Weather: 37Â°F (3Â°C)
Road Conditions: Dry and Salty
Though my family moved around a lot when I was growing up, I have always considered myself a Saint Paul Boy. Born in 1963 at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, in the heart of downtown Saint Paul, there were at least a couple of saints in attendance when I showed up. Some say it’s a shame that I never learned much from their example…
Be that as it may, my Dad worked at Northern States Power Company, headquartered in Saint Paul, and all of our moves were points in a constellation centered around his job.
We lived in South Saint Paul, North Saint Paul, and West Saint Paul at times during my childhood, with one big slingshot orbit way out to Osceola, Wisconsin, when Dad decided we needed to experience life in “the sticks” for awhile.
Even out there, whenever we visited family, or went shopping for school clothes, it was always back to the bosom of Our Town that we returned.
For a Saint Paul native, Minneapolis is an alien place. We could get anything we needed on Our Side of The River, without ever venturing Over There. Oh, I know they call us the “Twin Cities”, but nothing could be further from the truth.
If you look at a map of the area, blocking out all of the distracting suburbs, and concentrate on the way the Mississippi River divides us here, within our loop of Interstate Highway 94, it would look like a lopsided Yin-Yang symbol. You have to squint just right to see it. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which, of course, since I am by default biased.
But consider this…
Saint Paul is the state capitol. It was here first. All of the hard work of establishing an outpost in the wilderness was done here, around Fort Snelling on the Mississippi. Saint Paul was built from blue collar sweat and gritty determination, while Minneapolis was built by city-folk, who came along later. It is widely recognized that Minneapolis is the more effete, cosmopolitan center of business, finance, and the arts, while Saint Paul is the wellspring of our unique Minnesota character.
In other words, while Saint Paul is home to the salt of the earth, Minneapolis is populated by people who are bound and determined never to work at a Real Job. That’s why M-town attracts so many people from Those Other Places.
Saint Paul’s streets are a cipher, not easily learned by outsiders. Our most famous governor, Jesse Ventura, went so far as to say they were laid out by drunken Irishmen. They twist and they turn in rhythm with the restless river, and their names honor our most famous and/or infamous citizens.
Over there in Minneapolis, they have numbered streets and avenues, arrow-straight for the most part, to the point where a tourist from New York City or Los Angeles might feel right at home after a week or so. This leads to immigration, and Dangerous Ideas from abroad.
No, I think the founders of Saint Paul had it right; Keep the bastards guessing, take their money, and send them on their way.
You can see this basic philosophical split in the architecture of the rival cities. Saint Paul clings to it’s real roots, preserving much of it’s old buildings and heritage even though it would be cheaper to replace with modern construction.
Minneapolis, on the other hand, went full-bore in the opposite direction for many years. This is evidenced in the boxy look of their skyline, with a plethora of high-rise, glass and steel skyscrapers, and a dearth of classic brick and mortar buildings in the city center. It is only on the riverfront where they have rediscovered their past, and recently started to preserve it. Even then, that’s only so they can sell condos to the rich yuppies who are flocking back to the urban centers.
Riding through Saint Paul is an exciting experience. Your eye is drawn to strange, wedge-shaped buildings and classic old brick edifices. The sheer variety and scope of the cityscape is overwhelming! You really have to work hard to keep your eyes on the local cage traffic that is trying to run you down. Luckily, you can turn right at most of the red lights there, and that leads to Other Options.
Over in Minneapolis, the vibe is totally different. It is more of a New York City stampede of five lanes going one way between impossibly tall buildings. Your every move is regulated by glacial stoplights, with No Turn On Red signs everywhere you look. You spend more time idling and breathing exhaust fumes than you do in motion. It is a nightmare landscape where I have actually ridden on the sidewalk in order to get where I wanted to go down a one (wrong)-way street.
These days, I avoid downtown Minneapolis like the plague…
Which is all just to say that I will be concentrating on Our Town for the next few Ramble Plans. I want to learn every nook and cranny of Saint Paul, where to eat and drink, where to stop and look at the scenery, before I start messing around Over There in Minneapolis.
Yes, First Thursday happens Over There… I know that. And it is an absolute bee-yotch to get to during rush-hour. Just like everything else. There are more Beemers and Mercedes Over There than there are in Saint Paul. More Jag-you-ares and Porshahs too. Not to mention the hordes of blinged-out Escalades and Hummers and Rovers.
Saint Paul is a full-size pickup / family sedan town, by comparison. It’s friendlier to motorbikes, because not every driver has a cellphone glued to their head. Yet. As long as you know your way around, you can still get where you want to go with minimal hassle. And there is more here in Our Town than at first meets the eye.
So, Ramble Plan Echo will take in some of the gritty character that is Our Town, sometime after the holidays. That’s all I know for now. I’m signing off for the Christmas holiday, and will be back with another post before the New Year.
Happy Holidays, from Ride to Work, and Rush Hour Rambling.