Trains Coffee and Motherboards

I really enjoyed seeing this sign.

[Que the eerie flashback introduction music]

Several years ago, my wife’s tea jumped out of her teacup and dove onto her laptop keyboard. In what would be an expected reaction, she did her best to get the tea out of the laptop. That turned out to be a fatal (for the laptop) mistake. Lenovo laptops, we discovered later, are designed to allow spilled liquid to drain through the case without causing damage. Unless you lift it, turn it, or shake it. I observed the tea-catching-drain-pan when I replaced the motherboard in her laptop a few days later.

Now, back to the present.

Last week, I spent 24 hours in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When I arrived at the Renaissance Hotel, I was surprised to learn that the hotel is built in the old Milwaukee Road train depot. If I had known that when I made my reservations, I would have paid the extra fee to stay in one of the historic rooms. Still, being in the building and observing the artifacts as I ran from meeting to meeting, was enough for this trip. I’m thinking that I will return.

I’m going to let the overweight gallery tell most of this story, but I do want to tell enough to explain the first paragraph. Whenever I’m in a new city, I like to go for a walk in the morning. I like to see the neighborhood, gather some door photos, and I like to sample some local coffee. There’s always coffee at the hotel, but it’s usually “hotel coffee” and barely worth the cost (which is often free).

On exiting the hotel, I turned left. I had turned left the day before on my way to my meeting and I thought I had passed a coffee shop. I hadn’t. So, two blocks back toward the McKnight Foundation (the place we had met) and I turned left again. Left would take me to the river, which you know is good for me, and allow me to walk around a large block to get back to my hotel. To my happy surprise, my turn took me straight into Mill Ruins Park which, according to the good folks at Wikipedia (be nice):

“…stands on the west side of Saint Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River. The park interprets the history of flour milling in Minneapolis and shows the ruins of several flour mills that were abandoned.”

Waterfall? Abandoned mill buildings? They go on to mention a stone arch bridge, it’s like this place was built just for me!

Unfortunately, I only had enough time for the briefest of tours. I had to get back to my hotel to join a conference call online. I also had to find some coffee.

Back on the main street, I headed toward my hotel. As I returned to the block the hotel was on, I spied Dunn Brother’s Coffee. Ironically, the coffee shop sits on the property of the Milwaukee Road Terminal and shares a patio with my hotel. If I had turned right instead of left, I would have walked right into it. Then again, I would have missed all that other stuff.

I bought a medium coffee, a piece of coffee cake and returned to my room. As I approached the desk, the cap popped off the coffee. Enough hot coffee spilled on my hand to make me drop the cup – onto the desk where my laptop was running. As I stared at my laptop’s keyboard swimming in a sea of coffee and milk, my first instinct was to rescue it. Then I remembered my wife’s accident.

I let it sit there.

I brought wash cloths and face towels from the bathroom, sopped up as much coffee as I could and carefully moved my laptop onto a towel on the radiator cover. I finished cleaning the desk, rinsing the towels and adding to the housekeeper’s tip, with each pass. I looked at my laptop, and the keyboard was dry-ish. The towel beneath it was brown – the drains were working!

After a few minutes, I gingerly moved the laptop onto a fresh towel on the desk. I tried moving my mouse, and the cursor moved. It was still draining coffee, but it was working.

I went to the lounge to get some coffee before my conference call. In a final bit of irony, the lounge serves Dunn Brother’s coffee.

Please enjoy the photos in the gallery. Some captions are long, but if you click on any photo, you can start a slide show where the whole caption will be available. I’ll share the doors on Thursday to welcome Norm back from vacation.


  1. My time in Minneapolis was spent from early morning until evening inside US Bank so I missed all of this. I did get to the Mall of America, though, where there was a great model railroad shop. I found it fascinating that I35, that I had used when in Austin, Texas, was also the road into Minneapolis. That is some road!

    Liked by 1 person

    • David, you would have loved this hotel. There were so many bits of history that they managed to keep or at least refer to. In the bar, the drink menu looked like an old fashioned schedule board in a station.

      The first time I was in Minneapolis, like you, I only saw the inside of an office building. The second time was for Smalltalk Solutions and I only saw the inside of the hotel. The mainline Interstate highways are amazing. I took I-80 from New York City to Portland, OR (80N) in 1978.


  2. A custom made-for-Dan work trip and you didn’t have a heads up!? Oh my. Funny how life serves up just what we love in spite of our best attempts to not see it. Love that awesome accidental wrong turn away from your coffee and on to a small adventure. I might add here that this is a good chance to plug my love of frozen or iced coffee….for multiple glad your laptop was fine due to that quick thinking on your part and your wife’s unhappy experience. Okay Dorothy, it would appear that sometimes even good coffee can be found in your own back yard. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. My understanding of the geography of the midwest is lacking, to be sure. I was surprised to find Vikings and Packers sports stuff for sale in the MSP airport. Maybe after I retire, I’ll have some time to explore this area when I visit my brother.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Like dweezer said – this was a custom-made trip just for Dan. All those missteps were designed perfectly so you could get exactly what you needed!

    … but a stone-arch pedestrian bridge?! Nice! Preservation of the past as a city moves forward is a perfect compromise!

    Thanks for the heads-up about the spill tray. I hope that I never have to use that piece of information.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for tip about the Lenovos. Not that it will help me with my Samsung but Sons One and Two have Lenovos.
    Totally agree about hotel coffee. And for you that would mean American hotel coffee which is even worse. ;) But it looks like a delay in finding the better stuff was worth it to stumble across some cool places.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I felt bad having so many pictures today, but I couldn’t pick just one statue. I’m glad you like them. I hope you never need that advice. If you do, thank my wife – may her motherboard rest in peace.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sounds like an eventful time, Dan, and I’m happy to read about your laptop’s survival! Not so happy that you had to run another test, but at least you remembered. My laptop definitely does not have that feature, so I’ll have to be careful. Other than that, it looks as if you made the most of your time, as your lovely gallery shows. I haven’t been to Minneapolis in many, many years. Although I’m sure the traveling can be tiring, you really get to see quite a few places thanks to your job.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Janet. Traveling isn’t fun, but when I can take in a few sights, a bit of history and a sip of coffee, it helps make it seem better. I like to get up early, anyway. Unfortunately, I rarely see these places when they’re open, but at least they aren’t crowded.

      Since it’s an easy way to get to Iowa, I think I’ll be back in this city at some point, when I’m not expected on the phone or in a meeting.


    • You’re welcome, Maggie, but that my wife. It was very hard to resist the urge. I knew that hers only lasted a few seconds after she tried to spill the tea out, so I figured I didn’t have much to lose.


  6. That was a great hotel, and a coffee lover has to have good coffee to get the engines cranking in the morning. :-) I did not know about the draining of liquid so I looked a little further on line. It appears that Macs don’t have that drain pan or they don’t tell you. If you know, holler back at me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the Mac advice is to flip it over onto a towel as quickly as possible. Form over function, perhaps. I’m glad you understand the need for that coffee. I hope your coffee/tea doesn’t do a dive, Judy.


  7. What a great trip this was, Dan, and the photos are wonderful. I am in awe of the area around your hotel. Beautiful. I had to laugh at your last line about irony. There is an old Steve Martin/Darryl Hannah movie where he says, “Is that irony? We don’t do irony here.” I love irony; actually I love sarcasm but the irony of this post was excellent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lois. I’m not sure if someone up there was trying to teach me a lesson, but the sequence of events and the outcome were not lost on me. My wife did feel better about having required a new motherboard, at least something positive came from that episode.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sitting here reading your post on a Lenovo laptop and cringing as your story progressed, Dan. I wonder if ALL Lenovo laptops come equipped with the drains… if so, then wow, this is a tip I hope I never forget! When yours eventually finished draining and dried up, did you have to take it apart and clean it?

    Also really like the pose the artist captured in the “ready to travel” sculpture. How fabulous does she look!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Wendy. I do think all Lenovos have the drainage system in place ( Mine is functioning normally, but I plan to remove the keyboard and clean it with an appropriate electronics cleaner. The keyboard removal is also pretty easy. I drink my coffee with milk, in this case cream, so I think it’s probably a little sticky in there.

      Those sculptures were so pretty. They seemed to capture the intended moment very well.


  9. Now MILWAUKEE is on my bucket list! Who could have imagined? I adore your hotel! I’ve been known to walk out of my way to cross a bridge, especially if I can also detour down steep stairs to abandoned ruins at the bottom. I’m lookin’ at YOU, Richmond, Indiana.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. PING

    That was a tiny shot of nostalgia (either that or my phone). I used to work in the northwest tower of City Hall, not far away from the Milwaukee depot (a place I rode trains into on a number of occasions).

    Damned glad I left though. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think every place that has tourist appeal probably has a few thousand local stories that aren’t as charming. I see that in the way I write about Pittsburgh now, vs. my feelings about the city when I had to commute through rush hour traffic.

      I hope the ping gave you a smile for a little while.


  11. Hi Dan – amazing place and I sure hope you can get back … at least you’ll know where the coffee is to be found. Loved the photos and your story – I knew nothing about drainage holes in laptops – still lesson learnt apparently … cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

      • It really looks cool….last trip for us was for a wedding….February of all months….,really brrrrr…but had a great time. Out of college I worked for what is now Target….since they are based there as part of the mngmt team we would go there at least twice a year…beautiful city/cities!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a great post.
    The girls have Lenovo for school, and they’re not even allowed WATER in middle school, for fear of laptop damage, so I’ve just explained this tray bit to them and I hope they use it advantageously, and snarkily, with teachers when applicable.
    I’m glad you enjoyed your stay and would return for pleasure — that’s nice. I hope you get your historical room next time. I love the waiting room in the lobby — so cute!
    Love the picture of the falls, and the arched bridge, too.
    Yes, on hotel coffee, free, and not worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Making a left instead of a right turn turned out to be fortuitous I think. I love the bridge. Arches and stone. It’s perfect.

    I’m glad your laptop wasn’t ruined with the spilled coffee. That would have been awful. I didn’t know some laptops have that drain thingy. I’m going to see if my Dell laptop has that.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the doors on Thursday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Deborah. I was impressed that my laptop stayed operational. I was really scared when I had to put it in my backpack, drive it to MSP and take it on the plane. It had only been about four hours.

      That stone bridge is so impressive. I could have stayed all day.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. How were the rooms in that hotel? The idea of a hotel in an old train terminal fascinates me. But then, I love to go to restaurants in old historic (or not so historic) buildings. My favorite was the restaurant in Utica that was in a former jail house – each table was in a cell, with the original bars. The food was only so-so but the experience was priceless. I don’t think that restaurant’s there any more, which is too bad. I’d love to go back.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This story was so typical of all the little mishaps or misjudgments that can send a day off its tracks that I laughed aloud. Been there. Done similar things. I hope your day righted itself and that all the coffee drained.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. You can’t get much better than that for someone who loves trains and rivers and stone arches and laptops that drain spilled coffee. Thanks for that latter piece of information. I have a Lenovo at work that I use during meetings. If I ever have a coffee spill, I’ll know what to do.

    I haven’t read the other questions, so pardon me if someone already asked…are they doing anything with the blown-out building? Is renovation in the foreseeable future?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mary. It was really like this was custom made for me.

      It appears that the blown out building is being stabilized and maybe contained in some way. But it’s actively being used and that’s a great thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. What great luck that I saw this. I’ll be in Minneapolis in 3 weeks and plan on following in your footsteps since I know nothing about the city. Hopefully, my son does and can point out places of interest. But I will start doing my own research for places I’d like to visit. It’s also lucky that I saw this for another reason. I have a Lenovo laptop and am always drinking coffee or water or wine while I work on it. Thanks for this very informative post!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. The way you stumble, luckily and figuratively, upon great discoveries is amazing, Dan. The ruins behind the arches, the flour milling story and your reception on a floor of a wrecked building (seeing more ruins up close) are each worth a story!
    My favorite parts were all the white statues of conductor, serviceman goodbye, shoeshine boy with newspaper man, tip the hat, fashionable woman and the conductor. You found a great return place to head!

    Liked by 1 person

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