Thursday, January 26, 2017

Life As a Snowflake - Part Two

When a lot of snowflakes come together they can create a blizzard

The day after the inauguration the Women's March was planned. Begun by a single woman utilizing social media a worldwide protest movement was formed. As I headed to work that morning the El platform was crowded with people. Some wearing pink, some carrying signs, one entire family with children, came through the turnstiles and headed to the trains that would carry them south to Grant Park, where the Chicago march was to begin. Already the march route had to be changed to accommodate the growing number of expected participants. The original estimate of 22,000 people had swelled to 55,000. I sent a text to my cousin, knowing she was on her way, to tell her that all the signs I was seeing were pointing to a large turnout.

By the time the rally and march was scheduled to begin the crowd had grown to 150,000 to 200,000 people, making an organized march unsafe and impossible. The rally went on as scheduled. A multitude of causes were represented, women's reproductive rights, equality for women, LGBT people and persons of color and different faiths. There were signs regarding access to health care and wealth inequality. Individual voices had formed a choir. There were marches and rallies not only across the country but around the world, Berlin, London, Prague and Peru. A photo showed a bridge across the Seine in Paris swarming with humanity. For the first time since the election I felt hopeful. I felt as if we, the people, might still be capable of forming the perfect union envisioned by our founding fathers.

Later that evening comments on social media, as well as main stream media, that means you CNN, attempted to belittle and trivialize the event. Perhaps concerned that something had happened that was larger than them, that something had happened that they would not be able to spin or control. They said it was unfocused and leaderless. Nothing more than a gathering of privileged white liberals. Yet photos showed people of color, gay, straight, Muslim, Christian and Jewish, all banding together, side by side.

A photo of my cousin's tween daughter was shared on Facebook marching past Chicago's Bean. She is of Mayan descent, adopted at 6 months old by her out, proud, lesbian moms. They are, like I, an out, proud, gay man, Americans. A representation of the melting pot, that badge that we have for so many generations worn with honor. My fathers forebears part of the "tempest tossed" welcomed to this country upon their arrival.

Perhaps it was just one day, or perhaps it was the beginning of something larger. However it ends it was, for that moment in time, a blizzard of snowflakes. A massive, peaceful gathering of humanity demanding to be treated as human.

Life As a Snowflake - Part One

You are free to call me a snowflake. Snowflakes are beautiful and each is different than the other.

The Cubs were in the midst of the World Series as we boarded the bus on our way to Soldier Field. For the 2nd time in 2 years we had been gifted with seats to a Bears game. The energy in the city was electric. Even those who were not Cubs fans were, at that moment, Cubs fans. As we walked past the Field Museum the giant dinosaur sculpture outside wore an equally gigantic Cubs jersey.

That night was a travel day for the Cubs so only one game mattered in Chicago, the match up between the Bears, suffering through a beleaguered season, and the Minnesota Vikings. We planned an early arrival so we could take a self guided tour of the stadium. We traveled down to the seats close to the field where the "other half" sits, our seats were in the mezzanine (I'm not complaining they are awesome seats) and surveyed the growing crowd. As it was Halloween a number of the fans were in costume. Rainbow Brite strolled by. Two young men, who were featured on the jumbo tron as they took their seats, were dressed in sherbert colored Willie Wonka outfits. There were a number of horned hats, a homage to the opposing team playing that night. Even a few in all out Viking regalia.

As the game progressed it appeared that, however implausible given the level of play that season, the Bears might win, Again, it being Halloween, the people that run onto the field waving flags during breaks in the action were also in costume. Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Thor apparently had no evil villains to fight that evening as they were on the field in front of us, waving flags. In a nod to the Cubs a person dressed as the Cubs mascot dashed across the field waving a World Series banner, a blue W on a solid white field. The Bears did win that evening and we left the stadium happy, having had a wonderful night.

Two nights later, at a little after midnight, the Cubs won the World Series, for the first time in over one hundred years. Like many of our neighbors in our cluster of lakefront high rises we were out on our balcony yelling, banging spoons against pots and ringing bells to celebrate. The sound of bottle rockets going off in the surrounding area could be heard.

A week later I watched as election returns began to come in. In dismay and disbelief I watched as state after state went to Donald Trump, some by the slimest of margins. Due to the antiquated nature of  the Electoral College he had become President despite receiving almost 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, perhaps the most qualified person to ever run for the office.

Although he has no popular mandate he has filled his cabinet and staff with picks as equally unqualified, inexperienced and frankly, dangerous as he. A Secretary of Labor that does not belief in a minimum wage and is attempting to automate many of the tasks in his business now performed by people. Machines, he says, do not cause trouble, they don't ask to be treated as human beings. A
Secretary of Education that does not belief in, and has never sent her children to, public schools. She prefers a voucher system. These could be used for "for profit" and Christian schools, destroying the barrier between church and state. It would allow my tax dollars to be used to line someones pockets and in some cases in religious education teach students that my lifestyle has no validity and is "immoral". A Secretary of State with close ties to, in fact lauded by, a nation that meddled in our election.

I felt, during those days, that barring a serious health issue or horrible accident, I would still be living at the end of this presidential term. I felt, during those days, that the nation I would see would not be the same as the one I grew up in. I felt, during those days, that the U.S. might be viewed by some as a rogue country. I felt, during those days that the nation could be left in tatters. I only hoped, during those days, that we had enough needles, thread and will to repair it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

I've Looked at Clouds (With Apologies to Joni Mitchell)

The Midwest sky is a place of constant movement. Perhaps due to the flatness of the prairie, steamrolled by glaciers eons ago, we see more of it than those that inhabit more undulating terrain. There is rarely a cloudless day. Almost always wisps of white drift overhead. The heat of a brutal summer sun about to be eased by a cool breeze from the north is foreshadowed by the floating markers which will shade the earth giving relief from the heat.

Sometime the clouds can be menacing. Dark cylinders roll up into an even darker plane above them. I have watched as storms moving over the lake create spouts. Cones of lake water swirl up and meet  the powerful darkness which permeates the sky.

 At sunset from our kitchen window the clouds add depth and color. The rays of the late afternoon sun break through them creating shafts of light which move cross the vista of an eclectic collection of modern and vintage highrises, church steeples and tree shaded streets lined with venerable four square homes. As the sun dips closer to the horizon the clouds light up in colors of red, yellow, orange and pink, sometimes brilliant, sometimes subtle.

Some, looking at vacation photos, for instance, remark on a clear, blue, cloudless sky. I prefer the random nature of clouds. Sometimes I enjoy being surprised.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Minneapolis 2016 - Pancakes, Malteds, Dinkytown and The Way Home

My final morning on this trip my nephew had a dentist appointment so I offered to watch the grandniece. We made pancakes, she mixing the batter, I cooking them in the skillet, a deal we had hammered out the evening before. Upon my nephew's return I took in the sun in the back yard playing a game of shirtless fetch with the dog until my nephew had gained enough feeling in his mouth for us to head to lunch.

Despite a wind strong enough to blow my baseball cap off my head, causing me to run half a block after it, we decided to eat on the rooftop deck of a diner in a neighborhood next to the University of Minnesota. The area is called, I swear this is true, Dinkytown. The menu consisted primarily of delicious, artery clogging, deep fried foods and malts.I could not remember the last time I had experienced that taste treat as I sipped and spooned my way through the creamy concoction. The area is like many adjacent to major campuses. A mixture of shops, many specializing in U of M specific merchandise, restaurants and bars. A drive through the campus afforded me views of the historic buildings encompassing an array of architectural styles which make up this section of the university. Across the tracks of the light rail system which serves the city the Frank Gehry designed University Art Museum sits next to the Mississippi River. It was interesting to see the relatively modest size of the waterway this close to it's headwaters. I am more accustomed to the "mile wide" dimensions nearer to Chicago.

In the late afternoon I bid farewell to my nephew and grandniece at the airport. I do not know how but I was afforded TSA prescreened status and attempted to not feel smug and over important as I strode past the long lines into the much shorter prescreened queue. Through the airplane window during the flight I watched as the green fields, forests and lakes of Minnesota morphed into the urban street grid and towers of the metropolis I call home.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Minnesota 2016 - Fort Snelling

First let me state that I am a pacifist. I feel, and have stated many times over my life, that after over 5000 years of civilization we should have come up with a better way to settle our differences than blowing one another to bits. That being said, the idea suggested by my nephew of visiting Fort Snelling appealed to me. When I think back on our visit to Puerto Rico the 16th century El Morro stands out as a high point.

Fort Snelling stands at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. At one time it was the furthest outpost of the U.S. military. After the war of 1812 a chain of forts were constructed to repel any further Canadian incursions. The fort was founded in 1819. John Emerson brought his slave Dred Scott with him during a stint at Fort Snelling leading to an early and important ruling regarding slavery in the U.S. During the Dakota War of 1862 women, children and elders of the tribe were captured and kept there leading to the deaths of many of them. It was decommissioned in 1946 and fell into disrepair before it's designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The walled portion of the fort has been rebuilt and restored to it former appearance.

The sun was bright and the weather warm during our visit. A stark contrast to the cool and rainy conditions of the previous couple of days. The focus at the fort that weekend was World War I. Staff in period costumes stationed throughout the fort provided information about the era. The subjects ranged from weaponry to Morse Code to the women's suffrage movement. My nephew and I played chauvinists stating that we still questioned the wisdom of the decision to give women the vote. Our joke did not go over well with the niece in law. My grandniece was fascinated by Morse Code. After tapping out several random letters on a vintage telegraph machine the staff member told her she had just spelled "I,m going to clean my room."  That joke did not go over well with my grandniece.

One room held a display about the history of conscientious objectors during World War I. Although I was aware of the Navajo language being used as code during World War II I had no idea that this idea was preceded by members of the Choctaw tribe using their native tongue as code during the last days of World War I. The men were sworn to secrecy about the operation, only being allowed to speak of it in their old age. My own family history came alive when a staff member spoke of German immigrants coming to the U.S. before and after the war. My own ancestor was part of that migration. According to the family lore he reversed his first and last names in order to downplay his then unpopular German heritage, although I have always felt that his presumed accent would have given him away. I and I think my nephew, who was standing next to me, felt a connection to our past during that moment.

We concluded our visit by taking in the view from the top of the fort's roundhouse. From the vantage point of the 200 year old structure the modern skyline of Minneapolis appeared in the distance over the treetops.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Minneapolis 2016 - A Sunday Morning Brunch on an Outdoor Deck

After returning from church, an activity I chose not to participate in as I would have felt extremely guilty had the holy building burst into flame once I entered, my nephew, grandniece and I left for brunch at a restaurant with a large outdoor riverfront deck space. My niece in law, remembering a theatre group meeting at the last minute, was to join us for our other activities later in the day. There, over mimosas and an ample cinnamon roll we began to play one of my favorite games. Who Are These People and What Are They Doing Here? A cheerful waitress took our order, a rather handsome in a hipster sort of way, humorless server brought us our food and the game was afoot.

A large, bearlike, bearded man, young enough looking for the waitress to ask for his I.D., shared a table with what were obviously his parents. Was he visiting them or were they visiting him? At another table was a larger group. A couple with a tiny baby, an older couple and two men close in age to the presumed parents of the aforementioned newborn. One of the younger men seemed to favor the baby's mother. He was handed the baby at one point. New uncle was the concensus between my nephew and myself. The other man was harder to read. His taut, athlectic body was clad in a tight fitting gray tee shirt. He wore his baseball cap backwards, although he was advanced enough in age where this look no longer really worked for him. He was accompanied by an extremely large, fearsome looking dog with a barbed choke chain around his neck. He seemed to maintain little control over the massive animal. There was some concern among us, not entirely unreasonable, that the dog, if allowed to, might eat the baby.

Later that evening relaying the story to my niece in law, she turned the tables on me. She suggested that other diners may have been playing the same game with our table as the subject. She suggested that they may have taken me for my grandnieces grandfather. I suggested that this was dismaying as it could easily be true.

Minneapolis 2016 - From the Outside In

Having now visited Minneapolis twice I made an observation. Wanting to make sure I was not projecting on to the city something that wasn't there I discussed what I had observed with both my nephew and a former coworker who had lived in Minneapolis for a period of time. I observed that unlike some U.S. cities, particularly sunbelt ones, Minneapolis seems unconcerned with expanding it's footprint. Instead it seems to have a knack for "filling in it's spaces".

For instance my nephew's home is a sweet, late mid century bungalow. Next door is a home similar in size and age to his. Yet on the same block are homes perhaps half a century older and much larger. My nephew explained to me his understanding was that originally some of the homes sat on much larger lots then they do now. He and his neighbor's home we built on what, at one time, may have been the side yard of one of the older homes on the block. This makes for a charming eclecticism.

Likewise the mansion housing the Bakker Museum appears to have once been on a lot surrounded by gardens, most now turned over to the museum's expansion. On an adjacent street another large, older home which overlooks a park and lake has for neighbors spacious yet decidedly more modern homes. They too appear to have been built on what was once that mansions expansive grounds.

The mill district, once derelict, has been re imagined as an upscale mixed use area. Along with the loft apartments carved out of the old mills, other apartment complexes share space with the Guthrie Theatre and the city's stadium, all newly constructed. Near my nephew's home a fantastic, late 19th century brewery building has been reused, a portion of it turned over to the public library system. Turn of the 20th century riverbank commercial districts, spared demolition, have become vibrant with nightlife. Bars and restaurants fill the spaces behind blocks long strips of historic facades.

The Frank Ghery designed University of Minnesota Art Museum, with his signature sensuous, swooping metal facade, sits on the riverbank behind the tracks of the city's public transit light rail line. Proud yet unobtrusive it does not compete with the more venerable, historically important structures on the campus grounds. This stands in comparison with his bandshell in Chicago's Millennium Park, so blatant and visible it has become an iconic symbol of the city. As recognizable as the Picasso in Daley Plaza or the Lions which grace the steps of my beloved Art Institute.

There is some new construction on the city's edge, but it seems to be confined to the tracks of the light rail system. Tight apartment blocks built for convenience rather than bland sprawling subdivisions.

The city sits in a setting of lush, fertile land and glistening lakes. It seems to understand it's good fortune. It appears to be content within itself leaving that which surrounds it unspoiled.