One thing journalists do while attending political conventions is make pilgrimages to local hangouts to get quotes from the regulars. Often times the location is a pub and the quote is a bar tab. I certainly didn't want to forgo this tradition, so when my cousin John, no stranger to the Irish pubs in the St. Paul area, asked if he could take me to a bar, I said sure. The great thing is that it wasn't just any bar. It was O'Gara's. O'Gara's is the bar that occupies the space on Snelling Avenue that was once the barber shop of Carl Schulz.
You haven't heard of Carl? He was the father of Charles M. Schulz, creator of the comic strip Peanuts. The Schulz family lived above the barber shop. Talk about a pilgrimage. I was standing in a holy place. Charles Schulz is still one of my biggest influences and a true hero to me. I had the privilege of meeting him a couple of times. When Schulz retired in 1999, I wrote a column called My Audience With Sparky (that was his nickname.) Less than two months later, on the day his final Sunday strip ran in papers all over the world, he died.
Inside the bar there is a wall of plaques and cartoons by Sparky. They even have a barber pole on the wall, honoring the spot where Carl Schulz cut hair. I spoke to customer Dave Dillon who said his mom and dad went to school with Sparky." He was very quiet and kind of shy. They knew who he was, but they weren't close." I asked him if he was a fan of Peanuts. "Sure," said Dillon, "who doesn't love Peanuts?" I'll tell you who ... John McNeil, that's who. John loved O'Gara's but he didn't like Charlie Brown and friends. He thought the strip was too manipulative the way it made kids talk about angst and loneliness."It's an aberrant view of childhood," he complained. "Plus, I hate the statues." He was talking about the statues of the Peanuts characters painted by local artists in the fashion of the cows in Chicago and the dinosaurs in Pittsburgh.
I asked Dave and John how they felt about the current presidential race. They were both evasive, claiming to be more independent than anything. We may not know where the locals stand on McCain or Obama, but we know how they feel about Charlie Brown.