Bemidji Pioneer reporters Laurie, Bethany and Anne kneel outside the Lab Theater in Minneapolis before lining up to see Saturday night’s production of "Rent."
Just look at these happy smiling faces. Little did we know how our fortunes would turn the next day.
But more on that later. First, the good stuff:
And here we are at the door to the Lab Theater.
The road to "Rent" started last year when Bethany and I somehow got to talking about "Rent," which she loves, and which she recommended to me. She said to watch "Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway" first (a filmed version of the final performance on Broadway in 2008), so I put that in my Netflix queue, followed by "Rent" the movie.
That totally made sense, not necessarily because the play is better (many argue that it is, and I prefer it, but I like aspects of both), but because the play is the real thing — the thing that was envisioned by creator Jonathan Larson, who died the night before the musical debuted off-Broadway in 1996. I learned that in the special features on the DVD. Until then, all I knew about "Rent" was that it was a Broadway show that Jesse L. Martin of Law & Order had been in and had left the TV show briefly to film the 2005 movie. I didn’t know it was the eighth-longest running show on Broadway. I didn’t know it was wonderful, filled with a mixture of heart-rending poignancy and heart-pounding energy.
The musical, rooted in Giacomo Puccini’s opera "La bohème," focuses on a group of poor young New York City artists and their struggles and triumphs. It incorporates AIDS, drugs, homosexuality, poverty, homelessness and despair, as well as friendship, love and hope.
Anyway, Bethany and I happily shared our thoughts about "Rent" and ended up considering going to a Broadway tour performance in Madison in November, but our cars both sucked. (They still do; more on that will come later in this blog entry.) Then we found out fellow reporter Anne Williams also loves the show, but she had only seen the movie, so when we heard that it was coming to Minneapolis, we were thrilled to plan a trip together.
All went very well at first. We drove there in my car Saturday, in great weather, and we made great time on the way to the apartment of my friend Ben San Del, who was good enough to host us and drive us to and from the play. We had great seats at the Lab Theater (awesome theater in the warehouse district of downtown Minneapolis) and we all loved the performance. I’m a little prejudiced toward the official soundtrack that usually resides in the CD player in my car, but there was some great singing on that stage Saturday night.
Bethany was smart enough to grab my camera after the production to snap this shot of the actors.
After the play, we went to a bar for a beer, then had one or two more at Ben’s place and everyone went to sleep. Anne had the couch, and Bethany and I shared my inflatable queen-size air mattress in the living room. In the morning, everything looked fine outside, and we were hoping the forecasted snow would be mild for the ride home. Everyone wanted to get home in time for the Super Bowl, so we had a quick breakfast at Sunny Side Up Cafe and took off by 11.
Now, the bad stuff…
It didn’t take long for things to go wrong.
Shortly before Maple Grove, I noticed the temperature gauge on my car going up, almost into the red. I had just enough time to turn onto an exit ramp. I turned the heat off, which bought some time, and took the nearest right into a motel parking lot, where I replenished my spent coolant. Since one fill of coolant had gotten me from Bemidji to Minneapolis and a little around the city, I hoped another fill would get me back to Bemidji.
No such luck. It didn’t take long for the needle to start climbing again on the temperature gauge. Bethany called her stepfather in the Twin Cities for advice. He is the manager of an automotive service department, so a good person to ask. His suggestion — which really made the difference between us being stuck and getting home — was to switch to defrost and put the fan on medium and turn the heat up. He said that would start up an extra fan, which would keep the radiator from overheating.
That worked beautifully for a while, although we didn’t really have a chance to get very warm before … yeah, that needle again. So the only thing we could think of was to turn the heat all the way to cold.
We froze. And froze. And froze. We tried sneaking the heat up a bit, but that didn’t work. I put a bunch more coolant in during a stop at a gas station in St. Cloud, where I bought two more jugs just in case, and I stopped again in Motley to check the coolant level. I didn’t have to put much in for the Motley stop, because keeping it all the way to the cold side apparently kept the engine cold enough.
But it was so awful. We were all freezing, and we hadn’t dressed all that warmly. We probably could have grabbed some stuff (extra hats, nylon pants, mittens, scarves, etc.) from the trunk, but it was under our suitcases, so we just decided to grin and bear it.
We did grin, too, despite ourselves. Even when the hint of wintry weather turned into snow and patches of slippery roads around Motley.
We were listening to the "Rent" soundtrack, and Bethany and I were quietly singing along to a beautiful, poignant song, sung by a victim of AIDS, that goes "Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care? Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?"
She started singing louder, while laughing, as she belted out "from this nightmare?"
Reporters are a little like cops and doctors in that we end up using a lot of sarcasm and dark and/or deadpan humor. We’re supposed to strive for objectivity; we’re here to write about exciting things and tragic things, not cheer or cry over them, even when they make us happy or sad. We expect ourselves to remain calm and present a reasonable, factual story.
So, when stuff happens, I think we’re not inclined to go too crazy over it, in terms of whooping it up or getting hysterical. We just end up saying things like "it just sucks" and "my life sucks." And laughing grumpily about nightmares.
I was very happy, though, to see us getting closer and closer to Bemidji. I was driving 45-50 mph much of the way from Motley on, most of it trying to leave a little distance between us and the white car in front of us whose brake lights kept coming on. Anne and Bethany, for a while, were playing my Nintendo DSi and its Mixed Messages game, which is like Pictionary, so that kept spirits up until the DSi ran out of juice. Then all we really had was being cold.
I have no idea how cold it got in there. I mean, we’re talking the cold of not having heat on PLUS the cold of blowing cold air into the car on medium fan. Our feet were like icicles. I finally grabbed a scarf from the trunk because my neck was freezing. I had a pair of gloves on, but my hands were still icy cold. I suppose we could have taken some pictures of one another in the car, but all we could think of was how cold we were.
Bemidji was a very welcome sight, and all in all we didn’t make bad time, considering an overheating car, multiple stops and snowy weather. It only took us an extra hour or so. We drove past our workplace, and then I stopped at Lueken’s (much to my passengers’ dismay) because I needed cat litter and didn’t want to take my ailing car out again. I don’t know if I’ve ever bought something in Lueken’s quite that quickly.
When we got back to my place, Bethany just started her car and left (she said it would be a treat compared to my car), but Anne let hers warm up and came into the living room, where we pulled two chairs together and sat with our feet in front of my ceramic heater. Everything but my feet warmed up relatively quickly. The feet took a while.
I’m very glad we made it all the way home, and I’m equally glad I had good company along the way. Ben, a Minneapolis comedian, suggested some dates in March when he’s performing, in case we’d like to return. I don’t know whose car we’d take for that.
I also don’t know what’s going to happen with my troubled 1999 Grand Am. It’s already had the intake manifold gasket repaired last year (leaking coolant), and a new radiator several months ago (also leaking coolant). What now?
Oh, and we did get some walking in when we went to a coffee shop Saturday near Ben’s apartment in Uptown. It was a nice walk — the first time in a long time I haven’t worn any outerwear except a coat. That kind of weather can come back anytime…