Friday, May 29, 2009

Have MRI, Will Travel

One of the perks of being a journalist, or at least a columnist, is having an excuse to strike up conversations with just about anybody. I've gotten to know people in the porta potty maintenance business, a unicycling computer store owner, and now MRI technologist Harold Floyd.

He travels with Central Minnesota Diagnostic's Mobile Magnetic Resonance Imaging unit. The thing weighs a couple tons, and travels inside a semitrailer, visiting hospitals in this part of the state. That way, people in smaller towns can use up-to-date imaging technology without traveling an hour or more to a city.

I talked with Harold after he'd taken care of his last patient for the day at St. Damian's Hospital. The last one to show up, anyway.

Harold Floyd's been doing MRI scans for about three years. He's certified to use other imaging technologies, too. He spent around four years, learning which buttons to push and what not to do.

Safety is a big deal for people running MRI scanners. Their supercooled magnets have sucked everything from paper clips to a firefighter's air tank into an MRI's donut hole. The firefighter survived, but a six-year-old died, back in 2001, when a steel oxygen tank hit him.

On the lighter side, Harold showed me how the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists, ARMRIT, looks a lot like "armpit," if part of the "R" is covered.

He'd have told me more, but at that point it was time to head out to the next stop.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chicken Fat as an Energy Source: Or, Dave's Memorable Memorial Day

Dave wasn't one of those hard-core outdoor grillers who flip burgers in anything short of blizzard conditions. He waited until Memorial Day weekend to set up his grill: the user-friendly sort, with an LP gas tank instead of charcoal.

That year, Dave decided to start the summer with something different: grilled chicken.

He put it on aluminum foil, like the cooking instructions said: with a sort of curb at the edge, to prevent spills.

The first time Dave opened the grill's hood, to see how the chicken was coming, he noticed a pool of liquid fat forming on the foil. Also, that the chicken pieces weren't anywhere near being ready to turn.

Several minutes later, he checked again. This time, the pieces were browning, near the foil. Dave decided it was time to turn them.

Using one of those long-handled tongs they have for grilling, Dave lifted one piece – a drumstick, he tells me. The foil, now lightly baked onto the chicken skin, came with it.

That made the center of the foil higher than the curb, so liquid chicken fat poured off the foil and onto the hot grill.

The muted hiss of the grill turned to a subdued roar, as flames leaped out and up. Dave was lightly singed, but okay.

He got the LP gas shut off, but the fire kept going. Chicken fat makes a pretty good fuel, Dave tells me. By the time the fire was out, the chicken was over-done: even by Dave's standards.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Curious Case of the Flying Bowling Ball

There's a reason why Tropica Lanes, down by the Interstate, uses bright red pencils.

It goes back to Saturday, August 7, 1982. It had been a hot, sticky, week. Walt Jensen was with a party bowling the third lane. A family group had lane two. The family was not, by anybody's account, having a good time that evening. I'll call them the Lanes.

The story that's told most often is that car trouble had forced them to stay overnight in Loonfoot Falls.

Tropica Lanes had paper scorecards then, with pencils from the company whose yellow pencils get sold by the box around the beginning of school year.

Mr. 'Lane,' the father, was a bit intense that evening. By the time everyone in his family had bowled two frames, he'd rolled balls straight down the middle, on average: two each in the left, and right, gutters. And, snapped a pencil.

Not intentionally. In fact, years later, Walt Jensen recalled how apologetic ‘Mr. Lane' was, as parts of the pencil skittered across the third lane's foul line.

A few frames later, Walt rolled what he was sure would be a strike. His ball ran down the alley on a perfect curve: but went airborne just short of the pins, flew over the lot, and crashed into the ball pit.

It had hit the missing piece of Mr. Lane's pencil.

At over a dozen yards, the yellow pencil blended right into the wood of the lane.

Red pencils are much easier to see.

Monday, May 11, 2009

@sparks You might want to check those permissions again.
@ebrunsvold Network permissions okay. Let me know if there's anything else.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Whistle Stop Cafe - Neighborhood Eatery on the Blueberry Walleye Trail

Sometime this summer, the granddaughter of Vince Groth will take over the Whistle Stop Café. Jill Groth started working there when she was eight, by helping carry dishes back to the kitchen.

Quite a bit has happened since Vince Groth opened the Whistle Stop, back in the fifties. The passenger station downtown closed when the Mississippi-Leech Lake Line merged with the Atlantic, Chicago, and Northwest Empire railroad. The station near the Whistle Stop Café was converted into a warehouse a few years later.

The only trace of the railroads today is the Blueberry Walleye Trail, named after Minnesota's state muffin and fish, respectively. The BWT snowmobile, hiking, and bicycle trail opened in 1998, after the rails were replaced with a ten-foot-wide bituminous path.

"We were doing fine, before that trail opened," recalled Elmer "Bud" Groth, "but I'm glad to see new people stop in." The Whistle Stop set up a bike rack and offers sack lunches now, besides the regular menu.

There were changes in the kitchen, too.

"Back when I was growing up, the Whistle Stop had 'Mother's Home Cooking.' Pretty good, too: but now, 'Mother's home, cooking.' I found a food service with the quality we needed, so we get everything in fresh, each day, and do the final cooking and preparation here. It's worked out pretty well."

The pies, though, are made by the Groth family: strictly according to state regulations for food preparation. Even so, they taste as good as they did, back when, Bud says.
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