Bar Hoping

Sean runs a trivia company out of Minnesota

called “Trivia Mafia.”

Currently there is only one bar

in all of Milwaukee

(the city with more bars than grocery stores)

where you can play Trivia Mafia

and that bar is Vintage.

Here is why Sean and his dad came down for the weekend:

to go bar hopping, cialis

or rather bar hoping

that they will get some Trivia Mafia installed.

At the moment father and son are playing chess together

in the Lobby Lounge,

remembering the Milwaukee of the father’s kidhood.

How he went to Rufus King High School on the west side

long before leaving for Chicago to get his doctorate in Economics,

becoming a professor in Massachusetts,

then the president of Macalester College,

the job that brought him and Sean to St. Paul.

Each week Trivia Mafia features six rounds of five questions,

four of them have a theme,

and two of them are just general knowledge.

Sean admits,

“I love presidential trivia.”

About 54 bars in the Twin Cities play Trivia Mafia.

Sean’s Mafia hopes to expand its presence

in Rochester, Duluth, Fargo and Milwaukee.

Sean’s father visits Milwaukee a lot

now that he has moved to Chicago.

He tells me that he just attended a conference

at Marquette University all about morality and psychology.

At the conference he learned how practicing mindfulness and meditation

has been measured by scientists to make you a better person.

“In a nutshell,

my economics training did not prepare me very well

for participating in that conference,

but it was a fascinating couple days.”

Sean went to the University of Minnesota

where he designed his own degree,

dropped out,

played music,

traveled nationally with a band called Heiruspecs,

then he finished his degree in music,

African American studies, cultural studies,

“and did the only thing you can with those degrees

which is run a trivia company!”

Aside from Trivia Mafia,

Sean also teaches a few classes at a music college

and plays bass for “Dessa.”

I ask father and son who usually wins at chess when they play.

Son replies, “Historically him, by a long shot.”

Father replies, “As my mental decline continues

and his maturation proceeds,

I think the tables are shifting.”

The supportive and proud father goes on to say,

“A lot of trivia contests are pure memory,

like ‘what was the name of the character this person played in that movie?’

but these guys are really good at asking questions

that make you think.

One of my all time favorite questions was,

‘who was the last president of the United States to wear a full beard

while in office?’

And you know, you’re not just going to know that,

but you’re going to think, well,

certainly by the time of Roosevelt

there weren’t any more full beards,

and the last one was obviously after Lincoln,

you know you’re in the late 19th century,

but the thing is you can make an educated guess,

it’s not like you either know it or you don’t.”

When I get up to leave, the mafia

tries to make an offer I can’t refuse:

“Tomorrow, Vintage, 5 ‘O Clock.

You can be on our team.”



Staying on the Ride

It’s such a surreal feeling to interview your replacement. Sure, try I’m being a bit dramatic—I’m not interviewing them and when I took the job, I knew I’d eventually be replaced but there’s nothing I have to like about it.

Well, I do like the tension I felt walking into the meeting room at the Pfister as I was about to comment on and discuss the many applicants for the next Narrator position knowing the same discussions had included me just months ago. My vow was to say very little (you should know, that’s always my vow, it rarely works) and listen long, but I found I was so excited to talk about what I liked, the ideas that circulated among the applicants and to carefully detect how it worked last time with me on the table in a pile of paper instead of in the chair casting votes that I’m sure I reached “vehement” at certain points.  

Most of the applications covered the required bases, but I did learn something from the unique portions of each. I learned that there’s so much I’m taking with me and so much I’m leaving out. I was interviewed for a video blog piece as part of the process and when asked what advice I would give the next Narrator and the words flew from my mouth. Have no expectations.  All the narrators proposed a plan, had ideas for how they’d get people to talk, which stories they were in search of and I realized my plan has already been shattered—for the better.

For every person I do approach or who sits down next to me, many times, there were three behind them with tales just as interesting. Every blog I’ve written about dancing daughters and Santa lap-sitting grandmothers and celebrities was reduced to 400 words and I’m walking away with the rest of the story. What I’ve given here and what I’m taking with me differ vastly and that’s one of the only parts of my proposal that has stuck.

They asked me what I hoped to get. I told them I wanted to be talking about this experience forever. Mission accomplished. I know I understood the undertaking and I’m here to tell you, our top six finalists for the job understand it too. They all wrote about what they hope to find in the guests they share space with at the Pfister. They all had an eagerness and openness about how they’d capture it and report it. Most of all, they each seemed to want it for themselves. They all (myself included) wanted to seek out the people, seek out the histories, the feelings, the human connection that comes with just sharing a moment with people.

Just the other day, leaving the hotel, I was on the elevator with a pair of women who didn’t get off when the door opened at what I thought was their floor. I smiled toward them and shuffled aside to give them room to exit when one in the pair begrudgingly said “No, sorry. We don’t know where we’re headed; we just like to ride the elevator.” Without even thinking that it was just a polite joke that people make to be social (a lot like the “I’m doing well, thank you” standard answer to “Hello, how are you?”) I instantly replied, completely seriously “Oh, I know! I love riding the elevator. I’ve met some fun people here! Stay on, you’ll like it!”

And as the doors closed after my exit, I wondered…did the pair think I was nuts or did they get it?

Be excited…any one of the six finalists for narrator gets it. I rest assured of that.