Dodging Potholes, Tickets, and Wild-watching

John Gilbert

Cars were parked facing both directions on Occidental Blvd., in the closed block up from Superior Street, which is closed for construction. Police gave tickets for parking facing the wrong direction a day earlier, but there were no tickets on these cars, parked both ways. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Cars were parked facing both directions on Occidental Blvd., in the closed block up from Superior Street, which is closed for construction. Police gave tickets for parking facing the wrong direction a day earlier, but there were no tickets on these cars, parked both ways. Photo credit: John Gilbert

It’s been an amazing month of real summer in Duluth, and it looks as though it might continue right on through the start of school in September. Let’s hope. There is the usual shortage of sports events in the summertime around here, but people make up for it with participation sports.

And I mean behind the usual participation sports of the Pothole Gymkhana, in which you zig and zag through Duluth streets and hope you are both quick enough and alert enough to avoid the kind of slam into a pothole that can cost you a tire, a wheel, or a suspension part.

I’m talking about going for hikes, which take some doing, too, because you have to avoid construction on the Lakewalk in order to visit your favorite hiking place. A stroll from Fitger’s complex to Canal Park to watch a freighter slip under the Aerial Bridge and either enter the harbor or venture out onto Lake Superior, is perfect, but the Lakewalk is out of commission. Same with a leisurely walk through the Rose Garden, admiring the incredible colors blooming there in nature, and you ordinarily could follow it up with a stroll down the Lakewalk…but no.

My wife, Joan, is an avid hiker, and we’ve found several alternative places to go that don’t involve the Lakewalk. Her favorite is to walk up the hiking trails above Lester Park, along the river, and back. Used to be, you could drive out Superior Street, cross the Lester River Bridge, and turn north on Lester River Road for a block, parking in the large lot there to get easy access to the hiking trails that network north out of Lester Park. The bridge is currently out, being redone, so you could drive a block past 60th Avenue East, and then turn north on Occidental Blvd., and drive up to where it becomes Seven Bridges Road, then gain access to the trails.

But now Superior Street is torn up, too. So Joan, industrious as ever, drove north a block on 60th, then turned east for one block to get to Occidental Blvd. Once there, she saw that the block southward to Superior Street had signs notifying all that the street was closed. But six or eight cars were parked on that block, securely away from any traffic, by people or families who walked into the park or onto the trails. There is a sign on the west side of Occidental saying “No parking this side,” so she decided to join the several cars that were parked along the east side of that block. Some were facing south, others north. Didn’t matter.

She went for her hike, and when she got home, she said, “I got a ticket.” Now, parking tickets can be among the most annoying things in the universe. But she explained that in this instance she was parked facing down the hill, on the left side, as were several others, amid several more facing up the hill. “All the cars that were parked facing down got tickets,” she said, greatly irritated that any police unit would waste its time scrutinizing those cars in that sleepy little block and nailing those who were, technically, on the wrong side of the street, but adhering to the no-parking signs on the other side.

I wasn’t exactly clear on where she was parked, so the next day when we went somewhere she suggested we go by there so she could show me. We did. Sure enough, there were several cars parked on the east side of that block, a couple of them facing downhill and a couple more facing up. I shot a photo just to prove my point. Her ticket was for $24, and said, “Parked wrong direction,” adding that two photos of her crime were “on file.”

It’s the most secure place to leave a car for an hour or so, and it seems conveniently out of the way for anybody who might be driving up or down Occidental Blvd. Interestingly, there have been recent reports of a small group of teenagers wandering around that particular neighborhood, and maybe somebody called to ask them to keep an eye on things. 

It would be reassuring to know the police were keeping a check on things in that area, but no. They decided it would be better use of their time to tag the “troublemakers” parked facing the wrong direction. Included among the violators was at least one car with out of state plates. So the city lost more in good will to some tourists than the $24 they gained.

WILD DISMISS FENTON

 Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold fired general manager Paul Fenton last week, after a 14-month hold on the position. A Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter kissed the move off as “unsurprising.” I was surprised, mainly because I was also surprised when Leipold dismissed Chuck Fletcher after he had done an impressive job as GM.

Every fan of every team thinks his team should win the Stanley Cup. When the Wild failed to make the playoffs a couple of times, Fletcher built them up to the point where they reached the playoffs six consecutive years. Then the complaint was that they lost in the first round too many times.

The Wild has a playoff-capable team. Two years ago they had a couple key injuries to pivotal players, and that may have contributed to their demise against Winnipeg in a first-round series. Last year, Matt Dumba was knocked out of the lineup with an injury that prevented the NHL’s top-scoring offensive defenseman from helping, and captain Mikko Koivu also went out and missed the second half of the season. Koivu gets criticized by those who don’t understand hockey for not scoring more points. He centers a top line, usually with Zach Parise on one wing, and they score just fine, but he also is a key face-off man and one of the league’s top defensive forwards for his coverage of opposing centers and his ability to win key face-offs.

I am not taking Fenton’s side in this, because I don’t know him or how he operates. I do know that Fletcher was one of the best and brightest young GMs in the NHL. More than that, I also know that with no other acquisitions, if the Wild stayed intact and got their top center and their top-scoring defenseman back, they would be in the playoffs.

If you don’t think losing two key players is pivotal, look at last year’s playoffs. The St. Louis Blues surprised everybody by going all the way, rising from dead last in the league on January 2. So let’s take Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly out of their lineup and the Blues would not have made the playoffs. They had a great battle with the Boston Bruins in the final, so let’s take Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron out of the Bruins lineup. Forget the finals.

Winnipeg? Take away Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler and they miss the playoffs. Washington? Remove Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstroke and forget ’em. That’s the point. Take away two key players from any team and their playoff hopes could dissolve.

The Wild need a general manager, and I would like to see them bring home Brian Burke. He played hockey at Edina, and college hockey at Providence, and after giving the pro game a try, he went back to college and got a law degree at Harvard. Later, he worked in the front office at Hartford, then joined the NHL front office before being hired as general manager at Vancouver. He rebuilt the Canucks by drafting and signing twins Daniel and HJenrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, and those three were the heart of a team that won a division title and stood as a Stanley Cup contender. The Canucks ownership did not renew his contract in 2004, although his team’s total record was 219-181-68. In 2006, he was hired as GM in Anaheim, and in his second year, the Ducks won the Stanley Cup. 

He left after a year to become chief executive and GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a position he held from 2008-2013. But Toronto is basically the capital of Canada, and some critics didn’t like the idea of an American being GM of the Leafs. Especially with Ron Wilson, former North Star and once a teammate of Burke at Providence, as coach. After departing from Toronto, Burke became president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames in 2013 and held that position until he stepped down in 2018.

If he has any interest in returning to the Twin Cities, Brian Burke has been a force in the NHL at every stop. He has built winners, and he is highly respected and competitive. Maybe he doesn’t want to be a general manager any more, but if there’s even a sliver of interest — sign him!