Road Trip | Interstate 35

After three “shorter” road trips this year (Oregon in April, Kansas in July, and Montana in August), we’re finally getting around to our annual epic road trip. Being that it is November, we decided to make a swing south, with stops in Austin, New Orleans, Panama City Beach, and Memphis, visiting relatives and taking in some of the sights.

The first leg of our journey was a 2-day drive on Interstate 35 (I-35). We got on the freeway in Roseville, MN, and got off 1200 miles later in Austin. Just one highway (except for a detour to avoid a crash in a construction zone between Waco and Austin).

I-35 cuts through the heart of the country, from Duluth, MN to the Mexican border in Laredo , TX, traversing 6 states along the way. (Note: most descriptions of the highway have it starting in Laredo and going north; I, obviously, think it’s the other way around.)

Along the way we stopped to have lunch with my cousins at a BJ’s Restaurant and Brew House in Dallas and in Waco to visit Magnolia Markets.  If you are a fan of the HGTV show “Fixer Upper”, then you’ll know why we stood in line for 20 minutes to buy cupcakes!

While there is, to be honest, a certain monotany in driving 1200 miles along one highway, it is an interesting way to watch and experience the variations in geography, climate, and language as you make your way south. We left behind corn fields being harvested in Minnesota for the “home on the range” terrain of central Texas, with a few cotton fields thrown in for fun. Bare trees in Minnesota slowly gave way to ones that were still colorful to the still-fully green trees of Austin.

And somewhere along the way the accent of American English shifted from the nasal whine of “Minnesotan” to “southern.” Based on my numerous trips up and down the interstate I would say that  the shift begins to take place at about the Iowa-Missouri border. What I’d love to do sometime is stop at every truck stop along the way and ask a clerk to read a short sentence to see if I can plot the shifting of the vowels as I move south. Another time.

I-35 is an important part of life in the Twin Cities with 35W going through Minneapolis, and 35E going through St. Paul, so it’s easy to forget that it is not “our highway.” This also means that it is strange to go to other cities that give pride of place to the highway. I find myself wanting to say, “hey, that’s OUR highway, not YOURS.”

But maybe that’s the point; it doesn’t belong to Minnesota, or Texas, or any of the other states along the way. It’s Middle America’s Main Street!

If you’re into American road trips, or just find yourself traveling on freeways and wonder how they got built, then you might enjoy this book: The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways

The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways

Image credit: KSAT.com

Regional Rivalries

We have a joke here in Minnesota: “What’s the best thing to come out of Iowa?” “Interstate 35.” Apologies to my Iowan friends, but I’m sure that you just turn the joke around anyway.

An interesting feature of life in the United States is the rivalries that exist between various regions and states. Some rivalries are sports-based, some are rooted in cultural or perceived cultural differences.

I recently ran across this fun cartoon that depicts how various states in the midwest view each other.

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Regional rivalries or stereotypes exist in China as well. Beijingers generally look down on everyone, as do people from Shanghai. People from Shanghai think that Beijingers are only interested in politics and Beijingers think Shanghai people are money-grubbing. The northeast is considered by the rest of the country to be full of drunks, and everyone thinks that people in Guangdong only think about making money.

What are the regional rivalries in your area?

Image source: @BestPixMN

Who Can Turn the World on With Her Smile?

The great actress and comedienne Mary Tyler Moore died on Wednesday. She got her start on television playing Laura on The Dick Van Dyke Show, and later starred in her own show, simply named, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

When my family moved to the Twin Cities in 1973 from Pakistan, the show was already a hit. Having lived outside of the US nearly all of my life, I knew little about life and culture here. Sitting down to watch the show with my family every weekend was an important piece of my “re-enculturation.” It was especially exciting to see my new hometown featured in the opening credits. It remains one of my favorite shows to catch on DVD.

Because the show was set in Minneapolis, it has always had a special place in the hearts of Minnesotans. Here’s what the Minneapolis StarTribune notes had to say:

In the process of creating a pop-culture icon, Moore and the show sold the Twin Cities as a progressive metropolis.

To this day, tourists cruise through the Kenwood neighborhood to catch a glimpse of the Victorian house where Richards resided during the show’s early seasons. In 2002, the city of Minneapolis and TV Land teamed up to erect a statue on the Nicollet Mall, commemorating the moment in the opening credits in which Richards hurls her tam in the air after a satisfying day of shopping.

In 1999, Entertainment Weekly named the shot as the second-greatest moment in TV history, behind only John Kennedy’s assassination and funeral.

StarTribune columnist James Lileks produced a short video on the impact the show had on our city. You can see it here.

Minnesota Public Radio also did a nice story yesterday on how Mary Tyler Moore made Minneapolis a star.

And just for memories, here is a clip of a scene that is often ranked as one of the greatest TV scenes of all time, from “Chuckles the Clown’s Funeral.” (email readers, go here to see the video)

Farewell, Mary! Thanks for the laughs, and for helping me adjust to live in America!

How are the Roads?

For centuries (maybe millennia), a common way for people in China to greet each other has been to ask a simple question: “have you eaten yet?”

When I lived in China’s northeast region (“dongbei”), it seemed that every chance meeting or new conversation began with “leng bu leng?” Are you cold?

We are now in the grip of a winter in Minnesota and I’ve noticed that most conversations begin with some variation of “how are the roads?”

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This afternoon they weren’t great, thanks to a powdery snowfall that made for some slippery driving.

So, remember, should you happen to meet a Minnesotan, be sure to ask, “how are the roads?”

Image credit: by Ruin Raider, via Flickr

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On a morning when the (real) temperature is Minus 11 (or 11 below, or negative 11, or however you want to say it), this poem pretty much sums up life in Minnesota in January.

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(I do not know the origin of the poem. It seems to have been published in a local city newspaper, then posted to a Park District Facebook page, then picked up by a Facebook friend of mine. That’s how the Internet works, I guess!)

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A Chinese Football Fan

I used to be a Minnesota Vikings fan, which is to say that I used to actually care whether or not they won games. That changed in 2001 when, after being undefeated for the entire season, they were beaten by the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game, 41, to 0!

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I was living in China at the time, so wasn’t able to actually watch the game; but when I heard what the score was I made a vow that henceforth I would never again care whether the Vikings won or lost. There is just no point.

A friend on Facebook tipped me off to a great post written by blogger Chris Gehry about the heartache of being a Vikings fan, titled How to Survive Being a Vikings Fan. He writes about the despondancy of his young son at Minnesota’s loss to Seattle on Sunday:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen another human being so disconsolate.

After about ten minutes of sobbing, I gathered Isaiah into my biggest, most fatherly bear hug. After his chest stopped heaving quite so violently, I held him by the shoulders, looked him level in the eyes, and said, “Son, now you are a Vikings fan.”

Those are almost the exact words I said to a Chinese college student who was watching the game with me on Sunday. He’s been in the US for almost 3 years and has become quite the football fan. His loyalties are a bit divided, though, since his host family last year were hardcore Packers fans.

In this game, however, his heart was decidedly with Minnesota. As the game progressed and it looked like things were going Minnesota’s way, I put on my Debby Downer hat and tried to prepare him for what I believed would be an inevitable loss, most likely in the waning moments of the game. He would have none of it, especially when Minnesota was up 9-0.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” I said. “The Vikings will most likely blow it. This is who they are. This is what they do. Trust me. I have been watching them for 40 years.” He would have none of it.

And when the kicker missed a 27-yard field goal with just 22 seconds left to lose the game, I turned to him and said, “Now you know what its like to be a Vikings fan.”

After a few minutes of sadness and disbelief, he pulled himself together, changed the channel, and began cheering for the Packers!

Image credit: Business Insider

North Shore Thanksgiving

For the fifth year in a row, I spent the Thanksgiving weekend with family and friends at the wonderful Lutsen Resort, on the North Shore of Lake Superior. If you have not had the opportunity to explore this gorgeous wilderness area in the heart of the country, put it on your bucket list. Here are a few photos from the weekend to whet your appetite:

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Nothing like a Lake Superior sunset.

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The sunset reflected in the windows of Lutsen Resort.

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Saturday was a gorgeous day to hike the Oberg Loop section of the Superior Hiking Trail.

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The beach at Lutsen Resort.

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There’s nothing like a lakeside bonfire under the moonlight!

And yes, this resort is the site of my niece’s famous wedding in a blizzard.

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