Archives for August 2010

One More Avenue of Pleasure Closed

August 19, 2010 by cynick | Posted in haute-cuisine

In days gone by, I’d occasionally spend an evening down by the Hastings, MN riverfront, banging away on my laptop writing code and looking up whenever a train would come banging over the lift bridge.

Such outings were often capped with a trip to the M&H; gas station for some
Genuine Broasted Chicken.

Let me paint a picture.

This M&H; station, in addition to being a full-service convenience store with everything one could need, also has a counter where full blown chicken dinners can be purchased. Working at this counter must rank pretty high in the worst jobs in the world: hot, greasy, and smelly – and that’s only a depiction of the average customer (har, rar, rar!).

For several years, the chicken worker was a man whose name tag said “Mohammed”, but whose slovenly and corpulent appearance didn’t exactly fit the stereotype of a devout Islam adherent, except for his oily, bushy beard, which was covered by a hair net. He moved and spoke very slowly, lest the heat lamps start cooking him like a chicken. I always imagined that by day, he was a fixture in his mom’s basement, roach clip in one hand, video game controller in the other.

Recognizing that people don’t necessarily want a whole dinner – I mean, it’s a seriously industrial amount of food! – they also offer “snacks”. For $5 and a half, one can buy a “two breast snack, with potato wedges”, what a deal! Depending on the time of night, and condition of the wedges, the counter man might really fix you up with wedges in order to get rid of a old batch.

I bought one of these the other night. Seriously, there must have been a pound of starch in that box.

I went back down to the railroad tracks, eating potato wedges all along the way. I could already feel my blood pressure rising from all the sodium.

I took a bite of the chicken. It was at the same time delicious and sickening. You ever notice how every food item from a gas station – even down to the candy bars and the soda – tastes like it’s full of motor oil?

I finished one breast, and moved to the other, and.. ugh. I just couldn’t continue. I drank a bunch of water, but still, nothing. could. make. me. take. another. bite.

The box probably had 2/3 of the food left inside when I dumped it in a nearby trashcan. Maybe some raccoon will feast upon it, and have a heart attack.

For myself, I find that the smaller waisted pants that I recently slimmed down to no longer fit! And I feel like utter crap!

Another aspect of my former diet has now been banished forever, I think. Next time I’m in Hastings, I might have to step up to the level of Bar Food.

Don't Quit Your Day Job

August 13, 2010 by cynick | Posted in film

Several weeks ago, my downstairs neighbor invited me to be in a film he was making.

A non-speaking role only; he just needed a couple people to play menacing villains, and I was the first person he thought of. I wasn’t sure whether I should have been flattered or insulted, but I can definitely look really scary if I want to. Even my normal appearance is somewhat intimidating. He signed up his future son-in-law as Villain #2.

They have been shooting the film over the last four weeks; the scene I’m in was shot yesterday, on the last day of shooting. The shoot was at a greenhouse in South Minneapolis, near 44th and France. It’s an old school neighborhood greenhouse that has been around for decades – and whose underlying real estate must be worth a fortune.

I was only privy to the pages of the scene being shot there, and got a hand-wavy description of the rest of the story, but basically, it’s about a young woman with some kind of magical powers who travels from the past to 2010 MInneapolis.

The greenhouse scene involves this woman walking into the greenhouse to inquire about a job, only to realize she’s walked in on a robbery in progress. A couple of robbers are stealing some very particular kinds of plants, and the greenhouse owner, with her hands up, is pleading with the robbers about how valuable the plants are, and how they need special care. The implication is that those robbers may actually be from the heroine’s world and that those plants may have something to do with her magic.

She stares the robbers down, throws some threatening words at them, and then poof! they disappear in a flash of special effects.

This all takes place in, say, 15 seconds.

Of course, the reality of shooting it was much different. Since they were shooting with a single camera, multiple angles had to be shot in sequence, which meant that the scene had to be played out over and over again. I lost count of the number of takes, but it was probably around a dozen. They needed me for about an hour, and then I was released.

Admittedly, I was a bit nervous at first – I generally shy away from being caught on film – but after the first few takes, and I saw that the people running the thing really knew what they were doing, I began to enjoy it.

Ultimately, it will be released in small, weekly webisodes; I’ll post a link when it becomes available.

I may not actually watch it myself: I’m not sure how keen I am to see myself on camera. But others might get a kick out of it.

Inception

August 7, 2010 by cynick | Posted in film

I finally made it to Christopher Nolan’s Inception. A marvelous film.

However, as it went on, it occurred to me that the top of Nolan’s Netflix queue must have cycled through at least Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Synecdoche, New York while he was writing Inception.

In other words, Nolan has made something of an approximation of a Charlie Kaufman film.

The difference, at least for me, is that Inception somehow lacks the emotional punch of all of those Kaufman films. I dunno, maybe Leo needed to cry more.

That said, the film is the best I’ve seen this year, and Nolan has preserved his place in my list of automatic, must see filmmakers.

Another Stealth Campout

August 5, 2010 by cynick | Posted in stealth-camping

A good friend of mine brought his family up from Texas this week for a visit with family, and he wanted to know if I wanted to get together sometime and hang out.

I sensed an opportunity for another stealth camping trial. My plan was to go back with him to his parents’ house down on Prior Lake, spend the afternoon with them, and then bike home the next morning after camping somewhere down by the Minnesota River.

I dug out my trusty Twin Cities bike map, and plotted a course that would take me to Shakopee and onto the bike trail that runs along the former Milwaukee Road grade that heads out of town. Several of the apparent routes to get to the trail looked to be along busy roads – the dreaded black and red dashed lines – but not for too many miles. I did a rough calculation of the number of miles to get to the river (about 8), estimated how long it would take to ride those miles (45 min.), and then, noting that sunset was going to be at 8:35, I settled on a departure time from Prior Lake of 7pm.

However, this being Minnesota, I failed to make allowances for the “Minnesota Goodbye”, whereby people typically make at least three definitive statements that they are leaving, only to have conversation spring up again.

“Okay, bye!” “Wow, that folding bike is pretty neat!” “Sure is, want to take it for a spin?”

Oops, looks like the rear tire needs air. Better oil the chain, too.

“Okay, bye!” “Which way are you going?” “Well, perhaps since you people live down here, you could weigh in on my choice of route.”

I dug out my map again. Turned out that it was somewhat out of date for the area, and in fact, most of the roads I proposed riding on now have bike paths next to them. What a wonderful area we live in!

“Okay, bye!”

This time it stuck, and I was on my way. I didn’t hit the road until nearly 7:30.

As it turns out, yes, there are nice trails on the sides of many of those roads, but the crosswalks are still engineered in favor of the cars. I had to hop over the concrete of several medians.

A piece of advice not taken: I gave the Mystic Lake road a wide berth. Getting run down by some old lady speeding by on her way to play the penny slots is not exactly on my bucket list, if you know what I mean.

After a couple of small hills, I was treated to downhill runs most of the way into Shakopee. I rode along the UP line that runs a couple blocks behind Main Street, and actually straddles 2nd Street.

The sun was setting fast, and oh was it ever pretty, apparently due to some Canadian wildfires that are sending smoke our way.

I cut short my tour of Shakopee, and swung over to the trail. The first section of it is just a plain old bike path through the woods; the Milwaukee line didn’t head for the river until it went past the giant Rahr Malting complex on the west end of town. The trail at one point veers up to the tracks – a stub end of the line is still used to store cars that are being processed at Rahr – and then veers away again.

Eventually, I was clearly riding on the old right-of-way, but this didn’t last for very long. A sharp curve to the left marked the start of the approach to the river crossing that used to be there; the bridge has been gone for some time. I saw a sum total of two people out on the trail: a older gentleman walking his dogs, and a presumably pepper spray-wielding pretty girl jogging the other way, for now it was twilight.

Time to start looking for some trees.

In spite of all the rain we’ve had, this area by the river was fairly dry – very good. I was worried about it being muddy down there. It was clear that this entire area had been inundated by this Spring’s floods, though: lots of silt and debris around. At the next curve in the trail, I looked forward and backward, and then, seeing nobody, I folded my bike and headed over a small rise next to the trail, and into a dry rivulet, completely out of sight from the trail. I settled on a spot roughly here.

This time, the trees I chose were nearly too far apart! There was barely enough rope to complete the lashings.

Following Ry4an’s advice, I had, on a previous afternoon, set up the hammock and rainfly and then rolled the whole thing up, so this time, setting up was a piece of cake. Ten minutes tops.

I was ready to sleep by 9pm.

There was much less human noise – just distant cars, and the occasional boat on the river, and a couple of trains over on the UP line, which at that point is more than a half mile away. I thought, “This time I’m going to get some good sleep.”

Wrong! In my zeal to pack up and leave that morning, I had forgotten a critical piece of gear: my polar fleece jacket. By midnight, the temperature had dropped to the mid 50s, and with all of the humidity, I had a persistent chill down my spine for the rest of the night. I really need to get some kind of fleece blanket, and leave it inside the hammock.

Around 2am I got a chill of another kind: some kind of animal suddenly started killing some other kind of animal, and very close by. I’m fairly certain that the killee was a rabbit – those things can really scream! – but I had no idea what was doing the killing. At one point, the noises were coming closer, which was very frightening. Eventually the screaming stopped, I heard some twigs and branches snapping while the victim was presumably being dragged away for supper, and then all was silent again.

But I couldn’t sleep. I realized that without any sleep, the morning’s ride home would be quite brutal indeed. So, at 4am I decided I’d take the bus home. As it turns out, Southwest Transit has a park and ride about two miles out of Chaska, and the first bus to downtown Minneapolis leaves at 5:25. I waited until about a quarter of five, tore everything down in the darkness, and made my way back to the trail. By this time the moon had come up, and the pavement had a nice silvery glow, which was the only thing distinguishing it from the surrounding terrain.

Indeed. Even biking up to the park and ride was an ordeal. I pulled in there, huffing and puffing, with about a minute to spare.

Once on the bus, nestled amongst the hard working suburbanites who were frantically pounding away on their laptops lest they fall behind on their menial office work yet again, I closed my eyes, and the next thing I knew, at 6am, I was in downtown Minneapolis. I jumped off, walked down to 6th Street, and there was a 94D – a rare treat! The 94D doesn’t stop at Snelling, or mess around by the Capitol, so it’s the fastest bus to Saint Paul.

I was home by 6:30, where I promptly went to bed.