Another Range boy heads down highway for blood & spoils

Today I am on my way to the Twin Cities to prepare for tomorrow night’s Great Northern Radio Show in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. It’s our 14th program, the first show we’ve done in the metro area after almost four years of touring small towns and cities in Northern Minnesota.

Growing up on the Iron Range — especially as a kid who didn’t play sports or travel much — trips to the Cities almost seemed mystical, like spirit quests that would imprint your soul. These sojourns were only undertaken with reverence, the kind of respect granted to endeavors that cost most of my dad’s paycheck.

Now, as a grown-up with a mortgage, three kids, and a late onset of introversion, I still don’t travel to the Cities very often. When I do, it’s always for a distinct purpose — visits, gigs, and now for the first time: my beloved, weird little radio show.

The original advertisement for the station wagon my family would eventually inherent from my Swedish-American great-grandmother. For a number of years, it was the only vehicle I knew.

The original advertisement for the station wagon my family would eventually inherent from my Swedish-American great-grandmother. For a number of years, it was the only way to travel to the Twin Cities.

The first time I went to the Cities was a total surprise. I didn’t even really know the words Minneapolis and St. Paul, except as nouns floating out of my parents’ television at the trailer house in Zim. One day my parents told my sisters and I to get in the station wagon. We did. Instead of turning north on Bobby Aro’s “Highway Number 7,” to go to our grandparents’ house, my dad turned south. Why? Where are we going, mom? Where are we going, dad? They stayed quiet for a long time, until we noticed that there were suitcases in the back seat. Our questioning grew more frantic. They finally broke. We were going to see my uncle and aunt in Golden Valley, a northern suburb of Minneapolis. I don’t remember any more details, except for sneaking a ginger ale when no was looking from the kitchen of Uncle Brian’s ranch home in the suburbs.

The Coke machine looked like this one.

The Coke machine looked like this one.

Another time we visited my uncle’s family we went to the Como Zoo in St. Paul. I really wanted a Coke from the pop machine at the zoo, but my mom said “no.” I walked up the machine and punched the giant red “Coke” button and the machine, as if by magic, dispensed one frosty can of Coca-Cola. I can remember my uncle’s distinctive laugh and the words, “Looks like he’s gettin’ a Coke.” This might have been the greatest moment of my life. To be determined.

Another time we went to see my great-grandmother in some kind of nursing home or hospice house. She had a stroke and could barely move or speak. At one point, her hearing aid gave an enormous blast of feedback, so loud that all of us could hear it. She let out a groan and lifted her arm out of the bed, trying to reach for her ears. My uncle Jeff leapt out of his chair to turn down the hearing aid. Someone said, “Wow, the strength it must have taken her to lift her arm in her condition.” That was the last time I saw her.

We inherited our station wagon from her, but that brings me to the faulty nature of childhood memories. I thought we drove the Cutlass Cruiser to the Cities for my first trip down, but that couldn’t have been. We didn’t really take my dad’s old Nova down there, did we? There was a big sliding hill in my great-aunt’s neighborhood. That was really fun.

I can no longer tell which of these memories came first. It’s all a jumble, made worse by the fact that I’ve been down there again and again as an adult — averaging maybe three or four times a year. Most of my Northern Minnesota peers go more often; I feel I go enough.

The show this weekend feels like it’s coming together well, but who knows? The more I run the show, the more I realize that I don’t run the show. If you’d like to see the show, or listen in, click here.

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