Wednesday, August 09, 2006

on the road post 6--the north country

August 1-2. The day after the move, me and my ex-roomie made our way up to his hometown in northern Minnesota. He's from the area around several small towns/villiages, all of which basically rose up as mining towns. Unfortunately, there have been mine closures, so the towns are in a period of decay. Some mines still operate, and there are also attempts to bring tourism to the area.

On the way up, we decided to check out one of the Indian casinos, so we pulled into Grand Casino Hinkley. There really wasn't too much unusual about the casino...lots of noise, flashing lights, and gambling elderly. The casino (at least the slots) operated entirely on real had to get change to play the machines. When I went to the slot room at the Windsor Raceway, they forced everyone into using tokens...which seems like the smarter route, if your goal is to maximize income. If you're using tokens, you are are apt to disassociate it from real money...and thus spend more.

We weren't really there to gamble...we each did lose about $10 on video poker and slots, but the real thrill was the sociological angle. When I commented to my ex-roomie that I was surprised that there were no actual Indians (no idea if the Ojibwe prefer this or "Native American") working there, he told me that they had probably taken in so much money that they didn't have to work there anymore...which makes sense, seeing the hurry everyone was in to give away their cash. He also claims to have heard white patrons making the unintentionally ironic comment "next thing you know, we'll be working for them" while handing over more money.

The whole Indian casino thing is something I feel a little uneasy with, at any rate. Casinos are specifically designed to strip you from your wallet...and gambling has always seemed like a particularly amoral way to make your living. One could argue that the Ojibwes are just treating the Whites the same way they were treated, but this still smacks of vengeance (even if economic), and this still makes me really wonder if this is the right way for the tribes to go about supporting themselves...but the alternative is the crushing poverty most suffered through before, so it's a hard question.

So we left the moral ambiguities at the casino, stopped at the local Hinkley MN landmark bakery (can't remember the name) for some of their famous 3" thick caramel rolls, and headed north. After passing a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed gas station (fallen into disrepair, unfortunately) and a stop at an IGA for some sausages to grill and a bottle shop (what some Minnesotans call their liquor stores) for some Hamms and Schmidt beer (the latter was called "Animal Beer" because the cans had pictures of fish, deer, or other game on them) to drink, we then went to my ex-roomie's parents's cabin.

When we got to the cabin, we met my ex-roomie's mom, who immediately (1) offered us use of her fishing pole and tackle, and (2) gave us a big hunk of smoked salmon...two things that I could never see my own mother doing. We cooked our sausage and drank beer. We also got to meet my ex-roomie's cousins, who were both fun guys. Some of my favorite quotes from our conversations:

  • "I'd tell you stories, but I'm 16, and I'm not supposed to have stories yet."
  • "I don't know what made me think of this...probably the concept of drunk people."
  • "This guy was so big, light bent around him."

The next day, we went to the Soudan Underground Mine State Park, which is an ex-US Steel mine that the state has turned into a tourist attraction. It was open for over 80 years and was incredibly safe...for that kind of place. The tour took you down over 2,000 feet, to the mine's 27th level. Afterward, we hit this area which used to be an open-pit mine. You normally think of such things as environmental eyesores. This, however, was quite nice. The areas where they dumped the rubble had taken on trees, the pits had filled with water, and the whole thing looked like a mini-Grand Canyon...entirely artificial.

We did a few other touristy things, including visiting the World's Largest Hockey Stick and the currently closed US Hockey Hall of Fame, both of which are (for some reason) in Eveleth, MN. We then went back to the cabin, where my ex-roomie's parents joined us for a dinner of various grilled deer sausages and pickles before taking a boat ride around the lake. The next day, before leaving, my ex-roomie took me on a tour of some of his old haunts and then showed me his family's hunting shack, which he said was his favorite place on earth.

The whole northern voyage was incredibly calming, and it was a fun, welcome break from the Twin Cities...I can't wait to go back.

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