GENERATIONS: Art Lee: To learn more about home, get away from it

Travelers go to distant destinations for the most part to see and learn about different places they've chosen to know more about. (Oops. Fess-up-time: Some of us Snowbirds headed way south just to get away from north country winters). But somethi...


Travelers go to distant destinations for the most part to see and learn about different places they've chosen to know more about. (Oops. Fess-up-time: Some of us Snowbirds headed way south just to get away from north country winters). But something else happens when leaving home and the normal life in Beltrami County. Rather strangely and inadvertently, and certainly not planned that way, the 'Birds end up learning more about their home area that they just left.

When you're someplace far away, and observing the local customs, it's easy and common to say to yourself: "That's not the way it is back home." Bizarre things can happen when you're gone from home. For example, in how many grocery stores in Beltrami County do you observe shoppers wearing gun-belts with the handles of their high caliber pistols sticking out from their waistline holsters? It sure ain't Luekens.

It takes a while for Northern state citizens to get used to what rules are like-or unlike-in some Southern states, in this case Tucson, Ariz. Another man in the store apparently saw me, this "foreign" Snowbird just standing there aghast, with mouth agape, staring bug-eyed at the provoking pistol butts. "Hey, it's legal here. Get used to it," he said.

(Nope, I'm still not used to it.)

And then there's buying a house


Lots of different sights and signs-and prices-show up in Arizona for visiting Minnesotans to make their heads spin. One needs only the Sunday newspaper Real Estate section in the Tucson Daily Star to note the startling costs-"What? Are they nuts?" for homes in an area called The Foothills, higher land on the rising outskirts of the city, property just gradually going up the side of a mountain, which distinct elevation area allows homeowners there to look down at the big city stretched out below them.

The views observed are impressive and wonderful, especially at night when all the lights come on in dwellings above and below them. Houses (estates?) for sale in the foothills normally have prices that cost not only $1 million but up to $5 million-plus. A single newspaper ad-page features these homes-in color, no less. (And northern tourists think that house-prices on Lake Bemidji and/or Leech Lake in Walker lakes are expensive, maybe even out-of-sight-and like to believe that maybe these spectacular houses/prices are just for the Twin Cities wealthy, seeking a weekend retreat.)

Curious outsiders such as Snowbirds-attempting to get a closer look at these million-dollar Tucson houses have a real problem trying to drive in just to gawk at them. No way for gawker-admissions. To get in, the curious/nosy observers have to drive through a well-guarded entrance area where armed guards ask pointed questions, which unacceptable answers lead to the line: "Turn Around. Sorry, no entrance."

Alas, It's back to looking at mansion-pictures in the real estate section of the Sunday newspaper-while considering that the prices of those lakeside houses along Birchmont Drive aren't so bad after all. Location, location, location. It's all relative. Bemidji is looking better all the time. Just gotta get away from home to learn more about back "home," which makes one appreciate where you come from.

And Then There's Buying Diamonds

It's called The Gem Show. It's the selling of "precious gems" to willing buyers-if they can find them, the diamonds, rubies and emeralds that is. How many of these sellers and buyers come to Tucson every early spring? Well, the interested folks come from all over the U.S. and some from foreign countries. Yeah. So how many? That fuzzy number is suggested when learning there's not a hotel room available in the entire city when the three-week Gem Show is on.

Whatever, it's crowded downtown and in the restaurants and bars. Although there is a designated large area where the gems go on sale (dozens of tents and temporary small "buildings") "gem tents" spring up all over the city. Naturally, the new nosey Snowbirds gotta check it out, even if that means no parking available for several blocks from the sellers.

Finally getting to a tent where the gems are being sold soon leads to surprises and then, alas, let-downs for the uninitiated because the "gems-for-sale" are (maybe) somewhere hidden in large glass containers sitting on back shelves and salespeople take the containers down and show the multi-messy contents to interested customers. And thus for these new uninformed spectators, we're told the filled containers hold some some "gems" (if you can find them) but to the new onlookers, the jar-contents only look like see-through pitchers jammed full of debris of broken and shattered window glass. The old saw about "needle in a haystack" seems applicable for The Gem Show.


Indeed, for neophytes, it's a mess of nothing but glassy junk, with a few shards added to cut your fingers. Whatta letdown. The moral for us know-nothings from Beltrami County at a "Gem Show." Shop local. Buy your easy-to-find real gems at Ken K. Thompson Jewelry and let those-in-the-know seekers in Arizona pick their tedious way-using their tweezers and magnifying glasses-in search of the unholy grail.

Maybe they'll find some real gems, maybe not; the odds ain't good. Is it a true scam? Nope. But yup, at least it's another unplanned lesson learned in this faraway state about your own state, about home. (Maybe to get a similar message of wonderment when you're "back home," buy a dozen Minnesota lottery tickets). Ahhh, the thrill of anticipation!

Art Lee is a retired BSU professor.

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