Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cheap Winter Getaway

We got a splash of spring color at the Minneapolis Home and Garden Show the other day, arriving at the Convention Center from a distant ramp via a stretch of skyways we’d never traversed before, looking down at the cold gray streets and buildings all around. After securing our complimentary tickets at Will Call, we sauntered inside the cavernous exhibition hall, wandering past wooden gazebos, wrought-iron fences and huge walls of patio stone before we finally located the expansive booth (pictured above) of our friend Jeff Mittelmark, who’d set the tickets aside for us. Jeff designs and builds backyard water gardens, though the easiest way to see his work (aside from the website) is to visit the parking lot of the Target store at the intersection of Highways 101 and 7 in Minnetonka.

Jeff spent the winter in his basement warehouse space like a mad scientist, experimenting with various improvements to his most popular product, Rock-on-a-Roll, a sophisticated sheet of tar-paper that bends easily and looks like some sort of slate or gneiss. You spread it on the bottom of your pond or water track, add a few pebbles, boulders, and plants, and voilĂ , you’ve got a water-garden. We examined Jeff’s huge and elaborate display, sniffing the hyacinths, and discussed nurseries and water-pumps. He told us how the show was going—Thursday horrible, Friday not so bad. Evidently people come to the show from all over the Midwest, some of them staying for a few nights at a downtown hotel. “I have out-of-town customers who’ve been to the booth fifteen years in a row!” he exclaimed."They're like old friends."

“They must really like the show,” I replied. “But does anything really change from year to year?”

“Nothing! It’s exactly the same!”

“Well, I guess they must like what they see.”

“I think that’s pathetic,” Jeff replied.

From that point we headed off toward the far corners of the hall, passing a variety of flaming firepits which, for the most part, looked sadly ersatz, though I’ll bet none of them cost less than a year at an Ivy League school. It was fun to view the flowers at the Linders Nursery exhibit and wander through the Room & Board Idea House.

We passed slip-cover makers, more than a few ultra-sound sauna manufacturers, with their cute cedar-plank saunas lined up side by side along the aisle, tree-trimming companies, and Jacuzzi-makers by the dozen. The food exhibits, grouped together in the southeast corner of the hall, were offering samples of beef jerky about the size of a grain of salt and tiny pretzels that you could dip into their eighty-eight types of spicy dipping sauce. The best thing I sampled was a frozen raspberry slush laced with cayenne pepper.

Hilary bought a book about troublesome garden spots at the Minnesota Horticultural Society’s booth, and at Pella Windows we learned that the sliding door to our deck, which has fogged up a little this year for the first time, will cost maybe $5,000 to replace. (It was one of those moments when the salesman says “five to five-fifty” and for a brief instant you think $500?)

I tried out a canvas device designed to keep your back straight as you sit at a computer—it felt good but cost too much. We bypassed the free massages but I chatted with resort-owners on Wabagoon Lake in North Ontario. I mostly wanted to tell them that I’d canoed the Wabagoon River 35 years ago. They listened politely; it had probably been a slow day for them, too. I also chatted with a log-home company, asking them where they got their logs (Wisconsin Rapids) and grilling them about their home region of Park Rapids.

We stopped back to say goodbye to Jeff before we left, and on the way out, we shaved $46 off our annual newspaper subscription by signing a few forms at the Star-Tribune booth.

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