Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Minnesota Nice

After a one and a half hour drive to Detroit from Lansing on route 96 passing Jolly Road, a dance school in a barn and a small sign reminding drivers that killing or injuring a co-worker leads to $7500 fine+5 years, an hour flight to Chicago and a 6 hour delay waiting in the windy city, our second flight finally left for Minneapolis. In we rolled to the snow hidden city, tiny lights flickering on the ground as we looked down from the night sky and screeched onto the frozen runway, enormous banks of snow on either side of us as far as you could see. The wintry mists so different from the sunny afternoon skies we left behind over in Michigan, racing down the runway passengers giddy from the flight attendants delivery of Southwest's airline safety patter that would have given the best stand ups a run for their money. Amongst the favourites are instructions on what to do should the flight "turn into a cruise", a word to passengers with children - "what were you thinking?!" and directions on the use of masks should cabin pressure change - "if you have two children, now's the time to choose favourites." Our heavily harisprayed attendant had us rolling in the aisles as we took to the sky - the troupe at the back taking down notes for future comedy character studies. This travel day, a test of endurance, was really when the tour's mascot came into his own. An Audience With Sam was very much the title of the day. James, the dance captain from Bristol (England, the old one) taught Sam about theatre managers (he was given a detailed description of the Gee show), vitamins and cashmere hats (!). He also escorted Sam around the terminal as the tyke straddled a trolley and drove it as his pretend snow mobile. The dancers delighted in his sprite routine (running about on tip toes). Brad (office Kemp) bought a happy meal from the Mc place just so he could get the free toy for Sam. Plenty of snacking and books in between. Thus the time, but not us, flew by. Especially for Beth who was pale grey from a stomach bug that hit hard the night before and had caused her to miss a show. In recompense Sam and I had got to see her understudy perform - the dazzling Melina, Roger Bart's lady. It was a fantastic turn. Much credit to the art of understudying. Back at the airport, things started to get exciting when the company manager (who introduced Sammy to the McDonald fry) called us together and explained she was considering hiring a last minute coach to drive us through the storm overnight to make sure we got to the city in time for Tuesday's opening. A blizzard was on its way to Chicago and we had a tiny window of fast slipping away time to get out of the soon-to-be closed Chicago and get to the even snowier Minnesota-land. Nothing like arriving at a new place at 10 at night, in a Cadillac SUV I might add (oh how things change) sliding over the foot deep in snow sidewalks with luggage and now, very much sleeping, boy in car seat, to make you feel like you are earning your ride. We celebrated our arrival with some grilled fish salads and a glass of red to share. The next morning, when tykey woke up before seven (eek), I was surprisingly full of the joys of a sunny winter. He came out bleary eyed into our living area and exclaimed with great zest various sounds of delight at the fridge, sofa and microwave of our new home. Nothing like a little bit of 3 year old enthusiasm to remind you how lucky we are. And so, with our renewed sense of wonder we both trotted downstairs for mama's coffee fix (no coffee pot here you see). Back to the Starbucked land m'afraid, but the ladies behind the counter was so lovely it made it all better. Minnesota Nice is alive and well I have noted. That is a phrase for which the state is well known especially here in the Twin Cities. Our driver from the airport told us about the differing overall characters of the cities, Minneapolis a metropolitan restaurant and culture littered place as opposed to St.Paul, the state capital just over the otherside of the Missisipi river more of a blue collar, suburban feel. All I notice in the first few hours is that slight Fargo accent and the kind of resonance in the voices typical of cold place folk, though interestingly the city has an ever burgeoning Somalian community. We passed a lady when we rode the Light Rail, her dark veils flapping in the winter winds over the bright white snow drifts. Couldn't get more polar if you tried, in all senses. On the metro we both noticed the wonderful diversity of the place despite an overall Nordic feel to the tall blonde folk that strut the streets. Sorry did I say streets? I meant Skyways. Yes, here the deeply frozen place the folks have invented glass tunnels that connect pedestrians midair allowing them to arrive at their destinations minus the need for 79 layers of clothing. The down side is that you end up going through a heady neon filled journey of consumerism. At one point we realised we were being walked through the menswear section of Macy's in order to reach the metro stop. One way to encourage shopping I spose. Enforced entry. When we arrived at the other side the three of us looked a little dazed and confused. A sort of post mall fatigue glare to the eyes. You know the one. We managed in 15 minutes what people shop all morning to achieve. How's about that for speed ha?!

So there we were, shivering in the morning minuses, having figured out the ticket machine whachahoochie and mid freeze jig when Cory notices a button. Press for Heat it says. We do. It does what it says on the tin. We defrost under the overhead halogen sunrise. Whilst we wait we press another button and one east coaster's views of moving to viking country are amplified around the glass shelter. The distant ting of a bell (like the old fashioned sort but synthesised) heralds the arrival of the light rail, gliding along the road. It's immaculate, fast, smooth and feels very European palette inside. It takes us on a ride across the city, past the snow drifted homes and onto......THE MALL OF AMERICA.

The place needs Capitalising because it is simply huge beyond comprehension. In fact, its so big not even its website fits on the screen - you literally press options and the thing zooms out, slides across and zooms you in, at speed of course, to your chosen category. Its so big that it refused to play on my iphone. Its so big it houses and entire amusement park at its centre with three level of shops around it plus four major stores at the apexes. Recipe for parent and child info overload. Luckily we had agreed on a three our stay max. $10 later Sam has been braceleted and is ensconced in a train ride in Nickleodeon Universe (you getting the big thing?). Half an hour later and he is riding the mini trucks for the third time. 45 minutes later and mum and dad are doing a marvellously artful job at discouraging him from riding the bumper cars (there's only so much push and shoving us old folk can stand) and luring him out and into a lunch place. He recovers with a stroller nap on the way home.

The following morning he and I go uptown to the local commune to recover. We arrive, in true mother style about half an hour early. Fine if its actually above zero and you can stay outside and breathe at the same time. I send a wish to the heavens and, looking up, it is granted. Nothing better than to see a bright red retro neon sign with the letters C.O.F.F.E.E lighting up the distance is there? Onward we trek on the narrow widths dug out from the drifts and enter a java lover's heaven. We enter "Spyhouse", all bundled up foreigners to the inviting coffee aroma and toasty hang out. On each of the mis matched tabled circa 1956-63 there are one souls waking up with enormous pots of the black stuff gazing dreamily into their macs trying to wake up and finish writing their novels, or graphics, or blogs perhaps. There is an arty intenseness to the place. Everyone is in mid thought. And sip. Oh the sips. If there was anything to remedy the shock my system is struggling to deal with that is the Minnesota cold it was this smooth, perfectly brewed cup o' lusciousness. The waitresses flirted with Sam, fed him a muffin, and mum woke up. Finally. Caffeine overload perhaps not the ideal state to be in when you are going into a room of new faces and uber calm Waldorf teacher all pastel pins and nepalese bell charm around her neck. She immediately made us feel very welcome and the sofa littered mix matched lamp illuminated space for what they call the "little sprouts" was very comfy indeed. Sam chopped real veg, built a house, cooked some not so real "breakfast" found a few friends, listened to songs and cried when we had to leave. And go to pee.

When we left he insisted on walking through the two feet high snow. Giant leaps and falls and snow faced later he finally relents to the side walk and we continue via bus as two michelin men waddling downtown. I make the mistake of a wrong turn and nearly end up in the middle of a small wood, which would be fine if either of us could feel our toes. Or cheeks. Or nostrils. Finally we find a little bit of lunch and take away an aray of buttery deliciousnesses for our afternoon guest. An old friend of Cory's is about to move to London for the foreseeable future and has fitted in a pit stop with us. His mum is a Brit. He paid a fee, got a stamp and now he is one of us. Oh if only the green card were so simple!

We drink tea brewed in our own non travel sized teapot (this tickles our guest no end) and Sam monopolises him at every opportunity. That's what you get I explain, when you have the same name as half of his imaginary friends. Sam's best buddies are Blue Ian and Silver Ian. Green Ian and the rest of the spectrum make an appearance during other more exuberant moods but the first two are constants. They are perpetual perchers on his shoulders. I get on with them well for the most part except for when they challenge me directly by having something I have told Sam he can't have at that moment, or going a place Sam knows he will have to wait. Usual invisible behaviour. Sam shows (real) Ian his "props" for the show and explains he does a big finale number called "Guttin on the Gitz". Difficult to know where he got the idea for that one. Ian (real and pretend) is laughing hysterically, but when the little boy refuses to understand that our new friend must not be interrupted at every comma, I pull out some books and Sam is asleep by the time Mrs Tittlemouse gets to her parlour. I hear him talk in his sleep now. Could be a long night...

So there's our little life in the twin cities so far. Smiles all round, if glistened with icicles. I don't think I will ever complain about the English cold ever again. I may even wear my short shorts in November just to prove my point. Few more weeks of P90X is in order before I subject my lands to that vision. For now, I plan on heading back to the Spyhouse and keeping my eyes peeled for a surprise tumble into Prince on the sidewalk. It is his, as well as the beloved creator of Peanuts, Charles Schultz's home town. I had planned on marrying him (Prince that is) when I was about 15 you see and I do feel a little guilty for pulling out of our pact. Even if he didn't know about it. I have some integrity. Must be the Minnesota Nice is rubbing off on this London gerl...

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