Sunday, April 12, 2015

Minnesota Trip 2015 - Days One through Four

Day 1 – Denver to Omaha

Had an uneventful trip to Omaha up I-80. Nothing special. Ran in and out of sprinkles, and it was cloudy all the way. Checked in to the Hawthorn Suites just off I-80 on 72nd. Not a bad place, but they said they were remodeling and we got one of the newly remodeled rooms. Not bad, but obviously done in a hurry by a contractor who was not only the low bidder but promised to do it on a schedule. Many things done half-assed. The kitchen was pretty sparsely equipped, but the room did have a decent bed.

We had dinner with ESM's folks at Olive Garden. Dinner was good and it was nice to see the two of them. After dinner we went back to their house and dropped off the stuff we brought for them. We brought ESM’s old Android tablet for her mom, and I got her hooked up with a Google account and showed her how to use it. We’ll see how she gets along. We also brought her a birthday present, which was a stationary bike pedal exerciser. She can use it while she is sitting and it shouldn’t put any pressure on her knees. We had a short, but nice, visit with them.

Day 2 – Omaha to Minneapolis

The next morning we got up and went to the hotel’s hot breakfast. Typical hot breakfast fair, although they had small breakfast burritos with eggs and sausage that were pretty tasty. After breakfast we prepped salads for the road, packed the rental car, an almost brand new 2015 Chevy Traverse LTZ AWD, and headed off towards Minneapolis.

It was not the most relaxing trip I have ever taken. I-80 was foggy most of the way to Des Moines. We kept seeing the many wind generators along I-80 come looming out of the fog. It was a bit disconcerting at times!

We saw signs for a Danish American Museum in Elk Horn, IA advertised on a billboard and decided to stop. What a neat museum! I had no idea such a place existed, especially in Iowa! Since my four-times great grandfather on my dad’s side came to this country from Denmark, that side of the family has always identified strongly with our Danish heritage. It was neat to see the museum’s collection of Danish artifacts, everything from diaries and photos, to samples of handicrafts and dishes, to the trunks they used to transport their belongings. Very cool. We watched a short video of an interview with a man from the area whose father immigrated in the early 1900s to Iowa. Made me tear up a bit, as his memories of his dad reminded me of my grandfather. They both had a very can-do attitude and spirit. I could see many parallels.

Before stopping in the gift shop to purchase a few souvenirs, we got to see a grand piano that Victor Borge donated to the museum. It was his personal instrument that came with him from Copenhagen when he was a young man, to the Virgin Islands and finally to the US. It was damaged in Hurricane Hugo, and has been restored. What a neat piece of history to find in the middle of small-town Iowa!

We then left the museum and headed back to I-80. By the time we reached Des Moines, we were both hungry and decided to stop for lunch. We ate in a pizza place called The Taste of New York Pizzeria. We both had meatball calzones that were indeed tasty, with good sauce! And the garlic knots will very definitely keep the vampires away!

We got back on the road and turned north on I-35 to head for Minneapolis. The drizzle we had been playing tag with all day started getting heavier. About 100 miles from Minneapolis, it became real rain that at times was so heavy the windshield wipers on high would not clear it off sufficiently. Then the temperature dropped, and the rain turned to snow. Snowflakes so big you could see them very clearly falling in front of you at 65MPH, and which made a splat on the window as big as a half-dollar! And here we are without our winter coats…oops!

As we rolled into Minneapolis, the snow changed back to rain but it was still coming down fairly hard. With the help of the GPS in the car, we located the hotel and got checked in. We were booked at the Residence Inn, in a southern Minneapolis suburb called Edina. After stowing our gear in the room, we decided that a shopping trip for booze and a jacket for ESM were in order. I had thrown one light jacket in before leaving, but forgot to get mine. So, we went out and found a liquor store, then went to a Super Target in the same area. ESM went in and bought a green and gray sweatshirt with a hood for her, and a nice umbrella big enough for both of us to fit under. We came back to the room, collapsed with a beer, watched a little TV and went to bed.

Day 3 – The Pre-sale

We woke up the next morning to more cloudy, rainy, snowy weather. However, the weather report said that it would be clearing by noon and by 5pm it would be sunny and 50 degrees. Well, we’ll see…  We went down to try this hotel’s hot breakfast, which was edible but disappointing. We decided to try somewhere else for breakfast tomorrow, even though the hotel breakfast was complimentary.

After breakfast, we decided to make a run to the location where the fabric garage sale was going to be held, so we could see the route and the parking in the light of day. After about an 11 mile trip across Minneapolis, we found the University of Minnesota Re-Use warehouse, the site of that night’s pre-sale. The route looked like it might be interesting at rush-hour, but didn’t seem to be too bad. We parked in the parking lot across from the building, and said, “Ok, now what…”

It did not take long to decide our next stop should be Duluth Trading Company. We’ve been customers online for a while, and have been looking forward to seeing their flagship store in Bloomington for some time. ESM was a bit disappointed that the store was rather normal looking, and in a strip mall. Not what she expected. However, we had a good time trying on stuff that we have only seen in their catalogs. We ended up getting a large bag of stuff; pants, shirts, frilly unmentionables, hats, and various other items. And we now know what stuff fits, and more importantly what stuff does not. Makes ordering online easier!

After shopping, we walked out into the bright sunshine and better than 50 degrees! Nice! After getting in the car, we decided it was time for lunch. Cortana on my phone recommended a place called the Twin Cities Grill, and after a quick chat with the GPS we were off. Turns out the restaurant was in the Mall of America, someplace I wanted to see anyway! So, we parked in the humongous parking garage (5th level, called Nevada, Row C, Section 12) and headed in through Macys.

I had heard the stories about MOA and how huge it was…but like a lot of other wonders, you really must see it to get the scale. The area in the center with all the kids’ rides, arcades, and various other amusement park-like stuff is indeed a sight to behold. I counted no less than five roller coasters in the space, including a log flume ride, along with a full-size Ferris wheel and various other rides. The engineering to get all of those to fit in the space is pretty amazing. We wandered around the mall and found the restaurant. Food was high-class pub food and good, but the service was a bit indifferent. Given their prices, I found that somewhat surprising. ESM had a walleye sandwich, and I had beef stroganoff. We had fried cheese curds as an appetizer. Talk about feeling your arteries harden!

After lunch we wandered around MOA, looked at the Lego display which is quite impressive! I marveled at the 30-foot high mech robot made out of Legos. ESM enjoyed the Lego minotaur and sabre-tooth tiger. And we both liked the dragon/sea serpent! We decided that we had had enough walking around and wanted to rest a bit before the fabric pre-sale later that evening. So, we managed to find our way back to the car, which is in itself no small feat! And drove back to the hotel.

Just before 5pm, we began getting ready to go to the sale. We put our game faces on, psyched each other up, and practiced our body-check-little-old-ladies moves. We grabbed the two large Ikea bags we brought for the occasion and headed out. Traffic was about like you would expect on a Friday night in Minneapolis, apparently. Our arrival time of 5:50pm, as predicted by my phone’s navigation, was spot-on. We parked the car and headed to the building across the street. There were about a hundred people in line in front of us. Oh boy, this looks like it may be interesting!

At precisely 6:03pm, they opened the doors and a cheer went up from the crowd! Ok, here we go. The line of people began to file in and it moved very quickly despite the numbers. As we entered the front doors, there were volunteers handling the crowd. Most folks were waiting to pay their fee to get in, as the pre-sale was $30 a person for entrance. We had taken advantage of their apparently new ability to pay for tickets in advance online, and so we were ushered into the practically empty will-call line.  After checking our names off their list, we immediately went in. Nice!

The warehouse looked small from the outside, but was much bigger than I expected inside. They had cleared out two rows of space to accommodate the garage sale, which amounted to about 10% of the total space available. The rest was taken up by UM’s equipment cast offs. If you have ever seen the kinds of stuff universities sell to the public when their useful lives are over, this was pretty typical.

The garage sale consisted of two rows, each about 400 feet long, with tables down the middle and shelves lining both sides. One row’s tables were piled up with all kinds of fabric pieces in all shapes, sizes and colors. Tons of it, literally. There was some organization to it, with specialty stuff separated out, but mostly it was a free-for-all. Dig through the piles and find what you wanted. Along the outside, the shelves held more fabric, yarn, and all manner of other stuff on them. Thread, notions, bags of miscellany, anything you could think of. ESM and I headed down one side of the aisle and stopped at the fake fur. With kitties, fake fur is useful stuff around our house. We bagged up several pieces we thought would be useful. ESM then stared pawing through, h the other stuff and had soon filled up the first bag. She dished the bag to me and I went to stash it in an area they had set aside for people to keep their stuff while they are still looking around. After the ladies put a tag with my name on the bag, I headed back into the fray. I found ESM knee-deep in silks, having found several pieces she liked. My job is to play Sherpa/blocker for her. I hold the bag, grab stuff she hands to me, block her from getting run into, and body-check people out of the way when she moves. It’s a good system. She filled the second bag up, and after retreating out for a moment to catch our breath, she wanted to head back in for another pass. I told her she was going in alone, and I would go check out the second aisle for her.

The second aisle was all of the sewing machines and equipment on auction, as well as books, patterns and a section at the back they call UFOs. In this case, UFO stands for Unidentified Fabric Object. It is all the stuff that gets donated that does not fit into their other categories. Lots of unfinished projects and weird things. When I went back to find her, she had her arms full of a large bolt of wool and several other pieces. I took them and told her there was more stuff she would want to see in the next aisle. After dropping the last of her booty with the other bags we headed over. She and I both found some patterns for clothing we wanted, and picked up a couple of other small items. Now came the moment of truth…checkout.

As we got into line, a volunteer came up and asked if she could help us tally up what we had found. All the fabric is generally marked with a price, but given the large variation in markings, it is obviously done by the donators, not the volunteers. So we began going through the bags, reading off prices to the volunteer and she wrote them down. When we were done, she handed me the piece of paper and said we could wait there for the next cashier to be available. Quickly, one opened up and we moved in. The cashier began adding up the tally sheet, and another volunteer explained that if we wanted to, we could “round-up” the amount and the extra would become a donation to the textile program/museum at the university. Not a bad racket! We agreed, and ESM filled out the form with name, rank and serial number. As she was finishing up, the cashier had the total for us. I squinted my eyes, expecting to feel the pain of $300+, but was pleasantly surprised with a reasonable $149. Not bad for almost more fabric than ESM and I both could carry! We rounded up to $160 and happily paid.

After walking part-way back to the car, we decided it would be easier to park ESM with all the fabric and bring the car to her! So I collected the car, we loaded up the bags and headed for the hotel. Successful hunt, high fives all around!

After dropping the fabric at the hotel, we decided it was time to celebrate. We found a local ice cream shop not too far from the hotel called, aptly enough, The Neighborhood Ice Cream Shop. I didn’t feel guilty at all, after all the walking we did that day!

Day 4 – More Fabric Shopping

After a little Googling, I found a place for breakfast on Saturday called the Bunny Bar and Grill. We headed over and had a good breakfast, with ESM having their Cinnamon Swirl French Toast, and I had a pork chop and eggs. Both breakfasts came with a complementary Bloody Mary, Screwdriver, or juice. ESM got a Screwdriver, and I had a Bloody Mary. They did not skimp on the alcohol! I didn’t dare finish mine, even though it was good, as I was driving!

ESM had found another fabric outlet store in east Minneapolis she wanted to go to, so after inputting the coordinates into the GPS, we headed out. Turned out it was WAY east of town, in a suburb called Brooklyn Park. After winding our way through an industrial park, we found it. ESM had said it was 30,000 square feet inside, which I knew was pretty big. What I was not prepared for was how tall it was! Warehouse shelving very much like what you would see in a Costco or Sams Club and almost as tall! And over 30 rows of it, plus many, many more eight-foot racks of other fabric. There had to have been several million bolts of fabric in there. I have never seen so much fabric in one place in my life. Unreal!

After spending about two and a half hours in there, trying to see/feel everything, ESM was overwhelmed. In the end, we had found eleven bolts of stuff she wanted. All the cutting is self-service for anything under 5 yards, so we waited for a spot at the cutting table to open up. After a bit, we were finally able to get a space. We got a system going, and between she and I we had it all cut and labeled in a matter of fifteen minutes. We then looked around and noticed that there did not seem to be any employees clearing bolts away from the cutting tables. We found someone who worked there and asked what we needed to do with the bolts after they were cut. “Put them back where you found them,” was her response. Really!?! After spending two and a half hours wandering all over the store, we are supposed to remember where all these came from!?! Yikes! She took a little pity on us and took a couple that we could not identify out of our cart, saying she would put them back. But we had to retrace our steps and try to remember where they all came from! It took us longer to put them back than it did to cut them! We then paid them for what we had cut and headed out to the car.

After we both sat down in the car, we decided we had had enough shopping for today and started to head for the hotel. ESM wanted to stay off the highway and see more of the town, so we took the “scenic” route back. Like most big cities, there are good parts and bad parts. I think we saw a pretty good cross-section on the sixteen mile trip back towards the hotel.

As we were getting close to the hotel, we noticed that it was 2pm and we had not had lunch. So, we started looking for someplace to eat. The first place we tried to go to was closed, the second place was not much to look at and had no parking, so we ended up at a third choice, the Red Cow. Billed as a burger, pub kind of place, we were pleasantly surprised to find a very upscale restaurant that would not be out of place in the Park Meadows area back home. The burgers were very well cooked, juicy and flavorful. We had a pretzel with beer cheese to start, which was yummy! ESM had a mushroom and swiss burger, and I had what they called a 60/40 burger. 60% Angus beef and 40% ground bacon. Both were very good! Since the rest of the meal had been quite good, we decided to skip dinner and have dessert. ESM had a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting that was billed as the chef’s personal birthday cake! And I had a dessert that consisted of two small scoops of vanilla bean ice cream and a small bag filled with about ten mini doughnuts, made fresh and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Wow! I ate the ice cream and a couple of the doughnuts, and decided I would save the rest for breakfast.

We waddled back to the hotel and crashed for the rest of the day. After all we had been doing, an evening to relax sounded inviting. Later that night, we prepped plans for our departure the next day towards Duluth and Lake Superior.

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