Planning Duluth: Endion and East Side Traffic

20 Sep

Oh Duluth politics and planning blogging, how I’ve missed you. My return was inspired by this recent Perfect Duluth Day post on mall access on Duluth’s east side, an idea that includes big plans for 21st Avenue East, a major artery in the near east Endion neighborhood. In the next month, I’ll become a resident of Endion, so I feel entitled to an opinion here. Endion is a funny neighborhood; one that makes sense only in terms of its history. The U.S. census splits it into two tracts, and my future home is on the 20th Ave. E. dividing line; one side of the street has a median household income that’s $45,000 more than the other. I’m on the poorer side, so I guess I’m an evil gentrifier coming to ruin the neighborhood.

Endion is an area where three different Duluths collide. First, there’s old money Duluth, the realm of stately old homes. Go eight blocks east and you’re in the wealthiest pocket of northern Minnesota, but over by me, it’s a jumble of well-maintained beauties and faded grandeur. Next, there’s Duluth as a Rust Belt city, a realm of lifelong renters in often transient states of poverty. Head eight blocks west, and you’re in Duluth’s poorest area. Third, there’s college town Duluth, which has slowly leached down the hill over the decades. The big old houses get carved up into student apartments; some are clearly declining student properties, while others are hard to tell apart from the single family homes. It’s a complicated place with an unclear future, and several paths open up before it.

The poster on PDD suggests turning 21st Avenue East into a four-lane highway, which is both a terrible and an unrealistic idea. Four-lane streets aren’t any more efficient at moving people, unless they become limited access highways, in which case we’re talking widespread destruction of homes. It’s even worse when we factor in such considerations as 1) unless given some even more destructive switchbacks, it won’t lessen weather concerns—in fact, as a viaduct, it will worsen them; 2) 21st is not a federal highway like Piedmont, so it would have to be built on the dime of a city that already struggles to fill potholes, and 3) as someone who’s spent most of the past eight years living part-time in larger cities, I giggle at this alleged “bad” traffic on 21st. (I drove it at rush hour today for kicks, and got to my destination maybe ten seconds slower than I would have otherwise.) Such a project would be a horrid waste of money, and it won’t happen. But, thankfully, it does open up a conversation about planning the Endion neighborhood as a whole.

The commenter mentions college-driven housing stock decline in justifying the 21st Ave. project, but this mistakes the symptom for the disease. Some college spread is inevitable, and anyone who buys a house within a few blocks of a college should expect some residual effects. But in the long run, college properties spilling down into Endion don’t do anyone much good. It leaves students with long, unpleasant commutes, and ups the odds of drunken incidents involving vehicles. It encroaches on neighborhoods that might reasonably not expect it, and leads to headaches for neighbors and universities as they try to keep the peace. The root cause of declining housing along 21st isn’t the spread of college students; it’s decades of poor development practice that led them to fan out in the first place.Colleges are more fun for everyone when they’re relatively self-contained, tight-knit communities.

The solution is simple: densify the area around campus. Pull down the worst of the student slum housing and replace it with things that can hold more people. Fortunately, this is already under way with Bluestone and Kenwood Village; ideally, these higher-end properties will allow other nearby homes to filter down and become affordable. As a corollary, build things students enjoy next to the university so that they’re less inclined to go traipsing down the hill in search of a good time. I have some quibbles with the design of Bluestone, which appears awfully proud of its parking lots, but it’s hard not to argue it’s been an economic success, and that organic explosion of development is pretty remarkable in a city that doesn’t usually grow a whole lot. The demand is obviously there.

Elsewhere in Endion, the commenter is right to call out London Road and its lame “stroad” status: it seems so wide that it’s trying to be a highway, but has the speed limits and business development patterns of a city street. (Though I would defend futons from Mr. Marohn’s unjustified slur.) The thing needs work. Once again, there’s progress: the Endi development at 21st and London Road has some potential to galvanize that whole stretch, and there’s room to make the current sprawly commercial and retail space a lot more attractive to us neighbors. I drove down this as well today, and there’s more than enough vacant or underused property to develop a serious commercial corridor, with a ready-made consumer base and workforce in neighboring areas. The PDD commenter complains that the East Side doesn’t have easy enough access to mall-land, but with the right developments, maybe East Siders will have more convenient options than trekking up to Duluth Heights or Hermantown.

I beg to differ with some of the commenter’s characterizations of the city’s development patterns. If downtown is dying, what’s with the new maurices building? East Superior Street? The Tech Village may not be stuffed with innovative incubators, but it is basically full, as is every other newer project downtown. Build it (or renovate it), and they will come. That said, the person isn’t wrong to emphasize the growth patterns over the hill. I’m not one of those urbanists who thinks the suburbs are about to stop growing, and that everyone will magically move back to the city. The exurbs have driven the Duluth area’s population growth since 1990, and will continue to grow at a faster rate than the built-up East Side. Barring an armed invasion of Hermantown, I don’t see Duluth hitting that 100,000 target population anytime soon.

Much as I’d like to see growth, though, I don’t think it should be the goal in and of itself. Instead, I want to see new life in somewhat shabby neighborhoods, and intelligent planning that builds communities that offer a bit more than carbon copy suburban development, and a tax base to fund all these bright ideas. If we want to recharge this city, it takes two steps: first, retain us young professional millennials, whether they’re recent grads or kids like me who come home; and second, keep us here with reasonable starter homes, career growth opportunities, and decent schools for our kids. Better highways won’t do that; better amenities and intelligent planning will.

I’m moving to Endion because I think it has a ton of potential: easy access to downtown (where I work, and do most of my play), reasonably good (and improving!) amenities around it, and architecture that would be a treasure with a little updating (expanded renovation funds, anyone?). It will take some work, though, and these scattered thoughts are, at least, a starting point for the city’s new comprehensive plan discussion, which kicks off at Denfeld High tomorrow. It’s time to radically rethink the solutions to those “stressed” street corridors identified in the previous plan. Don’t treat the symptoms; treat the underlying cause.

Active Former Hounds, 2016

17 Sep

Better late than never: here’s the annual list of players who once wore a Duluth East jersey who played junior, college, or professional hockey this past season. Asterisks denote players who left East early.

Zack Fitzgerald (’04 D)* Fitzgerald, a former 3rd-round draft pick who left East after his freshman year, continues to plug along into his 30s. After a long time in the AHL, he moved on to the UK two seasons ago, and played for the Sheffield Steelers in 15-16. As has become his habit, he accumulated a huge heap of penalty minutes in his role as team enforcer. He’s also put up double digit points in both his seasons in the UK, something he managed only once in his long AHL stint. He’s the younger brother of Rusty Fitzgerald, a ’91 East grad and Mr. Hockey finalist who played three seasons in the NHL.

Cade Fairchild (’07 D)* Fairchild’s career trajectory is fairly similar to Fitzgerald’s: both left East after one year, spent a while in the AHL, had a very brief sip of NHL coffee, and made their way to Europe in 14-15. They differ in their playing style, however: Fairchild remains a high-scoring offensive catalyst, and was second among defensemen in points on a bad Novokuznetzk Metallurg team. The team name may not be pronounceable, but it is in the KHL, arguably the top hockey league after the NHL. At 27, he can probably keep this going for a while longer.

Matt Cooper (’09 G) Score one for the unconventional path: Cooper played club hockey at Iowa State, but unlike the three D-I Hounds he graduated with, he’s still playing competitive hockey. He played for four different teams this past winter, including three in the Federal Hockey League and one in the Southern Professional Hockey League.

Derek Forbort (’10 D)* It was a big year for the former first-round pick, who made his NHL debut in October and played in 14 games with the Kings, logging a goal and an assist before heading back down to the AHL. Once there, he had a steady showing with the Ontario Reign. At 24, we still haven’t probably seen the last of him in the big leagues. He signed a 2-year, $1.3 million extension with the Kings this summer.

Andy Welinski (’11 D)* Welinski could have easily skipped out of his senior season at UMD, but the 2011 3rd-round pick stuck around and wore the ‘C’ for the Bulldogs, who again bowed out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He was remarkably steady in his point production across four years at UMD, and began his professional career with a 13-game AHL stint after the college season wrapped up. We’ll see if he gets the call to the NHL this coming year.

Hunter Bergerson (’11 D) Bergerson rounded out a four-year D-III career at St. Scholastica, where he provided depth on defense throughout.

Dom Toninato (’12 F) Toninato was UMD’s leading goal-scorer for a second straight season, and provided his usual forceful net-front presence. His overall production was down a bit in a somewhat inconsistent season for the Bulldogs, but he remains a well-regarded prospect. Like his old teammate Welinski, he’s staying for his senior year at UMD, and will be the team captain in 16-17.

Jake Randolph (’12 F) As always, the crafty Randolph put together a solid year for Nebraska-Omaha; he upped his goal count a bit, as he tends to do with experience at a level. His overall production dipped as his team’s fortunes declined, though it was still good for fourth on the team. He’ll be a junior for the Mavericks this coming winter.

Trevor Olson (’12 F) Olson might not have put up the strong numbers of his two former linemates, Toninato and Randolph, in his sophomore season at North Dakota; instead, he usually provided 4th-line depth, and recorded just four points. However, he can now claim one title his old linemates can’t: national champion, as UND brought the trophy back to Grand Forks for an eighth time. As he ages, he may be able to step into a more prominent offensive role.

Nate Repensky (’12 D) Injuries have long plagued Repensky, and the bug bit the Yale sophomore again this past season, leading to a somewhat lost year production-wise. When healthy, he’s a reliable contributor on the Bulldog blue line, and his team made the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season.

Meirs Moore (’13 D) The crafty Moore made his D-I debut this past winter at RPI, where he was a lineup regular and tossed in 7 points as well. His role should only grow, and if he gets any power play time, he might be able to show some flashes of the talent that made him so prolific at East.

Conner Valesano (’13 F)* Valesano just wrapped up a fourth year in the USHL, and while it was his most productive offensively, it wasn’t enough to quite break out and earn a D-I scholarship. For a second straight year, he piled up the penalty minutes after what had previously been a pretty clean career. He’s headed to D-III Wisconsin-Stout, along with several old teammates.

Alex Toscano (’13 F) Toscano completed a three-year junior hockey career with his most productive season, a 29-point effort for the Cloquet-based Minnesota Wilderness of the NAHL. As is his wont, he also piled up a mountain of PIM. Like Valesano, he’s headed to Stout.

Jack Forbort (’13 F) Add Forbort to the list of Class of 2013 forwards who had respectable final years in the NAHL. Like Toscano, he was with the Wilderness; his future plans are uncertain.

Andrew Kerr (’13 D) Kerr’s second year in the USHL involved another respectable point total for a defensive defenseman, and also a significant drop in his high penalty minute totals. He was set to start a D-III career with the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire this winter. Instead, he faces an entirely different fight, as a freak off-ice injury over the summer left him incapacitated. His recovery at a hospital in Colorado is ongoing.

Hogan Davidson (’13 F) Davidson, always a sparkplug for the Hounds, wandered furthest of the large Class of 2013. He put up 26 points in his final year with the NAHL Loan Star Brahmas of Richland Hills, Texas, and leaves juniors as the Brahmas’ all-time leader in games played. He will continue his journey as he plays D-III at Nichols College in Massachusetts.

Phil Beaulieu (’14 D) Beaulieu’s journey took some unexpected twists in the past calendar year. First, his old USHL team, Waterloo, tried to move him to forward, a move that made approximately zero sense for his development. He wound up playing for the Madison Capitols, where he had a respectable season, though his production was down. With a defensive backlog at Nebraska-Omaha, where he’d been committed since high school, Beaulieu was turned loose, but it took him no time at all to land on his feet with Northern Michigan. He’ll make his D-I debut there this winter.

Alex Trapp (’14 D) Trapp had a second respectable season on the blue line for the Wilderness in the NAHL. He will, presumably, be back at it this coming winter.

Nick Altmann (’15 F) The lone senior off that 2015 second place State Tournament team to play hockey after high school, Altmann joined the ranks of ex-Greyhounds playing for the Wilderness in the NAHL this past winter, where he put up 15 points. He had a cup of coffee in the USHL with Madison, too. He should be back with the Wilderness again to start this coming season.

***

The following five players hung up their skates before the start of the 15-16 season, after substantial post-high school careers:

Nick Angell (’98 D) Angell wrapped up a 12-year professional career that took him all over Europe, with time in Germany and the Russian KHL bookended by two stints in Sweden. The star of the ’98 state championship team and eventual Golden Gopher was the last remaining link to the East mid-90s dynasty, and can now settle in to life after hockey.

Keegan Flaherty (’08 F)* Flaherty spent two years with the Pensacola Ice Flyers of the Southern Professional Hockey League after his graduation from UMD, where he put up very Flaherty-ish numbers. He was never a prolific scorer, even in his time in high school, but always put  in a solid work rate and chipped in where he could.

Alex McLean (’09 D) McLean rounded out his four years at Ohio State, where he was a steady, low-scoring defenseman for the Buckeyes. As a Hound, he spent a couple of seasons as Derek Forbort’s defensive partner, and was a rock on a team that made the State Tournament his senior year.

Julius Tamasy (’09 F) Tamasy finished off a three-year playing career at D-III Nazareth College in New York, where he was fairly productive in a fledgling program. He transferred to East from Brainerd for his senior season, where he led the second line on the ’09 State Tourney squad.

Phil Johnson (’11 F) Johnson rounded out a solid four-year career at St. John’s in 14-15. The workmanlike forward was an important supporting cast member in the Hounds’ 2010 State Tourney run and 2011 second place finish.

We’ll do this again next season; five players off last year’s team are on USHL or NAHL rosters, so the list will probably grow. The Elite League, meanwhile, is underway. Two months to go till the 16-17 season…

A Patient Pause

11 Sep

Just a quick update on my apparent lack of posting: my laptop´s power cord has met an untimely demise, and while the replacement is on the way, it may be a little while. And while I am a patient person, tapping out posts on my phone keyboard just sounds a bit too trying. (To be honest, it was actually pretty timely. Better to have this happen when I no longer need it for frequent grad school duties, when I am busy settling in to a new job and car and living situation, and not during hockey season.)

Rest assured that I took pen to paper today as some thoughts about the election percolated, and am weighing my path of re-entry into commentary on Duluth area affairs. I also have the annual post on Duluth East alums playing hockey past high school nearly ready to go. Posting will resume shortly.

Before I sign off, though, I will pause for one little reflection, here on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. I was a sixth-grader when I got that news, and I’m not sure I have much to say that hasn’t already been said already: it’s a moment to honor the dead, to applaud the heroism that emerged that day, and to lament the ensuing geopolitical slog that has led us far from that initial unity of purpose and certainty of redemption. It’s hard to discount the impact of that day on the consciousness of my generation. It’s still there, lingering, even though it was over half a life ago.

On a run this morning, on a perfect September day–literally every day has been near-perfect weather-wise since I returned to Duluth–I stopped to cycle through some of those old memories, which culminate in a trip to the Pentagon Memorial the day after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden’s death seemed to close a chapter, and for my Georgetown classmates who ran to the White House to celebrate the night he was killed, it was a rare, liberating moment of victory in an often murky war. I didn’t join them, though. My thoughts, instead, were with the people who lost someone that day, for whom a retributive strike might provide some grim sense of justice, but could do nothing to turn back the clock on what had happened. Some wounds never heal.

50 Things I’ve Missed About Duluth

4 Sep

I’ve been back here a week now. Here are 50 distinctly Duluth things I have enjoyed since then, or plan to enjoy in the not-so-distant future.

  1. Ridiculously perfect summer weather.
  2. Topography. In Minneapolis, I would go out of my way to find hills when running because it was so damn flat.
  3. Marvelously cheap real estate.
  4. Rush “hours” in which the traffic doesn’t actually get any slower.
  5. Not really caring about leaving ground floor windows or doors open or unlocked.
  6. Bike/running paths that do not require constantly trying to dodge other people on said path.
  7. That slightly wild edge to the green spaces. Which are everywhere.
  8. Walking across the lift bridge, which is inevitably cold even when it is warm everywhere else.
  9. Lake views. Everywhere.
  10. A really big, sandy beach.
  11. Lots of craft beer with no hint of pretension.
  12. 75-cent bus fare.
  13. Silence as I sleep.
  14. Duluth Grill lunches.
  15. Pacing the concourse at the Heritage Center.
  16. Easy day trips to the North Shore, the Boundary Waters, or just the middle of nowhere in the woods.
  17. The India Palace buffet.
  18. The Thirsty Pagan. (Okay, I guess that’s Superior. But for as much fun as we Duluthians poke at Superior, it does have some very good food options, and I’m kinda curious to explore its bar scene in all its glory.)
  19. Being entertained by tourists in Canal Park.
  20. Having Duluth to ourselves again after all the tourists leave.
  21. Grandma’s Sports Garden…eh, maybe not, I’m not 22 anymore.
  22. Knowing the politicians who represent me. (Or, at least, being able to get to know them with relative ease.)
  23. Not having Comcast in my life.
  24. Basically any establishment on East Superior Street between Tycoons and Sir Ben’s.
  25. Seeing stars at night.
  26. Boat horns.
  27. Neighborhood hockey rinks.
  28. Parties in Bayfront.
  29. A breeze off the lake. Well, sometimes.
  30. The tap water.
  31. The Breeze Inn.
  32. Ice cream after a walk on the Lakewalk.
  33. Refurbished turn-of-the-century downtown buildings.
  34. Getting bridged.
  35. Ski trails everywhere.
  36. Congdon homes.
  37. The Duluth arts community.
  38. Enger Park.
  39. The Red Herring.
  40. Amsoil Arena.
  41. The St. Louis River.
  42. That Christmas parade we have in mid-November.
  43. Smelt.
  44. Huskies games.
  45. Sidewalk Days.
  46. The Rose Garden.
  47. Cruising down Skyline Parkway.
  48. Vikre.
  49. Greyhounds.
  50. Late nights on the lakeshore, or on the ridge up above.

Farewell, Minneapolis

29 Aug

I’m settling back into life in Duluth right now, temporarily back in my childhood bedroom as I find my own place and make some other purchases to prepare me for working life. Before I completely turn the page, though, I’ll say a fond farewell to Minneapolis, my home for the past two years. I only ever expected it to be a short stay; a stint that would simply prepare me for an eventual return to Duluth. I didn’t invest myself too deeply in its politics or inner workings, and kept my attention fixed to the north. One can only handle so many political sagas at a time, though I was there for long enough that I certainly know the lay of the land now. Things went according to plan, so this post won’t approximate my “Farewell Duluth” saga from August 2014. But I did fall for much of Minneapolis in my time here, and I will miss parts of it.

For starters, my apartment and neighborhood were ideal for my situation. I lived in a spacious apartment in an old red brick building with hardwood floors, though the building’s greatest feature was Frances, the elderly, vivacious building manager who kept us all in line. My friend in the apartment’s other bedroom, a fellow Georgetown grad, provided a necessary sounding board, as two people who had their critiques of the Minneapolis mystique could vent freely while pursuing our goals, divergent as they were, with typical Hoya ambition. Lowry Hill East, despite its hopelessly dysfunctional neighborhood board and historic renovation slush fund, gave excellent access to the whole city. It was right between Uptown and Downtown, both a short ride or a long walk away, and express buses to the U took me there in less than ten minutes. A short run was all I needed to reach many of my favorite parts of the city: the lakes, the sculpture garden (RIP), and my favorite refuge here, Theodore Wirth Park. And, next door, Liquor Lyle’s, that magical den where you can find a little something of everything.

I saw nearly every corner of the city in my time here. Downtown, where I worked for a year, threading the skyway hive and watching as the beast of a new Vikings stadium arose day by day. The North Loop, its warehouses all freshly renovated, home to happy hours and Twins games. Northeast, with its ever-expanding network of breweries and dive bars that put Lyle’s to shame. St. Paul, which I frequented on bike rides up Summit Avenue to a winnable trivia, and of course that southwest corner of downtown, which I’ll continue to visit every March. Lowry Hill, Linden Hills, Bryn Mawr, and the Chain of Lakes, where I sized up grand old houses and dreamed of the future. North, site of many a run, and subsequent reflection on race and poverty in this otherwise gleaming city. Quirky, crunchy Seward; the looming towers of Cedar-Riverside. The riverfront, always a convenient escape, whether down along the southern bluffs or from a bar on St. Anthony Main with that incomparable view. All those hockey rinks out in the suburbs that became frequent haunts in the winter months. I could trail on.

The University of Minnesota campus isn’t an aesthetic masterpiece; that’s especially true on the droll modernist West Bank, where I spent most of my days. I enjoyed being part of a power conference school (albeit one that doesn’t win much in the big sports), with all the attendant atmosphere and that infectious buzz of spirit. Comparing it to Georgetown naturally dooms it: they serve different purposes, and of course a large, sprawling research school is going to spawn a few more weak instructors and a bureaucracy that often left me in disgust. Thankfully, they were outshone by handful of committed leaders, and their numbers seemed to grow in my time as a Gopher.

What the U may have lacked in institutional efficiency, however, it made up for in the community it built in my graduate program. My fellow students of cities will stay friends for a very long time, and saying goodbye wasn’t easy. Our social calendar was nearly nonstop, and I’m sure I’ll be watching it forlornly from a distance for a while. I spent so much of my time in this city on the couch in the MURP Lab, where I rarely ever got anything done, but rarely regretted the detour. It was the prefect venue for coming into one’s own.

This is, of course, a brief goodbye. There will be many return visits for nights with old friends, for trips to suburban ice rinks and Orchestra Hall and Target Field. I’m excited to show off my hometown and my new life to many of them, and am ready to open up a mini boarding house for any Minneapolitans in need of an escape northward. Wherever I end up living, there will be plenty of space for guests. (After miserable DC and inflating Minneapolis, Duluth real estate is dreamy.) Thanks for serving me well, Minneapolis, and I expect you’ll always be a pleasant home away from home.

A few housekeeping notes: blogging may be a bit sparse as I settle in to a new job and home. Since I try to maintain a pretty strict work-blog separation—in over three years at this, you’ll never find more than a passing mention of any of my jobs—I also might not resume my Duluth politics coverage on the same level I was at a couple of years ago. Now that I have a job that can have some effect on these affairs, I’ll aim to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest. But I certainly won’t cut myself off entirely, either, and I expect to have some openings for comment now when I’m back in the thick of this cozy political world, where there’s little space to hide. On the hockey side of the ledger, I’m naturally excited to be back in my alma mater’s backyard, and also look forward to touring a number of northern Minnesota rinks this winter. Rest assured that I’ll make a few well-timed weekend visits to the metro, and the podcast should be able to go on with me as a call-in correspondent. If anything, our network is just expanding, and the future looks bright on many fronts. Stay tuned.

Going Home

19 Aug

Like any good PR person, I had two blog posts written for today, a victory speech and a concession address. This, I’m pleased to announce, is the former. After a long, sometimes dismal summer in which pickiness over potential jobs led to a lot of painful waiting, my patience has paid off. I’m going home, back to Duluth to work a job whose description might as well have wandered out of a dream of mine from two years ago when I started my grad school odyssey. I’ll be working for a consultant on business and community development across northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin. I try to be skeptical of things like destiny, but I’m still prone to strong hunches, and if there ever were such a tale of fate in my life, this was it.

It’s a move 20 years in the making: this very week in 1996, I first came to Duluth in a moving van. The story twists through long formative years and an unexpected two-year return, and culminates in one of the best interviews I’ve ever done, easy because it was so genuinely sincere. It took no act, no conscious airs, to convey how badly I wanted this, and how much I believed in my ability to do it, despite my relative inexperience. I don’t consider myself a great actor, but as a kid well-versed in Minnesota Nice and East Coast gentility and a natural introversion, deep expression can be rare. Here, it all came gushing forth.

I’ve had a number of guides in this trip back; some may be aware of their roles, others less so. First off, there are my parents, ever my supports, even if I’ve never properly expressed my gratitude to them. I think back to some of my Georgetown professors; one who opened my eyes to the full array of options before me, and one who told a moody senior who was scared to go home that, indeed, “Duluth needs people like you.” (I’m not sure if it does, but I’m glad to be of service to it.) There’s my grad school friend P., who, over beers at Acadia, made the comment that “I’m not sure that Minneapolis needs me,” a sentiment I wholeheartedly agreed with: while the Twin Cities need work, I think they are in good hands, and I’m in a position to make more of an impact back home, where I have easier access to levers that can make a difference, and which I still know far more intimately than anywhere on earth. If I have any ideals on how to perform public service, they come through rooting oneself in a community and understanding it from the bottom up, and I now get to do that. I have plenty of other friends to thank for their encouragement along the way, with special credit to a handful of old Duluth colleagues who went to bat for me over the past two weeks.

It is strange, I think, to be wedded to a city in the way I am to Duluth. Sure, I’ve built some contingencies, and try not to idolize earthly things, but the nagging call was always there. It flies in the face of some other forces in my life, and I try to view my attachment to a place with clear-eyed dispassion. I’m leaving behind a tight-knit network of good friends in Minneapolis, and I will miss them. A lot. (For those of you reading this, I’ll be down often, and you are all required to visit. Seriously.) Any good-bye, no matter how brief, makes me lament lost chances to go deeper with people I know in a place. I’m not sure what Duluth will be like for a 26-year-old single kid who is now out of excuses for tarrying and ready to find someone to share in, and make her own contributions to, a vision for the future. Beyond that, I’m going to need to find some partners in crime in a small city where it’s hard to keep secrets or stay in the shadows. And, of course, I will have to reacquaint myself with blankets of fog, vicious winds, driving on snow-covered hills, and the unspeakably gross time of year in Duluth that in other places is called “spring.”

I now have an adult life to put in order, and will face my share of challenges in doing so. On the one hand, my path appears routine: kid goes away for college, goes home, accepts solid job, settles down. On the other hand, it’s a bit countercultural for someone who had a ticket to some exotic position in Washington DC or some other major city, but chose not to board that train. Whatever it was that led me down this road, it has always felt natural, and I’m content with that much. There’s a lot of work to do, too. Duluth and some pockets of northeastern Minnesota are doing better now than they have been for most of my life, but that’s not true of the whole region that my work will now cover, and even the successes to date are only a basic foundation. It’s an exciting time to head back and begin anew on an effort to support a regional economy and the people who are its heart and soul.

To everyone who’s been a part of this journey, thank you: you’ve all fed in, often in ways you may not know. I’ve been blessed, and am more than ready to set out on the next journey, on to new heights. Let the work begin.

Exit Alex Rodriguez

12 Aug

The most complicated of Yankees came to a more-or-less mutual agreement with his team last Sunday, and his career will come to an abrupt end when he plays his final game tonight. The writing was on the wall. Alex Rodriguez has been atrocious since the All-Star Break, seemingly spent as an offensive force. The Yankee front office has launched a long-overdue rebuilding operation in the past weeks, as they became sellers at the trade deadline for the first time in my lifetime. They purged a heap of long-term contracts, and Mark Teixeira, another aging star in an injury-riddled decline, also announced his retirement at the end of the season. Now, they are effectively paying the fading slugger to go away, giving him a cushy parachute with a job as an incredibly highly paid advisor.

It was, perhaps, the best way to save face. I’ve always had a nuanced take on A-Rod: I stood up for him when the New York media trashed his early playoff struggles in the Bronx, and said he deserved every boo he heard when the steroid suspension came down in 2013. And so I appreciate his efforts to redeem himself over the past two seasons and atone for the various mistakes of his youth. He came across as humbler; a changed man. Perhaps such an iconic player, just four home runs short of 700, deserved to pick his own time to go. But baseball is a business, and the Yankees are looking to the future. There was no point in wasting a bench spot on him when there are so many young guns to bring along and give a shot at the major league level. Nor is it any fun to watch a former great limp along as a shadow of his former self. It is time to move on.

A-Rod is a fitting face for the post-90s-dynasty Yankees: almost always good, but only able to meet the glare of absurd expectations on rare occasions. Tainted but talented, always hoping there was one good year left in an aging body. His arrival in 2004 marked the end of their run of six World Series berths in eight years, though the drop-off had more to do with the collapse of the pitching staff and the rise of the Red Sox than anything that A-Rod did. He wasn’t a total choke: he got his one ring in 2009, after a superb playoff performance. And after a steroid scandal in which he was nearly disowned by his team, he showed remarkable loyalty. For good and ill, he became the face of the franchise, and his departure, along with Teixeira’s retirement, severs the last remaining ties to those powerful offenses of the 00s. The revolution is at hand, and this Yankees fan is more encouraged about his franchise’s future than at any point this decade.

Once the hysteria fades away, A-Rod should still get some recognition for what he is: the greatest player of a generation. Like Barry Bonds, his predecessor to that title, he took his quest for greatness too far. But instead of rolling with the villain role as Bonds did, A-Rod was always tinkering, trying to make himself even better and manage a tarnished image. He shouldn’t have thought he needed drugs to make himself better, but he paid his dues, and will continue to do so when he doesn’t make it into the Hall of Fame. He had the versatility to switch positions mid-career as he sought out a winning team, and found some contrition in old age. His vanity and ego are part of the package, yes, but he’s hardly alone in such excesses among athletes. At the very least, he won back most Yankees fans, and will wind up with a respectable place in the team pantheon. Just about any judgment of him beyond that, whether scathing or appreciative, is defensible in its own way.

As a baseball fan, A-Rod’s retirement is also a generational marker. One of the final remaining icons of my childhood—and with it, the steroid era that corrupted baseball—is out the door. (It was heartening to see A-Rod’s exit coincide with a milestone for one of the most graceful, awe-inspiring, untainted stars of the past fifteen years: Ichiro’s 3,000th major league hit.) These aren’t my boyhood Yankees, and this is a new Major League Baseball in which the Yankees are sellers and rebuilders. Well, it worked out last time. Bring on the new era.