Stranger in a Strange Land: April 2007

Sunday, April 29, 2007

No Freedom for the Pens

Pens, pens, pens. I always need new writing pens because they always seem to roll away. Maybe I should use a leash, like the ones moms use to keep their kids from rolling away? Next time my pen decides to try to sneak off on its own little adventure, it will be sprung back into the clutches of my hands thanks to the elastic leash connected to it and my right index finger.

Golf Time

It’s that time of the year again. Time to dust of the clubs, put on some ugly clothing and head out for an afternoon of golf. Of course, since it is a new season you really should go and by some new golf clubs. After all, there’s no better way to wash away the embarrassments and disappointments of the past season then by replacing your old clubs with some new Ping Golf clubs.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Baptism Time

I haven’t been to any form of a religious sacrament for years and years. Given the chance to go to a baptism last week, I chose not to. Not that I’m against watching babies get dunked into water, but it was just too nice outside to sit inside. Anyways, I would have had to go shopping for baptism gifts. Although there is a religious store directly down the hall from my office, the army of Mary statutes at the door intimidates me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Traveler's Guide to Central Avenue, Part II

As we continue our Central adventure, we start by sliding around the concrete-snake known as The Central Curve and enter the heart of the street. It is here, in the midst of the crowded and chaotic middle blocks, that Central emerges as a street in transition.

On the one hand, there’s the classic Central of dive taverns, dusty antique stores and congested pawnshops. Take for example, Tony’s Place, a narrow and dimly lit bar accessible through a squeaky hinged-door more commonly found on the front of a screened-in porch. “It’s the original, neighborly atmosphere that makes this place comfortable,” says owner Chuck Steffen. Not to be outdone by the numerous surrounding bars offering Karaoke, Tony’s ups the ante with its weekly rendition of Extreme Karaoke. “It gets a bit wild in here,” Steffen laughs from his perch atop a torn, black leather stool standing at the far end of the bar. Price of a PBR: $2.25

The theme of neighborly comfort runs deep on this “older” side of Central. Many of the establishments have been around for decades, some serving the same patron families through generations. “Big John” of Big John’s Used Furniture and Appliances has been selling used appliances and furniture from his homey storefront for 22 years. Surrounded by antique T.V. trays, dial televisions and yellowed editions of Playboy Magazine, John reclines on his rust-colored recliner and reminisces, “Things have been slowing down a bit over the years.”
Paul, of 17th Street Pawn, feels the slowing down of business is a result of used equipment not being worth what it used to be. “Today you can buy new electronics for so cheap, the market for used equipment is shrinking by the day.” Yet, looking around at the shelves and walls entangled by a jungle of electronic wires and colorful cords, one gets a privileged glimpse of the under-appreciated history of the entertainment evolution. There are original Nintendo systems and a library of VHS cassettes, not to mention the several thousand vinyl discs tucked away in the musty basement. Although new may be cheaper, can a price tag really be put on the feeling of accomplishment one got after beating Super Mario Brothers for the very first time?

One thing that will never get old is enjoying a cold beer from a frosty mug in the company of friends. This is exactly what Noonan’s has been doing for, according to several memory-impaired regulars, somewhere between “forty and sixty-eight years”. Noonan’s is like having a drink in your Uncle’s basement circa 1982. The décor is dark and shadow-ridden and a collage of classic bar signs and mirage of dust-smoked mirrors break up the wood-paneled walls. The pool table glows with a purple velvet cover that would make Prince cry and such random items as an overstuffed Tigger are tucked into cobwebbed corners. “Our customer’s are pretty regular… almost like family,” says LeAnn, the bartender who, according to one patron, “is the real reason anybody comes here”. Next door at Brett and Pam’s Instant Replay this same comfortable and friendly atmosphere has been happening for exactly “nine years, two months and twenty-three days”. “Everyone comes here and has fun, plays darts and cards or just watches the game,” says Brett. Going rate for a bottle of PBR at either establishment: $2.25.

However, Central has outgrown its stereotype of pawnshops and townie bars. As new populations move in and the cultural landscape continues to evolve, so do the storefronts. Whereas the old-guard stores see business slowing down, the new generation of retail is enthusiastic about the street’s growing potential. “Business is so good, we’re about to expand and double our size,” says Kiyada Sanders of Jetsetters. With a focus on urban styles, Jetsetters saw the entrepreneurial opportunity to sell clothing and shoes that people were driving all the way to Chicago to get. “We just figured why waste all the gas and time going to Chicago when you can buy the same clothes right here in Dubuque?”

Cultural-niche stores seem to be the new direction on Central. Like Jetsetters and its focus on urban wear popular with the African-American population, Cindy’s New You sells hair extensions and wigs for all occasions. In a store lined with crypt-like Styrofoam mannequin heads adorned with curls and waves running the color spectrum from brunette to florescent pink, one customer tries on a new style and exclaims in mock-horror, “I look like Diana Ross!”

The Hispanic population is also contributing to the burgeoning Central scene. La Espiga Mexican Bakery sells freshly baked cakes and cream-filled pastries from within its small shop permeated by the aroma of crystallized sugar and fresh brewed coffee. Across the street, El Paisano grocery focuses on both Latin American and local products and produce, although owner Eli Rubio says the main attractions are their “money wiring services and Mexican phone cards”.

The culture curve of Central is getting a significant boost with the recent opening of the Cultural Arts Center and its Works In Progress program. “My vision is to create not only a gallery, but a place where artists can create, perform, project, teach and write,” says developer David Young. A transplant from Chicago, David is attracted to the Central location because he sees it as a street in transition. “Neighborhoods change and small things will begin to happen as artists and young creative minds begin to act.” Some of the ideas David sees happening in this as-of-yet spacious performance area brightened by mismatched Turkish-style rugs and abstract art include a small café, the showing of movies and plays, regular classes, and a place for people to come and “re-discover how to create”.

The final stop on our journey is Gin Rickey’s. On your way across the street, take notice of the irony of having a skateboarding store named The Dark Side situated next door to the Dubuque Church of God, whose window proudly proclaims, “Jesus is Lord!” Amen.

A drink at Gin Rickey’s is the perfect place to conclude your Central epic. This remodeled townie-bar-turned-nightclub is as different from the surrounding taverns as one can get. With leather, speak-easy booths, neon lighting and an elevated dance floor alive with D.J. spins, mixes and thumps, Gin Rickey’s brings Central’s gradual transition from townie to hipster full circle.

Sitting down at the shiny-wood bar, I try to pick a cocktail from the numerous top-shelf liquors proudly displayed like trophies on the wall when a red-white-and-blue blur down along the floor, on the bottom shelf of the beer cooler, catches my eye. I smile and shake my head in disbelief as I order a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer at the inflated price of $2.75. As the thirst-quenching chill of this Union-made, Milwaukee-styled hops cascades down my parched throat, I can’t help but think, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Age of the Pen

Why aren’t pens extinct? Being the computer age with predictions that everything is soon to go digital, from money to school, why isn’t there any talk of the age of the Pen coming to an end? The Pen is atools that has been around in one form or another since the time we humans first decided to try to express ourselves with something more than our voice. For this reason, I think the pen is safe for at least a few more centuries…

North Carolina Living

North Carolina is a great place to live. On one side there’s the mountains, on the other the ocean and in between there’s great cities like Charlotte, Raleigh and Ashville. To sum up the state: in North Carolina there’s something for everyone. If you are considering a move to North Carolina, start looking for a new home by searching the listings of north carolina real estate.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Lost at Home

I live in the suburbs, along a side of a street where quite a few of the homes look the same. I’d be lying if I told you that there hasn’t been a few times that I pulled into the neighbors driveway and walked right up to the front door before I realized I was at the Henderson’s and not the Klenske residence. The only reason I knew of my mistake was because of the nice Yard Markers my neighbors use to keep me out of their property. Whether it be address plaques or mailbox signs, I always know I’m at the wrong door.

Shut Up Stomach

Listen. You hear that? Yes, that low, thunder like rumble. It’s your stomach telling you that you are hungry. If you don’t listen and feed it immediately, it will wreck havoc by gurgling throughout that important business meeting you have coming up in the late morning. Know what? It’s time to take your life back, stop the public embarrassment and tell your stomach to shut up by giving it appetite suppressor like Ionamin.

No Bad Puppy Chow Here

Everything in the news is about pets dying from bad pet food. To show your dog, cat, lizard or pot-bellied pig just how much you love them, why not buy some fun new Pet Supplies. Whether its organic (read, “rat poison free”) dog food, play mice, squeaky toys or a warm rock to bask on, nothing says, “your special” better than a new toy for your pet to sniff and then completely ignore.


Looking for a summer job? How about starting a Painting Business as a painting franchise? The concept is along the lines of starting a McDonalds or Starbuck’s franchise, but the set up involves nothing but a paint brush and some ladders. You franchise yourself with a paint company like Cetra and become listed as an official Cetra Painting Franchise. From their, the business roles in and you start rolling on the paint.


Got a hankering to play chemist or mad scientist? Sitting around the house bored on a Friday night thinking, “Boy I sure do feel like doing some proteomic research…” You pull out the white jacket and snap on the big rubber gloves. You fire up the old Bunsen burner and grab the metal tongs to place the glass beaker on the flame. Everything’s ready. The only thing holding you back is a sudden lack of Peptide. That could take months to get. But never fear, thanks to the Internet, you can have your beaker burning full of peptide within a day.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sex in a Pill

Your sex life in a lull? Having a problem finding the energy to go get yourself laid? Well, no problem. Put down the girlie magazine, return the porn-videos and deflate the inflatable doll. Just like everything else these days, your problem can be solved with the help of a jagged little pill. Levitra will help you get your sex drive roaring. Just watch out for those pesky side effects, which may or may not make you completely undesirable to the opposite sex, in which case, hang on to those magazines, videos and inflatable dolls…

Filter Away the Bends

Speaking of my vacation, the reason I had to drink so much beer was because it was the only drinkable water. That’s right, I was in one of those locations that drinking the local water makes your stomach turn inside out and lets you develop a close and personal relationship with the toilet. Instead of spending all my money on bottled water, I could have saved money (like a whole three pesos…) by simply bringing a water bottle and a Water Bottle Filter.

To Have or Have Not

Ever feel like you have too much money (or too much debt) spread out to too many places? There’s student loan debt, credit card debt, stocks, IRAs, bank accounts, ect. The list goes on and on to such a point it’s impossible to know what you have or have not. To solve this problem you could go to a professional consolidation service, but they just seem to take more money away from you. Instead, why not do it yourself with Financial Consolidation Software? Now you can control your finances from one spot: your desktop.

The Trial of the Century

I just got back from vacation and now I need to take a vacation from my vacation. That means less eating, less drinking and more working out. Maybe I’ll even try a Diet Trial in order to expedite trimming back the post-binge pudge? With just a little bit of work I’ll be back in form and ready to start the cycle all over again.

Memory Upgrade

With music and photos and movies and documents, a computer’s memory can quickly go from extraordinary to absent-minded. Luckily, unlike us mortal humans, Computer Memory can be added to. When you computer starts slowing down and forgetting things, instead of spoon feeding it or taking it to the local electronic nursing home, give it a shot of youth by simply buying it more memory.

The Traveler's Guide to Central Avenue, Part I

Everywhere you turn it’s “Main Street this, Main Street that.” A new restaurant opens on Lower Main…A funky coffee shop debuts on Upper Main…Yet another festival scheduled for Main Street. Main, Main, Main. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had about enough. Is there not another happening street in Dubuque?

As a matter of fact, there is. Although not as glamorous or la-de-da as its media-greedy competitor, Dubuque’s other main drag can’t be ignored. That’s right, I’m talking about the one-and-only, legend-in-its-own-mind, Central Avenue. Stretching from one end of the city to the other, Central Avenue is Dubuque’s Avenue Des Champs Elysees. To give Central the credit it deserves, over the next several weeks I will be taking you on a stroll, if not a crawl, down this Avenue of Surprises. This is your very own Traveler’s Guide to Central Avenue- just clip along the edges, stuff into your back pocket, and away you go. Even better, take it with you on the second annual Central Run Pub Crawl, scheduled for April 14th, to make sure you see all the sights and sounds of this historic street.

Like any good Dubuque Catholic, your journey begins at Holy Ghost Catholic Church, located on the far north end of Central. After a few prayers to wipe away your Catholic Guilt, head down a block to the A & B Tap. The Anderson and Brandt Tap is housed in a smoke-worn tavern that has been pouring frothy draws for over seventy-five years. The bar’s latest proprietor, Valerie Portis, claims to have the “Best bartenders in town” and patrons are “guaranteed a laugh”. Opening at 11 a.m., the A & B also serves food such as frozen pizzas, “sometimes,” adds Portis. Whether there’s a pizza in the oven or not, the beer is always cold, the crowd is always friendly and the karaoke happens every Wednesday night and on alternating Friday and Saturdays. Be sure to swing by during the Pub Crawl as the A & B will be playing host to a Hawaiian motif and, according to Portis, “Every customer is guaranteed to get laid”. Cost of a can of Old Milwaukee: $2.00 (dusting off not included).

Although there really is at least one bar every quarter of mile on Central, there is a non-alcoholic side of the street. No, I’m not talking about pawnshops (at least not yet). I’m talking about the plethora of unique, Mom and Pop shops that give the street character. Take for example, Waukegan Color Supply, which has been selling electronics and fixing computers for over six years. Why Central? Simple, “There’s good traffic and good rent,” says the store’s owner. These are the things a small operation needs to be able to compete with the big-named, West End competitors. That and “a personality that treats customers like people, and even friends.”

Of course the low rents come with a price, namely Central’s reputation for being crime and drug-ridden. Bill, of Tri-State Auto Sales, recognizes the drug problem and the effect this image has on business. He points out that much of this can be related to the surrounding neighborhoods’ plethora of low-income housing. “But it’s really the property owner’s fault,” Bill says. “They buy up these places cheap and don’t put any time or effort into maintenance or aesthetics. That’s part of what gives the area its negative image.”

Despite these shortcomings, business goes on. Fagan’s Shoe Repair and Hobbies has been doing business here for 27 years. With shelves stacked floor to ceiling with toy trains and model cars, replica airplanes soaring from the ceiling and enough puzzles to keep you busy for winters to come, Fagan’s is like a return to the days when fun was found beyond a video screen. “Kid’s need to explore the hobbies their parents and grandparents enjoyed,” says owner Aaron Fagan. “These toys are a way to not only broaden one’s imagination, but also a way to connect with a piece of our history, the history of our childhood.”

Just down the street is another unique small business, Unique Boutique, a floral shop specializing in flowers of all kinds, along with yard decorations and Isabel Bloom statuettes. Visitors will enjoy exploring the sun-filled rooms that are permeated by the sweet scent of never-ending spring. Be sure to take a look upstairs where Christmas last all-year round through crisp blue walls, frosted décor and an abundance of snow babies, Santas and ice-glazed villages. Next door is TNT Jewelry and Gallery, which has been selling wedding invitations, sports items, figurines, special occasion gifts, jewelry and art prints for eleven years. Owner Linda Ginter prefers Central Avenue because of its ideal location. “We’re on a busy intersection, we’re centrally located and the retail business is growing everyday. What more could you want?”

All this shopping making you thirsty? You’re in luck as Knicker’s is right across the street. This saw-dusty, all-wood biker bar is the perfect place to rest your legs any time of the day (it opens at 7 a.m. daily). You can play pool and darts, watch sports or the news, enjoy a classic Fire Burger, or strike up a conversation with a bad-ass biker decked out in leather and busy closing a business deal on his leather-wrapped cell-phone. Price of a PBR: $2.25.

Join us next time as our Central adventure continues...