Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When an outstate Minnesotan travels through “the Cities” May 14, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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The downtown Minneapolis skyline on Mother's Day.

The downtown Minneapolis skyline on Mother’s Day, later afternoon. The combination of grey skies and photographing this scene while traveling at Interstate speeds give this unedited image a painterly quality.

I AM NOT A VENTURING into the big city kind of girl. You’re not surprised, are you?

Approaching downtown Minneapolis from the north.

Approaching downtown Minneapolis from the north.


A concrete divider separates lanes on a particularly curvy stretch of Interstate near downtown Minneapolis.

A concrete divider separates lanes on a particularly busy and curvy stretch of Interstate near downtown Minneapolis.

There are way too many curves in this section of Interstate 35 approaching downtown Minneapolis from the north.

There are way too many curves in this section of Interstate 35 approaching downtown Minneapolis from the north.

If not for the traffic congestion, I would likely hold a different attitude toward cities. But the high speed at which vehicles travel in close proximity across spans of lanes unsettles me. Too much closeness. Too little space. Too much concrete. Too much of everything overwhelms me.

Edging out of the Twin Cities metro with only 24 miles to Faribault.

Edging out of the Twin Cities metro with only 24 miles home to Faribault.

I am always relieved when we exit the worst of the traffic craziness and land spreads out on each side, free, unencumbered by visual barriers of tall buildings, houses crammed together and sound buffering walls.

Crossing the Interstate 35W bridge.

Crossing the Interstate 35W bridge.

As much as I wish my husband and I could avoid the Twin Cities metro, we cannot. We must drive through it and around it to visit loved ones or to pick up/drop off family at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Sometimes I wish the airport had expanded into cornfields farther south, nearer our home. But then we would deal with the roar of airliners. And that I would not like.

A personalized Mother's Day message on a billboard momentarily distracts me.

A personalized Mother’s Day message on a billboard momentarily distracts me.

Likewise, construction of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium draws my photographic attention.

Likewise, construction of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium draws my photographic attention.

Interstate 35 south of downtown Minneapolis.

Interstate 35 south of downtown Minneapolis.

So I try to make the best of these necessary journeys through the Twin Cities metro. I use my camera to distract me while the husband focuses on the road. And, surprise, I am beginning to feel more comfortable. Well, not too comfortable.

I have no plans anytime soon to go into downtown Minneapolis.

The downtown Minneapolis skyline on a grey Sunday afternoon.

I am not yet ready to venture into the heart of the city.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


43 Responses to “When an outstate Minnesotan travels through “the Cities””

  1. Janelle Parry Says:

    Dear Audry, I am a transplant to Tampa, FL that has been following you for quite awhile. Spending summers on the farm when younger,I agree to preferring the country spaces and quiet and small town socialness. But I have also lived close to and worked downtown. There are treasures there like museums, history and architecture I think you would enjoy and so much for your camera to reveal. We are about the same age and if I had my druthers I would choose the country but not miss out on the adventure of downtown, very occasionally. Be brave :–). Your blog fills a special spot in my heart away from my Minnesota home and thank you so much for that. You keep our heritage there alive.

    • Janelle, thank you for your sweet words. I’m delighted to have you among my readers and to remind you of “home.”

      You are, of course, totally correct on the treasures of the big city. With my daughter and son-in-law now living in the north metro, I am becoming more accustomed to the Cities. They are just beginning to take my husband and me to places we have not been or have not been to in a long time like the Minnesota History Center and Como Park Conservatory. The James J. Hill House and/or Fort Snelling are next on the list. I am becoming braver, although none of these are in downtown Minneapolis, but rather in St. Paul, a city which seems more laid back and down-to-earth than Minneapolis with a faster-paced and more urban vibe (at least to me).

  2. Janelle Parry Says:

    Sorry Audrey, I dint,double check my work! Spelling of your name wrong. And responding to a journalist no less!! Jeepers.

  3. Dan Traun Says:

    It gets easier over time…getting acclimated to the concrete jungle that is. Minnesota nice not even close. People can be quite rude when driving in rush hour. That never seems to get any easier; thankfully I don’t see much rush hour as I am early into work and early out. Every once in a while I hit the rush and I can’t believe people endure this on a daily basis. No thank you.

    • We avoid rush hour in the metro. Hearing daily traffic reports on the radio is enough to make me thankful I don’t have to deal with that. I’m glad you, for the most part, can beat that traffic congestion stress.

  4. treadlemusic Says:

    Although born, raised and lived in both cities, I very much dislike returning. The tension that is almost palpable is very unsettling to me, also. Traveling during the week (avoiding work release times) seems a bit better and the worst is the weekend, when every member of every family ‘hits’ the road in their own car on paths not normally traveled and at speeds quite excessive. Such a polar opposite to our experience in So. Tx where people travel UNDER the posted speeds!!!! Interesting………………

    • Thanks for adding your perspective from one who’s lived in both urban and rural. I would agree that weekends are the worst although the traffic was not horrible when we drove around downtown Minneapolis late Sunday afternoon. It’s the weekend summer traffic on the west side of the Cities with everyone heading north to the lake, or returning home, that’s the worst. Throw in road construction and that multiplies the challenges of navigation.

  5. Beth Ann Says:

    I know that you love the wide open spaces of the prairie and feel uncomfortable in the city but I have come to love my adventures into cities over the past years . As Janelle says in the above comment —I have found so much to love about the city. The ease of getting around on public transit without having to deal with driving, the street food, the sights, the sounds and the characters that can be found everywhere. Yes, they are there in the wide open spaces as well but maybe not is such quantity. Adventure awaits, my friend.

  6. Almost Iowa Says:

    I grew up in Saint Paul and worked in Minneapolis City Hall for a few decades, so the traffic never bothered me. I guess I got used to ranting at other drivers. Now I live near the Iowa border and still rant at the occasional pickup truck that raises dust on our gravel road.

    It is amazing how fast one looses the skill and patience to drive in the city. It seems like another world.

    • Your last sentence, “It seems like another world,” is so telling. That’s how I feel. It’s interesting, too, how people have different definitions of a “small town.” I’ve heard friends reference Faribault, population around 23,000, as a “small town.” I laugh. Sometimes aloud. Sometimes to myself. To me, “small town” is several hundred or thousand, or even under one hundred.

      How we view a place is partially about our experience and background.

  7. I’ve only been to Minneapolis once when I was about 8 years old. I remember the crazy traffic and bridges. I also remember falling down an escalator. I got my shoe lace stuck in it. Who falls down an escalator other than my graceful self?

  8. Littlesundog Says:

    Hello Audrey! When I lived up north in Nebraska I ventured to the Twin Cities a couple of times and found the area quite difficult to maneuver around. Too many curves and not enough sign notice to make lane changes to exit in a timely manner! But, many cities are like that – as if they grew up too fast and transportation engineering didn’t plan for so much growth. I am totally with you on how you feel approaching large cities and the relief in leaving. I can manage for a week or two, to enjoy vacation – taking in the sights, sounds and smells of such a different atmosphere and maybe region. But, it is always comforting to come back to the quiet and slower version of life in the country… in the little towns, villages and burgs. I like simple. 🙂

    • Simple is good.

      I think you’re correct on that rapid growth leading to transportation issues. With modern technology, it is a bit easier to figure out where you are going. Not that we have GPS. But we can Google routes in advance.

  9. Amy Gage Says:

    With all respect, Audrey, I’d suggest you get off the freeways and into the neighborhoods. The Twin Cities (especially St. Paul) is a charming, people-focused urban area with bikeways, local shops and green space galore. I raised my children in Northfield for 20 years and do miss the easy access to nature, but I love the culture and diversity in the urban core. Beats the beige anonymity of the suburbs.

    • Your suggestion is a good one, Amy. I’m just beginning to explore St. Paul now that my daughter and her husband live in a nearby community. Growing up, I would board the Greyhound bus in rural southwestern Minnesota and ride it all the way to visit my aunt and uncle in south Minneapolis. She would take me on bike rides around Lake Harriet and to Theodore Wirth Park and other places. A few years ago I went back to Lake Harriet to see the bandshell and the Rose Garden. Both are lovely. But busy places.

      Typically when I’m in the metro, I am on my way somewhere to see family.

  10. Amy Gage Says:

    With all respect, Audrey, I suggest you get off the freeways and into the neighborhoods. There’s much to recommend the urban core, especially in St. Paul. Judging the Twin Cities by the freeways alone is the equivalent of driving down Highway 19 in Northfield — bypassing Division Street and the campuses — and dubbing it a “bedroom community.”

    • Good point. I know the big city has much to offer, just as our rural areas do, if only we take the time to look. This post was not meant to judge the Cities by the traffic. But it does explain why I don’t venture into the Cities to see all that art, culture, etc., that exists.

  11. Marcy Says:

    Please do not use the word “outstate”. I live and vote in Northern Minnesota and I am NOT outstate. I am part of the state of Minnesota. I hate that term.

    • Marcy, I don’t like the term either. But it’s one most people recognize and use, which is why I used it in the title of this post. I appreciate your comment. You are definitely not alone in disliking the word “outstate.”

  12. Don Says:

    Yes I can relate to the “outstate” term. You would be surprised at the number of times when ordering items the shipping department will state “we do not ship to foreign countries” Dah, Alaska?

    As always your pictures bring back memories of growing up in Minnesota! I remember as a 16 year old driver how I thought driving in Minneapolis was such fun! Young and dumb at 16!

    My wife and I were talking this past weekend of were we would like to move to. I said any town in the Midwest that does NOT have a stoplight is just the right size for me!

    • Perhaps I should have used the wordage, “Greater Minnesota,” which is sometimes used to describe the area outside of the Twin Cities metro. But I can see, then, how those living in the metro may not like that. It’s a good point for discussion. But Alaska considered a foreign country when ordering from within the U.S.? That has even me baffled.

      Readers, let’s give Don and his wife ideas of Midwest towns where they might move. Remember, the town can’t have a stoplight.

  13. Heh, I’ve scanned all the comments here and simply have to chime in that I love the Twin Cities. I was actually chuckling at your idea of traffic as I looked at your photos and they all look like fairly light traffic to me. It really is about what you’re used to. I would like the quiet of the country for a while, but then I would miss the sounds and movement of the city. I like having a lot of people around and having a lot of choices. The literary community here is wonderful. In the end, it sounds like everyone in this comment thread lives in the place that suits them. Vive la différence!

  14. Jenny Says:

    I have to agree with Amy. Staying on the interstate in the city is the equivalent of going to a state park and not leaving your car! I love Minneapolis! I have walked, run, biked, and kayaked my way through the beautiful green spaces we have here. From my neighborhood, I can walk to get a burger, pizza, ice cream, enjoy a beer at a pub, visit a number of coffee shops, get my hair cut, see my doctor, visit a meat market, and buy my groceries. With a transient population, people are friendly, open minded, and interesting. On Mother’s Day, a ten minute drive and I was at the MIA with my daughters. The City feeds my soul and my spirit!

  15. Audrey, I wonder how your son in Boston would compare the drivers and traffic there to the Twin Cities. I’ve never driven in MN, but the experience of driving in Boston aged me five years. Just a nightmare. Thankfully Richmond still has enough well-mannered drivers to keep the experience of going into the city a pleasurable one.

  16. Just slightly outside your “comfort zone” huh? lol

  17. Thread crazy Says:

    Looking at your pictures of the twin cities and the I35 roads, reminds me so much of the St. Louis area. My old job used to take me to St. Louis 3-4 times a year, so I was very much used to the traffic and sounds of the cities. When I was younger, I loved the bigger cities but now so enjoy the benefits of smaller towns as they do offer a slower pace of life! Our small town has museums, a great historical society, a big library, a few great places to eat, and so much more…plus we have opera less than 20 minutes north of us! Need I say more….love where I live.

  18. Jackie Says:

    I’m usually the “Driver” in the cities, and Rick the navigator, I know the main roads and really dont mind the traffic, unless it gets to a “stand-still”, that drives me crazy! I dont mind the visits to the twin cities, but would NEVER want to live there. That being said, I would still rather be on a dusty gravel road anyday 🙂

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