East Lake Open Streets


The Open Streets street fests in Minneapolis are some of my favorite community events for the summer, and so far this year, like last year, I attended just one. In July, Lindsay and I rode our bikes across the river from St. Paul to explore what East Lake Street had to offer. In my role as a traveling Hennepin County librarian, I’ve often staffed the desk at the East Lake Library, one of my favorite branches, and was always struck by the energy and diversity of the area. Having the chance to spend some more time in the area with Lindsay, trekking on foot down the middle of Lake Street exploring and encountering local people and organizations. It was a nearly perfect summer day, with blue skies, a nice breeze, temperatures in the mid ‘70s, the kind of afternoon you can only dream about in February.

The street was a frenzy of activity, with people walking or riding their bikes down the center of the usually car filled thoroughfare. Weaving through the crowds, Lindsay and I decided to concentrate on the events and activities going on on the north side of the street before crossing it on the way back to see what was going on on the other side! The new local darling eatery, the Hi-Lo Cafe started the walk out in an memorable manner with a pie eating contest. While we didn’t participate ourselves, we enjoyed a couple of cocktails and street food courtesy of the Blue Door Pub, which we ate while watching a group of children go to town on some banana cream pies.

Continuing up the street, we grabbed some tasty frozen treats from Frio Frio (a standard at these events), and sampled some of Urban Forage’s ciders. We enjoyed the crisp, refreshing drinks and I’m definitely looking forward to when they open a taproom next year to share their locally sourced ciders, wines, and meads.  We checked out the Nordic bric a brac at Ingebretsen’s and had a delicious lunch of tamales at the Mid Town Global Market, finishing off with some beers at East Lake Brewery. By this time, we realized that things were winding down, so we started along the walk back. In the end, we walked more than five miles during the event, and we returned to our bikes footsore and a little bit sunburnt. Next year, we might start earlier to get more on both sides of the street!  The last one of 2016 is this Saturday in Dinkytown, so if this sounds fun, you should check it out!


Northern Spark 2016: Climate Chaos, Climate Rising


I attended the Northern Spark for the fifth time this year, and it was quite the adventure as always. Checking it out with my sister and aunt as well, it was Lindsay’s first time experiencing this idiosyncratic standard of the Twin Cities summer! Spending a sultry summer night experiencing the many wonders brought to you from the innovative and diverse minds on the streets of Minneapolis has always felt like a magical night to me. Wandering around, there were new and strange wonders to experience everywhere. This year, the majority of the festival centered exclusively in the Mill District, utilizing facilities at the Mill Ruins Park, Mill City Museum, and the Guthrie, so Lindsay and I biked in from St. Paul. As the twilight faded and night arrived, haunting images were projected up on the old grain elevators and factory chimneys and eerie music began to drift up from some undersea dance.


The glowing sea creatures of the Illuminated Reef. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The theme this year’s Northern Spark was climate change and the future, “Climate Chaos and Climate Rising,” a theme that is continuing on to next summer as well, and if you’ve followed my other blog, Reading Rainstorm, you know this is a topic I find fascinating. Many of the events and exhibits brought a makeshift, tongue in cheek “apocalypse” to the Mill District, fitting in well in the industrial ruins of the former milling capital.


The flags indicate jars of water and their quality from various bodies of water around the Twin Cities, from Lake Calhoun to a puddle from a dog park. 


Entrance to the Night Library

Having a couple of librarians with us, we of course started out at the Night Library, the Hennepin County Library’s interactive performance celebrating the role of libraries in the community. Nestled under the Stone Arch Bridge, the Night Library imagined a post-apocalyptic future swampland in Minneapolis, plagued by mutant mosquitoes and moose, as scavenging librarians hoped to piece together the knowledge of the past to share with the future. A little weird, but a lot of fun!


The Minnesotan Ice bartering storefront. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The Minnesotan Ice concessions stand seemed to come from the same world, a traveling caravan carting potable Minnesotan Ice to the parched lands of the future, allowing festival goers to trade random objects for some object frozen in a block of ice, 2.5% of which were edible. While we didn’t come away with a treat, Lindsay did get a cool


Treasure from Minnesotan Ice. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

“grandma” card frozen in an ice cube!

Over in the Guthrie, the Nerd vs. Nerd event, sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study, was another festival highlight, in which local scholars present short papers while a local artist interprets them. A good way to sit down for awhile while learning some interesting things. Over in the Mill City Museum, we also got some rest watching the intriguing Wayang kulit, the shadow puppet art form from the island of Java in Indonesia in its traditional all night length. A new story, Bimo Gugah, depicts a hero realizing that various climatic calamities were the result of his country’s poor leadership, the lush show featured guest artists from Indonesia and the rest of the U.S.  


Late Night in the Mill District. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron.


As we paused to listen to the music and watch the screen and behind the scene working of the music and shadow puppets, we noted climatic changes of our own as lightning began to arc across the sky above the Minneapolis skyline, followed by distant thunder. Realizing the night was nearly over, as the rain began to fall, we began pedaling our way back to St. Paul, getting soaked during the journey. The wet bike ride was an exciting end to a fun night!


Beer, Bikes, and Trains

The upcoming Rails and Ales event looks pretty fun, but I’ve been thinking of planning my own public transportation/bicycle pub crawl as well, perhaps for my birthday (which is coming up way too fast, maybe). While planning logistics, I noticed this very helpful article by Brian Martucci on MinnPost the other day, Pedals and Pints. Definitely interesting reading. Also, I might get some hands on experience for planning for biking and drinking at the NE Brewer’s Block Party, organized Sociable Cider Werks, this Sunday. Another Sunday bike ride into Northeast? Of course! Once I get things put together, I’ll report on how my particular bike/light rail pub crawl adventure works out!

Open Streets Mpls: Northeast


13th Avenue NE, Open Streets Mpls Northeast


A couple tulips of Dangerous Man’s specialties.

On Sunday afternoon, I braved the hot and sticky conditions to check out another great event I had not yet experienced, the Northeast iteration of Open Streets Mpls, a series of events throughout Minneapolis intended to allow citizens to explore and interact with the city in a much more intimate, collaborative way. Closing a few streets to traffic to allow bikes, pedestrians, skateboarders, and other non-motorized traffic to take to the streets for community engagement. Participation is free for all of these events, not counting the myriad food trucks, breweries, and boutiques along the way, of course! I discovered some really cool stuff and I’m looking forward to future Open Streets events as well.

Starting out on 13th street, I paused to write down a wish to add to a wishing tree, and then pedaled down the marked streets people watching, checking out local groups, and hoping that it wouldn’t rain (then again, a few drops might have cooled things off a bit!). Pausing for some of the Anchor’s finest fish and chips, I grabbed a few delicious beer selections at Dangerous Man Brewing (the rich peanut butter porter and some cardamon infused Scottish Ale. I had been craving some fish and chips and the Anchor is my local favorite; Dangerous Man’s brews went down very well after the satisfying meal of fried goodness. Refreshed, I browsed used books across the street at Eat My Words!, while listening to local bands perform on the street outside. A Northeast bookstore I’d never been to before, it had a great selection of books, including a really cool selection of zines! I wish I had thought to bring a bag to carry back some finds, I shall have to return.


Some of the Cycling Museum of Minnesota’s collections.

Heading up towards central, past Northeast branch library, I visited the wonderful Cycling Museum of Minnesota, a brand new volunteer run museum devoted to the history of bicycles in the Twin Cities. Located above the Recovery Bike Shop on Central, the museum had an interesting collection of historical bikes, from the 1880s to the 1990s, including some cool Norwegian and British bicycles. It looks like tehy have the start for a really interesting, dynamic new institution in Minneapolis. I am definitely looking forward to see what they do next.

Central Avenue was alive with bicycles, pedestrian, puppet shows, and community groups. The Friends of the Northeast Library had a few tables set up with withdrawn and donated books to peruse- of course, I couldn’t resist. Nor could I leave without grabbing some gourmet hand crafted ice cream from Cranky’s. It was a hard choice, but I decided to go with the Doughnut Ice Cream, I rich vanilla filled with chunks of actual cake doughnut. I’ll go for the beer ice cream next time. By this point, I was really starting to feel the heat as the sun began to pierce the clouds and beat down upon the streets of Northeast Minneapolis, so I pedaled back through Northeast Minneapolis to relax at home and cool off. In any case, I was quite impressed with Open Streets Mpls and will attend later events, it was a great way to explore different areas of the city close up, in a laid back way. The next one will be East Lake Street on Sunday, August 2nd, which definitely looks to be an interesting one as well! See you there!


Central Avenue, Open Street Mpls Northeast

Freedom From Pants 2015


The USS Sex Panther prepares to roll out of Northeast.

Well, I finally did it! Over the last few years I’ve been hearing about the awesome good time to be had every Fourth of July in Minneapolis with the Freedom from Pants Ride, but I haven’t had the chance to join the fun myself. Not unlike Improv Everywhere’s No Pants Subway Ride, a New York phenomenon which has spread to Minneapolis, the Freedom From Pants Ride is an irreverent celebration of American exuberance (not that other countries aren’t exuberant, of course!). For 2015, I jumped on the chance to join up and roll out with the crowd. As expressed by one of the many participants as he passed me on his bike, this is a great example of the wonderful “microcosm” of this city, a well kept secret of “coolness.” Why not go outside in your underwear during our few short months of heat? While Minnesotan inhibitions might not allow for anything more than just underwear for most of us (myself included), unlike some other cities, there was still plenty of transgressive American fun to be seen.


The riders arrive in Loring Park, Freedom From Pants 2015

What better way to enjoy a hot summer day than by wearing as little as possible and riding your bike with a few hundred other people through the streets of downtown Minneapolis. As the procession of not fully clothed bicyclists let freedom ride throughout the city of Minneapolis, we responded to confused onlookers with cries of “Freedom!” and “Join Us!” Heading from Northeast Minneapolis, we crossed the Hennepin Avenue Bridge and rode towards Loring Park, whereupon fireworks were let off and dancing commenced. It’s a great feeling to be among such an eclectic and fun loving crowd, making a bit of a good-natured scene and presenting an aura of exuberance. Plus, it’s another fun thing to do that costs no money whatsoever (as long as you have, or can borrow, a bike).


We ride on Lyndale.

Much ingenuity was presented as people towed mobile dj setups, including my friend, with his USS Sex Panther speaker system, a furry musical which attracted a lot of loving attention from onlookers. It was definitely an awesome piece of work to be riding next to, though he is promising to make it even more impressive next year.


Fun at Cedar Lake

After Loring Park, the hoard traversed the streets toward Uptown, waving to the many enthusiastic onlookers eating at restaurants or gathered in their backyard to take in the pre-fireworks show. Arriving at Cedar Lake, we cooled off in the crystal waters of one of the city’s best swimming beaches. As the sun, red through the haze of smoke from the Canadian wildfires sunk into the horizon, we relaxed in the cooling waters as the heat of the day mellowed. Finally, the call was given and the festivities continued back through downtown, a line of flashing lights and ringing bells, arriving at Nicollet Island to take in the city’s firework shows (and let off a few of their own as well, perhaps a little recklessly). On the way home, I grabbed some delicious frozen yogurt from one of the last remaining food trucks, Fro-Yo Soul and went home, exhausted but happy.

Really, I can’t think of any better way to spend the Fourth in Minneapolis. For next year, I would recommend taking lots of water (especially if you plan on having a drink along the way), and also make sure to pack out any garbage that you produce to keep the city nice and the reputation of the spectacle good as well. Check out the City Page’s account of the event, as well.