Travelogue: Fear And Loathing* In MSP Airport: I Meet a Bernie Sanders Fan

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*A weak homage to Hunter S. Thompson

I’ve always loved the writing of Hunter S Thompson. “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” was given to me by my dear friend DJ and it’s one of my all time favorites. One of the things that seems to get glossed over these days is the brilliant political writing he did. “Fear And Loathing On the Campaign Trail ’72” is a fascinating read. Of course, I’ve always been a little obsessed with that era of American history. Not only did Hunter write his book in ’72, published serially in Rolling Stone magazine, but he came up with the idea for Tim Crouse’s “The Boys On the Bus” detailing the press’s and the campaign’s symbiotic (and at times ethically challenged) relationship. Apparently, early on in the ’72 campaign, cigarette holder clinched between his teeth, Thompson said to Crouse, while pointing at the pack of reporters, “Those are the bastards you really oughta be watching…” True words indeed…

Despite my enjoyment of Hunter’s political writings, I’m not a political person per se. I enjoyed reading his books because of the historical perspective that it gave me, however warped that perspective may have been. I try to never discuss politics unless “I’m talking a little treason” amongst likeminded friends at the pub. I like the words of Little Steven’s song, “I Am A Patriot” in regards to my view on politics:

I ain’t no communist
And I ain’t no capitalist
And I ain’t no socialist
And I ain’t no imperialist
And I ain’t no democrat
And I ain’t no republican
I only know one party
And it is freedom

Needless to say BourbonAndVinyl won’t be endorsing any candidates. I certainly would never ever talk about politics to a stranger. And yet, this being an election year, politics is on everybody’s mind. It’s hard to avoid a political discussion even in the oddest places… say, in a tavern on a concourse of the Minneapolis-St Paul Airport on a cold February evening. And while it’s not exactly a political story… in honor of Dr Gonzo, I must share. And I will say, as a disclaimer, I admire Mr Sanders and this is in no way meant to be derogatory toward him or his followers. I just thought it was a good story and weird things continue to happen to me…


I’ve always considered Minneapolis a gem of a city, since the first time I visited there a decade ago. The downtown has a lot of great nightlife and restaurants. I even had a rather wild evening there where I ended up in some place called Nye’s which I thought was in Canada, but that was a different B&V post. The main problem with Minneapolis is it’s too fucking cold. I honestly don’t know how anybody lives there. I wander the downtown ant-like tunnels and walkways to avoid going outside, still shivering, surrounded by Nordic types who seem oblivious to the cold. More power to them.

For reasons unclear, the team that works for me there always seem to summon me up there in the dead of winter. I never get to visit Minneapolis during their all too brief 4 day summer season, it’s always February when I get to go to Minny. It’s hard enough to fly but in winter to fly to Minneapolis means you have to peel layer after layer off when you get on the plane and then put it back on again when you land. I had spent two very cold, crazed nights in Minneapolis and was, as usual on these trips, exhausted when I got to the airport. I had been forced to again strip off layer after layer while being x-rayed and probed by the TSA people only to have to put everything back on again. I lumbered down the concourse where my gate was, looking like an extra on The Revenant set and I couldn’t help but think, after the stressful business reviews I’d attended, that perhaps a libation might ease my travel woes and warm me up. Near the Burger King, I spotted a pub and to my surprise, an open seat at the end of the bar. I went crashing through tables and people with my coats, bags and winter gear to claim the open seat.

“Is this seat open?” I asked. The bartender and the rumpled woman in the next seat seemed all too eager to both say in unison, “No, sit down.” I ordered a bourbon from the harried bartender and covertly glanced at the woman to my right. Her hair was a long, tangled mess. She couldn’t be local because she was only wearing a t-shirt that was belted at the waist with what looked like rope. Her arms were pasty with blotches of sunburn. Her wrists had too many bracelets to count. I thought perhaps she was somebody coming home from a vacation or perhaps a hippy escaped from her commune. In front of her sat a extra large screwdriver with an extra shot of vodka on the side. She looked a little bleary and I didn’t really feel like talking to anybody anyway so I just sort of closed myself off. It’s like that scene in the movie Sharky’s Machine, where the black cop goes completely blank. I was doing that imitation to avoid speaking to this drunken stranger.

“Sssso are you headed home or headed ssssomplace elsssse?” the woman slurred at me. Home, I answered. “Me too, I’ve been in Phoenix… my mom is sick. I was staying at my brother’s house.” Now that she had played her sick mom card I had to come out of my Sharky’s Machine zen place of detachment and at least talk with her. I could tell she was hammered. “I got stoned with my niece, I’m the cool art teacher aunt.” Sure, lady, sure.

The TV was tuned into CNN and suddenly beady-eyed candidate Scott Walker was on the screen. My bar mate became extremely agitated…I guess because she was a teacher and Gov Walker had done a lot to destroy the teacher’s union in Wisconsin. “This fucker is the devil…” she exclaimed loudly. When I saw the rest of the bar turn toward her, I considered egging her on but returned to my zen quiet place. “Who are you  gonna vote for?” she asked me suddenly. Geez lady, why not ask me if I go to church or if I masturbate? “Uh, I don’t talk about politics, ever…” I had hoped that response would shut her down. But after slamming her vodka shot, finishing her screwdriver and quickly ordering another, she asked me again. Suddenly I found myself trapped in a conversational loop that didn’t appear to have an end – she’d ask who I was voting for and I’d decline to answer. It was like that comedy routine, “who’s on first?”

“You remind me of my brother…I bet you’re a Republican.” I was dressed in a suit and tie and looked like an off-duty narcotics agent, I could see where I might give off that vibe, but again I declined to give her a definitive answer. My politics are more “fluid.” “You remind me of my brother she repeated.” At least she’d stopped asking me who I was going to vote for. I hadn’t asked her but suddenly she volunteered, “I feel the Bern. I’m 100% behind Bernie Sanders and I say fuck anybody who isn’t.” She was significantly more agitated and in order to deal with her, I quickly ordered another bourbon. I was wondering when the jack booted thugs in airport security were going to burst into the bar and club her into submission. I only hoped I wouldn’t be collateral damage. She ordered another large screwdriver but said she’d settle for a shot of vodka… the elderly bartender gave her a glass of orange juice and said, “Sweety, I think you’ve had enough.” Wow, here was something I’d never seen before, a person cut off in an airport bar. It’s like a crack dealer turning down a junkie with money. You just never expect to see that.

Being cut off seemed to jar her back to reality briefly. She started asking every 2 minutes, what time it was. Her flight was in another ninety minutes and she had to get back to Green Bay. When I looked at my watch the third time, to verify that only 2 minutes had passed since her last asking me, she noticed my wedding ring. “So, you’re married?” Uh, yes. “I am too, but I have to tell you, I’m very attracted to you…” Uh, oh this was getting weirder. I’ve been married a long time… nobody had seriously worked me for ages. I went back to my zen place of blankness. I didn’t respond at all. I sipped my bourbon and wished they allowed smoking in this bar, even though I don’t smoke. Now seemed like a good time to start.

“Yes, I’m very attracted to you. You remind me of my brother.” I had to pause and consider that sentence for a while… Before I could truly digest her simultaneous attraction to her brother and me, she leaned in and conspiratorially whispered, “Do you think there’s a unisex bathroom around here… we could lock the door.”

Um… no.

I wasn’t sure what kind of incestuous fantasy this vodka crazed socialist was working on, but I’m happily devoted to the Rock Chick… I was having none of this. Maybe my suit made her consider me “the man” and she wanted me to “stick it to her” in a literal way. I considered saying, “I’m flattered” but by this time she had a death grip on my forearm and I was wondering how I’d explain getting into a fist fight with an art teacher in the MSP airport to the authorities.

Thankfully, the bartender, who had been intently listening to all of this, likely with the idea he was going to have to restrain this woman at some point, set another bourbon in front of me, it was apparently gratis, and gave the socialist art teacher her bill. Jumping on his train of thought, I said, “Quick, you must get to your gate, it’s almost flight time…” despite the fact that only a few additional minutes had passed and this woman had another 70 minutes until flight. It seemed the appropriate time to motivate her movement.

As she staggered slowly away, she turned to say good bye and I whispered, “Don’t worry, I’ll never vote for Trump…” It was the most I’d said publicly about politics in years but I felt she’d earned it. I don’t begrudge anyone their politics and I admired her devotion to Bernie Sanders but I just wasn’t going to talk politics with her in an airport bar. I certainly wasn’t going to join her in the bathroom either, but that goes without saying. And off she staggered, a tangle of scarves, coats, and luggage. I’ll never know if she made it home alive or not. I just thank God she didn’t locate a unisex bathroom…

It did turns out the bartender, who had been highly entertained by the entire exchange, did charge me for that last bourbon. Oh well, it was worth it to get her out of there…

Cheers!

Minneapolis’ Nye’s Polonaise and the Weird Ride Across the Mississippi River

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Weird stuff happens to me when I go out drinking in strange towns. I was traveling recently and this is a vague approximation of what went down on that weird and twisted night…

I have business these days that takes me to Minneapolis. I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d spend time in Minnesota. When I was younger the word Minneapolis conjured visions of people ice fishing, Bud Grant and the Purple People Eaters with their fans shivering in the blowing snow. In short, I always considered Minneapolis a winter wasteland. But then I started to travel there for business and all the perceptions of my youth flew out the window.

After my first trip to the “Twin Cities” I discovered that Minneapolis is truly a hidden gem of a city. I mean, the winters are brutal, but I think most of the natives are Nordic types descended from actual Vikings and they don’t seem to care. In the winter they have an intricate system of walk ways, similar to an ant farm I briefly had as a child, to navigate the cold streets. In the summer, the city opens like a flower. Granted I think summer only lasts about 36 hours up there, but it is awesome.  The downtown has a long road, whose name escapes me, that is filled with cafes, restaurants and groovy bars with great live music. Each of these places seems to have an outside patio and when I was up there recently the patios were packed with people who were partying like bears coming out of hibernation. Well, if bears partied when they came out of hibernation instead of eating salmon.

I was staying at my usual hotel where I ran into a business acquaintance of mine, Keith (*name changed to protect the guilty). Keith, who like me is not from Minnesota, was there with a small group of hearty natives and they were doing what I’ve noticed many Minneapolis folks do – drinking like Vikings. After a drink or two, I realized that Keith was pretty loaded on the rye he was drinking and I was about to slip up to the room when suddenly I was pulled into this hearty mob because they told me they wanted to “show Keith and you downtown”. What harm could that cause?

We started on the roof patio of a British pub that was packed with Twins fans but soon got restless. There was a pregnant woman in the bar and that always causes anxiety in drinkers, unless you’re at a Kid Rock show where I’m guessing it’s common. Someone in the group of natives decided we would pub crawl all the way down this main drag of bars and at the very end we’d find an oyster bar where we would dine. I’m no seafood expert but based on geography I was wondering what kind of quality oysters one would find in Minnesota, but hey, I wasn’t going to argue with a group of Vikings. We hit a small jazz bar where we were asked to quiet down as we were drowning out the vocalist who was trying to scat. I hate scatting and frankly I thought we were doing a public service in shouting her down. We hit a bar/restaurant with a vaguely Asian theme and then a tequila bar. Things were getting out of hand. I came to realize that we were never going make the oyster bar, which I was quietly thankful for. One of the natives, while we were in the jazz bar, told a story about a ruptured testicle which had also greatly reduced my desire to eat oysters. I mean, do the math there.

Eventually, the crowd began to thin out. It was Keith and I and two of the natives, one dude and a lady a few years younger than me. The gal was saying the oyster bar was too far to keep going. I thought this would be my chance to get back to my hotel room and barricade the door, when suddenly someone said something about a place called Nye’s.

“Yes, yes, we must take Keith and his friend to Nye’s. It’s essential that they see it before its torn down in a few months.”

I had never heard of Nye’s but apparently it is a Minneapolis institution. Once voted one of “America’s Best Bars”, it was local landmark. Alas, it had been destined to close in the near term, it was losing money. My interest was piqued. I had to check this place out. The full name of the bar is Nye’s Polonaise. It was opened in 1950 and apparently for Minneapolis’ youth it’s a right of passage to go to Nye’s and buy your first legal drink. The only thing that made me feel this might be dubious is that it was a piano bar and had a “famous” polka room. Every family reunion I attended as a child there was some drunk, distant cousin of my father’s with an accordion so naturally I was alarmed by the polka reference.

I incorrectly assumed Nye’s was somewhere on this main drag we were meandering on but I was wrong. We were going to have to catch a cab to get to Nye’s. This concerned me because I knew despite how far we’d wandered thus far, I could still get back to my hotel on foot, if it became necessary to run to avoid the authorities. A cab ride seemed dicey but the next thing I knew I was in the back of a cab, rushing through the Minneapolis night time toward’s Nye’s.

I’m no geography expert, but I had no idea the Mississippi River cut through Minneapolis. But suddenly we were jetting across a massive bridge, headed over the Big Muddy. I couldn’t help but wonder where the hell we were going. Keith, who was slightly drunker than I was, was more disconcerted than me. He slurred, “Hey, wait a minute, nobody told me we were going to Canada?” He was apparently as confused by the Mississippi River as I was, except he apparently thought we were crossing the border. I was also wondering how close Minneapolis was to Canada but I was too drunk to be sure. Keith, who seemed to become more agitated the farther out on the bridge we got, suddenly, yelled, above the wind blowing in the open window of the cab, “I don’t have my passport?” The mood in the car was turning weird. The cab driver, a kind Ethiopian gentlemen was laughing hysterically because we were stupid enough to think we were in Canada.

When at last we pulled up in front of the bar, Keith I leaned into the window of the cab driver and I said, “I only have American dollars, do you still take those in Canada?” which only caused Keith to freak out more and the cab driver to laugh louder. He kept trying to reassure us we were still in Minneapolis though we were having trouble understanding him through all the laughing he was doing.

A few steps later, we were in Nye’s…and it was spectacular. Keith whispered in my ear, “Don’t be alarmed, they may be speaking French here, we might be Quebec…” and he quickly staggered up to the bar. All the furniture was covered in what looked like plastic seat covers. This was the grand daddy of all dive bars. In the corner by the front door was a piano behind which was an older woman and she was belting out what I believe might have been a Taylor Swift song, but how would I know what that was?

As quickly as Keith had run up to the bar, the woman we were with kicked her shoes off and sat down squarely at the piano, right across from the singer. Her shoulders hunched over and she stared at the pianist with an intensity I’d never seen before in a bar. There was a college a girl who was dancing around the piano area and a line from a Springsteen song popped into my mind, “Angel starts to shuffle like she ain’t got no brains…” This was getting weirder.

An elderly woman was given the microphone and stood up and did a stunning rendition of Strangers In the Night, during which a round of drinks arrived at the piano that drunken Keith had sent over. Next a bald guy at the end of the bar was given the microphone. He sang an old 50s rock song but he changed the lyrics of the song so it was about a man with bad dandruff. He was like that guy on PBS, Mark Russell, who used to do piano based, politically satirical songs. After the song he was introduced to Keith and I as “the local satirist.” Keith muttered, a little loud, “That’s not satire, that’s just stupid.” The Local Satirist was not amused.

He asked where we were from and I muttered, “Kansas.” He said, “Kansas’ main exports are coal and wheat, which business are you in?” I wasn’t sure that was true or not but he was angry with Keith and I didn’t want to get kicked out. Before I could answer his query, Keith leaned forward and said, “We’re coal barons, don’t we look like it?”

Luckily at this point, the woman we were with requested to sing “the Billy Joel song about the picture from Sears.” Somehow, the woman behind the piano knew she was talking about Scenes From an Italian Restaurant. But since we’d already ridiculed the Local Satirist and claimed to be Coal Barons, the pianist was refusing to play a song that long unless we tipped extra. After a quick collection we tipped her $20 and I expected this woman we were with, who had been very boisterous all night, to blow the lid off the Billy Joel song but when they gave her the microphone, suddenly I could tell she was seized by what Hunter S Thompson called “the fear.” The best she could do was mumble, in a low voice, “Bottle of red…uh…. bottle of…white.” The pianist was underwhelmed.

The evening began to devolve from there. I seem to remember Keith staggering and falling into the college girl who was dancing around and a table of drinks being spilled. I was going to slip into the polka room, next door, where a band was playing loudly but I decided discretion is the better part of valor and finally agreed with Keith, “leaving, what a good idea.” We quickly staggered out to the curb where I pulled up Uber and summoned a driver.

Keith seemed calmed by this momentarily but then suddenly panicked and said, “Does Uber come to Canada? Without my passport, I’ll have to ride in the trunk…”

Maybe next time, I’ll go to Nye’s without Keith. It really is a spectacular bar.