Monthly Archives: October 2012

Bussing – The Other Way of Getting to Where You Want to Be

“With a smile and a profile!” – That’s how my bus driver greeted passengers at the start of his mid-day shift. Our ebullient leader assured us that his goal on the trip was “to extinguish the problem before the problem exists.’  Shoppers loaded with Target totes, moms with toddlers, students headed for class, even the suits on board relaxed just a bit.   We were in good hands.

By chance I had just been idly pondering life as a committed bus rider – with a focus on the benefits.   The muse struck as I realized that the driver’s attitude IS the joy – the element of surprise, the shared joy of an adventure (in this case the driver’s new shift) and the delight of children who saw the ride as a grand escapade with a spirited leader who actually would be driving OUR bus.

For the moment I chose to ignore the fact that there are grumpy drivers, surly passengers, unruly toddlers, an occasional inebriate, a kid with no volume control on his CD, and oaf who sprawls over three coveted seats.  They’re the exception.

When stuff happens seasoned riders and driver take it in stride.  The committed busser focuses instead on the benefits of camaraderie and safety, dependability, protecting the environment and cost savings.  In truth, bus catastrophes are exceptions much beloved by rookie reporters and proponents of highway construction.

And so the pause that refreshed morphed into a delightful ride home as I continued to count the blessings known but to the bus rider with a positive mental attitude.  Concerned that I might be delusional I did a quick search, a due diligence reality check to learn of others’ bus riding experiences.   Under the term “bus riding” I discovered a profusion of pedantic how-to guides – boring tomes devoid of the spirit of adventure I sought.

Still, I found a few hearty and literarily inclined folks who shared my enthusiasm for the joi de bussing.  To wit:

v You get to know the regulars – the nattily dressed man who always sports a bowler hat, the weary woman who spends the trip on the cell phone discussing her late rent with the landlord, the shopping bag lady, the teens who’ve graduated from the school bus to Metro Transit, the all night cook who always needs a nudge to wake him at his stop.

v For those inclined, there’s a precious opportunity to read.  For me it’s the newspaper – others pull out serious tomes bearing library labels, some sequester more lurid paperbacks in their jacket pockets, for many their book of choice is the Bible of the Koran.

v Then there’s the voyeuristic opportunity to probe into people’s lives by checking the book jackets or the magazines they are reading.  Kindles are no fun for the intellectually curious transit rider.  An alternative visual exercise is to try to decipher the hieroglyphics that adorn the panoply of t-shirts and leather jackets. And then there are the inscrutable tattoos…

v The congenial morning bussers who saunter to their regular transit stops, chat with co-riders, relax in the certitude that the bus will arrive on time, then hop aboard and grab their regular spot.  Road rage is not an issue. At the end of the day, these same riders allow each other the space and quiet to mull over the slings and allows of the workplace.  Everyone is focused on home, dinner and a quiet evening.

v Though the consequences of boarding the LRT without a fare card are extreme embarrassment and a healthy fine, bussers are their brother’s keepers.   If you come up short on bus fare, a friendly rider will find the change to bail you out.

v The same holds true for newcomers who are clearly not bus schedule readers and have only a vague sense of their destination.  As soon as the bus driver starts his or her patient explanation of options a half dozen caretaker-types join in with helpful advice on routes, stops, alternatives, local landmarks and more.

v With notable exceptions bussers are genial folk who patiently wait for the individual in the wheelchair to ascend to the main floor, pull into the vacated seat and wait while the PCA or driver secures the locks.  Admiration, not impatience, shows on the faces of waiting travelers.

v Likewise, age is not so much a challenge but rather a ticket to comfort and safety as weary riders inevitably vie to give up their seat.

v For some, the bus ride offers a few quiet moments conducive to the fine art of make-up application.  Generous stashes of cosmetics, ranging from eye lash extenders to manicure products, remain buried in tote bags until the propitious moment at a traffic jam or during longer stretches of open road.

v When the bus windows aren’t covered by ice there’s ample opportunity to observe and critique construction and leased property along the route – the new restaurant, the vacant building, the unidentified excavation, can spark serious conjecture, even controversy, particularly when the critics have not been properly informed of the intended consequences.

v Patrolling the bus is left to the driver and, at times, to the riders.  Though some fret about the safety implications it does relieve the stress of constantly surveillance by the Authorities.  Besides, virtually ever bus carries a sort of bus monitor who thrives on the opportunity to take command.

As we switch the clocks we necessarily alter the day’s routines.  Walking and biking are less an option.  Winter driving is a menace.  This might be a good time to give public transit another chance.  Get yourself a Go-To card and see just how far it will take you!


Walking the Walk to End Hunger – With a Little Help from My Friends

In just five years, the Walk to End Hunger has become a Thanksgiving morning tradition.  During those same years hungry Minnesota families have had to depend more on the generosity of others to supplement their nutritional needs.

The Walk to End Hunger has evolved as an exemplary collaboration among nonprofit organizations that share the mission not just to provide nutritious food but to end hunger.  Some walkers get going before dawn, lace up their walking shoes, and meet at the MOA at 7:00 a.m.   Others join the marathoners at their own pace – the walk continues till 10:00 a.m.  Each walker or team is backed by a host of sponsors, friends and family who pledge to support the walker, the walker’s preferred nonprofit organization, and the imperative to end hunger.

In order to tilt the age distribution of the walking throng I have signed up to walk in support of Neighbors, Inc.   For the past months I have volunteered at Neighbors where I have come to know, respect and truly admire the organization that is now in its fortieth year serving Northern Dakota County residents who are in need of food, clothing, transportation and other support.

The idea of “giving back before giving thanks” inspires to me to think about those who will not be sitting down to a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast – even more, it makes me reflect on the difficult truth that we need a concerted effort to effect systemic change. Ours is a nation in which wasted food and hungry families are separated not by geography but by the collaborative joining of forces that the Walk typifies.

This is the ultimate family-friendly event.  There will be rides and other activities for young folks while some of the MOA shops will be open.   Walkers will have given it their all by 9:00 which leaves plenty of time to get home to baste the turkey, to head out to Grandma’s, or to see how the TC’s chef de jour tempts the Minnesota palate.

If you are touched by the need, inspired by the collaborative approach, seized by the challenge to end hunger, or just amazed that this Little Old Lady has the temerity to think she can keep pace, please consider sponsoring me with a contribution earmarked for Neighbors, Inc.    If you’re my vintage you can hum “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as you sign the check or try to read the numbers of your credit card.

ü  To learn more about the Walk to End Hunger, click here. To sign up as a sponsor check on “Visitor” then “Sponsor Participant.”

ü  To learn more about Neighbors, Inc. – click here.

ü  To hear a hard-sell personal pitch, call or email me.  612 781 4234 or

Thank you very much for your commitment to end hunger.  We hope this walk will set the pace for what must to a sustained collaborative effort.

Help others first. Then help yourself to seconds.

Support the Walk to End Hunger – Thanksgiving Day at the MOA

Would a cup of latte taste good right now?  Or a scone?  Maybe one of those one-baked cookies the generous co-walker brought in this morning.   If you’re at home, the kids are gone, you’ve read the paper and now it’s break time.  Forget the diet and go for it.  Because you can.

As you munch and sip spend a minute thinking not so much about your waistline or your gut but about the millions of Americans – the people you know from work or church or child care drop off – are hungry – really hungry.  Consider that their kids, having missed a healthy breakfast, are struggling to stay awake, much less to learn.  Then think for just a minute about how much food goes  waste – not waist –each day in our community.

October 16 is World Food Day, a day to commemorate the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  The global observance aims to raise levels of nutrition around the world, focusing on improved food production, changing agricultural policy, appropriate technology and
“a neutral environment to discuss issues around food production.”

Closer to home a host of food-related organizations are joining forces to prepare for the national feast of Thanksgiving by urging local advocates to join the Walk to End Hunger.  The goal of the Walk is to “give back before giving Thanks.”    Minnesotans may participate by walking at the Mall on Thanksgiving morning (7:00-10:00), by donating money, or by sponsoring a walker and/or designating a specific program.  Walkers may form or join a team to support the cause or a specific food shelf.   The common goal is to walk together and in the same direction.

So, enjoy your break – you deserve it.   And so do those in our communities whose health and learning skills depend on others.   The theme of the Walk says it all

Help others first. Then help yourself to seconds.

What if you tried a whole new genre?

Though parents of toddlers may grow weary of the endless flow of “What ifs” from a curious three-year old, what the world needs most is a concerted effort to keep that inquisitive spirit alive.  Historians, scientists and fiction writers grapple with – and celebrate – the what ifs of life in wondrous ways.  Fortunately for readers, they share their questions through the written word.

And fortunately for library users the library offers what if literature in abundance.

Explore the tip of the library’s what if holdings now on display at the Minneapolis Central Library.  Volunteer Ruthann Ovenshire has combed the shelves for fiction titles that grapple with serious what if issues.  Her list of alternative histories includes these tomes:

  • Ali, Monica. Untold story : a novel. New York : Scribner, 2011.
  • Auster, Paul. Man in the dark.New York : Henry Holt, 2008. 1st ed.
  • Carter, Stephen L. The impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 1st ed.
  • Chabon, Michael. The Yiddish policemen’s union : a novel. New York : HarperCollins Publishers, c2007. 1st ed.
  • Conroy, Robert. 1942 : a novel. New York : Ballantine Books, c2009.
  • Gingrich, Newt and William R. Forstchen. Pearl Harbor : a novel of December 8th. New York : St. Martin’s, 2009.
  • King, Stephen. 11/22/63 : a novel. New York : Scribner, 2011.
  • Lowy, Jonathan. Elvis and Nixon : a novel.New York : Crown Publishers, c2001. 1st ed.
  • Roth, Philip. The plot against America. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
  • Tarr, Judith. Pride of kings. New York : Roc, c2001.

Science fiction authors revel in exploring life’s what if’s.  Some of the leaders among science fiction authors of alternatives include these – check their websites for details:

Find their books at the library or at your favorite sci fi bookstore.

Some What If enthusiasts share their findings through websites or blogs.  What if you were to fire up your imagination by exploring some of these digital options:

What if you have other historical or science fiction titles that fit the What if genre?  Tell the library, tell a friend, post a not here..


Twin Cities writers Peter Geye & Thomas Maltman read new novels, discuss sense of place, at Northeast Library

Thomas Maltman and Peter Geye have more than a little in common.  Both are Minnesota writers whose fiction, prose and essay works create and then explore the sense of place.  Recent works by the two authors are set in an environment that is familiar to Minnesota readers and increasingly known to readers everywhere.  Maltman and Geye will share their experience and their thoughts on the sense of place at a reading and book discussion on Thursday evening, November 8, at the Northeast Library, 2200 Central Avenue NE in Minneapolis.

Maltman’s most recent work, set to be published by Soho Press in January, is entitled Little Wolves.  The story unfolds during a tragic drought that is driving families from their farms on the Minnesota prairie.  The book delves into the lives of individuals and families while it explores the sense of place in small-town America. One reviewer writes that the author “weaves together elements of folklore and Norse mythology while being driven by a powerful murder mystery.”

Maltman’s first novel, The Night Birds, won a number of literary awards including selection by the American Library Association as an “Outstanding Book for the College Bound.”  Maltman earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from Minnesota State University-Mankato. Those who cannot wait until the publication of Little Wolves may enjoy reading a lengthy excerpt online.

The Lighthouse Road is also a second novel for local author Peter Geye.  His earlier work, Safe from the Sea, is a staple on library shelves.

Geye’s newer book, published by Unbridled Press, is set in the rugged landscape of northern Minnesota in the late 1900’s and the early years of the 20th Century.  The novel explores the lives of Norwegian immigrants living in what is now known as the Arrowhead Region along the North Shore.  Geye writes of real life in the lumberjack camp, in a small town, even a skiff riding the waves of Lake Superior.  At the heart of his work is a penetrating description of how the mood and atmosphere of a setting shapes the lives of the denizens of the area.

A Twin Cities native Geye holds a PhD degree from Western Michigan University and a Masters degree from New Orleans University.

The joint appearance of these two local authors will be 6:30-8:00 p.m. at the Northeast Library.  The reading and discussion is sponsored by Friends of the Northeast Library.

The evening is free and open to the public.  Off-street parking is available on the West side of the Library or hop the #10 bus that runs frequently on Central Avenue.


Walking Windom Park — and more

For several reasons, most notably the glorious days of an ideal Minnesota autumn, I’ve been walking a lot in recent weeks.  This week I did stop for coffee and found myself on a pedestrian’s holiday reading the recent Journal piece written by Hilary Reeves, communications director for Bike Walk Twin Cities.  As I walked on I started formulating my own thoughts about walking  — the plusses and the problems of one who lives in Stretchers and disdains the very thought of a pedicure.

We all know that walking is good for the bod, even a bod that’s been around the block – literally and figuratively – more than a few times.  It’s also good for the mind – lots of time to craft the perfect retort, the clever ditty, the letter to the editor, or probably the great American novel for well-shod walkers with literary talents.  I muse about what Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote of Thoreau, who communed with nature and eschewed city sidewalks. “The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house, he did not write at all.”

Lacking the bucolic escape to Walden Pond  — and Thoreau’s way with words –I’m an urban walker with a penchant for walks in Windom Park.  As such, I love to deconstruct the neighborhoods I trod – why the Tudor house on the corner?  Why the row of cozy cottages that bear the indelible mark of post-WWII vintage design?  Why the abandoned shop on the corner that once let families dash out for a quart of milk , a loaf of bread  or a handful of penny candy without driving to the mall.

On summer days I ponder the pied-colored hieroglyphics that foretell what’s about to happen with the plumbing, the electricity or some other mysterious city development project.  The complexity of the coded information gives rise to wild images of which public utility is about to break ground in the hood.

Walking can also engender deep thoughts about the barriers impeding the progress of the city walker – uneven sidewalks that could use a warning stripe if the city lacks the finances to restore the cement, the unleashed dog that threatens to clear the chain link fence in a single bound, bikers who haven’t got the message that the bike lanes are for their personal use, and most of all, the inevitable snow banks that rise at every corner, then freeze so that pedestrians are effectively frozen in captivity while the school bus  or Metro Transit speeds by unaware of their diminutive presence.

Rodgers and Hammerstein notwithstanding, I actually prefer to walk alone. A high-energy pacer would intimidate me.  Besides, I like to choose my own erratic path, to stop and examine the particulars of a site, to chat with neighbor kids, or to quit when I’m too tired, too cold, or if I want to get back to the computer so I can download my musings.

Of late I have been narrowing my thoughts to some forthcoming walks that add purpose to my idle pedestrian ambles.  There are scores of purposeful walks, of course, these are just some with which I am personally involved.  Every walker his a similar slate of walks for a cause.

  • First is the Raise Our Collective Voices to Say No walk and rally next  Saturday, October 20.  The walk is planned to alert voters in North and Northeast Minneapolis to the pernicious implications of the Voter ID Amendment that will face voters on November 6.          
  • Or there’s the Walk to End Hunger, a monumental collaboration in which walkers of every stripe and stature will gather at the MOA early Thanksgiving morning.  It’s a fundraiser sponsored by several hunger-related organizations working in tandem to address the travesty of Minnesotans lack of access to essential food resources.
  • Also playing in my mind are plans underway for the annual President’s Walk in Northeast Minneapolis.  It’s not till February but it’s this neighborhood’s very special way ro honoring our nation’s presidents by walking or biking the streets on which we live, running from Washington to McKinley and (sort of) beyond.  It’s a great neighborhood event during which neighbors celebrate the presidents and the history of Northeast.  Intrepid walkers are delighted that the 2013 walk has caught the attention of some hearty bikers who will defy the wintry odds by peddling the presidential route.  Plans are percolating – details later.

It’s great that walking offers a low-cost fitness routine.  Walking can also promote social justice and political change.  Still, if the sages ask me why my saunters are wasted on the earth and sky, I’ll tell them that, if neighborhoods are made for seeing, then walking is its own excuse for being.

John R. Finnegan – Visionary, Leader, Indomitable Advocate for the Right to Know

Nearly 25 years ago the fledgling Minnesota Coalition on Government Information adopted the mission to advocate for systemic change in policies and practices that support open government at the state and local levels.  The first action of the Coalition was to sponsor an annual event and award to promote awareness of the public’s right to know information by and about their government.


Echoing initiatives at the federal level the Minnesota Coalition members decided to celebrate Freedom of Information Day on March 16, a date chosen to honor the  life and work of James Madison, key framer of the Constitution and the First Amendment.


A corollary decision by the Coalition was to annually honor a Minnesota individual or organization that had taken a lead in support of open government.  When the question came to naming the state’s Freedom of Information Award the decision was both unanimous and from the heart.


John R. Finnegan, crusader for open government, was our hero – more than a symbol, intrepid toiler in the thorny bramble of bureaucratic and legislative resistance.  It was John who stood out to Coalition members who recognized John’s vision, leadership and unstinting efforts to tackle the devil in the details of crafting – and adopting — laws and policies ensure the public right to information by and about their government.


John’s proactive defense of open government flowed from his experience as a leader in journalism at the local and national levels where he stood, alone at times, as a defender of the First Amendment and the right to know.  His gaze never wavered from the legislative and bureaucratic predilection to ignore or evade the Minnesota’s laws and policies relating to open meeting, data practices and the need for constant oversight.


At the national level, John’s voice rose about the din.  In 2011 when he was inducted into the Freedom of Information Hall of Fame John delivered a brilliant defense of freedom of information that moved an audience to their feet.  His words delivered on that day will be remembered.


Though it is acknowledged that John had a “trunkful of awards,” the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award is unique.  This award is not for but about its namesake.  Each year on Freedom of Information Day the award will honor the life and inestimable contributions of John R. Finnegan, a man I have long described as Minnesota’s Patron Saint of open government.  John’s was a good life well lived defending the rights of the governed in an informed democracy.