48 Hours in the Twin Cities
I was born in Dallas, Texas. I've lived in the Dallas/Fort Worth area all 36 years of my life, for better or worse. And I probably don't need to tell you that lately the worse has gotten so, so much worse. My partner and I have been talking about moving for quite a few years now, but various things and life issues kept distracting/delaying us. But this year we have been much more focused on Operation Get Outta Here, and part of that entailed a quick trip to Minnesota.
The Minneapolis/Saint Paul area is on our personal shortlist for places to move to, but neither of us had ever been. So we decided to spend the weekend up there. Our one rule was No Touristy Shit. There will be plenty of time for big malls and waterfalls if we become full-time Minnesotans. Instead we did the most un-touristy thing you could do: We just kinda wandered around various neighborhoods and few suburbs. The whole trip was basically a vibe check to see if we liked the look and feel of the area, before we commit too much money and too much stress uprooting our lives to a place 1000 miles away.
Here are a few of our first impressions of Minnesota:
Planned Parenthood bus ads and billboards
If this doesn't really sound particularly interesting, keep in mind our nearest Planned Parenthood "mysteriously burned down" four years ago. They never bothered to rebuild it. Before that, it was a fairly common sight to see anti-abortion protests outside, even though this particular PP was on the smaller side and didn't even offer that service there. Anyway, here were these billboard and busses with full-size Planned Parenthood ads, and no one had even defiled them!
Minneapolis is a quiet city, traffic-wise
When we got to our hotel downtown around noon on Thursday, I was kind of shocked how empty the streets and sidewalks were. Where was the lunch rush? I figured it would pick up later that afternoon for rush hour. Not really! Nor did it pick up Friday morning for the morning commute. Maybe I'm unfairly comparing Minneapolis (population 400 thousand) with Dallas (population 1.5 million). Or maybe I'm looking at Minneapolis in a post-WFH world and most of these people are all plugging away at their jobs at home. Or shit, maybe everyone had the same idea I did and took a long weekend off. Who knows! But I rolled into town lightly anxious of the hustle and bustle, and saw neither.
Minnesota Nice also translates to highways, apparently
Remember how I was talking about being anxious in the last section? Okay, so, I'm going to admit something I kinda hate about myself: I have a fear of driving. A quite major fear, actually! It's not great! And I'm sure a large part of it is growing up surrounded by VERY aggressive Texas drivers. But while driving from the car rental place at the airport to the city, my partner and I were kind of taken aback by just now normal everyone was driving. No one was zipping in between cars going 20 miles over the speed limit. We weren't even tailgated once. Wild.
Can you even imagine surrounding your football stadium with something other than parking lots
Fuck the Arlington NIMBYs that keep voting against public transportation. All my homies hate the Arlington NIMBYs that keep voting against public transportation.
(The city of Arlington has 300K people, almost as many as Minneapolis)
There are Little Free Libraries fuckin' EVERYWHERE
So apparently the Little Free Library program is based in St. Paul. I'd believe you, because holy cow it felt like there was at least one of these on every street, especially in the Macalester-Groveland area. I think little free libraries are charming as hell, even though the book selection is always a roll of the dice. Too bad they barely exist in the Texas suburbs, where walkability barely exists to begin with.
It was refreshing to walk into a grocery store and not see the "no gun" signs on the front door
Since 2021, no one needs a license to walk around with a handgun in Texas. So most businesses, churches, and schools have put up some sort of "don't bring your gun in here" sign at every entrance. It's a wearisome thing to see day in and day out, especially knowing a flimsy plastic sign isn't going to stop anybody. Anyway, walking into a grocery store and NOT seeing one of these signs was nice! Like reliving the halcyon days of... 2020? Well, maybe not 2020 per se, but you know.
Overall, we had a great trip, even though our objective ("just drive around!") isn't most exciting thing to talk about. I mean, I could write another paragraph or two about Hy-Vee, the nicest grocery store I think I've ever visited. But I won't.
And I know 48 hours isn't really enough time to get the feel of a city. We had no issues with traffic, but maybe if we had stayed one more day the roads would have been utter chaos. I'm sure a lifelong
Minneapolinian Minneapoliser Twin Cities person would tell us that we were fools to visit Neighborhood X, because everyone who's cool knows that Neighborhood Y is the best place to go. But hey, as far as first impressions go, I was very impressed.
Bonus section: Can Can Wonderland
Okay, remember our No Touristy Shit rule? We kinda broke it on the last day, because fuck it. After a day and a half of driving by houses and apartments (but not being able to go inside either) we decided to take a break. My partner loves mini-golf, so as a goof I looked up to see if there were any mini-golf places around. There was!
Can Can Wonderland is a former cannery that has since been gutted and turned into an arcade and mini-golf place. As with most arcades nowadays, you pay a cover charge and everything is set to free play. The building is kind of divided into thirds, with video games and pinball machines from the 80s - 2000s on the leftmost side, electromagnetic pinball machines and turn of the century traditional arcade machines on the rightmost side, and mini-golf in the middle.
The arcade side is pretty self-explanitory. I was happiest to see a sit-down Episode One Racer, just like they used to have at Gameworks. My parter became briefly obsessed with Flamin' Finger (Namco, 2003), a touchpad game where you direct a dot out of a maze quickly. Of course since it's from 2003, that touchpad is iffy at best. Near the Flamin' Finger machine was a full Dance Dance Revolution Supernova machine. Supernova is certainly not my favorite mix, but I think if you had told 14-year-old me about an arcade with DDR set to free play I would have lost my mind.
The more I think about it, the more I appreciate the late 90s and 2000s machines the most at Can Can. Maybe that's because I was just recently at the Texas Pinball Festival, where older games reign supreme. There's a certain era of games from the mid 2000s that I don't really get to play a lot any more. Retro barcades don't feature them because they're "too new" and yet they're too old for places like Round One and Dave & Buster's.
The rightmost side, however, might be my favorite part of the building. It reminded me heavily of the Musée Méchanique in San Francisco. In addition to a dozen electromagnetic pinball machines, there was also a vintage Love Tester Machine, two different El Toro strength machines, and a slew of weird arcade novelties.
The older pre-video game machines are fascinating because it just feels like all these companies were throwing any possible idea at the wall to see if it would stick. We played The Safe (MCI, 1974), a game that combines all the fun of opening your school locker with the sound of a horrible buzzer. We played Bull's Eye (Midway, 1971), a terribly boring dart game, but the 70s art and the fact that you can play as a complete goober named Iggy makes up for it.
My favorites among the older section would most likely be Ball Park (Williams, 1968), another pitch and bat machine, and Little Pro (Southland Engineering, 1964). I'm very quickly starting to realize I love game in a pinball-style machine that are not really pinball.
Finally, we've got the mini golf. Between you and me, mini golf is just kinda not my thing. Fortunately, Can Can's take on mini golf was fun enough to keep me interested. Each hole was designed by a local artist, and many had fun enough twists to keep things interesting, such as using your putter as a pool cue, or using a plastic wiffle ball bat and hitting your golf ball on a tee. I came in a resounding last place, but still had a good time.