River Road

We took a trip up to the Twin Cities this past weekend. On Friday morning we got caught up in the aftermath of the Giant Accident on I-94 outside of Osseo. The radio said there were 50+ cars in the ditch due to the sudden storm that started as rain but turned to sleet and eventually snow. We literally spent four hours in one spot. The only station with traffic updates was a modern country station, so we had to endure a long stretch of that ghastliest form of entertainment. The songs themselves weren’t horrible–though many lyrics made me cringe–but my biggest complaint was the production style. It literally sounded like every song was recorded by the same band in the same studio and they picked a couple of different male singers and recorded them with a computer and spliced the whole mess together. While some songs hinted at different arrangements, they all melanged into the same shapeless country song by the end. Boy, was I was glad when the traffic started moving!

We stayed in downtown St Paul at the City Center Hotel. From our hotel window on the 15th floor I could read the electronic ticker of Minnesota Public Radio. I’d not been in the Twin Cities for over a decade and I’d never spent any time in St Paul. Our hotel was on the Skywalk and that was a blast for Soren, even though it was a weekend and nothing was really open. Downtown St Paul looks sort of like downtown Des Moines but bigger with a funkier vibe and with some cool older buildings. We went to the Children’s Museum, ate some awesome food at Everest on Grand and went to Ikea. We toodled through downtown MPLS so I could see First Avenue, which I am ashamed to say I’ve never been to. We hung with one of Deanna’s friends and had more awesome Thai food at a place which was also on Grand but whose name escapes me. On Sunday we packed up and hit the road to find a bakery before we left town. We wound up in the eastern part of St Paul in a little town-within-a-town called Phalen Park. The bakery we sought was no longer there but had been replaced by a charming Mexican bakery so we grabbed some pastry, drove around the cute little Phalen area and hit the road. We followed the Mississippi River on The Great River Road which was gorgeous and worth the extra hours of travel time.

Getting out of town was really good for us and being in St Paul again gave me a big bout of City Envy. I’ve gotten it bad in Chicago and San Francisco and Kansas City, although those places are on a much different level. St Paul isn’t really all that much bigger in population than Madison but contains much more of what makes a city cool to me: the massive mixed use, the endless supply of restaurants, the old neighborhoods that are still intact, the towering riverfront downtown surrounded by older bits of city. Minneapolis has the same feel, though on a much bigger scale and with more of a large city downtown. Maybe I have River City Envy. I grew up in Cedar Falls which does have a river (and a falls) but I doubt it was ever navigable. Ames, Iowa isn’t even on a river and was created by a combination of the layout of Iowa State University, the railroad and the Lincoln Highway. And while Madison is technically on the Yahara River, this is not a river city. Much like Ames, Madison was also created by railroads and highways and university commerce (as well as being the headquarters of the state government). I like the old parts of Madison (and I’m lucky enough to live in one) but in the last decade I’ve seen much of it swallowed by gentrification. I’m sure St Paul has fallen victim to the same sort of “progress” but from the pictures I’ve seen of Madison in the early 20th century we’ve wiped out quite a bit of the character that seems to exist in other cities.


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