Each month, I write a column for Transistor (www.transistormag.com) called CTRL+ALT+DULUTH. (Yes, it plays on the "duh-LOOT" pronunciation.) Below is the text from last week's issue:
We begin this week with a question that cuts to the very heart of the human condition: Whose lives are more hopeless and depressing – those of casino customers or casino employees?
If TV producer Doug Hajicek has his way, we may soon have an answer. Hajicek, whose credits include the History Channel’s hard-hitting “MonsterQuest,” began shooting the pilot for a reality series based on life at Black Bear Casino (slogan: “Where the odds are greater you won’t get stabbed to death over a cigarette.”)
As fascinating as it might be to follow the lives of Black Bear workers as they die a little bit on the inside each day, the show – like many Black Bear patrons – won’t see the light of day unless some cable network rolls the dice on it. Such are the risks in the reality-show biz.
Fortunately for Hajicek and his crew, area casinos aren’t the only sources for real-life drama. Take the spectacle that unfolds on Sixth Avenue East each time it snows, as drivers of all makes and models try to shimmy up the hill to Central Entrance.
Admittedly, this derby plays out more like a Japanese game show, with its contestants’ cavalier disregard for personal safety (as well as that of others) and their almost pathological craving for humiliation driving the action. In this game, however, the only prize is that they get to keep their minimum-wage jobs at the mall.
Indeed, few sights stir the soul like watching a 1996 Ford Taurus grinding its way up the hill at 5 m.p.h. – driver hunched over the wheel with teeth clenched and pedal to the metal.
Perhaps this series could explore the reasons why the a$$holes who founded this town carved it into the hillside like this. It’s not like it was designed to maximize the advantages of a different mode of personal transportation (a la Venice or Amsterdam) but now works against the automobile in some kind of ironic twist. I mean, can you imagine trying to get around here with a horse and buggy?
Actually, [in my best Ken Buehler voice] topography and technology probably did dictate that the settlers build Duluth on this site, as opposed to over where Superior is (despite the latter’s more level terrain). After all, the prime port berths are on this side of the lake, and it would have been difficult for the laborers of yore to walk across the bay from Superior without the Blatnik and Bong bridges in place.
If I were paid a single dime to write this column, I’d go down to the library during the hour or so that it’s open each day and confirm this for you. Instead, you’ll have to go yourself in April, when the roads become passable again. Or better yet, ask Ken.
If Hajicek insists on sticking with inner wreckage, he can always chronicle the daily parade of drunks down Sixth Ave. to Last Chance Liquors. In fact, the grim determination of these trekkers can sometimes evoke the inspirational words of Martin Luther King, Jr. Adapted for the journey to this particular Promised Land, they might read: “If you can’t drive (legally), run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, limp. If you can’t limp, crutch it. If you can’t crutch it, scooter it…”
In braving the howling winds and plunging temps, these pilgrims seem also to channel their inner postal worker: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can stay them from the swift consumption of their appointed bottles of Mad Dog.
Of course, if these real-life dramas aren’t quite cable ready, Hajicek can always slide down to City Hall to check out the latest round of “Council Survivor.” I think the talent portion is up next. Or is that the swimsuit competition? Either way, reality has never looked so unreal.