Sam Cook answers two questions

After Sam Cook concluded his lecture and left, my classmates and I come up with additional questions for him. During an e-mail exchange I asked Sam Cook two of these questions while asking him his thoughts on the Lakewalk. Sam Cook's answers to our questions are posted below.

1. How many notebooks do you use in one year?

I probably use 50-75 reporter's notebooks a year. At least one a week, usually more. I try to use one for more than one story, although organizationally, it's more convenient to use one per story.

2. Do you have a neat or messy desk?

I keep a pretty neat desk. A couple of piles (one for story ideas, notes from recent stories, other ideas) and another for publications I mean to read or try to keep up on. Those piles can grow a bit out of control sometimes, requiring a monthly purge. Beyond those piles, I keep couple of calendars, a few family pics, several reference books and a few rocks that I've picked up on various trips.

It's the corn subsidies, stupid

Just when I thought our class reading could not get any weirder, we get to read Michael Pollan's Power Steer. Pollan does a good job of taking us though the life cycle of a 21st Century steer, from oil, to corn, to cow, to our dinner table. But, Pollan did not talk about the powerful corn lobby and the powerful influence it has on Congress to keep their federal subsidies for corn.

Clearly, Pollan favors grass fed cows over corn fed cows. Should any journalist advocate for a position, rather than just listing the facts and letting the reader make up his or her own mind?

By the way, what does Pollan mean when he wrote that in waterways downstream of feedlots, scientists found fish exhibiting abnormal sex characteristics?

Here is a link to the Corn Refiners Association Internet page.

Prescription for Trouble: Using Antibiotics to Fatten Livestock

More Savage

I'm reminded of John Stuart Mill's famous quote "Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives." This quote could have been written by Dan Savage, but was written by an English economist & philosopher who lived between 1806 and 1873. As you can see, petty name calling between liberals and conservatives has been going on for many generations.

I don't think professional journalists should their published articles include emotionally charged words like neo-fascist (page 379) or Nazi to describe conservative Americans just because they are conservative or liberal Americans just because they are liberal. I find it offensive when Democrats use it to describe Republicans like President Bush. I find it equally offensive when Republicans use it to describe Democrats like President Obama. So, James's Rule One is "Only use the word Nazi to describe someone who openly describes themselves as a Nazi and not as a generic word for evil."

I agree with Dan Savage that no group should be discriminated against nor demonized to support any politician or political party. I just don't feel comfortable in the way Mr. Savage made his point. Is Mr. Savage's article that was written in a disrespectful way, using provocative language, really good journalism? When on page 382, I read that he "threw my lavender gauntlet" at the Republican party, I simple stopped taking Mr. Savage's writing seriously. What happens when we forget civility in public discourse? Dan Savage goes beyond what Bill Buford did in "Among the Thugs" and became an active player in his own story. Should you report on a story that you created yourself? Should someone who calls themselves a journalist do things to provoke their subjects? For example, should you eat a cheeseburger while interviewing a strict vegetarian if you are writing for BBQ World Magazine or Grilling Magazine? Should anyone's "publicity stunt journalism" articles be included in a book like "The New Kings of Nonfiction" or a university journalism class?

Final Draft of Duluth's Lakewalk, by JPB

Chapter One, One citizen's viewpoint

"When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race."
- H.G. Wells

Nearly every day from March until November, I make an honest effort to bicycle or walk on Duluth's Lakewalk. I prefer off road, paved trails where there is little chance of becoming road kill by an inattentive motorist. The Lakewalk has no steep hills to bike up or ride my brakes down. Unlike city streets, there are no recycling boxes or trash cans to avoid, no bike eating potholes to avoid, no possibility of running into someone's mailbox, having to dodge parked cars, or get my eardrums blasted by someone's thunderous car stereo.

Before a bike ride, I check the Weather Channel, inspect my Trek 800 Antelope bicycle, fill up my bike's water bottle, make sure that I have some money just in case I get a flat tire and need to take the city bus back home, and lastly do some warmup stretching. Sometimes, I eat two containers of Dole, Mandarins on Orange Gel. These tasty treats this rich in Vitamin C and appear to give me about a two or three-mile per hour increase in my overall speed for twenty to thirty minutes after I eat these.

What is it like to start a bike trek about noon from Lake Place Park and bicycle five miles to 47th Ave. East? I got really hungry, decided to eat lunch at Sammy's Pizza, and because I was very hungry, that pizza tasted very good. You might say that my lunch was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten.

Over the years, I've encountered many friendly people on the Lakewalk. Once, my bicycle chain slipped while I was shifting gears. While I was attempting to get the chain back on the gears, another bicyclist stopped and offered to help me. This man stayed with me until I had gotten my chain back on the gears and I was able to peddle away.

Being a lifelong Duluthian, I have seen what the Lakewalk has become and what was before the Lakewalk was constructed.

Chapter Two, Let's take an imaginary bicycle ride into the past, before the Lakewalk was real world asphalt, concrete, and wood.

"Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self--reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel . . . the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood."
- Susan B. Anthony

Before the construction of the Lakewalk, there were few public access points for people to enjoy Duluth's lakeshore. The four public access points were the Ship Canal, Leif Erikson Park, Lester River, and Brighton Beach. Ever since the 1970s, walking and bicycle advocates dreamed about a cross-town bike path. But, their cycling dreams only went as far as written proposals and lines wishfully drawn on city maps.

Walkers and bicycle riders made their own "informal foot paths" along the railroad tracks between Canal Park and Brighton Beach. The term "informal foot path" was coined by my father, a professional outdoor writer, to describe footpaths created by walkers and bicyclists where no official footpaths or bike paths exist.

However, for walkers or off road bicyclists who used these informal paths were trespassing on private property. The private property was owned by railroads, small scale industry, warehouses, junkyards, and filled in areas created by dumping the debris and rubble from demolished buildings. As a child, I saw this section of the lakeshore was littered with bits of carved stone, piles of broken bricks, and iron plumbing pipes. I wondered why anyone would discard two steel office safes in a landfill? Where Lake Place Park now stands was a flat stretch of land for a railroad yard and abandoned warehouses.

Additionally, these informal paths were narrow, uneven, were often muddy, and passed through thick underbrush. Residents and tourists often walked along the active railroad tracks, which is always dangerous and illegal. Only the brave and the bold chose to trespass across private property to reach the lakeshore for daytime fishing, swimming, and rock collecting. While at night, these areas that would become the Lakewalk became dark stretches of land that attracted lovers, teen drinking, graffiti artists, and drug dealers. In short, with limited public lakeshore access, far fewer residents and tourists visited Duluth's lakeshore then they do today.

During the 1970s, Duluth Canal Park was a declining industrial area and Grandma's Restaurant was the only popular destination in Canal Park for ordinary citizens. What is now a city block long parking lot between Canal Park Drive and South Lake Avenue was a major junkyard surrounded by an ugly fence and connected by a railroad spur. Canal Park was a place people normally drove through, not drove to.

Amy Norris, employed by Duluth Parks and Recreation Department, told me that in the 1980s the first phase of the Lakewalk, located on the lakeside shore of Canal Park to 27th Ave. East, was constructed along with Interstate 35 in Downtown Duluth. Before the construction of Interstate 35, Canal Park and the lakeshore were occupied by warehouses, a railroad yard, junkyards, and a few low-income homes

During the 1980s, communities of all sizes and all over the world were rediscovering their waterfronts. Abandoned or underused industrial land was transformed into parks, restaurants, retail shops, and hotels. Following this worldwide trend, Duluth city planners revised a one-hundred-year-old plan to create a world class park on Canal Park's lakeshore side. This park plan appears similar to today's Leif Erickson Park's Rose Garden, but the city never had enough money to construct the park as this plan proposed. Thus, city planners applied for and obtained Federal Enhancement Grant Money to build this project that a part of the 1986 Downtown Duluth Waterfront Plan that proposed the Lakewalk, along with a number of other enhancements to improve the quality of life for Duluth citizens. In 1992 and again in 1994, the Duluth I 35 extension and Lake Place won Federal Highway Administration "Excellence in Highway Design" awards.

Duluth city planners used the federal grant money to use waste rock, created by digging out the space for the Interstate tunnels, to greatly extend the lakeshore and create the first phase of the Lakewalk. Without the waste rock, the city of Duluth could not have afforded to extend the lakeshore and thus build the Lakewalk on the expanded shoreline. First, dumping the waste rock onto the lakeshore - and to build reefs to encourage recreational fishing - saved millions of dollars to dump the waste rock far from the construction site. Second, just notice where the shoreline is in relationship to the concrete wharf known as Uncle Harvey's Mausoleum in photos before and after the Lakewalk was constructed. It is a common practice to extend shorelines with waste rock from nearby construction projects. For example, New York City's World Trade Center needed to dig out a vast area of soil and rock that was then used to create new land that became Battery Park City on the west side of Lower Manhattan.

According to the Duluth Parks and Recreation Internet page, Duluth's Lakewalk official southern end is at Bayfront Festival Park. The trail from Bayfront Festival Park to Canal Park is on existing concrete sidewalks.

However, some city park maps show the southern end as the intersection of Morse Street and Canal Park Drive. This part of the trail has an entrance gate and the "Determined Mariner" statue. Trail construction coincided with the construction of the Interstate. The first section of the Lakewalk was constructed from Canal Park to 21st Ave East. Then the trail's second section extended from 21st Ave. East to 27th Ave. East. The Lakewalk now actually ends at 47 Ave. East. However, for some reason the Parks and Recreation web site as well as Goggle Maps have not been updated and still show the trail's northern end at 27th Ave. East.

The technical terms used by architects and city planners to describe the Lakewalk is a Greenway or a linear park. These are parks are longer than they are wide, designed for recreational use and non-motorized transit. Such long and narrow parks are common throughout the world, the most famous being the Promenade plantée "walk with trees" in Paris, France; the High Line in New York City, NY; and the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, Minn. However, the Canal Park section of the Lakewalk could be unique in the world in having three trails constructed along the same corridor.

The first trail is a seven-foot wide boardwalk that is intended for pedestrians, which starts at Canal Park and ends the Fitgers Inn pedestrian bridge. The boardwalk is constructed of an extremely durable hardwood known as Ipe. The second trail is ten foot wide asphalt trail, intended for bicyclists and rollerbladers. The trail's southern end is at Canal Park and the northern end is at 47th Ave. East. The third trail is a twelve-foot wide gravel path for carriage rides that extend from Corner of the Lake Park to Morse Street.

Between Corner of the Lake Park and Leif Erikson Park, a double track railroad was reduced to one track to make room for the boardwalk and the bike path. Between the Northland Vietnam
Veterans Memorial and the Fitger's bridge the bike path narrows to eighty inches wide or about half the width of the rest of the pathway. The bike path is far too narrow for the four wheel surrey bikes or bike trailers to pass each other without one detouring onto the boardwalk.

This section of the trail is so popular that during the summer so many people use that section that I've seen human and bicycle traffic jams on the trail. To my untrained eyes, there appear to be more people on the Lakewalk than on Superior street sidewalks. Some members of the UMD's cycling club avoid that part of the trail to avoid the crowds. I would really love to see that trail section widened to at least the width of the other parts of the trail.

Along the Lakewalk are information kiosks, parking lots; the 580 foot long "Image Wall" crafted from 1.27 million ceramic tiles that portrays images of Lake Superior maritime activity, designed by artist Mark Marino; the International Sculpture Garden, the Northland Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, and many other attractions.

According to Tom Kasper, Cit Gardner, and Visit Duluth, the Lakewalk attracts more than one million trail visitors each year. However, I was unable to find who or how this number was determined. The Lakewalk is a world class showcase for a city to make an asset of what was not so long ago underused industrial property. The Lakewalk has become a signature draw and icon for the city of Duluth. It plays an important role in keeping Duluth citizens healthy, while giving them a safe path to bicycle or walk to downtown employment. Currently, this section of the trail is now 6.2 miles long.

The Lakewalk section between 27th Ave. East and 36th Ave. East, with an expensive 125-foot bridge over Tischer Creek was completed in 2008. The 36th to 47th section was completed in 2009. Despite this extension, many runners and bicyclists still complain that the Lakewalk is still too short for a great run or bike ride.

Think of the Lakewalk as part city sidewalk, part scenic drive. For people walking along London Road between 26th Ave. East and 32nd Ave. East, the Lakewalk is the only direct way to go from one avenue to the other avenue, other than a long detour by walking uphill to Greysolon Road. On East Superior Street, the Lakewalk provides a much needed second sidewalk on the lakeside side of the street. Compared to city sidewalks, the Lakewalk offers a shorter and safer route connecting major Duluth parks, hotels, restaurants, shops, the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC), and Bayfront Festival Park.

As the Lakewalk attracts people and whenever people gather at one area is a place where small businesses can find a way to make a profit. Trail users can rent bicycles at the Canal Park Lodge and from Wheel Fun Rentals. Families have already put up Lemonade stands on the trail and used the Lakewalk fence to post notices. A number of home owners have spruced up their landscaping alongside the Lakewalk.

Chapter Three, Bicycle into the future

"For instance, the bicycle is the most efficient machine ever created: Converting calories into gas, a bicycle gets the equivalent of three thousand miles per gallon."
- Bill Strickland

In 2010, City planners hope to extend the Lakewalk's third phase will extend the trail from 47th Ave. East to 60th Ave. East. In 2011, the Lakewalk's fifth phase will connect Highway 61 to Brighton Beach. City planners have not yet decided upon a bridge or tunnel will span Highway 61. Also planned for 2011, the Munger Trail is planned to be extended from 75th Ave. West to Canal Park, linking up with the Lakewalk. In 2012, the fourth Lakewalk phase will connect 60th Ave. East to Highway 61. If I was in the market for my first home, I would choose to buy one that is within a half-mile of the Lakewalk. I also suspect that longtime walking and bicycle advocates will be very happy that their vision of a paved, off-road, cross town trail will finally be complete on the day the fourth and last section of Duluth's Lakewalk officially opens.

Albert Einstein once wrote, "Life is like riding a bicycle in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving." Duluth must keep on moving forwards into the future and keep building bicycle pathways to connect all Duluth neighborhoods into one bicycle network. While imaging a better future for humanity, H.G. Wells wrote, "Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia." Within a few years, I can imagine that Duluth will become a cycling utopia.

Chapter Four, Dairy Queen Delight

"Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride."
- John F. Kennedy

After I get back to Canal Park, I usually reward myself with a large ice cream cone at Dairy Queen. I then bicycle uphill to my apartment, carry my bike into the building and into my apartment. I park my bike besides my window overlooking the Canal Park. I drink some water or orange juice and don some stretching before I start something new. While I write these words, I can see both my bike in the foreground and the Lakewalk in the background. Unlike some bicyclists, I do not have a pet name for my bicycle. Yet, when I'm maintaining my bike I sometimes talk to it about our next bike ride.


Fun Lakewalk facts

I asked Jim Miller, Associate Professor, Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Minnesota, Duluth about the rock that was used from the construction of the Interstate 35 tunnels.

He replied, "Good question. There are several types of rock observable along the Lakewalk. Some is derived from the local 'bedrock' exposed along the shoreline these are mostly 1.1 billion-year-old igneous rock (basalt, gabbro) and some sedimentary rock (exposed in the vicinity of Leif Erickson Park). But some of the blocks along the lake walk have been 'imported'. Some of the big blocks along the stretch below Fitgers are pieces of dark iron formation from the Mesabi Range. Other whitish blocks are a rock called anorthosite that may have come from the quarry at Carlton Peak (near Temperance River State)."


In an e-mail interview, I asked Sam Cook, Outdoors Writer/Columnist for the Duluth News Tribune about his impressions of Duluth's Lakewalk. Mr. Cook wrote back, "I like the variety of areas that the Lakewalk passes through from Canal Park to 47th Ave. East. I love biking or walking the more wooded area from 26th Ave. East to 36th Ave. east, crossing a creek or ravine along the way, basically being flanked by trees. That's because I love being in the woods. But I also really enjoy the Canal Park end on a warm summer night with lots of tourists in town. I imagine Duluth as a San Antonio, with its river walk area, or as Ottawa, with its path along the Ottawa River. I like to hear snippets of tourist conversations as I walk the Canal Park section on a summer night, and we almost always see someone from Duluth we know. In that way, the Lakewalk contributes to a sense of community."

When I asked Mr. Cook about the triple trail on Canal Park's lakeshore, he replied, "I don't get to a lot of other cities, but, no, I don't know of any other three in one trails. I think it's a tribute to city planners that our trail accommodates several different kinds of use." I agree that I'm not aware of any other city park that has three different types of trails side-by-side.

I then asked Mr. Cook if he was aware of any Duluth News Tribune employees or anyone else who use the Lakewalk to commute to and from their workplace? "I have fellow employees who bike to work, but I don't know if they use the Lakewalk or not. I suspect some do. I use it myself when I bike in, riding down from the hill, then catching it at 26th Ave. East and riding on downtown. If everyone started his or her day this way, we'd all be much happier at work, I think. You ride along that lakeshore next to that amazing body of water in its various states of color and texture, and you think how lucky we are to live here." I would add that taking more trips using human powered transit would require some changes in our thinking about commuting to work, as well as providing shower rooms and changing areas at our places of work. These are possible tasks, but ones that will require some effort to bring about.


In an e-mail I asked Ken Buehler, Depot Executive Director, about extending the Lakewalk to Brighton Beach, he replied, "Duluth's best loved tourist attraction is Lake Superior! Extending the Lakewalk and providing more access to the lake itself at Brighton Beach is only going to enhance our guest/visitors experience. The St. Louis and Lake Counties Regional Rail Authority has granted access to the North Shore Scenic Railroad's right of way to accommodate this planned expansion. Having our train run alongside it is good for the us as more people see and hopefully want to ride the North Shore Scenic Railroad while enjoying their visit to Duluth." In short, trail users will be inspired to ride the scenic railroad, while scenic railroad riders will be inspired to use the trail.

When I asked Mr. Buehler if the future Northen Lights Express or NLX will assist bicycle riders, day riders and bicycle campers. Mr. Buehler replied that "The NLX trains will have bike friendly cars that will carry people's baggage and their bikes, canoes, and kayaks." I can see that this ability to transport bulky baggage gives the NLX great advantages over other forms of public transportation such as airplanes and buses.


The Lakewalk trail clearly benefits the people who use the trail. But, what about people, who will for whatever reason, will never use the Lakewalk? Missouri Bicycle News Article posted an article that stated that "Trails raise nearby home values an average of $13,000."

In Dec. 2003, the Indiana University Center for Urban Policy and the Environment released a study exploring the impact of the Monon Trail and other greenways on Indianapolis (IN) property values. Here are some of the results (courtesy of Connie Szabo Schmucker, Executive Director, Indiana Bicycle Coalition):

The study used local housing data to help determine whether living close to the Monon Trail added value to a home. Then, using sophisticated statistical techniques, they were able to show what Realtors already know intuitively: People pay more for properties with good schools, nice parks and amenities like the Monon Trail. . . .

For homes within 1/2 mile of the Monon Trail (10.5 mile trail), the sales premium is $13,059. Approximately 8,862 households are located near the Monon Trail. If this premium applies to each of those homes, the total increase in property values in Marion County associated with the Monon Trail is $115.7 million.


Trails provide a measurable boost to local communities. In an online article, "Build it and they will come and spend; Pennsylvania's Pine Creek Rail Trail" had this to say about the economic impact of bicycle trails. The Rails to Trails Conservancy conducted a survey there last year that proves the adage heard in the movie Field of Dreams: "Build it and they will come."

The survey found that not only do they come, but they contribute to the local economies. While the trail has cost about $12.6 million to build since 1995, the Pine Creek survey determined that visitors spend from $5 million to $7 million a year, most of which is spent in the local communities along the trail.


When I asked Anthony Cullen, a member of the UMD Cycling Club, about a trail network from Hinkley to Grand Marais, he replied, "If this was to be done it would definitely be awesome! I believe the trail that is currently being worked on is the north shore trail that currently starts in Silver Bay and goes about forty miles." When I asked him to imagine a network of paved trails from the Twin Cities to the Canadian border, he replied, "Yes, I can imagine this. Our club has traveled from Duluth to Canada, so this would definitely be of interest."


Lakewalk's Unkind Curb Cut

According to American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, a curb cut is "A small ramp built into the curb of a sidewalk to ease passage to the street, especially for bicyclists, pedestrians with baby carriages, and physically disabled people." In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires that curb cuts be present on all sidewalks.

The Lakewalk is intelligently designed and easy to use, with the exception of the pedestrian bridge located at South Street, between 16th Ave. East and 17th Ave. East. This bridge links South Street with the Lakewalk. A metal sign names this structure as Minnesota Bridge numbered 69838, a pedestrian bridge that is built over Interstate 35 and links South Street with Duluth's Lakewalk.

Unfortunately, at this location the curb cut from street level to the bridge is misplaced ten feet to the left side of the South Street bridge entrance. The curb cut should have been place directed in the center of the bridge approach. Or, there should have been a wide sidewalk between the ten-foot distance between the curb cut and the bridge.

As this access ramp was built, the surface between the retaining wall to the edge of the curb is 47 inches. However, there are only 32 inches of flat and therefore usable sidewalk for ten feet between the curb cut and the bridge. Updated and revised in 2004, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities state that walking surfaces should have a clear width minimum of 36 inches.

Yet, I'm sure that the guidelines did not consider that in this situation there is a concrete retaining wall on one side of the sidewalk. This means that when a wheelchair user traveling from South Street to the bridge must make a sharp 90-degree angle right hand turn on a steep grade, and then up a narrow sidewalk. To make matters even worse, as you can see from the photographs this ten foot long sidewalk is now partly blocked by wild bushes growing alongside the Interstate's retaining wall. First, it appears this bridge approach is now not compliant with the amended 1994 ADA guidelines. Second, I've seen bicyclists, especially when pulling trailers with small children or tandem bicycles, having trouble riding through this misplaced curb cut.

According to the Duluth Art Institute, the Knight Creative Communities Initiative, created Twin Ports Pathways a committee to support bicycling in Duluth. With the assistance of local supporting organizations and businesses, Twin Ports Pathways funded seven artists who were hired to design custom-made bike racks in downtown Duluth. According to the web site, "The budget for each bicycle rack includes a $1,000 honorarium to each artist whose design is selected, and up to $2,000 for materials, fabrication, transportation and installation." However, just one out of seven bike racks was installed under the pedestrian bridge connecting the Lakewalk and Fitger's.


Along the Lakewalk there are many memorial benches for the enjoyment of trail users. Amy Norris told me that someone can purchase a Lakewalk memorial bench for $2.500 dollars. I consider that a good price for something that tens of thousands of people will enjoy for about sixty years.



Amy Norris, Duluth Parks and Recreation

Anthony Cullen, UMD Cycling Club

Jim Miller, Associate Professor, Department of Geological Sciences

Ken Buehler, Depot Executive Director (Duluth Parks and Recreation) 2012/Air%20Quality%20Review.pdf raise nearby home values.php

Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune, March 31, 2010, "OUTLOOK 2010: Plan to connect trails in Duluth unveiled"

This site has a link to the June 2003 Duluth Superior Metropolitan Bike Map. Despite being dated, this map shows many Twin Port's bike trails, several of which I was not aware of. The site also has much useful information to bicyclists that makes this my most highly recommend link in this article.

Life on the Grind: the Story of a Young Sea Creature

***couldn't log into webx on the link sent via email***

A deck of cards. Fifty-two of them to be exact. The front side, or face, of each card indicates its relative value. Each of the 13 different values appear four times apiece in a standard deck, once in each suit - hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs.

People have been using playing cards as a pastime for centuries, from the individual time-killing classic solitaire to competitive cribbage tournaments. For most people, cards are just that, a pastime.

Mr. M isn't most people.

He doesn't look like much. He stands about 5'8", with very little meat on his bones. His choice of clothing ranges from formal, brand-name polo shirts complete with jeans and spotless white Nikes to sweat pants and a dirty t-shirt. He usually has facial hair that fits into no particular style - laziness aside - and he completes his presentation by masking his dark, wavy hair underneath an Augusta National ball cap.

Although he looks harmless, he's the guy who will take all of your money if you aren't careful. He looks the part of a college student, something he used to be. He recently gave up on the academic life. Rather than paying through the roof to fund an education he was never particularly interested in, Mr. M decided he'd rather use his mysterious character and incredible competitiveness to turn a profit. His life now revolves around check-raises, three-bets and filling up on the river. He's what the gambling world calls a rounder - someone who earns his or her living on cards, but he prefers to consider himself a professional grinder.

His game is Texas Hold 'em, by far the world's most popular form of poker. It's the game that took the world by storm in 2003, when amateur card player Chris Moneymaker parlayed $30 into a seat in the Main Event at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, Nev. The main event is decided over a game of Texas Hold 'em in the no-limit variety (where players may bet every chip they have and can win as much as they have in front of them). In Minnesota, No limit Hold 'em is illegal in casinos and card rooms, mostly because player's fortunes can change drastically from hand to hand. It's nearly impossible for a poor, inexperienced player to keep his or her money longer than a few hours at a tough no-limit table, thus making it difficult to keep a game running, possibly why bets are capped in the land of 10,000 lakes. In spite of the incredible swings, which can take a vicious toll on the most skilled players in the world, Mr. M prefers to play no-limit. He has to go the home game route to do this, but the casinos and card rooms have several high-limit games available to keep people like Mr. M around. His favorite game in Minnesota is $5-$60 spread limit.
Texas Hold 'em is played by dealing each player two cards face down, known as 'hole cards'. Three cards are then placed face up in the middle of the table - the flop. A single card is placed face-up - the turn or fourth street. A final card is then placed face-up - the river or fifth street. The flop, turn and river are all community cards anybody can use in conjunction with his or her hole cards to make the best five-card hand. The strongest hand wins the entire pot. A round of betting takes place once the hole cards have been distributed, as well as after the flop, turn and river cards are shown.

Just 21 years old, Mr. M has been playing poker for money since he was 15. He first began playing in small home games with his friends. Back then everybody put five dollars into the pot and would start with the same amount of chips. He and his friends would play until one person was left standing with every single chip. Back then, the winner took everything aside from the second-place finisher's five-dollar refund.

Things are a whole lot different now. Mr. M often heads to Running Aces Harness Park, a horse racing track with an adjacent card room in Columbus, Minn. He goes there to play in the $5-$60 spread game. He usually buys in for $800, quite the leap from the five dollar games of his youth. He doesn't like to talk much when it comes to his exact winnings, but it is not uncommon for him to return home to Duluth $1,000 heavier after an all-night session.

It's Friday afternoon. Time for Mr. M to punch in. He'll be at Running Aces this weekend.

His weekend on the grind starts with the turn of the key to his 2001 Buick Park Avenue. A quick peek inside the four-wheeled machine gives the impression its being used more as a suitcase than a source of transportation. The back seat is littered with empty Gatorade bottles, hockey equipment and clothes. Despite the car's spaciousness, it is essentially limited to carrying the driver and one other person. The back seat is literally out of play thanks to being taken over by the never-ending pile.

It's a two-hour drive to Running Aces, so Mr. M gets off Interstate 35 and pulls into the parking lot of the nearest BP. He stops at the pump, gets out, begins pumping gas and then walks into the convenience store, fuel still pumping. Apparently he doesn't see anything unusual about letting twenty gallons of highly flammable gasoline trickle into the belly of his Park Avenue without his supervision.

"What's gonna happen? Will my tank be any less full if I'm not there when it's pumping?" he asks sarcastically. "I think they'll still let me spend my money in here."

He wanders around the store for a couple minutes while his thirsty car fills up. This time he's going with a cool blue Gatorade and a Snickers candy bar. He finally walks up to the counter, where he grabs the last of his road-trip necessities - an individual cigar, that will later be emptied and re-filled with another substance prior to being burned. A have a nice day from the lady on duty and he's out the door.

Mr. M spends most of the two-hour drive talking about what he plans to accomplish that evening. He has a pretty good idea of how busy it might be, and what familiar faces he could be running into that night. He sheds a little light about his philosophy on poker, which is tough to follow at first. One thing he doesn't talk about is how much money he plans to come home with. The only thing he'll say is that if everything goes to plan, he'll bring home a bigger roll than he left with.

"I just hope there are tons of action fish out there tonight. It gets pretty crazy a little later into the night when people have been drinking for a while," he says with a twisted smirk on his face. "People play so bad. They'll sit there and crush Captain-Cokes for hours, and eventually they stack off."

He finally arrives at the office. The parking lot is full for the most part, a good sign for a shark like Mr. M. After walking through glass doors at the front entrance, he walks right past the blackjack and Chinese Poker tables. He's not here to play those types of games. At the back of the card room floor are more than 30 poker tables, most of which are filled. Almost every table features a variation of Hold 'em. Time to get to work.

He walks up to the guest services counter to sign up. After a twenty-minute wait he takes a seat at the $5-$60 game. He's now officially on the clock. It takes no more than three hands to realize why most people can't play in this game. Not only do people buy in for insane amounts of money - sometimes more than $1,000 - but that money is then thrown around as if it were pennies. A few hours pass buy and Mr. M isn't doing well. He's lost his entire buy in.

"I'm stuck," Mr. M says. By this he means he is currently down quite a bit of money. He goes on to say that he has to keep playing because one of his best friends hasn't shown up yet.

"My friend Mr. Variance will show up eventually, I'll get my money back," he says.

Who on earth is Mr. Variance? Well, he's actually not a real person. What Mr. M is referring to is the concept of variance, which basically says that if enough hands are played, the odds hold up and restore any imbalance in the game. To put it simply, he's had some tough luck so far tonight, and if he keeps playing the same way he'll start making money when the cards start falling more in line with odds.

Four hours later, his chip stack is climbing. He takes a small pot with top pair. A few hands go by before he rakes in a pretty big pot, this time by forcing everyone else to fold.

"Did you have it?" the older gentleman in seat five asks.

"Sir, I was full," Mr. M replies.

As time continues to pass and Friday night turns into Saturday morning, Mr. M has not only recovered his original loss, but he's now up a bunch. His chips are stacked in towers, each worth $100. He has at least 22 of them now. When the game breaks just after 7:00 a.m., Mr. M finds himself on a 12-hour break. He used to be known to sleep in the Buick at times like these, but he recently found a better option.

He hops in his car and sparks the ignition. He lets out a deep sigh, obviously relieved that he turned an ugly night into another winning session.

"A minor upswing," he says with a degree of cockiness. "I was so stuck there for a minute. It just took me a while to figure that one guy out. He had no idea what was coming once it got to that point. Did you see me felt that guy in seat two?"

He puts the car in drive and jumps back on I-35. This time the destination is the Hamline University campus St. Paul. One of Mr. M's friends lost a roommate last semester. Mr. M is now the beneficiary of the bed vacated by former Hamline student. He calls his friend to let him know he's arrived. Shortly after, the friend lets Mr. M into the building. After walking up two flights of stairs and navigating the hallway to room 315, M. M can finally crash.

He opens the door and heads straight for the empty bed. He doesn't take time to notice the heaping pile of shirts, shorts and socks in the carpeted floor or the plain white wall adorned with posters of star athletes. He barely even says a word to the friend providing him with a free hotel stay. Within ten minutes, he's asleep and dreaming of making plays on weak players and raking in more chips than he can count with his aces full of jacks.

After sleeping off Friday night's shift, he gets out of bed and tries to regroup around 6:30 p.m. Because he won big last night, he can afford to spend a little more freely on recovery food. When asked where to go for a good meal, a Hamline student refers Mr. M to a popular sandwich shop in downtown St. Paul.

Taking the referral without asking questions, Mr. M sets out in search of a delicious meal. He becomes enamored once he enters the sandwich shop.

"This is the real deal," he says with wide-eyes, comparable to a small child on Christmas morning. "There's just so many local gorges. I don't even know what to do."

After deciding on some variation of a turkey sandwich, he dives in. He doesn't let the mouth full of food stop him from talking about his battle plans for tonight.

"I'm going to make so many plays tonight. Saturdays are huge at Running." His words are hard to follow amidst the lettuce, cheese and turkey rattling around between his teeth. "It's really all about putting pressure on people. They don't like it. Plus you have to get your money in when you have the stones. I like to get at least three bets in (per card) when I'm full."

And that's what life is like for Mr. M. He spends most of his week hawking his fantasy sports teams on the internet, watching the big game on television and doing whatever else he feels like with no organized planning involved. Once the weekend hits, he finds the most profitable game he can and grinds it out. He doesn't win money every time he's dealt a hand, but he gets paid off when he hits a big hand, and minimizes his losses when the cards don't fall his way.

With the kind of success he's had, he has his eyes on bigger and better things. He's planning a trip to Las Vegas, Nev., the center of the gambling universe at the end of May. Planning is a pretty loose term in this case. He doesn't have plane tickets yet, and is in no hurry to book himself a flight and hotel room. All par for the course in the life of a grinder, who does everything on a moment's notice.

The timing of his trip coincides with the World Series of Poker, which commences at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino. All of the professional card players, as well as many rich flounders flock to Las Vegas when the World Series starts. Mr. M hopes to get a look at some of the no-limit games on the strip, which according to his sources, are very soft. The main reason he's going, though, is to buy into one of the smaller events on the WSOP circuit. With just a little luck he hopes to finish in the money in whatever tournament he enters. That would likely enable him to buy into the $10,000 WSOP main event, which had 6,494 entrants in 2009. The winner of the 2009 main event, Joe Cada - who was 21 at the time - took home over $8.5 million.

"I'm going to go out there and start small, mainly because I don't have much no-limit experience. Live experience anyway," Mr. M says, acknowledging that he's seen plenty of no-limit flops online. "You always here about people going down there and losing the shirt off their backs. I have some no-limit experience with home games but that's a hell of a lot different than sitting at the Bellagio."

Is it realistic for Mr. M to see himself taking a seat at the World Series next to the poker gods who taught him how to play by sharing their expert knowledge in training books?

"I'm taking a minor shot," Mr. M says. "I'm not going out there hell bent on being a superstar and coming back a millionaire, but let's be realistic. I'm not flying out there to give my winnings away."

Good luck.

What a great idea. Go Dan Savage.

I have a lot of respect for Dan Savage here. He's pretty brutal toward the GOP, but I'm mostly ok with that. For a gay, cross-dressing, sex-advice columnist to throw himself to the wolves of the Republican party must have taken such courage, or at least passion toward the cause he believes in. And I love how blunt he is. Honestly, I probably couldn't have done any of what Savage does in this article. I would be entirely unable to put myself into such a hostile situation and, after the fact, I would probably be almost as unlikely to write as critically of the experience as Savage did. And I love the points he makes. The GOP preaches liberty and justice for all, yet uses homosexuals as a convenient scapegoat for any social problems they encounter. Granted, someone could probably find plenty of ways to chastise the DFL as well, but not many ideas, from a Democrat or Republican, could be as clever as Savage's was. My question: Is Savage unfair to his newly-found conservative "party-mates?" He has very strong opinions going in, and doesn't seem open to changing or examining them. Is this a problem? Or has Savage earned the right to be close-minded in response to the party's close-mindedness toward gays? A tough question...

Written with Attitude

The strength of this piece is the sarcastic attitude in which it is written. The writer is irked with the republican party; but rather than trying to publicly embarrass them, he allows them to embarrass themselves.
This isn't so much narrative for the sake of a story. This was written because the author had something to say. He was trying to prove a point, and I can think of no better way than with an entertaining narrative.
It didn't really raise any new questions for me though. I feel like we've already covered everything. I suppose we could talk about what the smart-ass tone adds to or takes away from the story.

A different piece of "investigative" journalism

I thought Dan Savage had an interesting idea, become a member of the GOP and try to change it from the inside out. I think his bias was very clear, but I think that was the point of the article. He wasn't a real Republican, he was, in a way, a "spy". He had his own agenda and was pretty clear about it. I liked his idea of electing the most extreme conservative, in order to show how foolish th GOP is. Trying to get the party to shoot themselves in the foot to realize they need to change is a bold move. However, I don't think it will ever work... I respect Mr. Savage's courage to drop himself in the eye of the anti-gay storm. This article help reiterate how foolish and ignorant some conservatives can be, but I don't think conservatives are the only ones with extremists among them. I think it'd be interesting to see a conservative infiltrate the Democratic party.

Question: Is it OK to have stories that are clearly biased in an every day news publication?

Too Savage?

Dan is a good writer, to be sure. And he definitely has opinions. Is it bad that he expressed those opinions in such an incindiery and provocative way? Or is it just effective writing?

I think that since a worse writer might not have elicited as many strong reactions on the blog. In this sense, the piece of writing was effective and well-done. Good writing doesn't need to be respectful, polite, or politically correct for it to be good writing. That is important to remember. Being able to offend someone means that your communication has a certain degree of emotional power.

Should we only look up to and idolize writing that is respectful and polite?


I don't really know how I feel about this piece. I am more moderate when it comes to politics. I have my beliefs and stuff that I am passionate about, but I also take all sides and people into consideration. At first I thought this piece would be really interesting to me. Once democrat turned republic that could be entertaining, which it was at first. Then I just thought it was kind of pointless. I thought the way he ended it was kind of weird to. So he just joined the republican party to point out things that are bad about people who are republicans? Or was he truly in there, because he believed in some of their ideas, but wants to make them more open to other ideas? I agree with what Callie said. Savage is an entertaining writer, but I think that he may need to just stick with his columns and not really non-fiction narrative.

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