Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What’s the point of this message from Blue Point? June 28, 2018

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SOMETIMES I WONDER, what don’t I understand? What am I not getting here?

 

 

Isn’t it obvious that when you want to drink a bottle of beer, you need to twist or pop off the cap?

 

 

Maybe it’s an attempt at creative and memorable marketing via humor. That must be the reason New York-based Blue Point Brewing prints Please Remove Bottle Cap Before Drinking on a bottle neck label. Website content convinces me this may be the case. I’m not amused by some of the words published there. But then I’m not a New York brewer.

 

 

Now take a turn. Tell me why you think Please Remove Bottle Cap Before Drinking is printed on Blue Point bottles. Or tell me about an off-the-wall message you’ve read on a label or on packaging.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Road trip stories: A brief tour of beautiful Baldwinsville, a New York river town September 21, 2016

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Near Syracuse in central upstate New York.

Near Syracuse in central upstate New York.

FOLLOWING A SPRING-TIME 3,029-mile road trip from Minnesota to Massachusetts and back, I hold a deep appreciation for warm and welcoming hotel employees. Especially those who direct you to local restaurants.

On the list of dining options, Suds Factory River Grill.

On the list of dining options, Suds Factory River Grill.

Also on the list, Sammy Malone's Pub.

Also on the list, Sammy Malone’s Pub.

A desk clerk at the Comfort Inn Fairgrounds in Syracuse, New York, handed me a three-page print-out of seven homegrown eateries in neighboring Baldwinsville, complete with addresses, websites, phone numbers and directions, after I inquired about “a good place to eat.” Now that’s what I call outstanding customer service.

A walking path along the Seneca river in the heart of downtown Baldwinsville.

A walking path along the Seneca river in the heart of downtown Baldwinsville.

When my husband and I landed at the Comfort Inn in central upstate New York, I was exhausted. The second leg of our journey began that morning 516 miles to the southwest in Angola, Indiana. Except for 1 ½ hours lost in Buffalo, New York, while unsuccessfully searching for Niagra Falls, we’d driven strong and steady along the Interstate. We were in need of food and a place to stretch our legs before turning in for the night.

Welcome to Baldwinsville.

Welcome to Baldwinsville.

The village of Baldwinsville, population around 7,300, proved the ideal setting to unwind. Located on the Seneca River, it’s a lovely town that reminds me of Northfield, Minnesota, marketed as “A Classic American River Town.” Baldwinsville fits that definition, too, but uses the tag “Lock Into an Experience.” That plays off the Erie Canal’s Lock 24 located in Baldwinsville, I learned after our visit.

An example of the historic architecture downtown. Lovely.

An example of the historic architecture downtown. Lovely.

Historic buildings fill the downtown. Restaurants border the river. Nature and commerce mesh in an inviting way.

Fishing the Seneca River on a Friday evening late May.

Fishing the Seneca River on a Friday evening.

In the waning light of a lovely late May Friday evening, Randy and I followed the river, dodging both geese and their droppings. We crossed a bridge to check out the restaurant options and to simply walk. The area teemed with people. Dining. Walking. Fishing. Baldwinsville has a this-is-the-place-to-be vibe.

Pedestrians, including me, covered our ears as a fire truck screamed through downtown.

Pedestrians, including me, covered our ears as a fire truck screamed through downtown.

In their busyness, though, folks paused when a fire truck rumbled through town, siren piercing the evening ambiance and shaking the bridge upon which I walked.

Strong brick buildings like this grace the downtown.

Strong brick buildings grace the downtown.

 

This mural at Muddy Waters Kitchen and Bar plays on the New Orleans BBQ and soul food served there.

This mural at Muddy Waters Kitchen and Bar plays on the New Orleans BBQ and soul food served there.

Had I not been so hungry and weary, I would have checked out the church shown here.

Had I not been so hungry and weary, I would have checked out the church shown here.

Another mural at Muddy Waters.

Another mural at Muddy Waters.

I admired the aged brick buildings with arched windows, the steepled church half a block away, the murals at Muddy Waters Kitchen and Bar. I wished I had more time to explore Baldwinsville.

The B'Ville Diner was packed with customers waiting to be seated.

The B’Ville Diner was packed with customers waiting to be seated.

Eventually we ended up at B’Ville Diner, an old-fashioned 1950s style diner that’s been around since 1934. Recommended by hotel staff, the eatery, at least for us, proved more about the experience than the food. We needed an affordable meal. B’Ville offered that in a nostalgic diner car setting.

Definitely a 50s vibe in the diner.

Definitely a 50s vibe in the diner.

Randy had a little fun with the waitress, asking for a Beef Commercial—beef between two slices of white bread topped with mashed potatoes and gravy—rather than the Beef Pot Roast sandwich listed on the menu. She looked at him with zero recognition. He explained that in Minnesota, we call this a Beef Commercial. He was disappointed in the dish—clearly not homemade gravy or potatoes. My cheesy chicken sandwich laced with green peppers tasted fine.

The liquor store is across the street from the diner.

The liquor store is across the street from the diner. And, no, we didn’t stop there.

Refueled and refreshed, we headed back toward the Comfort Inn to settle in for the night before beginning the final five-hour leg of our journey east the next morning.

FYI: Periodically, I will feature more posts from my cross country Minnesota to Boston and back road trip in mid-May. Click here to read my earlier posts from Somerville and Medford, Massachusetts.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Road trip stories: Impressions of Barcelona, New York, not Spain August 12, 2016

Barcelona is located along Lake Erie just off Interstate 90 near the New York/Pennsylvania border.

Barcelona is located along Lake Erie just off Interstate 90 near the New York/Pennsylvania border.

MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF BARCELONA, a hamlet located within the town of Westfield, New York, was not a good one.

I had to pee. Bad. The van also needed gas. So it was a good time to pull off Interstate 90 in the southwestern corner of New York. I practically flew out the van at the Citgo station, only to stop abruptly at the front door. A sign banned anyone but customers from the restrooms. My facial muscles involuntarily scowled. Welcome to Barcelona.

When my travel weary mind finally clicked that, yes, I was a paying customer, I walked inside. I didn’t know I was being watched. But the clerk advised that, yes, she had seen my reaction. And, yes, I could use the bathroom.

Cones blocking a freshly-poured concrete sidewalk blocked me from getting too close to the Portland Harbor Lighthouse and keeper's house.

Cones rimming sidewalk construction blocked me from getting too close to the 40-foot high Portland Harbor Lighthouse and keeper’s house.

Once I got over that, I noticed the beautiful old lighthouse across the street. (I’m speculating that many lighthouse lovers travel here and then need to use the service station restrooms.) Being a landlocked southern Minnesotan, I find lighthouses a bit of a novelty. However, there would be no getting inside this 1829 lighthouse constructed of native fieldstone. Decommissioned in 1860, the Portland Harbor lighthouse and accompanying keeper’s house became private property.

I moved closer to the lighthouse keeper's house, until I realized this was private property.

Another angle, from the side, of the lighthouse keeper’s house.

Upon researching this National Register of Historic Places landmark later, I learned that the lighthouse was the first public building in the U.S. illuminated by natural gas.

Boats parked near the lake.

Boats parked near the lake.

I wasn’t about to leave Barcelona, though, without at least seeing Lake Erie. If it was Lake Erie. At that point, well into our second day of a long road trip from Minnesota to Massachusetts, I wasn’t even sure what state we were in. And my Great Lakes geography is lacking. I know the locations of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. The other Greats, not so much.

It was a lovely day to be on the beach of Lake Erie.

It was a lovely day to be on the beach of Lake Erie.

Just blocks from the gas station, my husband and I found a public access to Lake Erie. I am always impressed by the immensity of the Great Lakes, how sky and water blend into an infinity of blue, how distinct horizontal lines divide land and water and sky, how such a vast body of water can appear calm one day, threatening the next.

My husband obliged my request for a photo of me on the shores of Lake Erie.

My husband obliged my request for a photo of me on the shores of Lake Erie.

I scooped my hand into the cold water, plucked silken smooth stones from the beach, posed for a photo to prove I’d been here, in Barcelona.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Road trip stories: New York’s solution to texting & driving July 29, 2016

Text stop sign in New York

Posted along Interstate 90 in upstate New York.

WE COULD LEARN A THING or two from New York State about efforts to reduce/eliminate texting while driving.

On a recent road trip from Minnesota to the East Coast, I noticed signs along Interstate 90 in New York advising motorists, “It can wait… Text stop parking area 1 mile/5 miles.”

Brilliant. Instead of simply complaining and admonishing, New York State is offering a solution—a place for motorists to pull off thruways and state highways specifically to text. And, yes, motorists were using those no amenities text stop parking areas.

Additionally, New York state law bans drivers from using a hand-held mobile telephone or portable electronic device while driving. The state is even considering implementing use of a Textalyzer, a roadside test to check cell phone usage.

In Minnesota, drivers 18 and older can talk on their cell phones while driving. But no driver can legally text.

Texting while driving in Wisconsin

When the ION stopped in front of our van for road construction, I photographed it and wrote down the license plate number. (And, yes, I cropped the full license plate from this image.)

In neighboring Wisconsin, drivers also cannot text while driving. But that doesn’t stop some. Last Friday afternoon my husband and I watched a silver ION weave on Wisconsin Highway 21 about 20 miles east of Tomah. The driver’s behavior was so dangerous that we stayed a safe distance behind as his car crossed multiple times into the oncoming lane and then back toward the shoulder. And not just barely over the center line, but significantly over. Not until we were stopped by road work did we get close enough to the ION for me to photograph the car and to observe the driver’s head down in texting position. I was prepared to call 911, but we had no cell coverage in this area near the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.  Later, when we pulled off the highway into Necedah behind the ION driver, I saw him parked and texting. I wanted to stop, rap on his window and ask him what was so important that he had to endanger other motorists by texting while driving on a very busy Wisconsin state highway.

Laws are only as good as their enforcement. Therein lies part of the problem. With limited resources, cops can’t possibly be everywhere. So maybe New York is on to something. Offer an option to texting while driving other than “Don’t text. It’s the law.”

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Not quite gypsies on a cross country road trip June 1, 2016

Our van is reflected in the side of a tanker truck while traveling Interstate 80.

Our van is reflected in the side of a tanker truck while traveling Interstate 80 somewhere east of Chicago.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE a road trip?

We were headed for Somerville, near Boston.

Headed for Somerville, near Boston.

I define road trip as a recent 3,029-mile drive through nine states that took my husband and me from Minnesota to our destination—Somerville, Massachusetts—and back. We followed I-80 through Iowa (to stay mostly south of Chicago) and then I-90 through New York on the way out and took I-80 through Pennsylvania on the return home.

Somewhere in upstate New York.

Somewhere in upstate New York.

There was minimal time to play tourist, although we tried to do so in Buffalo, New York, location of Niagra Falls. We were lost for 1 ½ hours in a rough and seedy part of town and never found the American side access to the falls. Road construction and inadequate road signage left us totally confused.

Tailgaters in heavy traffic somewhere along the route.

Tailgaters reflected in the passenger side mirror. Our travels went well until we pulled off the Interstate in Iowa and headed south for the Amana Colonies. Rounding a curve on a state highway, a driver crossed the center line and nearly hit us head on. Randy cranked a hard right to avoid a collision.

Without smart phones, we relied on directions printed from Google maps, a borrowed GPS system (which challenged me more than once), a good old spiral-bound Rand McNally road atlas and road signs.

In the hills of Pennsylvania, we came across this truck fire along Interstate 80.

In the hills of Pennsylvania, we came across this truck fire along Interstate 80.

Driving around Cleveland was no fun with all of the road construction.

We encountered lots of road construction, especially around Cleveland.

We navigated around major cities, swooped up and down the wooded hills of Pennsylvania, delighted in the beauty of upstate New York, survived morning rush hour in rainy Hartford, Ct., saw more dead deer than we ever hope to see again (Pennsylvania wins that count), rated restrooms, groaned at yet one more road construction zone, and complained about the toll roads.

I didn’t pack nearly enough CDs for the journey and hope never again to hear Cher sing Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves. At times I felt like a bit of a gypsy.

So many toll booths, although purchasing an EZ Pass transmitter in advance

So many toll booths…thankfully we purchased an E-Z Pass transmitter in advance of our trip that allowed us quick access through toll booths.

Five days of driving takes its toll.

Massachussetts

Massachusetts

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania

Road trip, 407 red pick-up truck in Ohio

Ohio

But everyone should take a road trip like this at least once to gain an appreciation for the immensity of this country, for the diversity in landscape and peoples and communities, and even barns. I did a similar trip nearly 40 years ago as a college student.

Westbound into Iowa as we near home.

Westbound into Iowa as we near home.

Everyone we met, upon learning we were from Minnesota, responded the same: “Oh, it’s cold there.” I found that interesting, that a single word defines our state to those who’ve never been here. Yes, it’s cold. Sometimes. But it’s so much more. It’s lush green and wide open spaces and minimal traffic congestion (except in the metro). It’s home.

After traveling 3,000 mostly Interstate miles, I am even more appreciative of Minnesota. We met some genuinely friendly people in every state, from a young couple at a state park in Indiana to Pat from Michigan who also got hopelessly lost in Buffalo to a native Bostonian cop with a thick Boston accent.

No matter where we live, we are still just people. We each have our own niche, our place where we feel most comfortable, that we call home. For me, that shall always be Minnesota.

Randy driving.

Randy driving.

FYI: Check back to read more about this cross country journey, beginning tomorrow with the reason for the trip.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling