Monday, May 11, 2015

"Fire Phasers, Mr. Grant!"

We've all had the problem of songs getting stuck in our head.  I've noticed, however, that the problem seems to be more acute as I get older, and I think this is because as my short-term memory fades, I can no longer recall any recent tunes that involve anacondas and buns and the like, leaving large gaps in the mental day needing to be filled with retained television theme songs from the 1970's, mostly from The Love Boat, which echoes through my head constantly anytime I'm on a cruise ship, much to the total chagrin of The Teen, who, whenever he sees a cute girl on the ship and his father notices his interest, is likely to have that same father spontaneously break out in a chorus of "Love!  Exciting and New! Come Aboard!  We're Expecting You!" in off-key but most enthusiastic baritone which will hammer at his adolescent brain until he's run down the nearest staircase and the sound cannot penetrate the deck plates. Which is why, as The Teen and I ventured to the frozen North this past week to partake of the opening weekend of the Minneapolis-St Paul International Film Festival, all I've heard since I got off the airplane were the musical questions of Who Can Turn the World On With Her Smile and (you're way ahead of me) if She's Gonna Make It and, because I am a hormonally addled male nearing the end of my days of non-chemical enhanced potency, with whom, and how often.
(For the record, Minneapolis and cruise ships are not the only places this happens to me.  My brother lives in Cincinnati, and I cannot see his phone number pop up on my cell without asking myself if anyone wonders whatever became of me.  Similarly, when Ii was in Seattle a few years back, I spent half the time trying to match up the gray urban landscape and overcast sky with Bobby Sherman's descriptions.  I also spent a considerable amount of effort trying to find the iCarly building, but that's a different story.

I've not known much about Minneapolis.  There's the Mary Tyler Moore show, of course.  There's the Minnesota Vikings, the Minnesota Twins, and the late lamented Most Appropriate Hockey Team Name Ever, the Minnesota North Stars.  I know Bronko Nagurski was a Golden Gopher.  And snow.  Lots of snow.  So it was admittedly with a somewhat narrowed point of view that I arrived in the Eng Bunker of the Twin Cities and headed directly to The Mall of America.

At first glance, The Mall is breathtaking in its vastness.  (It's the only mall I've ever seen that has its own train station and attached $250/night hotel.)  I'm sure most people have heard something of it.  There is an indoor amusement park complete with roller coasters, a ferris wheel, and a log flume.  There are movie theaters, a bowling alley, a miniature golf course, and more shops and kiosks than you can count.

But once you get past that first impression of sheer size and scope, it dawns on you that it's still a mall.  Writ large, of course, and all contained within a nondescript concrete bunker to keep you warm while you do your destination shopping in the depths of December, but still pretty much just a mall with stores you can find anywhere else (although it is interesting to note that because the place is so large, there are sometimes two versions of the same store located at opposite ends or on different floors).

Remember Mary's tune that kept going through my head?  It didn't stop at The Mall. So as I'm looking through the Minnesota souvenir stores (of which, including local crafts, sports, and college memorabilia, I recall at least nine) and I'm finding myself strangely drawn to Goldy the Gopher, who seems so much more cute and cuddly and, well, mascoty, in comparison with the Chickenbird who lives thirty miles east of my house, the Kittycat who lives 45 miles to the west, and the Angry Dancing Wheat two hours to the south, but I am finding no Mary Tyler Moore show trinkets at all. I would have bought a light blue WJM blazer and done homemade podcasts with the news, I really would have.  But alas, I'm too old for consumer culture, and instead the stores are full of natural goods and healthful candies and homespun clothing and things featuring moose instead of aerodynamic tam-o-shanters or the Sue Ann Niven cookbook or t-shirts that proclaim "I HATE SPUNK!  Guess all I can do is grow with the times.  Which is why I now own a necktie shaped like a walleye.

There was one place in The Mall where the MTM theme was replaced by another, and that was at Star Trek: The Exhibition. Several years ago I had seen a Star Trek installation in Las Vegas, and was quite impressed.  I arrived at The Mall too late to go into the exhibit that night, but was able to visit the gift kiosk which, in contrast to the embarrassment of Trek riches I had seen in Vegas, was comprised of not much more than a few shelves of plastic phasers and communicators, one each of a Lt. Uhura and and a Lt. Sulu commemorative plate, and some of the requisite yellow, blue and red tee-shirts.   I did break down and buy a set of Star Trek cocktail glasses and a red leather wallet that, when you open it, has the words, "He's dead, Jim" embossed on the pocket (I'll explain it to you later.)  However, I was not willing to part with nearly seventy dollars for a cheap imitation of a medical tricorder that purported to say multiple phrases but only spouted (you guessed it) "He's dead, Jim."  It might have been fun to take to work if it said a few other things, but I've found that people who are not dead generally don't like to be scanned and told they are, and those who are dead already know it and scanning them is really redundant.

As I said, it was a pretty skimpy gift shop, and I was concerned that the exhibition itself would follow suit.  But ever the optimist, I bought my ticket anyway.  And not only was I was surprised at how much fun I had, I was even happier that The Teen, who knows William Shatner more from a bad rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody than as James T Kirk (or TJ Hooker, or Denny Crane...but trust me, he's being educated) had a blast.

At this point, I need to issue a disclaimer and note that if you're not into the World of Star Trek
or, even worse, one of those people who prefers a universe peopled with fictional furballs like Ewoks and Wookies, and whatever the hell Jar-Jar Binks is, rather than the ABSOLUTELY REAL Hortas, Talosians, and Gorns, you are going to be bored silly and wonder if your $16.95 entrance fee could have been better spent on...well, anything.

But if you are of that world, it's a 90 minute slice of heaven.  It starts out with a timeline of space travel, starting with Robert Goddard and moving through Zefram Cochrane, The Treaty of Khitomer, Voyager, and Deep Space 9.  There is an original Captain's Chair from the Enterprise-D and, more interestingly, one from the Enterprise-B, captained by Ferris Bueller's friend Cameron (don't make me explain this).  There are original costumes (was Shatner ever really that short and thin?), and an occasional set dressing where I found myself involuntarily bent over a recreation of the Engineering console on the Enterprise-D, trying desperately to bring the warp drive back online...even though I'd much rather be working alongside my childhood favorite Montgomery Scott ("Ye canna change the laws of physics!") rather than the pansy, goody two-shoes Geordi LeForge. (But at least we have Reading Rainbow.)  There are models and props that close-up you can tell are nothing but poorly painted pieces of wood and styrofoam, but at which you marvel nonetheless.  And all of this is going on while the theme songs from the five Trek series are being boomed into your head.  I'm in my element, and Mary is finally gone, replaced by the knowledge that it's been a long time getting from there to here.

For me, the piece de resistance of the entire exhibit was a recreation of the bridge of THE Enterprise.  (As Mr. Scott would say in a drunken TNG rant, "Show me the bridge of the Enterprise. NCC-1701.  No bloody A, B, C, or D.")  At heart I'm an Original Series guy, meaning that I believe that sometimes you can't talk it out and you just have to blast someone out of the sky.  So as I walked onto the bridge and stood by the rail, it like where I needed to be.  Sure, there was the Captain's chair, but it didn't feel comfortable.  You can't command while seated.  

There are some who believe that we all have past lives, and that if you look hard enough you can find out who you were from who you are.  Does it mean something that I've always read volumes about naval warfare and The Great Captains?  Does it mean anything that I'm a pretty good leader but a not-so-hot follower?  Could I be the last verse of the song "Highwayman?"  It's been a long road, indeed.

But wait, my reverie is interrupted; here's an exhibit staffer to take my picture.  And now someone else...some...well, tourist geek...wants to sit on the chair.  On MY bridge.  And as my reality comes crashing down, all I can do is take refuge in knowing that there's a candy store three flights down and to the right that makes caramel apples and an Orange Julius stand which
does, in fact ease the pain.

After the Mall we headed downtown to the film festival.  (The Teen, who is currently asleep as I write this pending his forty minute Voyage of Discovery each morning that we call Taking a Shower, has already posted his first movie review at Many more to come.)  Only been here overlooking the Mississippi for a few short hours but already like the place.  Woke up early and walked from the hotel, a brisk trot under gray skies to the one landmark I know of, which is the bronze statue of Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat into the air at the corner of 7th street and Nicollet Mall. Took selfies.  Song is back.  She's gonna make it after all.  Me?  Somedays I'm not so sure, but I'll get a beret just in case. 

First glance means something to me, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to like Minnesota a lot. Incredibly nice people, the bird-like sing-song accent (don' 'cha know), delightfully unexpected multicultural diversity.  Even in politics, they either elect people who believe in doing genuine good and exhibiting common sense like Hubert Humphrey, Paul Wellstone, and Tim Pawlenty, and when they don't they at least recognize the process for what it is and elect buffoons (Jesse Ventura) or comedians (Al Franken).  There are moose, fish, Vikings, Timberwolves, Ole and Lena, and above all Goldy.  It strikes me as a place relatively free of pretense, where no matter how much money one has you still need to heat your garage and shovel your way out of the driveway in the dead of winter, and where politeness reigns because it takes up too much body heat to be angry.  

(Did I mention that as I sit at breakfast writing these notes at the Renaissance Hotel at the Depot in downtown Minneapolis, a place where the server remembers my choice of tea from the previous day and that knows how to DO BACON RIGHT, it's April and it's snowing?  When it's fifteen degrees higher and sunny even in my own stark Kansas?  Which probably answers the question about how this place became such a large metropolis.  You clearly have to huddle together for warmth. You get the sense that here global warming is not debated, but welcomed.)

I understand there's a lot more to explore in the Twin Cities, and I certainly intend to come back.  But not this time of year.  Perhaps the third week in July.  I understand that's when summer has been scheduled for 2016.