Friday, July 30, 2010

Breakfast at Al's

July 29, 2101

Al's Breakfast is located in the Dinkytown section of Minneapolis, adjacent to the University of Minnesota campus. It is reportedly the narrowest restaurant in Minneapolis, at a width of ten feet (3 m), and possibly the narrowest full-service breakfast diner with counter-only seating in the world. The diner is crammed into a former alleyway between two much larger buildings, hours are 6:00am-1:00pm. The award winning restaurant's 14 stools have seated generations of local students, along with notable figures such as writer James Lileks and humorist Garrison Keillor, all of whom consider the tiny diner to be a significant icon of the state.

I first heard of Al's Breakfast having drinks with a Department of State security person, Jamal, at a Samoan resort. He, being still on duty to protect the recently departed Condelessa Rice, having a Coke, while me being on duty as a Peace Corps Volunteer having something a little stronger. To say Jamal doesn't have a presence would be a gross understatement. He is a mountain of a man who probably eats ball bearings for breakfast. You get the picture.

Well, Jamal has been living overseas with his family for the past eight years, living in what he calls the "World's Hellholes", and was planning to return soon to the U.S. for a post in Washington, DC. When I mentioned I was from Minneapolis, he told me about this fantastic little restaurant in Minneapolis where he had been to only once on a one day visit to Minneapolis years ago. In fact, he had just Googled it's name and location the day before. He was going to take his family there on their way to Washington from their current post in Wellington, New Zealand. I sheepishly admitted never having gone to Al's.

With my visiting 16 year old grandson in tow, we headed for Al's, after not finding it the day before and receiving a parking ticket in the search process. Now a ten foot wide diner doesn't leave a lot of room for counter, stools, grill, tons of memorabilia, and waiting area. In fact, the waiting area consists of people standing behind those already seated. The passage of customer's in and out is hard on the toes. Patron's shift up and down the counter from stool to stool to accommodate parties of different numbers. Waits can be considerable, especially when the university is in session and the temperature drops below zero. Service is what you might expect in a 60 year old restaurant with staff that has a seasoned sense of humor.

The menu is 1950's AMERICAN. I mean loaded with everything to clog the arteries and expand the waistline. The coffee tastes like dirty water, the hash browns have an ample supply of cooking oil, the pancakes are so huge that the syrup runs off them onto the counter. In other words, it's great. It is everything at prices and quantities you can't get these days.

I don't know if Jamal and his family ever made it to Al's Breakfast, but somehow I think they did. Should you ever visit Minneapolis, be sure to visit Al's and bring lots of quarters for the parking meters.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Visits with former Samoan Peace Corps

Mary and I took the train to attend a wedding in Philadelphia. Since we were in the area (as Mary likes to say), we whistle stopped to meet with some former Samoan Peace Corps Volunteers.
Washington, DC
Hanna Siemering (2007-2010)
Hannah has been back from Samoa since May 2010 where she served as a veterinarian with Samoa's Animal Protection Organization. Our less than one hour meeting hardly gave us time to cobble down some food, yet alone have a chance to catch up with our lives.
Hannah is currently living in Alexandria, VA and searching for a job or more accurately how to fill the time void she now finds herself facing. Hannah's son is returning to graduate school, her ocean side property remains as inviting for a new home as ever, and she has reapplied for a full-time Peace Corps assignment.

Mary and Hannah, Union Station, Washington, DC

New York, NY
Safiya Mitchell (2007-2008)
Safiya's Peace Corps job was as a Village Based Volunteer in a small Samoan village. Unfortunately she became ill with colitis early in her stay and after being medivaced to a hospital in Hawaii, received a medical discharge from the Peace Corps after successfully serving for about nine months.

Safiya met us with her 10 month old son, Ashair, at New York's Penn Station. Safiya is living with her sister in Brooklyn, working at the non-profit organization, The Pantry, while going to night school where she is exploring a career in nursing. She would like to travel and live abroad, using her nursing degree.

Safiya and Ashair, Penn Station, NY

Safiya's new duties

What a beautiful baby!

Providence, RI
Dylan Ryder (2006-2008)
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Dylan was a computer teacher at a high school on the Samoan island of Savaii. His service ended November, 2008.

Dylan lives in his home town of Bristol, RI and met us in Providence with his friend, Stephanie. He is currently working for a non-profit as an IT person while doing an on-line graduate program from Columbia University. He would like to be a school administrator, using his computer background. He and Stephanie would like to move to New York where he can directly attend classes at Columbia. Dylan is returning to Samoa with Stephanie in August to check out old haunts and meet old students.

Stephanie and Dylan on the streets of Providence

Samoan Souvenir
We just couldn't resist this Chicago pub during a Windy City layover

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oh Happy Day

July 14, 2010

Today my Certificate of Appreciation from the Peace Corps arrived. It took about a year and a little prompting, but what the heck, President Obama is a busy man.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Time for the Sublime

July 2, 2010
I am coming to realize one of the effects Samoa has had on me is to understand more fully that a hurried, hectic lifestyle, does not leave time for the sublime. For to appreciate the sublime, you must have time, time of leisure, time to contemplate those things which are not obvious or even seen, but sensed.

How we American Peace Corps Volunteers ridiculed and mocked Samoans for their seemingly lack of desire to "advance" themselves. How they rejected our efforts to "educate" them into the ways of our global world. Oh, how we thought we understood them. Oh, how blind we were not to see that they knew about the sublime.

I have taken to walking, at first for exercise, now to let my senses and mind wander to sample my surroundings. The beauty of birds signing, of young mothers pushing their babies in perambulators, a woman digging in her garden, the roar of jet planes overhead, a Mexican mother struggling with her groceries and two small children as she gets off the bus, this is the glory of it all!

To appreciate the sublime takes time, leisure time, time which earns no money, produces no goods, has no destination. It is time only some malcontents, artists, very wealthy, cloistered monks, elderly, and Samoans seem to set aside to enjoy the sublime. For the rest of the world, flat screen TVs, iPods, and stress are the rewards for time.