Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Skirting downtown Minneapolis, an essay in words & images August 9, 2017

Minneapolis skyline, #9

 

I NEVER TIRE OF PHOTOGRAPHING the Minneapolis skyline from Interstate 35W. There’s something about the placement, height and shapes of the clustered buildings that appeals to me aesthetically. Add in the reflection of blue sky upon windows and the artistic allure increases substantially.

 

Minneapolis skyline, #10

 

My skyline images, for reasons I can’t explain, always appear to me more paintings than photos. Building edges are soft rather than harsh. That pleases me.

 

Minneapolis skyline, #11

 

If you were to place me in the middle of downtown Minneapolis, though, I wouldn’t be pleased. I’ve always felt boxed in by skyscrapers, by the vertical lines that block views. I am rooted in my native prairie, the broad vistas and wide open spaces an integral part of my being.

 

Minneapolis skyline, #12

 

Still, from a distance, I can appreciate downtown Minneapolis and the high-rises that ring it.

 

Riverside Plaza, designed by architect Ralph Rapson and built between 1971 - 1973, is probably the most recognized apartment complex in downtown Minneapolis. Located in the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood, the multiple buildings include 1,303 units and are home to more than 4,000 residents. The plaza is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Riverside Plaza, designed by architect Ralph Rapson and built between 1971 – 1973, is probably the most recognized apartment complex in downtown Minneapolis. Located in the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood, the multiple buildings include 1,303 units and are home to more than 4,000 residents. The plaza is on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Mixed with the apartments, housing for visitors to downtown Minneapolis.

Mixed with the apartments, housing for visitors to downtown Minneapolis.

 

More apartments...

More apartments…I think.

 

Border apartments pack a lot of people into vertical space. I couldn’t live here, though, even if offered a spectacular river view. But I expect neither could these city dwellers move to a rural area with horizontal lines.

 

Minneapolis skyline, #18 apartments

I find the exterior view of these apartments aesthetically pleasing.

 

Just another view of the same apartment complex.

Just another view of the same apartment complex.

 

Where we choose to live is shaped by many factors—jobs, family, economics, amenities and more. And for me, my rural upbringing keeps me rooted outside the city in a place of horizontal vistas.

TELL ME: Why do you live where you live?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look back at the day the 35W bridge fell down in Minneapolis August 1, 2017

Crossing the new Interstate 35W bridge near downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

TEN YEARS AGO TODAY at 6:05 p.m. our perception of safety on bridges changed. The Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis collapsed during rush hour on August 1, 2007. Thirteen people died. One hundred and forty-five were injured.

 

Garrett with his mom, Joyce Resoft, about a month after the bridge collapse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2007 courtesy of Garrett’s family.

 

As news broke of the bridge collapse, I expect many a Minnesotan (myself included) worried whether a loved one may have been on that bridge when it fell. None of my family were. But Garrett Ebling, who had recently worked as editor of the daily paper in my community, was driving on the bridge. Among the most seriously hurt, he suffered a traumatic brain injury and more.

 

This photo shows the opening spread of the feature article published in the November/December 2007 issue of Minnesota Moments. Casey McGovern of Minneapolis shot the bridge collapse scene. To the far left is Garrett before the collapse, to the right, his rescuer. The next photo shows his Ford Focus which plummeted into the Mississippi River. And to the right are Garrett and Sonja (his then fiancee), before the collapse.

 

At the time, I was writing for a Minnesota lifestyles magazine and, because of my Faribault connection to Garrett, interviewed him (via emailed questions) while he recovered. Garrett’s determination, tenacity, patience and faith impressed me. He showed incredible strength.

 

A section of the then now wow exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul features the 35W bridge collapse. This image shows the collapsed bridge and the emergency exit door from a school bus that was on the bridge when it collapsed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Since then Garrett has written a book, become a father and eventually also gone through a divorce. I can only imagine the toll a traumatic event like this takes on a relationship.

 

All the children and adults on the bus signed the door on display. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Today, on the ten-year anniversary of the 35W bridge collapse, I am thinking of Garrett and all the others who survived. I am thinking also of the 13 who died on a metropolitan roadway on a bridge that failed. I am thinking of the families. I am thinking of the bystanders and of the first responders who helped save lives.

 

Crossing the new 35W bridge. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And I am thinking how this tragedy forever changed us as Minnesotans. With the failure of that bridge, we lost a certain sense of security. But we also gained an appreciation for each other and for the strength of the human spirit. We were a united Minnesota, standing strong in the face of an unfathomable tragedy. There is something to be said for unifying moments like that in which we forget our differences and focus instead on caring for each other. On August 1, 2007, we experienced such a moment. We were one Minnesota.

 

FYI: Click here to read several poems published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the five-year anniversary of the bridge collapse in 2012. My poem, Quotes from a survivor, is among them.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Photographing the Minneapolis skyline October 8, 2015

Frame 1: Northbound on Intestate 35W toward downtown Minneapolis.

Frame 1: Northbound on Intestate 35W toward downtown Minneapolis.

EVERY TIME MY HUSBAND and I journey toward and around downtown Minneapolis, I am taken by the skyline. Generally, I am not a fan of skyscrapers embedded in concrete, of vertical lines that block ground level views and cast long shadows. I am of the prairie, of horizontal lines and broad vistas.

Frame 2:

Frame 2: You best know which lane you should be driving in.

Yet, I have grown to appreciate the Minneapolis skyline. From a distance. And through the viewfinder of my Canon DSLR. My camera distracts me from the often congested traffic, although my definition of congested certainly differs from that of a city dweller.

Frame 3: Traffic builds as you approach the downtown.

Frame 3: Traffic builds as we approach the downtown. Great sign placement choice by Yahoo.

Afterward, when I am back in my Faribault home office, photos uploaded into my computer, I study the frames. And I see in the downtown skyline images an almost other-worldly quality, as if the collection of buildings is background in an animated film. Unreal. Stacked Lego blocks. The work of an artist rather than that of engineers and builders.

Frame 4: Enough traffic for me.

Frame 4: Enough traffic for me. About this time I’m asking my husband, “Do you know which lane you’re supposed to be in?”

Frame 5

Frame 5: Traffic slows in a tight spot.

Frame 6: We're going right.

Frame 6: We’re going right. Better than taking the congested 16A exit.

Frame 7: I love this painterly view of the Minneapolis skyline.

Frame 7: I love this painterly view of the Minneapolis skyline.

Frame 8: One last look at the skyline.

Frame 8: One last look at the skyline.

Do you see what I’m seeing, that surreal artistic quality in the buildings?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When bikers seem not to care October 1, 2015

Bikers on I-35 near downtown Minneapolis

 

AFTER WITNESSING ABOUT A HALF DOZEN motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic on Interstate 35W near downtown Minneapolis on a recent Saturday afternoon, I feel compelled to write.

I honestly feared that, instead of photographing these irresponsible drivers, I would be dialing 911 and photographing one or more of them splayed across the highway in a tangle of twisted metal and bodies.

 

Bikers on I-35 rounding curve near downtown Minneapolis

 

“No wonder motorcycle drivers get killed,” I commented to my husband as the bikes zoomed in front of our van, raced around curves and squeezed between vehicles. The bikers were driving in a manner that was, without question, endangering not only themselves but others on the Interstate.

Operator safety tips listed on the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center advise bikers to “avoid extreme speeds and dramatic lean angles,” among other precautions. At least these cyclists were wearing helmets. Not that that necessarily guarantees avoidance of serious injury or survival in a crash. But it helps.

I’m not anti-motorcycle. My husband owned a Harley—until a teen driver pulled out in front of him at a stop sign, landing Randy in an ambulance and totaling his bike. The crash happened on a city street less than a block from work. Randy suffered bumps and bruises, but no broken bones or serious injuries.

So I understand that it’s not just how a biker drives his/her bike that can cause a crash. It’s also inattentive motorists and other factors, such as an animal on the roadway, road conditions, etc., that lead to crashes.

This year in Minnesota, the number of motorcycle fatalities—51 as of September 29—has already exceeded the total for the previous year.

I just want everyone to be safe, to drive—whether you’re a biker or a motorist—with care and regard for your life and the lives of others on roadways. We all have people who love us. Please. Remember that.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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

 

I’ll take country over big city any day August 5, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Approaching downtown Minneapolis. Growing up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm, I would travel with my parents and siblings once a year to visit relatives in Minneapolis. We got off at the 46th Street exit.

Approaching downtown Minneapolis. Growing up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm, I would travel with my parents and siblings once a year to visit relatives in Minneapolis. We got off at the 46th Street exit. Thankfully lanes have been added since then. But I don’t understand that sign on the left: “RATE TO DOWNTOWN $ AT 42ND.” Whenever I see these signs entering the Cities, I wonder.

I CAN’T RECALL THE LAST TIME I’ve been in downtown Minneapolis. But it’s been more than 30 years since I’ve walked in the heart of the city and I have no intention of visiting anytime soon.

Almost to the I94/35W split near downtown Minneapolis.

The I94/35W split near downtown Minneapolis.

The big city is not for me. Give me wide open space and sky and fields and farms and small towns.

Give me horizontal, not vertical.

Minneapolis presents a photogenic skyline from afar.

Minneapolis presents a photogenic skyline as my husband and I bypass the downtown on our way to visit family in the metro.

Give me alfalfa or soybeans or a cornfield, not concrete and asphalt parking lots and buildings so tall I need to visually strain my eyes to see their tops.

I need to breathe, to see the horizon, to touch the earth.

Oh, you might advise me that I am missing out on cultural and unique dining experiences and whatever else the big city offers. Maybe. But I’ve found my own happiness in “outstate Minnesota,” as the geographical region outside the metro is termed. That moniker, even though I sometimes use it, seems to diminish the importance of anything outside the Twin Cities area.

I am thankful, however, that we don’t all like living in the same place. If that was the situation, there would be no rural, only metro. Or only rural and no cities. That, of course, is oversimplifying, but you get my point. We all crave different environments. That is a good thing.

The curving interstate and speeds of some vehicles can give the illusion of being on a racetrack.

The curving interstate and speeds of some vehicles can give the illusion of being on a racetrack.

I will always prefer a country gravel road over the racetrack craziness, or gridlock, depending, of a Twin Cities area interstate.

A gravel road just north of Lamberton in southwestern Minnesota.

A gravel road just north of Lamberton in southwestern Minnesota. File photo.

But that’s me, deeply rooted in rural Minnesota.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Accident reports from the interstate June 16, 2012

WHEN WE HEADED out for Fargo late Thursday morning northbound on Interstate 35, I never expected this to be anything but a long, five-hour road trip.

But we were only a half hour into our drive when we ran into rain and this scene along Interstate 35W near County Road 42 in Burnsville.

This bus ran off Interstate 35W in Burnsville Thursday morning.

Little did my husband, son and I know this bus crash would be just the first of three notable accidents that would occur along our route.

Thursday evening while traveling on a Fargo city street, we were caught in the middle of this scene in which a car rear-ended a bus.

And then the second accident involving a bus, on a Fargo city street.

Emergency personnel speak to the driver of the car, still inside the car, which rear-ended the bus.

But it got worse, way worse.

Friday afternoon, driving on Interstate 94 east of Moorhead around 4:30 p.m. we spotted dense black smoke in the distance.

“Looks like someone burning tires,” my husband said and we thought nothing more of it.

That is until traffic began to merge from the left lane into the right as the four-lane narrowed to two lanes in a bridge construction zone about one mile ahead. Traffic ground to a near-halt.

And then we realized, when the vehicles in the left lane began turning off the eastbound lanes onto a maintenance turn-around and driving back west that the smoke was the result of an accident on the interstate.

We followed the leader back west (westbound traffic was not leaving the accident site) and exited the interstate at the Sabin exit, pulling off a county road to figure out an alternative route.

It was then, while my husband and son were consulting maps, that I stepped from the van and shot this distant scene of smoke from a fiery head-on crash.

We pulled off Clay County Road 79, which runs along Interstate 94, to plot an alternative route. This was the scene unfolding before us as a result of the fiery head-on crash.

According to The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, an eastbound car driven by Roberta Haspel, 58, of Barnesville crossed into the westbound lane in a construction zone and collided head-on with a semi driven by Gary Sather, 65, of Bismarck. The semi went into the median and caught fire.

Haspel reportedly was airlifted from the scene and hospitalized in critical condition. The truck driver was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

It was an absolute relief to hear that no one was killed in this fiery crash.

I mean if you had seen the smoke…

As we drove on the Clay County Road 11 overpass over Interstate 94, I shot this photo. The interstate curves to the south.

Another shot from the Clay County Road 11 overpass as we followed an alternative route to Sabin. The westbound lanes of I-94 were also shut down and traffic rerouted off the interstate. Here you see eastbound traffic, which was reportedly backed up for seven miles all the way to Moorhead.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling