Postcards from Tradocia

Category: minnesota life (Page 1 of 3)

The Great Get-Together

I’m not sure exactly why I like the Minnesota State Fair. Most everything in my psychological profile would contraindicate even going to such an event, let alone liking it: introversion, hatred of crowds, a general disdain for and unwillingness to participate in popular culture. And yet I love it. I enjoy the crowd, the inevitable stifling heat (with this year being the hottest Fair on record), the human spectacle, and soaking in the experience that is unique to our state.

One thing that makes the Fair easy to like is the transportation. Despite massive attendance (with over 1.7 million visitors in a two week period, averaging about 150,000 a 20130901-IMG_6083day), getting in and out is easy. It’s literally easier to go to the state fair than it is to visit the Mall of America on an average day, thanks to the well-placed park & ride lots and smooth-running shuttle buses. It’s all free, too – making for very little hassle.

What I truly enjoy, though, is that despite its size, the Fair is a conglomeration of local entities, with local employees and local stuff. Big corporations are represented there, to be sure – there’s a Culligan building and John Deere tractors and Gander Mountain stage shows – but it feels authentic despite those exceptions. There’s no Burger King or McDonald’s booth, and in an era of corporate sponsorship for everything (TCF Bank Stadium on a college campus for fuck’s sake), the Fair is still just the “Minnesota State Fair.”

It also is a reminder of Minnesota’s agricultural foundation, as both a link to the past as well as a window into that vast part of the state that cosmopolitan Twin Citians would often like to forget. I love it that an event attended by nearly two million people who mostly eat fried things and drink beer also has a building where people’s corn and soybeans are evaluated and compared. It’s refreshingly real; nobody is entering the dahlia or dairy goat contests ironically, but with clear-eyed earnestness that seems all but dead in the “sustainable urban core.”

The photography is a delight, with the variety of people, colors, textures, and generally weird shit. People photography is tough for an introvert like me, though, especially since most people react strangely when I’m wielding my massive SLR.

As an aside, if I hear one more time about “wow, that camera sure is big! holy crap! can you take pictures of the moon with that?,” I’m going to fucking puke. Yes, I know it’s big, that’s why my neck is so damn sore. Leave me alone! Another favorite line of conversation is “wow, that looks expensive! How much did it cost?” You’ve got an iPhone, asshole, look it up yourself. The model number is embroidered on the neck strap that I’m currently using to garrotte you.

Eating is obviously one of the highlights of the event (almost as an afterthought, he realizes). Deep-fried apple pie sounds horribly greasy (think of the old McDonald’s apple pies, before they were lawyered out of existence or something), but I can assure you that it was anything but – indeed, it was divine, the best thing I’ve had there in years.

I’m already looking forward to next year…

The Subtle Pleasures of Suburban Life

Though I never consciously sought to avoid it, I never imagined myself becoming the quintessential suburban man, wielding mower and grill tongs and sprinkler apparatus; and indeed, I’m amazed by the speed at which the transformation occurred. I never looked down on suburban dwellers, like some – I spent my formative years as one, after all – but I certainly had no great desire to fertilize a lawn or paint a shed or any of that other homeowner-type crap. Additionally, most of my lawn care has been in the context of Army duty, which leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth about the whole process.

However, after a little more than a year in our new house, I’ve found that there’s a subtle pleasure in those mundane tasks of nurturing and building, improving and organizing, structuring the home in a pleasing manner for yourself and others. The lawn seems like some echo of humanity’s tendencies since the development of agriculture: a man’s plot, tending and observing it with a critical eye, dealing with living things but bending them to his will, rather than living wild among them. Or maybe it’s a metaphor for the American family farm, writ small, a green square of earth in miniature for our enjoyment rather than for sustenance.

A more cynical sort (spare me your laughter, those of you reading this who know me well) might describe the lawn as a representation of the American propensity for tacky, pointless ornamentation, promiscuous consumerism, and blatant disregard for the order of nature. They might also hold it up as a symbol of the crushing, soulless conformity inherited from the most hated of American eras, the 1950s, where the suburban ideal began to emerge. They might be right about all those things, but I would also argue that the suburban lifestyle developed because people wanted it that way.

People move to the suburbs for many reasons – to raise a family, have more space, peace and quiet, to be in a lower-density area in case of a zombie apocalypse – but mostly, they’re voluntary. I didn’t read a glossy brochure that blared, “Move to Conform-O Town! It’s Great Here!” – I moved here because I didn’t like living in the city. (Mrs. Melobi moved here because I twisted her arm, but that’s another story.)

I’ve adapted well to my new role, in any case; as an example, the house came with a lawn mower (a Honda of roughly 1986 vintage) and I immediately set about fixing it up, going so far as to paint it black so that it looked better. Who cares what your lawn mower looks like? I did, damn it – and let me tell you, that thing not only looks good, but it cuts a mean blade of grass, too. Thing purrs right along, too, despite being nearly as old as I am, and it also lacks a dead-man switch (thanks to having been built before we had things like “safety” and “liability concerns”), which is quite convenient.

See how thoroughly adapted I am? I just wrote a paragraph about my fucking lawn mower. But seriously, it’s awesome!

It’s not like I’m spending hours a day out there and thousands of dollars on grass care; I keep the mowing to thirty minutes each for front and back, with a quick trim and occasional watering. But it’s a strangely pleasant diversion to listen to my badass old lawn mower thrum along and wave at the neighbors and make things look nice (though not quite as nice as the neighbors, who probably have a lot more money invested in their lawn).

While mowing, I even had an encounter that I never would have had otherwise, when an old guy and his wife pulled up in a minivan with Illinois plates. They rolled down the window and related that he had grown up in the farmhouse where my house now stood, and he graduated from the local high school, class of 1943. The old man was completely deaf, and fairly screamed out the window at me about working at the gas station and raising sheep and chasing cows and joining the Navy. His wife said that the visited every year or so, to see how the old neighborhood was getting along, and that it had changed quite a bit (since all the houses on our block were built in 2003). It was nice chat, and interesting to hear about the history of the land that had once been farmed and was now my own little slice of green to tend. And I never would have talked to them, had I not been out mowing my suburban yard with my sweet custom-painted Honda.

Snowpocalypse 2010

Winter Dueler...

Even the Winter Duelers were no use

Our next truck will have 4 wheel drive and our next house will be in the suburbs.

Those are the two main lessons of Snowpocalypse 2010, a storm that I suppose will go down in memory like the Halloween blizzard of 1991, except that it actually happened during winter, which means it may just be subsumed into the general misery of Minnesota’s famous season.

The first lesson may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget that while we average 45.6″ of snow a year (source: Minnesota Climatology Working Group), it is usually spread out over five months (6-9″ per month, November through March). This makes for easy driving and quick clearing by the legions of plow trucks in the state’s employ.

Snow tires on the rear-wheel drive truck have been adequate (even good) for the last 3 seasons, but these conditions proved to be too much. It didn’t help that our street didn’t see a plow until about 6:30 PM Sunday, over 24 hours after the last snow fell.

So close

So close and yet so far

Just north of our house (by one block) is another city (as pictured at right), and it was with great frustration that I saw that the side streets north of the boundary were already plowed curb-to-curb by Sunday afternoon, while south of it (just 50 feet away! at bottom of photo) snow was piled up as if on a backcountry road.

Mrs. Melobi was sick all weekend and I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I was content to stay home, but by midday Sunday the cabin fever was starting to set in. Maddeningly, I saw cars drive by that had no right to be in snow that deep, and yet seemed to be traversing the shin-deep ruts without difficulty. I knew, though, that either of our vehicles would be doomed should I dare venture out of the driveway – and I raged. It was almost as if everyone else was driving in a world with different physical laws. How else would that little Toyota Corolla be driving around in a blizzard? How did that minivan survive, when the snow between the ruts was up to the grill and the woman driving had the gas pedal to the floor, tires howling on packed snow as she plowed that snow at 5 miles per hour (with the speedo at 40 or 50)?

Maybe the difference wasn’t physics but foolhardiness – with nowhere to go and the risk so high, my mind boggled at the prospect of even making the attempt. But next time, it won’t be an issue, since we’ll be living in a suburb that plows.

IOTD: Monday, 3 May

NewGen tanker

NewGen and the Flying Booms, on tour!

In the parking lot this afternoon. Party trailer for Boeing’s new tanker aircraft? Why here? We don’t have a tanker wing…

La Vie en Rose


Pink brings all the bees to the yard

Spring has come early, it seems, which is nice for me since I missed pretty much all of winter in Georgia. This is the bush right outside our front door. I’m glad Mrs. Melobi takes care of the yard and plants pretty things to look at – not only does it save me a lot of work (no grass!) but it also looks better in the spring than boulders or slab concrete would.


Came across an interesting short documentary about the surge in Iraq in 2007, from the Institute for the Study of War. It’s only 35 minutes and gives a good high-level overview of the situation and strategy, with interviews with the brigade commanders who were there, as well as GEN Petraeus and GEN Odierno, the #1 and #2 men in Iraq at the time. Check it out here.

Listening to Katrina

Last week, I came across a remarkable site called Listening to Katrina. It’s both a description of one family’s experience fleeing Hurricane Katrina and one man’s take on emergency preparedness.

I tore through the pages on his site in about two days, and immediately started taking his ideas to heart. To her great credit, Mrs. Melobi didn’t give me the stink-eye when I brought up the topic – indeed, she embraced it fully, even being the first to jump out the bedroom window as a test of our fire escape plan!

The great thing about the author’s ideas is that he is both a “survival enthusiast” and a pragmatic, regular guy. This gives his ideas a solid grounding in reality, which is different than many other writings about survival, which emphasize the Zombie Apocalypse sort of scenario, rather than the more prosaic Electrical-Fire-Burns-Your-House-Down scenario. He uses a lifeboat analogy to make this point:

Sit with me a moment in this lifeboat. There are a number of people here. Smart people. People with skills. People with forethought. Men and women of a Serious Nature. We ask our simple question, “So…what’s the plan?”, and they respond without skipping a beat. “We’re going to SURVIVE! We’ve got lots of SUPPLIES, and we can FISH and HUNT, and we know all the right things to do to LIVE in this LIFEBOAT! We KNOW how to distill SEA WATER, and we can DRINK our own URINE until the still is up and RUNNING!”

[snip] While I enjoy a nice warm glass of urine as much as the next guy, I really want to be in a different lifeboat. I don’t know about you, but I want to be in a lifeboat that is seaworthy, yes, but light and fast. I want to get back to dry land, cold beer, juicy steak, warm blankets, and hot pie as soon as possible. Drifting the open ocean with a bunch of people – no matter how skilled or prepared they are – is not my idea of life.

Indeed. If nothing else, thinking about disaster planning got me to clean out the file cabinet, and seeing the Mrs. crawl out the window was pretty humorous.

I plan to write more about my take on this guy’s ideas – his stuff is obviously pitched at a southern audience, living in the hurricane zone, and so doesn’t take into account the considerations of northern life. For now, though, I think everyone should read at least the first few pages of his stuff – it’s a real eye opener.

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