I am so shamefully overdue for an update on my carfree downtown living experiences that there’s really no excuse for it. I’ve thought about writing this post about once a month for the past two years, but eh.
For a little preview and perspective, you may want to read my 2007 and 2008 reports. Otherwise, here’s my quick back-story:
After living and traveling abroad for 4.5 years, I came home in 2007 determined to live a European lifestyle, meaning a small, reasonable living space and no car. Though I’d long loathed downtown for the noise and air pollution, I knew living downtown was the only choice, mainly for the advantage of being smack in the center of the city’s public transport hub and having virtually anything I might desire within walking distance.
Well, my reservations about living downtown were totally unfounded. I took to it immediately. It is simply the pinnacle of convenience and options in Minneapolis. Coffee, sandwiches, groceries, booze, banks, stores, restaurants, bars, and every conceivable service are all less than 20 minutes away by foot. Any need, any spontaneous craving, any entertainment wish can be attended to pretty much instantaneously. Yes, the noise is still irritating sometimes and the air pollution, while not spring fresh, is much improved since the snapshot my brain took in the mid-90s.
This was and still is one of the primary selling points for living downtown when one has decided to shun car ownership for the rest of eternity. Buses continue to be amazingly timely, relatively clean and quick. The Light Rail line through South Minneapolis is an oft used treasure. That it connects downtown with the airport in only 21-23 minutes and costs a mere $1.75 ($2.25 peak) is still one of the best airport-city transfer arrangements in just about any major city in the U.S. And the Central Corridor line, connecting downtown Minneapolis to downtown St Paul in 36 minutes will start passenger service in 2014. (Though if your goal is to get between the two downtowns as fast as possible, taking the 94 Bus will still your best option.)
After five years, the downtown Target location is still struggling with the challenge of keeping their food section stocked. No other Target I’ve visited has as much trouble keeping simple, everyday items on the shelves as the downtown location. It’s confounding and results in nearly weekly bouts of cursing and last second menu adjustments.
However, an encouraging development has occurred. The brand new Lunds on 12th street and Hennepin has FINALLY opened after years of delays. For my purposes, it’s a little too spendy for regular shopping and about as far away as it could possibly be from my building and still be downtown, but it’s there nonetheless for emergencies and special food needs.
The other back-up option is still taking LTR four stops and shopping at the Rainbow or Cub Foods just east of the Lake Street station.
There’s been a tragic blow to my entertainment options. The Block E AMC movie theater did not get its lease renewed and will shut down on September 23rd. I’m heartbroken. Sure, the staff were a little rough and the Commodore 64 computer that ran all the theater systems frequently failed at little things like turning off the lights when the movie started and focusing the projector, but the theaters were large, convenient and Skyway-connected. Now the nearest movie theater to downtown is the moribund St Anthony Main Theater across the river.
Otherwise, little has changed, apart from the belated discovery of the 8th Street Grill happy hour (3pm-7pm weekdays and all day Saturday) where one can buy the cheapest cider on tap in all of downtown. The appetizers are discounted too, though apart from the chicken quesadilla, I haven’t been too fond of the app selection.
Another heartening improvement to the downtown eating scene is the proliferation of food trucks in the past two years. Marquette Ave has developed into food truck central, with anywhere from six to nine or more trucks parked between 6th Street and 9th Street on weekdays serving lobster rolls, tacos, sushi, arepas, sandwiches, vegetarian and more. A smattering of food trucks are scattered in other random downtown spots as well.
Gettin’ stuff done:
Same ease and convenience as always. Pretty much everything I need is within walking distance. I occasionally run specialty errands to Uptown and other non-downtown destinations, but 98% of my simple needs are met by downtown establishments. One or two annual outings notwithstanding, all friends, social engagements and places of importance are still a single, hassle-free bus ride from home. Only during rush hour on the busiest streets am I ever sitting on a bus for more than 30 minutes to get anywhere. Moreover, with public transport information folded into the Google map directions tool on my Android, I can dog leg errands and improvise on the go with only a few moments of research.
This has become slightly less advantageous in 2012. The housing lull is lifting in downtown and condos and apartments are once again in high demand. Though all I really know about this is what I read in the paper, so perhaps people who have actually purchased/rented in recent months can speak with more authority. Still, if my property tax statements are even slightly accurate, condo prices are still languishing near the bottom of the curve, so while availability might be dicey, prices are still decent.
Alas, the forever needy and bleating Minnesota Vikings were successful in pick pocketing Minneapolis for $700-something million for a new stadium that will both result in a new sales tax for purchases made downtown and a couple years with of construction headaches and debris floating through the air that will probably give all downtown workers and residents respiratory ailments. But the good news is that a billionaire in New Jersey will get richer and a losing, felonious team of overgrown babies and ingrates will stop threatening to move to L.A. for a few more years and that’s what really counts.
That theft and injustice aside, in the grand scheme, I’m still a huge proponent of downtown and carfree living. The uncomplicated, streamlined lifestyle has resulted in more free time than I’ve ever had, lower stress and unequalled contentment.
Anyone with other observations or anything to add are very welcome to leave a comment.
Remember Slackerology? My probably best-selling, award-winning, religion-changing, planet-saving book proposal may have fizzled out on the desks of 26 editors, to the detriment of all society (history will vindicate me), but I’m still living and honing the theory every day.
[If you need to get up to speed on the modern, minimalist lifestyle I’ve cheekily labeled ‘Slackerology’, you can read about it in great detail here, here, here, here and here or read an incredibly condense explanation here.]
Further to that, I recently had the occasion to do a detailed calculation of my annual living expenses for the first time (oddly) since moving back to the US and, while I knew the number would be low, the total shocked even me.
In the latest development defining me as a leading Skyway posterboy, Architecture Minnesota magazine followed me around one afternoon and shot video of me discussing my Skyway lifestyle. The video is a promotion piece for their Videotect video competition “Exploring the Built Environment,” the first subject being the Skyway.
Through what I’m sure was laborious and careful editing, they succeeded in not making me look too crazy:
Anyone who’s every spoken to me for more than seven minutes knows that I reap the same warm, comforting feelings from the Minneapolis Skyway system as most people would experience on a quiet, tropical beach. Moving into a Skyway-connected building instantly transformed my outlook on Minnesota winters – in that winter was no longer my problem.
As such, I hatched this tribute video. [If you can’t see the video, click here]
I had a lot of help making this video. Foremost thanks goes to Kaeti Hinck, who probably spent more time working on this thing than I did, and whose directing, editing and creative input significantly affected its overall awesomeness. Thanks also goes to actors Rachel Hunsinger and Jill Wigert.
I’ve already written at length about why the Skyway is one of downtown Minneapolis’ greatest assets and I wrote that before I even lived in a Skyway connected building. I have since spent half a winter in a euphoric, Skyway-enhanced Shangri La and the reverence I once had for the Skyway lifestyle has now fiftipled (a word meaning ‘an increase by a factor of 50’ that I made up just now).
Remember that stretch of shitty-ass weather we endured a few weeks ago? You wanna know how many times I went outside during that period? Zero. At one point, I went five full days without putting on a jacket. I can’t remember the last time I was so happy (in January).
In any case, I think I’ve already made my Skyway Love feelings pretty clear, so what I’d like to do now is post a short primer for people who are entering the Skyway for the first time or have just been too dimwitted to figure out the obvious after years of walking through Buddha’s gift to inclement weather avoidance. An etiquette primer, if you will. Just a bit of me giving back to the community like I have selflessly done so many times in the past. And away we go…
• Never, ever stand in the middle of the Skyway for any reason. If downtown is a human body, then the Skyway system is its arteries. Now what happens when an artery gets blocked? Say, by some doofus standing in the middle of a junction, trying to figure out how to get to Macy’s? Well, ideally, I sweep the doofus’ legs with my Target bag and kick-roll them into a corner where they can reflect on their doofus ways. So let’s review: If you have to stop walking, move to the side. Need to answer your cell phone? Move to the side. Wanna say something really important to a passing colleague? Move to the side! Just reunited with your twin after being separated at birth 40 years ago? MOVE TO THE BLOODY SIDE!!!
• Ladies, it’s your prerogative if you decide to leave the house in ridiculous shoes that have heels that force you to walk in tiny, six inch strides, but if you’re going to move that slow on purpose, you need to stay to the right. And walk in single file – no more of this three and four abreast BS – so people who have lives and/or are carrying 30 lbs in booze and groceries can get by your merry band of the deliberately handicapped.
• Just because you don’t have nerve endings in your shoulder bag does not excuse you from banging it into me.
• Crazy people, ya’ll have to stop talking to me.
• Drunk people, the Skyway isn’t your private lounge. If you’re too wasted to keep moving, and it’s too cold outside for you, go hang out at the library like everyone else.
• Simultaneously eating and walking through the Skyway makes you walk too slow and will potentially muss up someone else’s clothes when you lose control of the 24 ounce beverage you have cradled in your elbow. So, from this point forward, simultaneous eating and walking in the Skyway is banned. Because I said so, that’s why.
• Just because you’re cops does not give you guys license to swagger reaaaalllly slow, shoulder to shoulder. Have you ever tried looking behind you while you do that? All those people piled up back there? They’re not there because they’re admiring the tight, sinewy, spring-loaded cop asses that got you sent to Skyway Patrol in the first place. Pick up the pace or yield to passing traffic.
• If you’re going through a manual door and there’s someone one beat behind you, hold the door for them. If you let the door slam shut on that person, there’s an even chance that the person will catch up to you at the next door and then won’t it be awkward when they accidentally roundhouse kick you in the throat?
Thank you for reading and strictly adhering to these simple rules. Anyone else wanting to add sage words of Skyway behavioral wisdom, please leave a comment. But mostly, just stay out of my way.
Having recently been in the company of another heroic, car-free radical like myself, who rode her bike through the rain without a second thought like a badass to meet me the other night, I realized that a status report on living car-free in MSP was long overdue.
Now, before I get too smug, I recognize that a car-free lifestyle is not possible for people with certain careers and obligations. At some stage, cars are absolutely necessary. Of course they are. My argument is that 75% of the people on the road at any given moment don’t really need to be in their cars – or alone in their cars when, say, commuting – but refuse to consider the alternatives (public transport, car-pooling, biking, walking) due to being a glassy-eyed victim of media programming, a false idea of time-saving convenience and/or utter laziness. That’s my premise. If you’re a professional errand runner or a door-to-door baby grand piano salesman, then ignore my taunts and scolding, but in return do us all a favor and cease with the cell phone fiddling. I know you think you can do both, but 98% of you can’t and I have video to prove it.
Since my last report, it’s finally gotten warm, I’ve left town three times and I’ve relocated to my 26th floor, bitchin’ new condo, bang in the center of downtown Minneapolis. I’m still shopping around, but with the right pair of porro prism binoculars, with something like a 7 x 50 magnification/aperture rating and image stabilization, I’ll soon be merrily enjoying the drunken antics outside the Dome as well as the tattoos and piercings of the sun bathers on the deck 11 floors below.
As I’ve highlighted before, a near-European lifestyle can be attained here in downtown with only a little planning, few concessions and the willingness to engage in modest walking. Virtually every important bus line as well as LRT passes within four blocks of my building, so I’ve become a wizard of public transport and can get pretty much anywhere in a single ride. And while car-burdened people continue to slam public transport with their nah-nah-nah whining about wasting their lives standing at LRT stations and stewing on slow-moving buses, I’m still convinced that after you factor in searching for parking spots and sitting in traffic jams, people in cars spend pretty much the same amount of time in transit at the end of the week as people on public transport. Plus, when you’re on public transport you can play with your smart phone to your heart’s content without fear that I’ll put a Romanian curse on your reproductive organs.
Though I can effectively stock my kitchen with items from Target, the farmer’s market and Haskell’s, I’ve taken to hopping on LRT every other week or so and visiting the Cub Foods on Minnehaha and Lake for the superior selection and prices. Also, though it hasn’t yet been necessary after all the wine I hoarded during Haskell’s Nickel Sale in April, I imagine I’ll be biking over the Mississippi, armed with my largest backpack, to restock the wine closet during frequent sales at Surdyk’s. It sounds like a pain, but something about carrying an $8 bottle of wine on your back for two miles makes it suddenly taste like a $20 bottle. Cider too, but wait a while before opening it.
I don’t think I’ll ever get over the giddying novelty of being connected to the Skyway. I’m actually kinda looking forward to next winter. I plan to make a habit of running errands over lunchtime, wearing shorts, a tank top, flip-flops and a three-foot diameter sombrero, while carrying an open Strongbow (are open cans legal in the Skyway?). I can’t wait to drink in the wretched envy of all the people wearing five layers, trying to save shoes ruined by oily slush and dunking their frozen hands in the Crystal Court fountain to get the feeling back after hiking in from their $150 per month parking spots.
On a disappointing note, my grand intentions to ride my bike everywhere have been sabotaged by a freak, enduring hip boo-boo that is clearly not going to go away on its own, but I still haven’t done anything to correct it for a number of denial-fueled reasons. The few times I’ve been on my bike, it’s been a slow ride on the small chain ring, using more deliberate, sluggish caution with my movements than a senior standing in my way at the grocery store.
Here’s some stats for the statistically inclined:
– Amount of money I’ve spent on (local) transport so far in 2008: ~$60 (this is a misleading number, because I work from home and I’ve been out of town for a cumulative seven weeks)
– Number of times friends have picked me up instead of letting me get myself our destination on public transport so far in 2008 because “God dammit Leif, it’s just easier!”: ~8
– Number of times plans were ostensibly made at my place, instead of a friend’s place due solely to my carlessness: ~4
– Number of times that I really needed a vehicle: 2 (both times for trips to IKEA)
– Number of social engagements I’ve wimped out on due to poor bus connections or laze: 2
I’ll concede that some of the numbers seem to indicate that my car-free lifestyle is simply making my friends drive a little more, though in those cases I have been careful to make this worth their while by tempting them with food, drink, or movies on 50 Absolutely Not Excessive Inches of Plasma TV Goodness.
Finally, because I haven’t said it lately, I must reiterate how much I love my bitchin’ new condo. The location, the tranquility, the comfort, the convenience. I get weepy when I think about how I have to leave it again next week for my second trip to Romania. Though 606 square feet seems small on paper, it’s absolutely perfect for one person who is diligent about not buying unnecessary crap and can control the packrat impulse.
You know what I love? Good timing. My appreciation for good timing is more acute than for most people because I am so infrequently its benefactor.
Have I mentioned that I’m cursed? Yeah, it sucks. So far, I’ve been able to keep the boils and flatulence at bay, but when it comes to things like timing, be it elevators, Light Rail or career-making book deals, I’m always about 30 seconds too late. Every time. It’s uncanny.
The upshot is that my eternal curse doesn’t afflict anyone more than two inches away from me, which is why, as we’re mere moments from biking season, it has come to pass that Minneapolis received a $900,000 grant from the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Project to promote biking and walking. Look out Portland! We’re going to annihilate you the next time they take one of those cycling commuter surveys! Put that in your tweeter and smoke it, you dirty hippies!
On a related note, if I could only figure out which of these still-packed boxes sitting around my bitchin’ new condo contained my Kryptonite lock, I wouldn’t even be sitting here right now. Now I’m gonna have to walk all the way to Surdyk’s like a sucker.
Speaking of timing, gas is now $3.357 a gallon??? Jesus bootie slapping Christ. That’s gotta hurt. How are these people expected to buy wine and cider when it costs them $73 to fill up their completely unnecessary SUVs that they have no business driving, even if they could successfully navigate or park them – which they can’t if the lofty views from my bitchin’ new condo are any evidence.
I’m so overcome with empathy right now. ‘Empathy’ means ‘disgust’, right? Where is my dictionary? Probably under my Kryptonite.
I don’t mean to sound like a self-righteous asshole about these gas prices, but for those of you who’ve developed lives that are entirely dependent on excessively large cars that you only use for commuting and blocking traffic in my neighborhood, I’d just like to say BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!
Oh, since I’m in a hating mood over here, there’s this red Hummer I see downtown all the time. Every time I see it, it’s ignoring other traffic or lazily parked in one and a half parking spots, last time, taking up part of a handicapped spot. I saw it again a few days ago – the passenger side window had been smashed in. Now, I don’t normally endorse vengeance-fueled property damage, but seeing this particularly deserving example of returned bad karma was by far the highlight of an otherwise dismal week.
Well, I’ve been a resident of downtown Minneapolis for two full months now and I’m happier than a wino at a Bartles and Jaymes tanker accident. I could write 2,000 words about why downtown is so great, but I’ve come to realize that you can’t fully appreciate how awesome downtown is unless you live here.
Right up until I moved into the TIWILM Command Center, I considered going downtown for any reason to be a spirit-sapping pain in the ass. I’d drive 15 miles in the opposite direction to avoid crawling the three miles into downtown, driving in circles for 30 minutes looking for parking, paying $3 in quarters for about 45 seconds at a meter, then having to sprint four blocks, pick up my face cream and dash back to my car before one of those meter maids with bionic meter-expiring hearing could appear out of nowhere and print out a ticket.
Though the advent of Light Rail has made journeying downtown more attractive, particularly for drinks and merriment (no parking woes, no tenuous sobriety self-tests at the end of the night), I still rarely traipsed down here, especially when neighborhood shops/restaurants were serving my purposes nicely.
Do I come to your town, wander around for 36 hours, buy booze and lap dances on the city’s expense account, take a hit of X at 6am then scribble some sweeping, inane urban planning proposals during the cab ride back to the airport? Huh? Do I?
The Strib ran a story last week detailing proposed “improvements” to Nicollet Mall. Among some of the more befuddling observations made by people who clearly don’t live, work or shop downtown was that the Skyway was somehow responsible for spookily empty sidewalks and street-level retail failure, noting that Borders Books and Polo were the latest casualties. Sure blame the hapless Skyway. It probably has nothing to do with the internet (cheaper and more convenient than Borders) or style and name brand popularity fluctuations (Oh Polo, I hardly shopped at thee).
Equally absurd is the notion that we re-introduce cars onto Nicollet Mall. Why not? How about some nice oil drum fires while we’re at it? The quote by Macy’s North CEO Frank Guzzetta (hometown not Minneapolis) is hilarious: “Look at Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It’s just as cold, and it’s windier. But the traffic moving up and down that street begets traffic. People beget people. It makes things happen.”