Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

July 24, 2004


Discovered an old gift certificate about to expire for Sanders in Grand Forks, the finest restaurant in the valley. All the more reason to go out to eat with friends.

Sanders is well-run. The staff knows how to make things fun. They are all on the same page, and all of them act as though they own the place. Many of the waiters have been there for over ten years. That is a sure sign that the place is run right. They have enough confidence to improvise, to give you a little extra, or to bring something back if it ain't just right.

Sanders stands in stark contrast to Lola's, the other foofy restaurant in Grand Forks. Lola's is going to pot. The service is spotty, and you can tell that the few servers who really care about the food and about the service are very frustrated by what is going on somewhere in the back. They have to come out and apologize on a regular basis. And they don't have that confidence that comes from knowing that management will support you.

Lola's serves everything a la carte. That means if you order a pork chop for $11, you get a pork chop sitting alone in the middle of the plate. Oh, you want potatoes? That's $3 extra. Vegetables? $3 more. Salad? An extra $5. Annoying.

Sanders probably gets more money out of you in the end, but they make you feel a whole lot better about it. If you ever have a special occasion to celebrate, Sanders is worth a long, long drive.

The Lake, cont.

It might be just a coincidence, but since I wrote last week's column about The Lake, I have heard five or six stories from people about property disputes at the lake. One person cannot build on their lot because the DNR owns a 24 inch strip of land which he would have to cross with his driveway.

Another allowed her sodding crew to put sod 6 inches across the property line and was promptly served papers by the neighbor. Another was hauled to court for assault after protesting the dumping of gravel into a bay. Another shared a well with a neighbor--until that went sour and the wirecutters came out.

Crazy. Why people live so close to each other in the first place is beyond me. Secondly, why wouldn't you do your utmost to keep peace with the neighbors instead of going to war? This seems most pernicious at the lake, this tendency to go to war with the house next door.

It takes two to tango, in most cases. People have to want to fight. I have this shiny, idealistic notion that all problems could be solved if we could just sit down and be reasonable--and I won't give up on that notion. But I have good neighbors. That makes it a whole lot easier.

July 23, 2004

Perham Rotary

Drove to Perham yesterday to speak to their noon Rotary Club. Perham is a lively little city--they have 3,000 jobs in a town of 2,600. My friend Chuck, who runs the hospital/nursing home/senior housing/clinic complex there showed me around his building before the meeting, and then gave me a tour of the town afterwards.

Barrel of Fun is building a brand new plant which will multiply their output by several times. There is a dog food factory there which produces 90 tons per day of dog food. There is also a licorice factory--one of only two in the United States. If you like licorice, there's a good chance it is made in Perham.

If I got it right from Chuck, all of the factories were started by one entrepreneurial family over the years. They were eventually sold to big conglomerates, but, interestingly, they are now back in local control.

The Rotary Club meeting was full--many younger people (that means people my age). They had a wonderfully talented piano player. Everybody who spoke was just full of it. A good sign. You could sense the energy of the town. A stark contrast to the economic deadness in most of these places. And I couldn't help but notice--the factories and vigor of the town were, as always, the product of a single energetic enterpreneur, not the result of an Economic Development Committee, or a grant.

The town has plenty of energy for volunteer projects. When they raised money for a new park, they went over right away. When they raised money for a new clubhouse at the golf course, they reached their goal very quickly.

July 21, 2004


A couple of weeks ago, I was offered the chance to teach a couple of classes this fall up at the University of Minnesota-Crookston. One would be an American Government class, the second an American History class.

I have taught both before, but it has been ten years, so I was hesitant. The pay isn't much, and it would be a lot of work.

Then I started making up lectures while I was driving. I pulled some of my old history books off the shelf and got the bug. I can' t travel anywhere this fall because I will be building my house--at the same time, I won't be pounding any nails myself--that just isn't going to happen--so all I really need to do is be around for a while every day to make decisions. So, the classes would give me something to do while somebody else is pounding the nails.

So, I decided this morning to teach. Now I am faced with the task of making history interesting to kids who would rather be anywhere else. I am relatively certain that not many of them have any interest in history--Crookston is a school for people who are pretty focused on their vocation, and they don't offer a degree in history, so everybody in the class is going to be there because they have to be there for a liberal arts requirement, not because they want to learn about the past.

When I taught at UMC before, I found that I really enjoyed the students. They had little confidence in their abilities but were actually very bright. They enjoyed succeeding at a class they assumed would be difficult.

This will be a good chance for me to brush up on American history as well. For the government class, I will have to take an interest in the election. That will be our focus. They have to leave that class with a basic understanding of how our government works. One doesn't realize how complicated our government is until one tries to teach it. I will be lucky if by the end of the class the students know who their elected representatives are. That is not because students are slow; it is just because they probably don't care yet.

One way of getting students interested in matters of government is to tell interesting stories--about Winston Churchill's drinking habits, or Abe Lincoln's depression, or George Washington's fondness for drinking with the boys. You have to make it vivid. That means getting downright tabloid at times, while making sure you are telling the truth. The history texts students are forced to read are usually stripped of all exciting detail, so I will have to find it somewhere else.

I will be expecting the students to be better students than I was. I never did the reading. I attended class only when it seemed necessary. Ugh. How can I expect more of them than what I did? Hypocricy is how!



Building a Road

You learn a lot by doing. Building the road out to the house has become more complicated than I imagined. After the road was built up, there remained a couple of persistent soft spots. It was suggested that we haul in some crushed concrete to firm up those spots.

Well, the truck came with crushed concrete this morning and promptly fell into the soft spot and sunk. It looked like a real mess, but the trucker dumped the load and we shoveled the crushed concrete under the wheels and he eased his way out of a pretty miserable looking situation.

Although crushed concrete is expensive, (I guess it is really called "recycled concrete") it sure packs nice right away. It looks like that will solve the soft spots. So, I ordered another load, just to be sure. I don't want a cement truck to get buried on the way to the house.

TWINS WIN TWO from not-so-awful-Detroit: The Twins could easily have lost two to the Tigers, who are suddenly the best-hitting team in the major leagues. However, they got a good pitching performance from Mulholland two nights ago, and a passable one from Kyle Lohse last night and escaped with two wins. They would not have won last night had it not been for Justin Morneau, the huge Canadian, who has been brought up to play first base for the injured Doug Mientkiewitz.

Morneau needs to stay in the lineup. The Twins need to trade Meintkiewitz. His dazzling glovework simply isn't enough to compensate for his anemic bat. And Morneau is going to hit some shots to the moon if given the chance.

July 20, 2004


The steambath continues. Am glad for central air. Yesterday, I snuck away from work early just to luxuriate in the cool of my house.
Then, I went off to The Lake.
Weather like yesterday's usually produces a big storm at the end of the day, but last night there was nothing. Today is so still that you could hear the corn grow if you listened.
CAUGHT the end of the Twins game last night. Terry Mullholland, a 41-year-old retread, pitched well enough to beat the Tigers 3-1. The bad news: Joe Mauer is back on the disabled list. His knee is acting up. That is very sobering news for a 21-year-old catcher. Catchers always develop knee problems, but it is usually what ends their catching careers at age 33. You hate to see it starting so early.
CAUGHT some flak for mentioning the name Ronald Reagan in the same sentence as Lincoln and Roosevelt in a previous entry. No, he doesn't really fit there. Yes, I always have been fascinated with Reagan despite my membership in the DFL.
In fact, I just finished a biography of Reagan written by Lou Cannon. The copy I had was published in 1982, in the middle of Reagan's first term of office. Cannon predicts at the end that Reagan wouldn't run for a second term--he would be too old.
Cannon's writing is uninspired, but it is useful to hear from somebody who followed Reagan's career up close as a reporter and who had a more subtle understanding of the man at a time when the rest of the media dismissed him as a bubblehead.

July 19, 2004

Steamy day

Well, we got heat. Things are growing to beat the band. And I am wilting! Yesterday I slept nearly all day and just could never wake up even in the air conditioning. These are the dog days of summer. I should have air conditioned this office at the nursery, but I thought--who am I to sit in air conditioned comfort while the others are out sweating in the fields?

So, instead, I take the remote phone and go sit down the basement below the office--a storage cellar with a couple of bare lightbulbs. It is so quiet down there. I leave the door open and can here if there is any commotion upstairs requiring my presence. There is an old school desk down there, and I like to sit there and read.

Am reading "A History of God" by a former nun turned academic Karen Armstrong. It is an academic work so it sometimes gets sloggy, but overall the points it makes are fascinating. Armstrong attempts to peel away the layers of doctrine which have piled up over the millenia and get at how people actually visualized their gods at various times through history.