Minneapolis Funtime, Part Oneby ben / Jun 03, 2012
Editor's Note: After a brief hiatus, our friend and guest blogger Ben Hallman is back in action. This is the first part of his chronicle of a recent trip to Minneapolis, MN. It's a truly interesting piece, containing all the scathing humor and misanthropy we expect from Ben, but also some meaningful, real-life heaviness. There's probably some beer in there somewhere too. Check out Ben's other blog posts here, after you're done enriching your life with this one. -ETP
Before we begin, a warning:
The following story will have some pretty graphic, perhaps disturbing imagery, a whole shitload of profanity, and one oddly metaphoric sighting of a former WWE Superstar. This article is as true as my ego will allow, and my opinions on Minneapolis-St. Paul and its fine citizens and doctors are mine and mine alone. Also, I’ve very aware that, as a thirty-three year old, traveling across the country lengthwise with one’s mother pushes a person squarely into loserdom. But my Mom drank beer with me every night and fell in love with Surly’s Coffee Bender (5.5% ABV, 93, 98), so back off, man. She’s a scientist.
If You Think The Plane Ride’s Scary, Just Wait ‘Til We Get There
There are better ways to spend thirty-five minutes of one’s life than running through Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport with one’s arthritic sixty-year-old mother trailing further and further behind. Of course, there are much worse ways as well, but I was more concerned with catching a flight to Minneapolis-St. Paul from the ATL than the suffering of others. Besides, the plane was boarding in Gate B2, which was waaaaay the hell over there, while we were just getting off our first flight in Gate Waaaay The Hell Over Here.
Which was why I found myself charging through Hartsfield like a tubby, suitcase-lugging bat out of hell, only to constantly turn around and go charging back to my mom, who was audibly growing shin splints as she struggled to keep up. Her habit of constantly stopping to check maps and signs and arrival/departure listings didn’t help, grating horribly against my male need to impulsively GO FORWARD and worry about where we ended up when we ended up there. As a result, my mom kept telling me to “Go on, and tell them to wait for me,” which I actually pondered a couple times before deciding to walk slowly rather than abandon the woman who gave me life. Tough decision, though.
Of course, in classic sitcom style, we arrived just in time to gate B2, only to discover the flight crew for our next plane is diddly-fucking around on the other side of the airport, and they’d get to our gate only after they got their diddles fucked. And even more so straight out of Sitcomia, when the pilot came by to give the ticket-taker the news of the delay, he set off a deafening door alarm upon entering the ticket area, giving us five full minutes of an unknown siren blaring what sounded a lot like the Aflac duck on PCP.
At this point, I’ll mention the drugs.
I don’t fly well. I’m not nearly as bad as I once was, but I still see airplanes more as a nuisance and health risk than a convenient form of travel. As a result, I usually require some form of psychoreactive chemical help to make it through a flight. (PLEASE NOTE: All said chemicals are perfectly legal and safe, according to the guy who sells them to me out of the back of his idling van.)
I’d taken a couple valium before we left the house, which had done their job and kept me calm and manageable before and through our initial flight from Charleston to Atlanta. I’d only thought about a fiery, plummeting death a few hundred times rather than a few thousand, and mostly had zoned out to Silver Mt. Zion on my iPod. But the sprint through Hartsfield sent billions of little Valium particles blasting their way through my blood-brain barrier, so by the time I arrived at Gate B2 I was very winded and very, very, very relaxed.
I stood at B2 feeling like the world was an oyster and my existence was the Tabasco and Absolut Peppar. The blaring siren had the same effect on me as the South Korean man noisily eating Checkers to my left. Both were sources of endless fascination, but not of any consequence to my immediate being at all.
(I’m assuming Checkers Man was South Korean because his backpack had “KOREA” stitched across the front in large colorful lettering, followed by what I guess was a phrase written in Korean. Of course, he could have been Japanese and the message on his backpack could have been “KOREA is a really shitty place.” Luckily, I’m a white American male, so such things don’t have to concern me.)
My consciousness floated around the terminal like a butterfly while the siren wailed nonstop, my only real concern being whether or not I had time to run back to the Sweetwater Draft House & Grill I’d seen somewhere in the airport. Fortunately for me, my mom, and all my other fellow flyers, the crew arrived before I could drift back into the general Hartsfield madness in search of Sweetwater IPA (6.3% ABV, 91, 97). The siren stopped, my perception of past, present, and future coalesced long enough for me to ooze through the jetway, and I melted into a tiny, angular window seat a few rows behind the wing.
I slept on the plane...
...only to wake up near landing time, as we passed over acres and acres of wind farms. The windmills themselves must have been gigantic, seeing as we were still incredibly high in the air, yet I could see the individual turbine blades spinning slowly and effortlessly across the plains. I thought, "That seems like a pretty good idea," and then fell in and out of a drug-induced stupor until it was time for us to leave the plane.
This next event has no importance whatsoever to the rest of this tale, but I’ll include because I found it peculiar: Checkers Man smacked an old lady in the face with his luggage while removing it from the overhead bin. The two obviously weren’t traveling together, yet Checkers Man made no indication that he noticed and/or cared that he’d done anything wrong. Then, oddly enough, the old lady did the same. She silently took a Samsonite Carry-on to the dome in the name of politeness. Or maybe she’d been knocked silly. Either way, she did nothing other than slowly follow Checkers Man down the aisle and into the Minneapolis airport.
By now I’d entered a state of surreal, hyper-observant detachment, where I could read almost everything happening around me, yet gave a shit about absolutely none of it. Which was a good thing, because when we stepped up to the car rental counter, one of the most terrible, regrettable conversations I’ve ever heard happened between the rental agent and my mother, which culminated in the lady at the desk saying, “Your skin looks soooo good! I thought you two were husband and wife when you first walked up.”
My mom blushed and tittered like a schoolgirl at the compliment. I thanked god for Valium as my subconscious stored away the single most horrifying, disturbing, and offensive comment I’d ever heard, saving it to torment me with at a later date.
The drive from the airport to the hotel was dull and uneventful and I marveled at the landscape, which looked a hell of a lot like North Georgia. I also marveled at the roadwork. The miles and miles of roadwork. Entire networks of highways and interstates were being dismantled by the roadwork. I was staggered by the number of detours and forced directional changes, and none were acknowledged by the rental car‘s GPS, which instead urged me at every chance to take a left turn into a gaggle of DOT workers standing around a dump truck.
This constant need to second-guess our computerized guide would have been highly dangerous were it not for the strange trait of Minnesota drivers to (now this is fucking nuts) drive their cars well. Which of course is completely unlike the South, where we equate driving faster with driving better, where we race like The Bandit with Smokey on our tail just to go to the store to get a bag of Doritos. I was prepared to face driving in Minneapolis the same way I face driving in Atlanta, where decorum states that you must go fast enough that if you do get into an accident, you and your car are vaporized completely and therefore do not slow up traffic.
But no, in Minnesota people did the speed limit, used their blinkers, observed yield signs. Weird shit, I know. We arrived safely and soundly at the Metrodome Holiday Inn, right next to the Metrodome, home of the Vikings until they blow it up in a couple years. We got our room, parked in the garage, unloaded our luggage. My mom was hungry. We went out the front of the hotel to find a restaurant.
And then, all that is wonderful and beautiful about beer and life fell squarely upon my shoulders.
I’ll credit my stepfather, the Grand-dude (not making that up,) for booking the hotel arrangements. He even mentioned to a couple people that he thought there was a brewery near where we were staying. Not to me, however, so I took three steps out of the hotel and thirty feet to my left was the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery and Restaurant, brewer of Masala Mama IPA (6% ABV, 97, 100) one of THE best IPAs made in the US. It rates a perfect 100 on Ratebeer. Or, you could support Anheuser-Busch Inbev and look it up on BeerAdvocate.*
*Ben has a bone to pick with BA, something that will be fully explained in due time. For now, take his anger in stride and continue. -ETP
Masala Mama is one of those rare IPAs that beer geeks love to name-drop because they know its potency; this IPA is up in hallowed ground, amongst legendary India Pale Ales like Ballast Point Sculpin (7% ABV, 98, 100), Tröegs Nugget Nectar (7.5% ABV, 97, 100), and Surly Furious (6.2% ABV, 96, 100). And there were gallons and gallons of it, fresh as could be, yards away from me. I was staggered, to say the least. I figured I’d do a little beer hunting while I was up in Minnesota, not camp right at the doorstep of Beer Shangri-La. My mom limped behind me as I walked awestruck up to the restaurant and took a patio table outside.
I opened the beer menu, and there it was, Masala Mama IPA, on the regular everyday beer menu, available anytime. I ogled and drooled and ordered one and just like that, all logic upon which I base my opinions on beer was ejected violently from my head. Let me explain: I live in Charleston, a city which has two amazing, world-class IPAs brewed there on a regular basis, COAST HopArt and Westbrook IPA. But I have access to these beers, and, as I’ve said before, the best beer is beer you can’t buy at home. Thus, I sat on a patio in front of the Minneapolis Town Hall brewery, sipping super-fresh Masala Mama IPA and enjoying the breezy, insect-free evening we can only dream about in the Lowcountry, thinking I was drinking the greatest beer of all time.
I might have still had a little Valium in my system.
For the second beer I went foreign, which might seem offensive when at a brewpub, but hear me out. They had Bockor Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge (5.5% ABV, 94, 99) on tap. If you don’t know what that is and you like sour beer, FIND OUT NOW. Normally, I would never go off-site when at a brewery, but some draft beers you don’t pass up, and the face-exploding sourness of Jacobins Rouge proves always irresistible. Also, I really wanted my mom to try a true insane Belgian sour. Which, of course, nearly exploded her face.
Mom found relief from my sour ale in Town Hall’s Blueberry-Infused Hefeweizen (5.9% ABV, XX), which she immediately loved. I didn’t try the beer, it being much too purple for my manhood to take, but she assured me it was one of the best beers she’d ever had. And this reaction, good folks, is why I love craft beer: that perfect moment where someone who drinks a lot of mass-produced swill finally discovers a craft beer they adore. No, my mom didn’t dig the IPA or the Sour, but she’s now a fan of craft-brewed fruit hefeweizens, and, hell, I’ll take that.
The food was awesome, by the way, my Greek Burger cooked to perfection and introducing me to the delicious concept of tzatziki sauce on a hamburger. We returned to the hotel room bloated and tired, and my mom fell asleep on her bed within four seconds of sitting on it.
Okay. You may have noticed that, up until now, I haven’t mentioned my reason for going up to Minneapolis in the first place. I wish I could say that I was just a strange person that occasionally likes to take his mother to drink beer in Minnesota. That would definitely be more pleasurable for all of us. But not true, unfortunately. I was in Minneapolis to go to the University of Minnesota Medical Center. I gots a health issue. Bummer.
My issue, and you may want to skip this if you like making eye contact with me, is coleo-rectal in nature, is unbelievably painful, and, as of yet, is undiagnosed. The illness itself is nothing too disgusting, but the location of it, well, ROYALLY FUCKING SUCKS. It started in November of 2009, hospitalized me for ten days in March of 2010, and has plagued me ever since. The doctors in Minnesota represented the eighth, ninth, and tenth specialists I’d seen about the problem, and, while I did enjoy my meal at Town Hall, I was anxious as hell the whole time, dreading the trip to various clinics the next day.
After we’d gotten back to the hotel room, my wife called me and reminded me of some medicine I needed to pick up for my appointments the next day (ASK NOTHING FURTHER). I pitched a fit, not wanting to go buy said medicine, assuring her my life was bad enough without the further embarrassment of buying icky things in strange Minnesota drugstores. But, as usual, she won out.
It had been a couple hours since the Cuvee des Jacobins
...so I decided to brave the strange city of Minneapolis by myself, a lone warrior in search of a CVS with a hopefully indifferent clerk. I passed two things of interest on my way to the CVS, both of which I investigated on my return trip.
The first was a White Castle. Now, I know I’d eaten a monstrously large Greek Burger slathered in tzatziki sauce a mere one hundred and twenty minutes before, but, being from the South, White Castles are only told of in legend and myth. To see one standing there in brick and mortar, or stucco and sheetmetal, rather, left me with no option other than to order a couple burgers. Which were horrid little salt bombs of cheese and oil, to the surprise of no one, I’m sure. I realize now that perhaps eating them after sobering up was my error. Seems that the rules that apply to Krystal are law in all steamed tiny-burger joints.
After surviving White Castle, I wandered to my next point of interest: Zipp’s Liquors. This neon-imbued and vibrantly painted building housed an impressive selection of beer, and it was here I bought my first six-pack, a mix of stuff magical and odd and nary to be seen in South Carolina. I picked up a bottle of Tyranena Scurvy IPA (6.5% ABV, 89, 97), an Odell IPA (7% ABV, 94, 98), a Staples Mill Labrys Red Wheat Ale (5% ABV, XX, XX). I also grabbed a can of Surly Hell (5.1% ABV, 88, 91) for the hotel room and a local Raspberry Lambic for my wife back home. I could have spent much, much more, and desperately wanted to, but there’s only so many bottles a person can cram into their oversized suitcase.
I walked away from Zipp's happy as shit, buzzing off the high of buying beer your friends have never seen before. I got into my car, and, before I pulled away, a cab parked a couple of empty spaces down from me. What happens next is an example of how life bitchslaps the self-pity right out of you, and always does it when you’re least prepared for it. It’s also a bit disturbing, or at least it was for me and my sheltered, privileged life.
From the back of the cab, with the help of the cabbie, came a man with no hands. The radius and ulna bones of his forearms both extended fully from his elbows, and the skin was wrapped tightly around both like scar tissue, leaving the space between the bones visible, in effect making it appear he had two long fingers where his forearms should be. The cabbie assisted the man to the front door of the store, with me staring yet desperately trying not to want to, feeling embarrassed and ashamed and angry about the little woe-is-me session I’d had a while earlier.
I returned to the hotel room chastened and quiet, tiptoeing around so as to not wake my mother. I finished the night watching the Deadliest Catch in the dark, not drinking any of the beer I’d bought and thinking about the guy from the cab. I know some would like me to give some moral to running across him, to say that me seeing him was a sign or some other bullshit, but to do so would be an vile insult to this guy visiting the liquor store and getting stared at by some South Carolina hick. His hardships were not afflicted upon him just so he could teach me a lesson at some point. His life is unimaginably more difficult than mine, and his story much deeper and sadder and better. I fell asleep wondering if I was an asshole for being immensely glad not to be the guy from the back of the cab.
END PART ONE.