrounds. I saw him selling his space as high as $30. I'm sure his rate depended upon the time of day and how busy the fair would be on that particular day.

The oddest thing about the Snelling Avenue area is that there are dozens of vendors outside of the fair. There are mobile food trailers hawking state fair staples such as mini-donuts and deep-fried cheese curds, as well as several merchandise vendors selling cheap sunglasses, gangsta wear and DVDs. These are all set up in the front yards of homes near the fair, one after another for a couple of blocks up Snelling Avenue, as well as a few along the parkway directly across the street from the main entrance. Somebody even rents a yard so that they can set up their window or aluminum siding display. Whatever it is that they sell, they attempt to tantalize you with a drawing to win free windows or siding. Nobody ever wins that stuff, I am sure, they just want to call you later when you don't win and offer to sell you new windows or siding at a great state fair discount.

Occasionally I have seen companies handing out free product along the sidewalks. One year I received a can of energy drink. This past summer there were people trying to promote and educate fairgoers about Islam, evidently. Good luck with that. If I'm on my way to the fair to stuff my face with corn dogs, french fries and deep-fried candy bars, chances are I'm not interested in your Islamic preaching.

I saw a few guys hawking water in their portable coolers outside the main entrance. These guys, however, were much more ambitious. The same 12-ounce bottles of water were being hawked at two for $1. Competition must be fierce along Snelling. The guys outside my bus lot must be in collusion.

I spent more time outside the Snelling gate this year than I did in previous years, to be sure. I had a brilliant idea.

Like my bus passes, the state fair sells admission tickets at a discount rate prior to the fair. (You can buy state fair coupon books and ride tickets at a discount as well.) Adult admission is $9 on the slow days, $11 the rest of the time. Seniors and kids can get in for less on several days, too. So the advance admission tickets don't save you any money on a special day, but they save you $2 on the days admission is $11.

Plenty of people buy an advance ticket, but many more don't bother, or don't know if they're going to the fair until the mood strikes on a sunny Saturday morning. When that happens you can wait several minutes to buy your ticket before proceeding to the admission gate.

A few years ago they were selling those advance admission tickets for $8 and charging $11 at the gate. I went outside the Snelling gate to unload a couple of extra tickets my boss had purchased and wasn't going to use. (All state fair employees are required to have a daily admission ticket. Most employers pay for them, as does my boss. That means my boss spends $90 most years to pay for my daily admission to the fair.)

I noticed a few people hawking tickets that day, and they had plenty of them to sell, evidently. I quickly realized why. They were scalping, so to speak. They bought $8 tickets, were selling them for $10 each and profiting $2 per ticket. Buyers were saving a buck on their ticket and didn't have to wait in line that day. It was brilliant.

The very next year the pre-sale price increased to $9. Other than avoiding lengthy ticket lines on a busy day, there's no incentive to buy tickets from a random dude for $11. And if you're selling the tickets, you don't want to have to make $9 change for every clown who buys a ticket with a $20 bill, so selling them for $10 is a practical matter.

Needless to say there doesn't seem to be many scalpers tying up hundreds of dollars in tickets just to make a buck off each ticket they sell on a busy Saturday.

And that's where I come in.

I raise $300 every year for the MS Society of Minnesota through my participation in the annual 150-mile bike ride. I hate asking people to give me money simply for participating, and since $300 isn't a huge burden, I try to find fundraising projects to make money. If I win concert tickets, DVDs or other items from a local contest and don't plan to keep the prize for myself, I sell it as a fundraising effort for my bike ride. I've done a variety of things to make money for the MS Society over the years. That's another blog for another time.

I sold an autographed poster signed by the cast of Glee last December, and made $55 for it. I was lucky to win it, and surprised I could sell it for that much without authenticity. The Glee cast had made a Mall of America appearance in the summer of 2009, and I won the poster from the mall's movie theater, but I couldn't prove those autographs were legitimate.

I also won concert tickets for a Bret Michaels concert a week before this year's bike ride. I was able to sell those tickets for $60. That turned out to be a fiasco, but I sold them.

I estimated that my fundraising was $60 short of the $300 minimum as the state fair approached. (Never mind that the bike ride was in June, I'm always finishing my fundraising at the end of the summer.) So I pulled $540 out of my savings and bought 60 state fair admission tickets. Upon selling them I'd recoup my $540 and the remaining $60 in fundraising I needed.

I waited until day 3 of the fair, the first Saturday, to hawk my tickets. I went to the parkway outside the Snelling gate where busses unloaded anxious fairgoers by the dozens. I arrived there about 40 minutes before I started work that day. It was a hot, humid day. There were plenty of people coming to the fair, but it didn't have that chaotic Saturday feel to it. I held up my tickets, announced I had $10 tickets, and sold a few. Plenty of people didn't need tickets, they were smart and pre-purchased theirs. But plenty of people still needed a ticket.

Yet my $10 tickets were moving rather slow.

I wasn't that far from the corner, and it was easy to see there were lines across the street, yet many people passed me by. Some people had kids, and my tickets weren't a bargain if you had to buy two or more kids tickets along with two adult tickets, but takers weren't as easy to come by as I expected.

There are police at the intersection, controlling the streetlights and directing traffic. There are other people working outside the gate as well. Employed by whom I do not know, but they're working. I can't even figure out what they do, other than watch people get on and off busses.

One of those dudes came up to me, after noticing that I was hawking tickets, and told me that the police don't take kindly to soliciting on the parkway. You can stand on the curbs and sidewalks, but not on the parkway, allegedly. He said I could stand next to them on the corner and they wouldn't care, but they didn't want solicitors on the grass where people were walking to and from the busses.

I thanked him for the tip, said I only had a handful to unload and continued about my business. I moved to the backside of a big pine tree, screening me from the view of the traffic cops, and watchful for anybody who didn't like what I was up to. I went to the curb to try and hawk my tickets across the street from people walking down the sidewalk, with no luck. For my first 30 minutes of effort I sold 19 of my 60 tickets. Discouraged, I went to work realizing my work was going to be far more challenging than I imagined.

I thought about trying my luck again on Sunday, but I was too slow getting going, and didn't have time to hawk before work. I told myself I needed to go outside of the gates during my work day once or twice while on break and sell four or six tickets, as if I was selling them for my boss. No big deal, a quick sale a couple of times a day and problems solved. I tried that once, but I balked once I got to the parkway. There weren't big crowds streaming to the gates, and I figured I'd have to really draw attention to myself in order to make a sale. I wasn't crazy about doing that.

So the following Saturday rolls around, it's day 10 of the fair and I have 41 tickets to unload, 35 to break even and six for profit. I considered standing with my water guys near my bus depot, but determined I couldn't pull the trigger. I've seen huge lines at the ticket windows across the street, and there were plenty of people lining up on that cool, sunny Saturday, but I couldn't pull the trigger. I didn't care if I got harassed by a cop for selling tickets, but I figured I was asking for more trouble if I was doing it anywhere that might be considered state fair property. If that wasn't an issue, I could have stood at the back of a group of ticket booths nearby and sold tickets in record time. The lines at that set of booths were always ridiculous on busy days. But to do so, I would have had to stand on fair property, and I didn't want to try that.

I opted to stake out a spot under a Snelling Avenue bridge on Como Avenue. People trickled to the fair from that area, but not by the dozens. Within a minute or two I realized that spot would never produce meaningful ticket sales.

So faced with $350 in investment, I realized I had to find a spot near the Snelling entrance where I could avoid detection and go to work. I walked up there, crossed the street, scoped out the scene and set myself up behind that same pine tree, hoping to avoid detection. I made it look like I had five tickets, even though I was holding two sheets of five, and held up my tickets. With little immediate interest in the tickets I was holding, I pulled out the line I knew I needed to use in order to move product. "$10 tickets, no waiting."

The lines were healthy at the Snelling ticket booths on this Saturday, and even though people didn't immediately realize it, many of them knew $10 was a deal and that there was probably a wait for admission tickets across the street. I found it much easier to move tickets, thankfully.

A couple of people asked why I was selling tickets for only $10. I lied and said my boss always buys extra advance tickets each year, and that I unload what we don't need during the final weekend. I said more than once that when I finished selling the tickets in my hand, I was done and could go to work for nine hours.

A couple of times during my Saturday sales people asked me if the tickets were fake. These tickets were individually numbered, with extensive lettering on both sides and a colorful watermark. I told people that if I could fake tickets like these, I'd spend my time selling something worth more than $10.

I wasn't the only one selling tickets outside the Snelling gate, I noticed. A peddler on a corner a block away from Snelling was selling admission tickets for $11, the same price as at the ticket booth. His tickets, however, included free water. I suspect he was a licensed peddler, as he wasn't nearly as discreet as I was about hawking tickets. I'm not sure how well a free 12-ounce water enticed people to pay him $11 rather than pay the same amount at the gate, but you know he paid less than a quarter for one bottle of water, so his profit per ticket sale was $1.75. His tickets were probably an easier sell on the really hot days -- the first weekend of the fair.

A couple came up to me during the first Saturday I was selling tickets and tried to pay me $10 total. They gave me $10 for two tickets and I clarified it was $10 each. They claimed I said $5. At no point did I mention $5 in connection with my tickets. They opted to wait in line and pay $11 for their tickets. Brilliant.

One guy noticed I was hawking tickets and walked by me on that first Saturday. A minute later he found his way back to me, having seen how long the line was for tickets across the street.

In response to the $10 asking price question, I did tell one person on the first Saturday I was selling the tickets to raise money for my MS Society bike ride. The woman was impressed, shook my hand and thanked me for my effort.

With the remaining 41 tickets sold in less time than the first 19 sold, I was done with my scheme. I made $59 for my effort and had 45 minutes to spare. Why didn't I make $60? A woman came back to me when she realized on the second Saturday that lines were long, but didn't have much cash on her. (There are cash machines all over the fairgrounds.) She had a $10 bill and a bunch of singles. She counted out her singles and realized there were only nine. She realized she could only buy one from me, but I took the $19, gave her two tickets and said "Merry Christmas."

As it turns out, a little bonus fundraising in the days prior to the fair left me $40 short of the $300 goal. So I had $19 to spare. I could have donated it to the MS Society, but decided that since I wasn't hawking the tickets specifically as a charity sale, I was justified in pocketing $19 for my state fair spending. I don't spend a lot of money at the fair, but I spent more than I have during the past three years, so I could use the extra $19. Besides, I pay the annual registration fee for the bike ride, a separate fee from the fundraising, out of my own pocket every year. Let's just say that the $19 I didn't donate to the MS Society is going back to the organization in the form of my 2011 registration fee.

And if that $19 wasn't enough to make my day, I found $16 on the ground a half-hour later. Details on that will have to wait until I go inside the fair.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ice cold water $1 (unedited state fair prologue)

Thanks to a family get together, I have just one last day of work at the Great Minnesota Get Together.

I'm about to finish my fourth year hawking jewelry at the Minnesota State Fair, and I still have little appreciation for the annual end-of-summer ritual.

It makes little sense to me. Thousands of people, some days more than 200,000, pay about $10 per person to enter into a mafia-like environment where they overpay for the most unhealthy food on the planet, among other wastes of time.

I sell jewelry each year, jewelry you can't find in abundant supply locally throughout the year. People covet such jewelry, so the owners of my booth make money. It's a tough business, and they're not getting rich beyond their wildest dreams, but they make a buck or two, and people who purchase from us generally walk away pleased with their transaction.

But now more than ever there's nothing at the state fair that you can't buy any day of the year. Yet some people are convinced they need to buy it at the state fair, after overpaying for a low-alcohol, high-price version of beer. (Don't get me started about Minnesota's 3.2-percent alcohol laws.)

People are herded like cattle into the state fairgrounds, charged more than the free market rate for food and beverages because they've voluntarily agreed to imprison themselves, spend hours looking at things they wouldn't pay a dime for if they had the opportunity to do so outside the fairgrounds and constantly fall all over each other to do so.

And people think America is a great country. Come to the Minnesota State Fair and you'll see we're a bunch of idiots.

Further examination of this phenomena is coming in excruciating detail in the weeks ahead.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Legends of pinball, vol. 3 (unedited)

Some people collect comic books, others collect vintage Coca-Cola merchandise.

If it can be collected, there's probably somebody out there collecting it. Pinball machines may take up a decent amount of space in a basement game room, but there have been plenty of people who have purchased an old machine or two throughout the history of pinball and played it over and over in their home.

With pinball on the decline in the 21st century, and fewer outlets for a line of machines, there are plenty of machines from the past two decades and beyond that are in need of a home, and plenty of collectors willing to welcome them into their home.

On behalf of home collectors everywhere, I nominate Brian as your legends of pinball representative.

Why Brian? He has the luxury of warehousing more than two dozen machines in his basement, or so I have been told. His is not the largest private collection of machines in Minnesota, that goes to a guy named Jason, who has more than twice as many machines and is internationally known for his collection.

Brian is my chosen representative because he has spearheaded a great public relations campaign for the game of pinball, a campaign that has required countless hours of effort and energy, and probably isn't earning him any significant money. Brian is the brains behind Pinball on a Stick, a pinball-only game room at the Minnesota State Fair.

For the second consecutive summer Brian has organized a room of about 30 machines, all well maintained and available to play for no more than 50 cents per game. Most of the machines are from his collection, but several other local pinball collectors contribute their time or loan a machine to the 12-day arcade at Minnesota's big, ridiculous state fair.

From what I know, most home collectors want to share their love of pinball and foster an appreciation, as well as support, for a dying art form. They stop short of opening their homes to the public, and understandably so, but Brian has gone to extraordinary measures to share his love of an endangered entertainment species with the unwashed masses at the Minnesota State Fair.

I have never met him, and as I noted, he couldn't do it alone, but in honor of all those who purchase and maintain pinball machines for future generations to appreciate in some way, shape or form, Brian is hereby crowned a legend.

Information about his state fair game room is available online: Pinball on a Stick

Friday, August 27, 2010

The great Minnesota sweat together (unedited)

John Hines, a longtime radio personality in the Twin Cities, used to refer to Minnesota's state fair as the great Minnesota sweat together. That's about right.

People flock to the fair, crowd streets, retail buildings, dining areas and everywhere else, for reasons I still can't comprehend. I am working at a retail booth in one of those sticky, nasty retail buildings for the fourth consecutive year. It's no picnic. Screaming at teenage girls within the confines of a haunted maze is much more entertaining, but you take what you can get.

A few things have changed near and around my booth.

The Canadians who use to set up a big display of fancy, expensive dishes are no longer present. I think they were husband and wife, and they had fancy table settings they'd sell. You didn't carry the dishes home with you, you merely ordered them at the fair. My boss tells me they were very expensive, and only slightly fancier than you could buy retail. I wondered how much they could make setting up shop at the fair for 12 days. I guess not enough, unless they moved to a new location and none of us have figured it out.

The new guy last year, selling fancy scenic inserts for the underside of your hot tub cover, is gone. You'd buy a sunset scene or something like that and slap it on the underside of your cover. When the cover was turned back off the tub, it was supposed to look like you're sitting on the beach with the sun setting over the ocean. They didn't seem very busy last year, so I doubt they've returned.

In their place is a guy with a harem of young chicks hawking genuine Austrian crystal jewelry. He has a couple of young chicks who like to wear short shorts when they work. Their legs aren't going to be insured by Lloyd's of London, but they're not hideous.

I don't know much about jewelry, but his jewelry -- a lot of pendants, evidently -- is all the same price, $17.95 for each piece. And if you buy two, you get one free, so you can get three pieces at $12 each. I don't know anything about Austrian crystal, but it can't be worth much if a dude can sell jewelry made from it for $12 per piece. That or he's lying about how genuine the crystal is. I wonder how many pieces he has to sell per day to make money during the 12-day fair. The fair would provide an intriguing economics study, if only I could find a textbook covering the subject.

It appears the lovely girls selling the fancy hair extensions and other hair services are gone, at least from our building. They were always entertaining to see.

Thus far we've been reasonably busy during the first two days of the fair. I did notice one change in shopping patterns this year, the crowds gathered around the Shamm-Wow booth aren't as big.

The Shamm-Wow guys in our building have been piggybacking on the name a guy named Vince has popularized on television. My guys have been there for several years, but two years ago they started calling their product Sham-Wow, noting it's as seen on TV. I seem to recall they used Vince's exact product name two years ago.

That changed last year as they added a second M to the name. Vince must have made a stink about using his name, which I would presume is trademarked.

The shammy guys did a brisk business three years ago, and it sure seemed to grow two years ago, thanks to Vince's presence on television. Last year's demand remained rather high.

This summer, however, the crowds seem to be down. I'm guessing that thanks to Vince, and the presence of his ShamWow in every Walgreens in America -- as well as other retail locations, I'm sure -- the market is over-saturated. It was a nice run, but like everything else, when you're hawking a hot product you'll soon find competitors stealing your thunder.

There may be fewer buyers, but there still appears to be plenty of rubes who feel the need, inexplicably, to vocally acknowledge Shamm-Wow when they see the booth, usually for the benefit of whomever is married, related or joined at the hip to the rube.

Shamm-Wow somehow continues to elicit a celebrity-like awe among rubes at the state fair. Today I saw a couple of people getting their picture with the local pitch man at the booth, and somebody else was shooting video of pitch guy in action.

I don't know who those people were, but if you look up "life, empty and meaningless" in the dictionary, you'll see them pictured.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

200 (unedited)

We love our round numbers, except when it comes to marathon running (26.2 miles), ounces in a gallon (128) and cases of beer (24). Why not 25 cans in a case, or just 20? (Yes, soda companies are selling 20-packs and then pricing them like cases... what a bargain, I never noticed I'm getting less for that sale price of $4.99.) keeps track of your entry total when you log into your main page. I noticed last week that I was going to pen blog entry 200. But rather than commemorate the insignificant milestone, I wrote what I intended to, another blog about a legend of pinball. Before penning chapter 3, I'll briefly reflect on the history of this blog, now that entry 200 is complete. I'm too tired to intelligently write legends chapter 3 tonight.

I started this blog in response to a blog I was reading religiously, a blog written by my good friend D Cup. I started the blog in the spring of 2007. Not long after that D Cup had to delete his blog, an unfortunate concession he had to make due to his employment with Associated Press. Such is life.

In the first year I blogged a lot, often noting about trivial topics of conversation among me, Rush and Chip, three baseball enthusiasts. I often wrote about Chip's delusions regarding his favorite baseball team, the Stinktown Brewers of Milwaukee. I also blogged about my bicycle efforts now and again. In retrospect it's mildly interesting for me to go back and read about some of the weekends I put forth a lot of effort, but within a year I was bored with penning stories about three-way phone conversations and weekend bicycle totals.

Thanks to being displaced due to fire, I didn't have home computer access for several months. I blogged occasionally from the local library, and perhaps the office once or twice, but my frequency diminished.

I have created a few blog stunts during the past three years. I blogged seven nights in a row, reflecting on my life as I saw it at that time, with no editing other than a simple spell check.

I attempted to blog 40 nights in a row, and made it more than half way before I finally blew it. I think I managed 36 blog entries in 40 nights.

One weekend I attempted to write several entries -- short, long, meaningful or insignificant -- and found the end result was a bit lackluster.

I've occasionally posted things I have written in response to other blogs, and I copied and pasted interesting comments exchanged via Facebook, with my own commentary in response.

I've started to write multi-entry series, such as three blogs pondering if Minnesota Twins poster child Joe Mauer is gay, and why people care. It took me four entries earlier this year to write about my squeaker convention. And soon I'll pen my third chapter in the legends of pinball series.

I am the most prolific BulletBoys blogger in the universe, I have to be. I didn't set out to claim the title, but I've found myself revisiting previous BulletBoys blog entries thanks in part to unexpected comments those blogs have generated. I wish that happened more often.

Too often I've written introspective blogs. I don't set out to do that, it just happens. I guess it's a form of therapy. Knowing almost nobody reads my blogs, and the few friends I have shared the blog with no longer seem to read it, it's probably easier to do.

Although blogger says I have written 200 blog entries, one remains unfinished nearly three years later, so you could argue I haven't written 200.

Occasionally I have written blog entries that I don't wholly agree with, or I've pretended to be more opinionated on a subject than I really am. It's easy to do when your name is not attached to your blog. That's the same rationale I have used to post comments on random blogs I check out now and again. I post blog comments elsewhere occasionally simply to stir other pots.

So here I am, 200 entries later. I'd like to think I put more effort into my blog posts, and that comes at the expense of quantity. I'm still conflicted about how much I'd like to promote my effort, and whether I'd prefer to write an anonymous blog or put my name to a blog for all my Facebook acquaintances.

Blogs are a dime a million, and I'm not convinced mine is worth an entire dime, but I'm glad this blog has occupied my time the past few years. Perhaps there will be a blog entry 400. If so, I'll try to commemorate it, and how my blog has evolved since today.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Legends of pinball, vol. 2 (unedited)

There are a few places in the Twin Cities that have a decent selection of pinball machines. One of them is run by Lloyd.

Lloyd's business, SS Billiards, is a fixture in Hopkins, Minn. It has been in the same generic little strip mall for nearly four decades. From what I've learned, Lloyd's family has long been in the arcade business, and Lloyd took over SS many years ago.

Lloyd survives in an era when most arcades can't for a few simple reasons.

One, he has no employees. He's there all day, every day, running the business. The guy doesn't take a day off, with the exception of a few holidays during the year. It's not demanding work most of the time, but it demands a lot of his time in order to make a buck or two at the end of the month.

Two, he has pool tables. Video games were huge in the early 1980s, but many arcades closed by the late 1980s, as home video game systems were already taking a bite out of the coin-operated industry, and this was long before today's highly sophisticated games were even imagined. There are still video games being manufactured for arcades, but arcades aren't the same. There are fewer of them, and nobody wants to play a game of Pac-Man for 15 minutes. Now you sit in a race car or on a motorcycle and race against five other people simultaneously. Or you're trying to hit the green with a 9 iron or shoot a buck. There are still video game experiences you can't replicate in the home, but there are plenty of home video game experiences you can't get at an arcade. In the 1980s, video games trumped anything you could play at home. The improvements and affordability of sophisticated game systems killed the video game industry.

The point of all that is that Lloyd has always had pool tables. Many people own pool tables, but plenty more don't, and those who like to play pool can play all sorts of video versions of it, but none of them replace the real thing. SS doesn't have pool leagues, just a few tables and hourly rates, but billiards is a game that has survived evolutions in entertainment, and likely provided a consistent source of customers for Lloyd.

Three, he has been committed to pinball. There was a time when SS had Foosball tables, and there are a couple of video machines inside his building at this moment, but Lloyd has long been committed to providing an outlet for pinball. Pinball enjoyed a resurgence in the early 1990s, but has again fallen on hard times. The machines are more complex than their predecessors, and video simulations will never replicate the experience of guiding a silver ball up ramps and at targets. The economy is making it tough on the pinball industry -- only one manufacturer remains -- but it's a pastime that lacks a viable substitute in your home. (More about this forthcoming in vol. 3.)

Pinball is quickly becoming an old man's game. Sure, young kids who enjoy video games are likely to be fascinated by the sophisticated game play of the new Iron Man pinball machine that came out this spring, but with fewer outlets for pinball, what are the odds an 8-year-old child is ever going to see an Iron Man machine? Unless they happen to have one at Chuck E. Cheese's or Dave & Buster's (I have no idea if either of those businesses have pinball machines), a kid is never going to even know Iron Man pinball exists. As Tim, the proprietor of the pinball museum likes to say, his patrons are primarily old farts.

The lack of machines and outlets for today's youth is bad news for a business like Lloyd's, but despite the odds against a business that isn't going to collect much more than a few dollars per hour from the pockets of each customer that walks through the door, he's keeping a dying industry alive in 2010.

No surprise, information about SS Billiards is available online.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Legends of pinball, vol. 1

There aren't many people I know of that I can call a legend of pinball, but there are a few I am familiar with for one reason or another. One of them is Tim, the proprietor of the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.

I'm not sure when I first learned of Tim's pinball museum, but it was sometime before January 2007.

I read about the museum somewhere and instantly became fascinated with a working pinball arcade that features machines from the past and present. I visited the museum for barely an hour in January 2007, and loved it. The museum looked like little more than a strip mall arcade. And that's really all it was. It was a jam packed arcade with dozens of pinball machines spanning several decades and a couple dozen video games from the 1980s.

I didn't get a chance to visit the museum again until November 2009. It was during that first week of November that the museum moved to a new, larger location. The new location promises space for up to 400 machines. I've been there twice in the past five months, and it's still a work in progress. The museum is still not filled to capacity with working machines.

It will take time, but there's no doubt the museum will eventually be filled to capacity, mostly with vintage pinball machines.

The museum is Tim's pet project. If I recall correctly, Tim made pretty good money in the arcade business back in the 1980s. He sold out while there was something left of his business at the end of the '80s and retired at a relatively young age. He moved to Las Vegas, taking with him hundreds of old pinball machines that he had collected and kept.

In Nevada he started hosting a game night in some sort of outbuilding he had for warehousing his pinball machines. When his game nights outgrew the outbuilding, a working museum was the next logical step.

The museum is operated as a nonprofit entity. Being nonprofit doesn't mean people working for the organization can't draw a salary, but I've never had any indication Tim cashes a paycheck for the many hours he works each month keeping the museum operational. The museum is not run like an arcade. There are no tokens, there is no concession stand, you won't win any prizes by trading in tickets won on a Deal or No Deal video game.

Even if Tim does cut himself a salary, it can't be much, because at 25 cents to $1 per game, the museum can't generate a ton of cash in any given month after paying the rent and utility costs. Yet the museum periodically donates profits to charity.

Tim is often at the museum, repairing one of the many machines in his inventory. He has a little of everything to choose from, from classic electromechanical machines to the latest solid state offerings. Nowadays there's just one pinball manufacturer: Stern. I can't promise every Stern machine of the past 10 years is at the museum, but it sure seems like it.

There are plenty of pinball machines from the 1950s and 1960s at the museum, most of which have rather generic themes. In the 21st century pinball machines have to be based on something people are familiar with, such as television shows or movies. There are machines based upon Family Guy, 24, Wheel of Fortune and World Poker Tour. Movies represented via pinball include the Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises. And there are other machines based on commercial entities, such as the NBA, NASCAR, Monopoly and even Big Buck Hunter, one of the few successful arcade cabinets of the 21st century.

In the old days pinball themes revolved around simplistic ideas, such as bowling, carnivals, billiards or card games. And you will find plenty of those rather simplistic games at the museum.

There are several unique pinball machines to be found at the museum. There's a classic game that has rotating cars on an oval race track inside the backbox. The backbox is the top of the machine that typically displays scores, and as you hit targets on the machine's playfield, it advances the cars on the track.

There's a modern machine that has a vertical playfield in the backbox. There's also a machine that features head-to-head competition where players stand at either end of the machine, similar in fashion to playing air hockey.

One of my favorite machines at the museum, one you won't find anywhere else, is Pinball Circus, a prototype developed in the late 1980s. It was a pinball game designed inside a cabinet similar in size and shape to a Donkey Kong or Pac-Man machine. It was pinball's answer to the arcade game, but it was shelved instead of being produced for the arcade industry. Despite that, it's available for play at the museum for a buck a game.

The new location still has video games of the 1980s, as well as a few odd coin-operated devices of yesteryear that don't fall under the umbrella of pinball or video game. It's quite a collection Tim has assembled and maintained, and there are plenty more where they came from, which I find amazing.

The museum doesn't have tour guides or informational kiosks, but some of the machines have cards with tidbits and trivia about them. Others have that fancy code you can scan with your fancy phone. Doing so will call up information about the machine via your wireless device, a device that was once impressive simply for being able to complete phone calls without a cord.

I spent more than two hours at the museum last month, with three machines occupying most of my time. I spent less than $10 during my time there, which is almost a crime. I should be paying a lot more than that for entertainment in Vegas, entertainment I can't get anywhere else in the world. (Other than some DVD that has been produced, there isn't any merchandise you can buy to support the museum. It definitely needs something to sell as a souvenir.)

Tim was recently interviewed for a podcast, and during it he noted he had recently been treated for a health issue. He's fine, and back to work, but it reminded me that without Tim, there is no museum. If Tim dies tomorrow, is there anyone who will put hours of effort into maintaining pinball machines on an ongoing basis, for no pay? I've said this more than once: if Tim had to pay his bills and make a living operating the museum, he wouldn't. If he couldn't afford to donate his time, the museum wouldn't exist.

The Pinball Hall of Fame is the one thing on my must-do list every time I go to Vegas, and I hope it's something I am able to enjoy for decades to come.

There is plenty of information about the museum online, including two different pages on Facebook, an unofficial blog that hasn't been updated in two months, a brief Wikipedia page and two websites dedicated to the museum. The one that seems to be most official is this one: