In October of 2001, I decided to try using Priceline to buy some cheap tickets. Priceline is an especially useful tool if your schedule is open, and at this particular stage of my life, my schedule was extremely open.
I bid $160 for some round trip tickets to Minneapolis, a big city on the northern end of the Mississippi River. My friend Holly invited me, with great confidence that I would love it there. She is pretty proud of her home state.
A few minutes after I placed my bid, an airline accepted my offer. I was going to Minneapolis.

This was my first trip since the Twin Tower hijackattacks, so I was taking advantage of rock-bottom travel prices and anticipating a fair amount of air-safety drama at the airports.
I guess you could say I was nervous.
I left my car in Belmont, CA and Lei Lynn gave me a ride to the airport, two hours before my flight. I checked my only bag, not wanting to bother with the new security measures.
There seemed to be additional security at the airport, but it was fully operational and not annoying. I found myself being quite careful not to arouse suspicion, for instance, avoiding taking photos of the security measures.
Anyway, I was in the air soon enough, and within 3 minutes, it was apparent that no one was going to hijack the plane. I had been almost looking forward to climbing over a well-upholstered seat to tackle someone. No such luck.

It was nearly dark when the plane landed in Cincinnati. One of the downfalls of priceline is that sometimes you have a layover in Cincinnati. I had two hours to kill, so I adventured around the airport for a while. There was a whole phalanx of courtesy wheelchairs in the new terminal, so I practiced my wheelies. A fellow time-wasting traveler rolled up in a borrowed chair and challenged me to a race. Normally I would have been really excited to engage in this kind of hi-jinks, but the new, no-nonsense airport seemed like a bad place for it. Eventually I succumbed, however, and he showed me how to do turning-wheelies. He turned out to be a race-car driver on the way to a race in Florida.

Eventually my tiny plane boarded, and I sat next to the only Indian guy on the plane who, I bet, was getting the wary eye of the other passengers. He had worked for Cisco and was heading to a conference in Minneapolis. We chatted about the strengths and weaknesses of the emerging internet culture, and discussed tech issues during the flight. It was fun.

When we landed in Minnesota, it was almost midnight, and Holly picked me up without incident. It was Friday night. We had the whole weekend ahead of us. 

We got some pizza and talked about what kind of adventure we were going to have in Minneapolis.

The view from the airplane

Vijay boarding the plane
at Cincinnati

   On Saturday we got coffee at this little place near her house in uptown called The Urban Bean,  Then we headed to the sculpture garden, where she promised I would see one of the brochure-gracing monuments of the city: The Spoon Bridge. It was a little wet, but not raining exactly. The sculpture garden was excellent. Especially the engraved bench courtyard and the glass-tile fish. 

Next we took a bus to Dinkytown, which is a nice little area with a pedestrian mall next to the University of Minnesota. We ate at "Herberts and Gerberts", an outstanding sandwich place.

Even though it was Saturday, the busses were running all over town...often. I don't know if Holly just had the whole operation down to a, that isn't it, there were a lot of busses.

After some superficial shopping in Dinkytown, we moved on to the real attraction near St. Paul...The Ax-man Surplus Store.

Right away I knew this place was a gem. Best-case scenario for surplus supplies. They had glass test-tubes, motors, battery mounts, lenses, knobs, light fixtures, magnets, electrical instruments and megaphones. They had industrial clothing and dashboard clocks. They were bad-ass, and they knew it. This is the kind of place that INSPIRES people. Everyone in there had this look of intent on their face. On top of all that, the place had a sense of humor. They made fun of the impossible uselessness of some of their wares, like the carton of boggle dice or the giant rolls of red cellophane tape. In particular, I enjoyed the box of horrible yellow surgeon's hair-caps, with a sign that promised, "if you wear one out the door, you can have it for free". I mean, you can't BUY atmosphere like that!

Ax-man has gained the highest marks in my book. I bought 10 glass cologne bottles and a set of aircraft-identifying cards for Ken.

We took a bus home, through South Lyndale, and went out to dinner at a jumping place called the "Modern Cafe", and then out for a drink at a bar called the Speakeasy.  The Speakeasy had ye olde Atari games you could play, like combat, Frogger, and Pitfall. Holly let me know that while drinking was very popular, dancing was a little hard to find.


a typical Minneapolis residential street

The Love bombs near the sculpture garden.

The Spoon Bridge

Minneapolis, home of
attractive tourists

the Record Store your ex shops at.

The inspiring shelves at ax-man

I need four of these for my car.

Holly with a drink

On Sunday morning, we decided to risk death at the hands of Islamic terrorists by visiting the mall of America. The biggest mall in the world.

We got coffee again and took a bus out to the mall in Bloomington, about 10 miles from Holly's house. The mall is big, really big, I guess one could compare it to the Pentagon..


rust was on many cars, it was a consequence of road salting.

downtown parking

a quick aside...

Mall of America Compared to the Pentagon

Mall of America Pentagon

Mall opened August 11, 1992 Construction completed 15 January 1943
Gross building area (sq. ft.) 4.2 million  Gross floor area (sq. ft.) 6,636,360
Gross leasable retail space (sq. ft.) 2.5 million Net space for offices and storage (sq. ft.) 3,705,793
Parking spaces on-site 13,000 Parking Capacity (vehicles) 8,770
Walking distance around one level 0.57 miles Total length of corridors (miles) 17.5
employees 13,000 (during summers and holidays) Approximately 23,000 employees, both military and civilian
More than 45 miles of US West phone lines 100,000 miles of telephone cable
source: Mall of source:

Because the mall is four stories tall, there are humongous open spaces inside, for the amusement park, Lego land, and General Mills' Cereal Adventure attraction.

There is at least one of every single kind of mall-store you have ever seen, and a bunch of other ones that are too niche to be in your hometown's ordinary mall... like the medical diagrams and models store, aqua-massage store, and the apple computer store.

Cereal Adventure was a mini-attraction, with cereal-personalities like the Cheerios Honey Bee, the Trix Rabbit, and the Lucky Charms Leprechaun guiding kids though some kind of interesting tour.  I didn't go inside, despite my deep-seated interest in Cheerios.  They even had a cereal cafe, where you could enjoy a bowl of any General Mills Cereal. I bet you can't guess what city General Mills is headquartered in.

After a few laps around the mall, including some backpack shopping and ogling of the Macs in the Apple Store, we decided to leave. 

On the way out, we spied a little pile of white powder which Holly and I both identified as faux-anthrax.  There were three people sitting at a bench right in front of it.  They seemed to be having a sales meeting or something, so they didn't notice the powder until I took a picture of it right in front of them.

I don't know what it was, but I wasn't sticking around to find out. We grabbed an express bus back to Minneapolis proper.

We called around a little and made plans to visit a one-screen cinema called The Oak Street Theatre.  They were showing a 1957 movie called "The Wide Blue Road", directed by Gillo Pontecorvo.  Holly works there part-time, so we got in for free.  I got to meet Andy and Adam and Charlie, and the popcorn woman, who's name I forgot. It was like a nice little movie theatre family there, plus the show was really great.  It was a drama about a fisherman who does things his own way.  It was a good time.

Afterward we hung out and chatted with the crew, discussing the alterna-thrax at the mall.  Then we escaped for late food at a noodle place.

lego dinosaurs

Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America

The dishwasher-like Aqua-massage

the cereal bowl cafe

they measured height in cheerios

This was a great place to sing
until the cops showed up.

That probably isn't Anthrax-laced powder.

downtown with snow emergency sign


Gas was thirty cents less than in California

The next day was Monday, and Holly had to work, so I had to get up early.

It was cold, at least by my standards, but if you mention that kind of thing in October in Minneapolis, people just make fun of you.  Be warned.

We drove downtown and I stopped in to meet everyone at Holly's work, a package design company called Pedersen Gesk.  The place was bustling, and Holly had a lot to work on, so I went out and explored downtown Minneapolis looking for adventure.

What I found is called the SKYWAY! but more on that later.  First I crossed over the stone arch bridge across the Mississippi River.  It was about the size of the Sacramento River this far north, and there was a set of locks to allow ships to move up the river. Walking across the river, the wind was blowing slightly and I was pretty cold, so I started thinking about buying a hat somewhere. I made it across to a strange mixed commercial complex called "Saint Anthony Main" then continued north on foot to the Aveda world headquarters. I walked though the chic salon downstairs for a minute before I lost my nerve and bolted. Next I found my very first White Castle hamburger stand. I snapped a photo for the drive thru project. This side of the river was looking a little dull, so I caught a bus back into the heart of downtown, determined to find a hat. 

I found a sign for a Marshall's, wandered into a men's clothing store, and walked upstairs.  There was a catwalk joining these two buildings, so I took advantage of the photo opportunity afforded by this elevated view. I walked around the mall and found the Marshall's, where I found a hat that could be described as "cute" or "gay looking" depending on your fashion sensibilities..

Anyway, I walked around the mall, and it had another catwalk that led over to an office building, and that building had yet another catwalk going south, towards an Office Max. I was able to stay indoors the whole time, which was nice, because I realized that it was 40 F outside. After I played with the digital photo printers at Office Max, I found a map and realized that these catwalks were all part of a city-wide, accessible walkway area network (or CWACWAN) called the SKYWAY!  

Catwalks were everywhere. You could walk from building to building through these nice tunnels and hallways on the second floor of many, many buildings, from the riverfront to the convention center, twelve blocks away! There was not a direct shot though every building, in fact most had a few dog-legs, but you could really get around.  There were little shops, cafes, banks and restaurants all along this hallway. Buildings that would be stagnant independent office towers back in Sacramento were bustling with first and second-floor pedestrian traffic.  It was awesome! I have been to quite a few big cities, but I'd never seen anything quite like it. One building had an entire Target store on the 2nd floor.

The skyway pedestrian effect had obviously coaxed architects to integrate impressive features into their lobbies, like waterfalls and gigantic sculptures.  Other cities have great features in their buildings too, but here, your building would be open to general scrutiny, so it was readily apparent which buildings were the elite landmarks and which were the generic office buildings.

Almost every catwalk was designed differently, some were carpeted, some tiled, some plain, some ornate.  Escalators were in many buildings, and ATM machines were everywhere.  I avoided the motor traffic entirely, and mapped out the skyway for almost two hours before lunchtime. 

It started to rain as I went back to meet Holly for lunch. The cheap sandwich place was impossible to park near, so we went to an elegant Italian place over the river called  . Gouda!

In the afternoon I went back to the Skyway and explored more of downtown.  I imagined the design negotiations were difficult in planning a network like this, but it struck me as such a great idea, I am surprised I had never heard about it before.

Around 3:30, I caught a bus back over the river to try to find the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices. It was Monday, but by sheer luck, they were open for a photo shoot.  This two-room museum was packed with wacky old devices with scary attachments and ridiculous claims. They had blood massagers, phrenology devices, and a dimagnolator.  They had aura-readers, immortality rings and a lot of massagers disguised as health-machines.  The curator and I shared a laugh about Scientology's E-Meter.

Finally, when I was cured of my advanced case of Incrumelic fever, I met with Holly as she was finishing up at work.

We got burritos at this punk rock Mexican place called New Tijuana then met up with Adam and hung out at the Spyglass cafe. I raved about how great the Skyway was and they just nodded knowingly. They talked about film and I tried to keep up. The spyglass is a great cafe.

It was my last night in Minneapolis, and it was really cold outside.


At Holly's work. That is Holly on the right.

Locks on the Mississippi

The Mississippi River at Minneapolis

The Aveda building

The psycho note on the Aveda building.

Skyway view

Downtown Minneapolis

road construction downtown

WCCO Radio building

Sacramento's Federal Courthouse has
these little sculptures too, but different.

Skyway portal

White Castle Cheeseburger
size comparison

At the Museum of
Questionable Medical Devices.

Holly and Rick discuss
panty liner box keyline.

On Tuesday morning we got up early again and I said goodbye to Holly.

Before I caught a bus to the airport, I ran back up to the Skyway to say my tearful farewell.  I snapped a photo of the map.  The light blue lines are the cities roads grid, and the pink lines are the vast network of catwalks...the SKYWAY! 

Waiting at the airport, I had a cinnamon roll and noticed that there were plenty of plastic knives available past the security gates.  I sat next to a senior woman, and left a seat empty between us where a suitcase was positioned.  The thought, "unattended?" crossed my mind, but it seemed to belong to the woman.  

My fears were realized 10 minutes later, when she commented on it, "Where is he?".

She told me that a man had asked her to look after it for a few moments while he went to the restroom, but that that was 35 minutes ago.

"Should I report it to security"? She polled her immediate neighbors.  We all nodded "yes" and she went to a nearby guard and explained it to him.  It was kind of exciting and embarrassing, but at the very least, I felt like it was our duty to do something, even if it was to let that guy know he couldn't behave so haphazardly.

They collected his bag and made an announcement on the public address system.  Eventually the guy made his way back to our area.  Someone filled him in and it was all sorted out. 

I transferred in Cincinnati, flew to San Francisco and finally back to Sacramento...all great cities, but none are blessed with a SKYWAY!

The Skyway Map

Downtown Minneapolis

A SFO airport ATM boot screen

Read other travelogues: Burning Man 2001 | Europe 1999 | Costa Rica 2000

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