One of my earliest memories is riding the bus downtown with my grandfather. We’d leave my grandparents house on Burton Lane in Minneapolis, and walk a short block to the bus stop to catch the Route 20 toÂ head downtown. Mass transit and tall buildings – urbanism at an early age.
Why take the bus downtown? Actually, my grandfather didn’t want hisÂ Oldsmobile scratched or dented in a parking ramp. I must confess to a mixed family history with regard to mass transit. My great grandfather slipped and fell on a trolley track in the 1930s, breaking his hip and developing pneumonia, which killed him a month later. In 1960, my grandparent’s home (my mother was 12 at the time) was taken for one of the Twin Cities’ first interstates. Undeterred, I like buses and trains; I’m sure because ofÂ fond memories of my grandfather and I.
I’d get the window seat, and together we’d gaze out at the leafy Minneapolis neighborhoods, now and then catching a glimpse of the skyline as we approached. Once downtown, after passingÂ under the Washington Avenue railroad trestle,Â Grandpa would let me snap the cord indicating we’d like to get off at the next stop, and together we’d exit the bus at Nicollet Mall, my little hand in his big, strong, wrinkled one.
We typically headed first to the IDS tower’s 49th floor. There, we had access to the Regency Room, which, if memory serves me right, wasÂ a perk of my grandpa’s credit union membership.Â He’d get coffee andÂ I’d get an orange pop, and we’d sit together, eating cookies andÂ gazing out at our city. New at the time, the IDS was quiteÂ magnificent to me, and still is.
Next stop was Woolworths, which occupiedÂ a basement space in the IDS. I could typically talk Grandpa into buying me a Matchbox car there – that kind of rounded out the day for me.
The orange pop and cookies at the Regency Room didn’t last long, and thus McDonald’s was a prerequisite for lunch. We’d head there through the skyway system, in the words of The Replacements, “high above the busy little one-way” streetsÂ below, through the former Donaldson’s, J.C. Penney and Power’s department stores.
The skyways began to appear in Minneapolis duringÂ the 1960s as downtown Minneapolis tried to fight retail flight to suburban malls. More on that later, but ploughing second-story “sidewalks” through existing buildings created some interesting quirks. I’m not sure how, but Grandpa and I one day discovered a very unofficial skyway access to McDonald’s. By passing through the ladies lingerie section on the second story of Powers, you couldÂ climb over a half wall and through an unmarked doorway and voila, you were inÂ the second story of McDonald’s! I’m sure itÂ was a temporary, construction related quirk of some sort, but as a 6-year-old, it felt like espionage.
I fondly remember discovering the big city with my grandfather – the streets, the bus, the tall buildings, they were wondrous to a little boy.
Why do I reminisce about this urban experience? Well, my wife Jen and I are the proud parents of Ellis Joseph Newberg, born June 20, 2006 in Minneapolis. Call it a case of Newborn Urbanism, but needless to say, I have plenty of urban plans for Ellis.
The Regency Room, Woolworths and that particular McDonald’s are all gone, but like any city, the memories remain.Â I look forward to taking the train downtown with him, just like my grandfatherÂ took the busÂ with me. We’ll visit the new downtown library and see a baseball game at the new Twins stadium.Â Together we can explore the city, and discover our own Regency Room or secret passage to McDonald’s (hopefully some other restaurant, but you get the point).
But it won’t stop with Minneapolis and St. Paul. There’s Chicago, Denver, London, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Dublin….
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