Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Leaving St. Paul Never Easy

I saw the light fading out...

I just got back from an extended Memorial Day weekend in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I spent the better part of four years attending Macalester College. I missed our most famous alumnus, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, by a day as the school dedicated a bust of him at the new international center and had him sign a Ping-Pong table in the new athletic center...both buildings that have sprouted up and changed the campus a bit since I graduated three years ago.

Overall, it was a great trip, aside from a broken shower at Weirdalopolis John's place where I was crashing. I think most people that read this blog were either there when I was or randomly stumbling across the site, so I won't go into too much detail. Suffice it to say, it included the Science Museum of Minnesota, a Brewers vs. Twins game, the Como Park Zoo (much less depressing than I remember when I walked down there one time in the off-season), checking out the giant IKEA store and Mall of America, strolls around Macalester and the old hangout of the Groveland Tap, other strolls around St. Paul and the Mississippi River, and generally kicking back and chatting with Mac friends like the good old days. And it was beautiful weather every single day of it.

A couple of friends, married couple Jim and Kelly (sadly siteless, I think), made the trip from Wisconsin to stay for a couple of those days. Jim commented how it seemed so natural to return to Macalester and the Twin Cities in general. It was more expensive than I remember, but the atmosphere of the place was still intact. I know part of the reason I loved the Twin Cities was being in college with great friends, and that accounted for some of the joy of the return trip. But overall the place just presents such a great mix of places. For every place I like here in my little Maine town, St. Paul has it and at least a couple of clones, and other cool places to boot. Plus...young people! Overwhelmingly large numbers of young people for someone in an area that seems mostly a 40-plus area, and this is after the colleges are out of session!

It seems like unpacking after a satisfying trip is one of the saddest things you can do, along with packing up and leaving a place that you grew attached to. More than likely, I won't be returning to Minnesota for another two years...unless I take the belated route that a lot of my friends took and find a job or grad school out there. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the summer here and try to upload a bunch of random shots I took to Facebook over the weekend.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Whiny personal post: adventure difficulties

The recent Macalester Today had a short article on a friend who I knew from the cross-country ski team. The gist of the article is basically how she's ended up leading kayaking expeditions and such in the Midwest and the Amazon. I've got another friend who did something similar, giving up a job to teach English in Japan.

It's nice having a job and being somewhat settled down in an area, but sometimes it just seems like it will be difficult to do any sort of lengthy adventure. There are a few loans to pay off, there's an apartment full of stuff that would have to go into storage or completely sold off or something, and I'm not sure how employers generally view gaps in employment that occur when someone quits their job to bike across the country or some such thing.

The example I always think of is the Appalachian Trail. Another friend took off for the Georgia trailhead immediately after he graduated from college, and finished up in the fall. So he was able to do that in the gap between graduation and student loans kicking in, even if it took a little while for him to get started on a job hunt. Conversely, it seems like if I wanted to do the same thing, I'd have to somehow get a big leave of absence from work, pay off loans and rent in advance, and of course come up with the money to actually do the hike. I suppose it would be within the realm of possibility if I was a teacher with a few months off anyway, but still difficult.

But then again, it seems like some adventures would be taking a bit of a leap of faith in terms of whether it would even be enjoyable. It would probably be nice to take a few weekends with lengthy hikes and camping. That's more manageable, and would be an investment toward hiking the Appalachian Trail if I enjoy the smaller trips and I'd have the equipment to do it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The X-Files Body Count

I've decided, perhaps stupidly, to start up The X-Files Body Count. The show's been off the air for several years now, but it seems like movies might still come out every now and then and a significant fan base might still be around. Plus I don't mind going through the episodes again, even if it will take ages to finish (especially when the shows I'm watching now start coming back on the air in the fall).

Anyway, check it out here or from the link on the side.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Main Street's death or revitalization

I usually take a walk down Main Street of Norway, Maine when I'm going to church on Sunday morning. I was away with friends for the two weekends prior to this past one, so it was the first time in awhile that I took that stroll and checked out the businesses in town. Almost everything in town is closed on that day, but I was kind of surprised to see how three businesses have gone elsewhere.

This is the middle of town, and I'd guess it was taken sometime in mid-2007. There's a business in the white house to the left, some sort of clothing store if I remember correctly, which has become home-based since then. A computer repair place moved in for awhile, but now it's empty. The building to the right has done better. It has a satellite TV place in it here, which has since moved to the town next door; it now has a gaming shop and gift shop existing side by side.

According to the signs in the windows that I just noticed recently, a scrapbooking business has moved off Main Street (its third move in the past couple of years), a graphics business (the one in the first brick building in the photo up top) has moved to another town, and a physical therapy place has disappeared. In other vacancies, there's a small brick building that three restaurants have failed in (with another one evidently about to give it a try before long), the aforementioned white house, several storefronts in the towered Opera House building (due to questions over the building's stability and a couple of legal battles), a building which has given up two gift shops, and a space that has been occupied by a women's clothing store, a small antique place, and a Democratic Party office.

The relatively rapid change of businesses is probably due to a lot of factors, including the disappearance of a couple of major manufacturing businesses from the area and odd mixture of building types. One end of town has the Opera House, several restaurants, and a bookstore, yet it also contains a boarding house frequently visited by the police. Another factor is probably Norway's location. A half-hour drive to the south is Bridgton, which has a very nice downtown but seems to benefit from being closer to the Sebago/Long Lake region (it also seems to fall along the Maine tourism model of having several businesses shut down during the winter). Another 45 minutes to an hour away to the north is Bethel, another small town with a more solid downtown that benefits from being close to the very popular Sunday River Ski Resort. Norway, meanwhile, has the downtown but only some of the pull from recreational areas and things to do.

For all that, though, it seems like Norway is moving toward a more sustainable downtown and community. There are a few more places that seem to be creating a draw, including a terrific coffee and sandwich place on one end of town and a Vegan cafe on the other. The game shop is proving popular, and much more interesting than a satellite TV place. Moreover, there's quite a good food scene; it's hard to believe that we have a food co-op, along with a great farmer's market that shows up in the summer. There are also a few Friday night events, including a gallery walk and some open mic nights.

I lived for awhile in Brattleboro, Vermont before coming here. Brattleboro is more populous than Norway and seems to have more young people, and it also includes a huge variety of places such as coffeehouses, some night venues, a music shop, a few bookstores, some fairly unique small businesses, and a much more expansive First Friday gallery walk and farmer's market. But for its size, I guess Norway is doing all right.