Biking from Uptown Minneapolis to the Minnesota State Fair: What a long, strange trip

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I’ve biked from my Uptown Minneapolis apartment to the Minnesota State Fair a few times this year, and Janne Flisrand on the invaluable Streets.mn blog nails it with respect to the challenges of getting from the University of Minnesota Transitway to the nearest State Fair bike corral: it’s not for the faint of heart, and once you get there it can be difficult to find a space for your bike even inside the corral if it’s a busy day at the Fair. That last tenth of a mile is just the tip of the iceberg, though: the whole journey from Uptown to Falcon Heights is a strange trip that illustrates the motley state of bicycle infrastructure in the Twin Cities today.

My trip starts in the Wedge (not the co-op, the neighborhood also known as Lowry Hill East that gave the co-op its name), where I proceed down Bryant Avenue. Bryant is designated a bikeway, which means it sports speed bumps to slow traffic and a lot of signage declaring that it’s a bike boulevard. That’s certainly better than it not being a “bike boulevard,” mostly because the increased volume of bike traffic often forces cars and trucks to be more accommodating. If you’re the only bike on the “bike boulevard,” though, in my experience cars act basically the same as they do on other Uptown streets: that is, impatiently. (I once overheard a cashier at Hum’s Liquors regaling his coworkers with a screed about how all the presumptuous bikers on Bryant drive him nuts, saying he’d like to sideswipe them to break their legs so they learn their lesson. I haven’t shopped at Hum’s since, but I still bike on Bryant.)

That brings me to the Midtown Greenway, which is of course glorious, so dense with bikers and walkers of all shapes and sizes that I feel like the bully, biking faster than most. I remind myself to practice what I preach and to be patient, and when crossing the Sabo Bridge, I feel more valued and respected as a biker than I do anywhere else in the Twin Cities: lifted over the Hiawatha traffic on an illuminated cable-stayed bridge with an epic view of downtown Minneapolis.

All good things must come to an end, though, and if you’re following Google’s directions for biking from Uptown to the Fair, you’ll get off the Greenway on 26th Avenue. There’s a bike lane on 26th—not a protected one, but then, few are. The lack of lane protection gets a little more harrowing when you turn right on Franklin (one of the Twin Cities’ most lethal streets for bikers) and cross the Franklin Bridge, where you get one of these cross-your-fingers bridge bike lanes that’s at least a bit more accommodating than most.

Things really start to get dicey when you cross University and turn right on S.E. 4th Street—a heavily potholed street with no lanes whatsoever and no illumination at night, so BYO headlight if you want to stay upright on your bike. You cross the Green Line at 29th Avenue and hook left on 30th where you gain entrance to the bizarro world that is the University of Minnesota Transitway.

I refer to the Transitway as a bizarro world, because it’s an example of the kind of thinking that’s also informed transportation infrastructure on Nicollet Mall and Hennepin Avenue downtown: the thinking that because bikes and buses are not cars, they’re basically the same and can share the same lanes. Any experienced Minneapolis biker knows that Nicollet, which Google and other bike maps regard as a royal road for bicyclists, is one of the slowest and most frustrating streets in the city for bikers: you’re constantly getting stuck behind buses, which you can’t legally (or safely) pass since that would involve either veering into either the oncoming lane or jumping the curb to bike on the sidewalk.

On the University of Minnesota Transitway, bikers have quite the opposite challenge to deal with: it’s not that the buses are moving too slowly, they’re moving way too fast. Cars aren’t allowed on the Transitway, but buses are allowed to go a zippy 40 miles per hour—just five m.p.h. slower than the speed limit on I-35E, an interstate highway (excuse me, “parkway”), as it passes through the West 7th neighborhood. There’s no separate bike lane, so buses have to pass you; most buses I’ve encountered on the Transitway have given me wide berth, but a few rumbled right past me—at 40+ m.p.h.—so close that I could almost have reached out and touched them. There is a sort of shoulder lane for sections—not all, just sections—of the Transitway, and it’s tempting to regard it as sort of bike lane, but at regular intervals it features sunken drainage grates that you don’t want to get your wheel caught in, especially if a bus is passing you at 40 miles per hour.

Did I mention that bikers are encouraged to use the Transitway?

For a biker to criticize the Transitway might seem like biting the hand that feeds us, since it certainly is a convenient way to get from Southeast Minneapolis to the State Fair. You’d be crazy not to use it, even if you also feel sort of crazy using it. Still, it’s fundamentally a busway that was manifestly designed for buses and is unsafe for bikers. Yes, I’ll use it, but I certainly hope no one is confusing it with a true bikeway like the Midtown Greenway—or patting themselves on the back for providing it to us.

That brings us to Como Avenue, which is where Janne picks up—at the Fair, or nearly there. I love biking to the Fair, and I love biking home from the Fair even more: it feels great to stretch my legs and to burn up some of those calories I just gleefully sucked off a bunch of sticks. It’s free, and it’s fast: about 45 minutes each way, which makes it easy to beat your friends who have to negotiate traffic in their cars. Still, biking to the Fair is an acute reminder of how far we have to go to create an environment where riders can feel confident relying on bikes to get around the Twin Cities—safely.

Jay Gabler

(Source: thetangential.com)

Proposed features of The Tangential Pavilion at the Minnesota World’s Fair

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie wants Minnesota to make a serious bid for the next World’s Fair, and we’re throwing our complete support behind the proposal.

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Walk-in freezer winter obstacle course. Hate your life during 45 minutes of fun and adventure!

Invasive carp tacos.

Interactive booth: “Ethanol or corn whiskey? The choice is YOURS!”

A corral that allows visitors from all over the world to quickly and easily shoot the one Minnesota moose they’re legally allowed to take down in their lifetime.

Ride: Michele Bachmann’s Bridge to Nowhere.

A 3D printer that gives you a first look at the POTHOLES OF THE FUTURE!

Build your own light rail and then by the way please leave it here for us we need that.

Custom cocktails created by our vanilla extract mixologist. (Sundays only.)

Wrestling match representing the historical back-and-forth between Minneapolis and St. Paul, both cities represented by Jesse Ventura. After the match he’ll sue himself for some reason, and you can stay to watch the trial.

New York Inferiority Entertainment Complex.

Jay Gabler and Lisa Olson

For more about Minnesota by Jay Gabler, Lisa Olson, 33 other writers, and nine illustrators and photographers, grab our book Bright Lights, Twin Cities

(Source: thetangential.com)

Tags: Minnesota

If you enjoyed The Trip, you’ll want to get in on The Trip to Italy—and because we love you, yes you personally, you and a BFF can go see this new flick for free while the rest of Minnesota is still watching this trailer on repeat.

The place: the Lagoon Cinema.

The date: Thursday, August 21.

The time: 7:30 p.m.

The how: E-mail minneapolisrsvp@gmail.com with the word “ITALY” in the subject line, and include your full name in the body of the email message. Your name will be added to a will-call list at the door.

The fine print: Please be advised that the theater is overbooked to ensure a full house. Seating is limited and available on a first come, first served basis. It’s recommended you arrive early to guarantee a seat.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2014: “Labyrinth” follows Adriane’s thread to the 21st century

Near the end of Vox Medusa’s Labyrinth, a girl we’ve been following along a mythic journey makes a significant decision and flings her phone into the deep. We cheer, not only because it represents her psychic victory over a manipulative monster but because it represents the end of an awkward framing device that distracted from the strong dance and singing in this hit Fringe show.

A program note describes the piece as a “modern version of Ariadne’s Thread.” That’s the thread supplied by the heroine Ariadne to the warrior Theseus, to allow him to find his way back out of the labyrinth after slaying the minotaur (with the sword she also provided). In director/choreographer Kristin Freya’s vision, there’s no Theseus: “the Girl” (Alexandria West) must find her own escape from the labyrinth after confronting a monster represented eerily by a series of dancers and less eerily by communications the Girl receives via that phone that seemingly never stops beeping.

Appropriate to its subject matter, this was a dark, patient show. The dancers—some clad in striking one-leg unitards, with slashes of black facepaint—wrapped threads and themselves around West in a dramatization of her personal journey. A six-woman choir, led by Emily Colay as “the Thread,” added depth to the show with unsettling music by Jeremy Christensen.

I’d like to see Labyrinth again, and I’d like to see a version of the show that puts more trust in the movement and the music, leaving the forced latter-day framing to drift away beneath the waves.

- Jay Gabler

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2014: “Littler Women” get a little bigger

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Seeing the Buoyant Group’s Littler Women at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, having seen its earlier living-room incarnation, was like watching a favorite band start playing larger venues. You miss the coziness, but it’s fun to see a bigger group of people react to what you’ve already enjoyed.

Scotty Gunderson’s Louisa May Alcott adaptation also finds firmer footing thematically in this new version, trimmed in length and in cast size—now only the four eponymous women (Gracie Kay Anderson, Kelsey Cramer, Megan Hadley, and Nissa Nordland) themselves are onstage (previously, Gunderson himself joined in as a love interest), and though I missed some of the silly stage business from the initial run this past winter, the trim makes the production’s post-modern flourishes and anachronisms more intelligible as devices to highlight the timelessness of the sisters’ bumpy but loving family dynamic.

My friendships with this show’s creators makes it impossible for me to comment objectively on this charming production, so I’ll conclude my comments here—except to say that I’ve added Little Women to my to-read shelf, though I hear it’s not as good as the play.

- Jay Gabler

 

"Slut Club" at the 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival: Five sluts in search of an exit

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Slut Club, written and directed by Lara Avery and Sally Franson, was the weirdest show I saw at this year’s Fringe—and this being the Fringe, of course I mean that as a compliment.

The eponymous club consists of five women, all self-styled sluts by virtue of regularly bedding married men. They don’t tell each other their real names, and they each fit an archetype: there’s the new-age yoga freak (Joanna Demkiewicz), the adjunct professor who opens her tweed blazer for members of certain varsity teams (Clare Dickey), the innocent in denial (Alana Horton), the executive who slept (along) her way to the top (Stephanie Messer), and the punk drunk (Hannah Wydeven).

None of these characters are particularly likable, in part because they all seem to hate themselves—and to resent each other for enabling their self-destructive behavior. That makes Slut Club a bleak experience, despite its regular flashes of deadpan humor.

The show moves at an eccentric pace as the characters make their way from a restaurant booth into a janky sedan, which breaks down out of cell-phone reception range while the five are on their way to meet Horton’s unseen lover and his wife (Avery, in a cameo) for an ill-advised confrontation at which the rest of the club has offered whatever moral support a slut club might be able to muster. The characters rearrange themselves onstage and throughout the Bryant-Lake Bowl space during regular blackouts, the night stretching on and the desperation level rising.

The characters do a number of things people don’t usually do onstage, from masturbating (leading to the second time I heard the word “namaste” at a Fringe show this year) to talking over each other. That gives the show a gratifyingly gritty texture; if I felt like I’d been rubbed raw by the conclusion, maybe that was precisely the point.

- Jay Gabler

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2014: “Failure: A Love Story” is physical theater at its most confident

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Given that the Fringe run of Failure: A Love Story is over, do I need to worry about spoilers? Well, I’ll just say this: there was a kinda creepy revelation at the end that I didn’t see coming. Other than that, this show was a sheer delight.

Purveying a unique combination of gravitas and whimsy with an invigoratingly confident brand of physical theater, Failure tells the story of the three Fail sisters—all of whom, we learn immediately, will die over the course of the show, leaving pets, family, and a hapless suitor bereft.

Failure flies on deft characterizations and unstinting energy, with not a weak link in its sizable cast. Though a weakness for precious sentiment and an overindulgence in hackneyed metaphor gradually undercut the momentum of its narrative, it’s a treat to see such expert performers demonstrating their chops.

Despite all the human casualties over the course of this show, it’s a canine death scene that steals the show—and, almost, the whole festival.

 - Jay Gabler

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2014: “Fig” is fab

I enjoyed The Critic and the Concubine, last year’s Fringe show by the young theater artists who have now formally joined forces as Theatre Corrobora: while it was a little disjointed and stumbled in spots, I admired the promising talent of its ambitious creators and I appreciated its prescient insight about the critic-artist relationship. (Dominic Papatola, on the other hand, thought the complete opposite. Critics!)

Fig represents a big leap forward: it’s a confident, charming, and consistently entertaining show that makes a thought-provoking argument about romantic relationships. Hailey Colwell again directs and takes the lead on writing, apparently with some collaborative assistance from the cast; co-producers Aidan Gallivan and Iris Page again play prominent roles, joined by an impressive Michael Torsch as the confused protagonist Leo.

Leo and Amanda (Page) have been together for four years, now sharing a studio apartment that’s too small to contain the simmering resentments between adman Leo and artist Amanda. Leo beings dreaming of a mysterious and alluring woman in purple (Gallivan), who begin intruding into his waking reality and providing a welcome distraction from his failing relationship.

Everything works here, from the romantic chemistry—we see why Leo and Amanda ended up together, but we sense the sizzle between Leo and his violet-clad temptress—to the humorous supporting characters (Brian Grossman and Morgan Strickland). Gallivan’s performance is a tour de force of sly manipulation; Page makes Amanda likeable and believable; and Torsch makes Leo a guy we’re surprised to find ourselves rooting for.

Fig is a show in the best tradition of The Twilight Zone: a story that tweaks reality in the service of compelling characters. To steal a line from Jon Landau, I have seen local theater’s future, and it is Theatre Corrobora.

- Jay Gabler

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2014: “Hi! Hello! Namaste?” brings Bollywood to the West Bank

It’s impossible not to smile your way through the joyous Hi! Hello! Namaste?, a production that advertises itself as “the first ever Bollywood dance drama being created for the Minnesota Fringe.” This is community theater at its best, and a genuine tribute to the infectiously silly spirit that’s won fans around the world for India’s movie musical spectaculars.

The show, staged by Bollywood Dance Scene—Twin Cities, frames interpretations of seven Bollywood dance songs in a story about a would-be medical student who travels from Minnesota to India to attend a cousin’s wedding, and learns a little something about herself and her family. In true Bollywood tradition, it’s a goofy yet heartfelt story with memorable turns for all the characters. Costumes change between every number, and every look seems more eye-popping than the last.

While most of these dancers are enthusiastic amateurs, the focus is definitely on enthusiastic—the smart and varied choreography (by a team of five collaborators) is performed with dedication, polish, and an irrepressible sense of fun. I’ve never seen such a consistently enthusiastic reception from any Fringe audience, and even if a lot of that is accounted for by the presence of friends and family members of the large cast, that’s perfectly in keeping with the community spirit that enlivens this wonderful show.

Here’s hoping the producers of Hi! Hello! Namaste? will make sure that this first-ever original Bollywood Minnesota Fringe dance drama isn’t the last. I have the feeling that in the wake of this hit show, they’ll be getting a lot of new students to help them out with that.

 - Jay Gabler

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2014: “The Confederate” is a failed experiment

Psychologist Stanley Milgram’s 1960s experiments on authority and obedience are among the most famous studies in the history of science; they’ve been the subject of a William Shatner made-for-TV movie and a Peter Gabriel song, and they’ve inspired countless fictional scenarios in which ordinary people are coerced into doing heinous acts because they believe they’re acting with the approval of a legitimate authority.

Playwright Andy Gullikson’s The Confederate, as presented by Greater Productions in a hit show at the 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival, is an ambitious but frustrating look at the experiments from the perspective of Jim McDonough (Robb Krueger), an accountant who served as one of Milgram’s accomplices (a “confederate,” in lab lingo) in the experiments: pretending to be a research subject himself, he acted as if the actual research subjects were administering painful, dangerous electric shocks when he (as planned) answered incorrectly in a memory quiz.

It’s a potentially interesting angle for this subject, but after Gullikson identifies his themes—guilt, deception, personal freedom—he attacks them with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Krueger gives a heartfelt performance, but Gullikson and director Meredith Larson shoehorn a complex situation into a black-and-white moral universe, where Milgram and an overly enthusiastic associate (Zac Delventhal) manipulate people and data to win acclaim for their scathing demonstration of man’s inhumanity to man, heedless of the lasting psychological damage they may be doing.

Kreuger’s character comes off the rails early on, wailing and gnashing his teeth in protest as the play churns its way to a conclusion that goes way over the top and left me rolling my eyes instead of wiping them. The shameless sensationalism could make for a gratifyingly pulpy popcorn show if not for the seriousness of the subject matter and the questionable liberties Gullikson takes with his source material. About two-thirds of Milgram’s subjects were prepared to deliver possibly fatal shocks: isn’t that horrific enough without inflating the result to “nearly every one”?

- Jay Gabler