Enroute Minneapolis

The last time I was in Minneapolis, I was a grad student, and I coined a new word for myself: horizontigo.  You know ‘vertigo’, right? That disorienting spinning sensation when you lose all sense of which way is up? Well, growing up, I always lived around mountains. I didn’t think about it, but because of the mountains I always, instinctively, knew which way was north. Even indoors, because when you’d entered the building, you had Mt Evans and the Rockies behind you to the west (if you were in Denver), or the Olympic Range if you were in Seattle. Likewise New Hampshire and the Bay Area.

But stepping off the bus at the Minneapolis Zoo, I took a moment to catch my bearings. It was reflex – I’d have to make it back to the bus stop at the end of the day, right? I turned around once… and kept turning. I was suddenly dizzy; it wasn’t that I didn’t know which way was up, but I couldn’t tell which way was north. Or east or west. It was frightening, like finding yourself adrift in the ocean, out of sight of land for the first time.

Mind you, I got over it, carefully memorizing landmarks around me as I made my way to the zoo entrance: the shape and color of the bus stop sign, the glass facade on the building to my right. I grasped at these like a man finding his way through a darkened room, reaching his hands out to feel the shape of a chair, a counter top, running his hands along a wall until he reached the looked-for doorframe.

The zoo was a lovely place, I remember – Lorien had recommended the “Raptor Show”, and it did not disappoint.

But that, by and large is my memory of Minneapolis from 25 years ago: raptors and disorientation. My impressions since have been lacquered by decades of Garrison Keillor’s mellifluous voice and endless tales of Lutheran stoicism from Lake Wobegon. I know there’s more to it than that, though. A disproportionate number of my favorite people in the whole world come from Minneapolis (hi Sharla!), and they don’t all seem to spring from one community there. I can’t escape the conclusion that there’s something special about that city, and am taking the opportunity of missing a flight connection to find out.

The real impetus for the trip is personal indulgence: another one of my favorite people in the world (hi Ellen! – who doesn’t happen to come from Minneapolis) is having a musicmaking barbecue birthday shindig. You know I’m a fan of musicmaking birthday shindigs – I staged one for my own birthday back in January. Ellen lives way over in Appleton, Wisconsin, but I’ve found myself in the position to take a few days off to make the trip (thanks Devon!).

Now, it turns out that the quickest way to get to Appleton from California is by connecting through Minneapolis. But the flights I found all seemd to have generally crappy connections, tacking on an additional three-odd hours in airports to make what’s really just a couple hundred miles on the road. And the territory in between was filled with names that, as pedestrian as they must be for midwesterners, have a touch of the exotic for California boys like me: Minnehaha, Chippewa – I pictured Hiawatha’s arrow landing somewhere along the stretch of interstate between Appleton and the Minneapolis airport, and knew I had to rent a car to see that road. Plus, it gave me a chance to spend time with Minneapolitans I’d long ago promised to visit: Corwin, Dee and their brood. Diana. Some folks from the ice, including Paul Morin, whose Polar Geospatial Center (why wouldn’t you locate a Polar Geospatial Center in Minneapolis?) led the collaboration with Google that put the seventh continent properly on the map. Paul and his crazy team of gung ho grad students are the ones who famously did a census of Penguins from Space(tm) and gave us Street View in Antarctica, where we have don’t even have streets. You can’t go to Minneapolis and not visit Paul.

So here I am – eastbound again, somewhere over Utah. No, not just “somewhere”: approaching the west edge of the Wasatch Range, just north of Salt Lake City. Utah has mountains. And if I can see mountains, I know where I am.

[By the way, for those of you holding your breath, no, the T-Mobile signal booster has not shown up yet. Trust me, I’ll keep you posted.]

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