Two weeks in the Minnesota heat

It’s good to be back home again. Two weeks in the scorching Minnesota heat and I nearly kissed the ground when I landed in San Francisco. “It’s 70 degrees in the city by the bay” the Northwest Airlines pilot announced as he taxied the runway in Minneapolis. Beads of perspiration formed on my brow as I sat, elbow to elbow with my fellow passengers in a space so small – I envisioned the jaws of life being used to extricate me. “Some people pay big money to sit in this kind of heat” my seat mate laughed. That may be true, but I’m usually in the buff in a sauna like this.

Now that I’ve cooled off and can think clearly – I have a little slice of Americana to share with you. It’s a trip to the SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota, where I picked up plenty of “tidbits” for my column.

I know what you’re thinking. Do they still make that stuff? Well, not only do they still make it, 435 cans per minute come off the Hormel assembly line and are shipped worldwide! At the SPAM museum, we learned how to slice it, dice it and broil it with ease. Soak it in cognac and whip it with cheese. We listened to jingles and laughed at the jokes, and watched Monty Python serve SPAM up with yolks. We learned the importance of SPAM in the war, how it fed U-S soldiers, our allies and more. This spicy canned ham, this much maligned meat, at least here in Austin – is still quite a treat. And if this isn’t enough to get you to visit, just ask John Madden, who hails from Hormel country and returned home, recently. As a child, his mother would say “John, wake up and smell the bacon.” And all over town – you still can.

Lick this

Just when I was pushing to “stamp out” unsolicited mail, I get this: A strip of 3 cent stamps in a mass mailing from Montclair realtor Rosie Nysaether. I’ve seen calenders, energy saving tips and even maps of the park district in agent’s mailings – but nothing to match the marketing genius of stamps coming just as the price of first class postage goes up to 37 cents. Way to go, Rosie!

Housing news

Huge million dollar homes are springing up all around us – some on steep lots the size of a postage stamp. But in East Oakland, the local firm Mikiten Architecture is making the most of the land in a tough, Bancroft Avenue neighborhood. 61 HUD apartments are going up for very low income seniors. From what I can tell, this complex is a breath of fresh air with a sunny courtyard and rose garden. It’s both neighborly and secure – and the designers should be applauded for their efforts.

Wet and wild

Waterskiing in Berkeley? 15 kids are learning to ski this week at Aquatic Park. That strip of salty bay water along Interstate 80 is a great place to practice a sport that only delta kids take for granted. The 3 day camp is offered for $20 each summer by the City of Berkeley, with the volunteer help of the Berkeley and Marin Waterski clubs. First timers get up with the help of a boom (a metal pole that extends from the side of the boat) and get tips on everything from crossing a wake to slalom skiing. Sign ups are in April and you can call Berkeley Park and Rec. for more information at 644-8623.

Business book

Montclair Village goes “uptown” with its slick new Village Guide coming out this fall. The 16 page color directory lists all the businesses in Montclair and the nearby Village Square and will go out to 100,000 shoppers from the Oakland hills to Berkeley, Alameda and La Morinda. The directory idea is nothing new – but this year the budget for it is about $40,000 fatter, thanks to cash from the newly formed business improvement district in Montclair. Michael Silverman says he still has ad space and you can reach him at 339-8152 by July 19th if you’re interested.

Where’s the wheel?

he wheel of fortune that raised so much cash for disadvantaged kids last summer at the Montclair Noah’s Bagels – is strangely quiet. Several weeks ago the manager was told to get the wheel off the sidewalk, because it was in violation of the city’s C 27 zoning ordinance for the village. The ordinance says you need a permit (costly at about $1200) to put objects on the sidewalk. The Montclair village Association is pushing for revisions but that may take some time. Meanwhile – the wheel is still a good deal (3 spins for a $5 donation and a winner every time) – but you have to go inside to play.

How hot was it?

It was so hot earlier this week, that smoke from a barbecue grill brought more than a half dozen firefighters running to The Hills Swim Club Sunday night. Three engines pulled up outside the Manzanita drive club as nervous crews jumped out to check the fumes. You think they were embarrassed – imagine the guy grilling. It reminds me of that old horror movie “Burnt Offerings.”


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