As I mentioned in my previous post, the reward for spending the past month working on my firm’s website was that my boyfriend and I could finally take a trip back to Minnesota to see family and friends. It had been two years since our last visit and we were both a bit antsy to spend some time in the Midwest. What resulted was a crazy week that added 1,300 miles to his father’s car and an adventure that took us to Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Cloud, Albert Lea and Winona, Minnesota; La Crosse, Wisconsin; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The timing of the trip was planned so we could get through summer and I wouldn’t have to miss work while the office was in the midst of preparing for the Jubilee celebration, but it was also scheduled so I could take three of my friends to see “Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship” and the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices (also known as the Museum of Quackery) conveniently located right next to the exhibit at the Minnesota Museum of Science.
I am unashamed of my nerdiness, which has become more pronounced since my move to Boston, but sometimes it is shocking how far I will go to see the weird things that interest me — like arranging flights to coincide with the final weekend of a traveling exhibit. The subject of “Real Pirates” is the Whydah, a former slave ship that was captured by “Black Sam” Bellamy and became a pirate ship. It sank off near Cape Cod in 1717, and the shipwreck was discovered in 1984 by explorer Barry Clifford. I’d been wanting to see this exhibit since I first heard about the Whydah a few years ago, so when I learned it was leaving Minnesota on Labor Day, I contacted the group of friends I planned to see and warned them I would be subjecting them to pirates (thankfully, none complained).
The second reason for our trip to the museum was to see Bob McCoy’s collection of quack medical devices. I have a lot of strange obsessions that came out of my decade-long goth phase: abandoned buildings, carnivals and freak shows, tiny objects, and anything related to mental illness or death, but I also love to read about the strange things people used to spend money on, such as the bizarre miracle cures on display at the museum.
I don’t like to think of myself as susceptible to trickery, but I’ve seen many smart people seduced by “medicine” designed to cure all their aches and pains. It is a practice that has gone one for centuries, with hucksters selling ineffective, and sometimes deadly, medicines to unsuspecting citizens. The most shocking to see was the Revigator, which provided people with radium-laced drinking water, but I was surprised by the idea of people buying the prostate warmer or wearing a helmet used for phrenology readings.
The next day, my friends and I headed to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival to wander around and drink some mead. I love the Ren Fest in Minnesota so much. King Richard’s Faire in Massachusetts is fun, but it is much smaller in scale and lacks the enthusiasm found in the Midwest. This year, the festival featured Mermaid Cove as well as its usual cast of characters: Twig the Fairy, the Wizard, and the Faun. We ate soup out of bread bowls, bought new mugs to hold our mead, and met up with a friend and his two young boys. By the time we were ready to leave, some of us had baked in the sun while others were worn out by the hours of walking, but we had frozen oranges and an air conditioned car to look forward to during the drive back.
On Monday, my boyfriend grabbed me for lunch with his parents and sister before we headed off to Sioux Falls to see my family. After a barbecue at my sister’s house surrounded by nieces and nephews and breakfast the next morning with my parents we returned to Minneapolis to stay with his brother and try the famous Juicy Lucy.
The next morning we drove to St. Cloud to have lunch with his other brother before driving south to Winona, where I went to college and where he and I first met. We hung out with a few friends from college and the next day met up with a friend in La Crosse for lunch and a walk around the Riverside International Friendship Garden. Coincidentally, my friend would that night be playing a pirate in the Community Theatre’s performance of “The Pirates of Penzance.” Sadly, we couldn’t stay for the show.
From there it was back to the Cities for the last two nights of our trip. The first night we spent playing with an adorable black bunny and watching my friend work on his glass art, and the next morning my boyfriend and I split up again so I could spend some time walking around an old swing bridge with my friends and he could hang out with his brother for the afternoon.
That night we all regathered to celebrate our last night with tiki drinks at Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge, where I had the only drink appropriate for the trip, the One-Eyed Willy, which was served in a pirate mug.
The next morning, my boyfriend and I woke up in his brother’s quiet apartment (he was already at work and his girlfriend and roommates were still asleep). We needed coffee desperately so I pulled out my smart phone (purchased right before this trip to make the traveling go smoother) and located the nearest coffee shop, a mile away but close to the Mississippi River.
That walk for coffee and back to his brother’s place was the best way for us to end our trip. We were walking through a city we had known most of our lives, but had never really explored. It was the magical big city my parents and I visited from time to time when I was little, and it was the place my boyfriend briefly called home. Of course, during college we’d both visited the Cities on occasion, but it was usually for a specific purpose and never with the intent of walking around and getting to know any of the neighborhoods.
It was the same with Winona, a place I lived for five years and he for seven. As students we didn’t treat it as a destination, just a stopping point. As a result I have few photos but hundreds of memories of the place. Now, eight years since we packed all of our belongings (including two very unhappy cats) and headed for the East Coast, we were forced to realize the town has moved on without us.
Some of our favorite stores, restaurants, and landmarks are gone (including the Julius C. Wilkie featured on this sign), and new buildings are popping up all over town. Although we made a point to drive around the campus and note the new buildings erected since we were there in 2010, we had fewer places we wanted to stop, aside from the Acoustic Cafe, which served my favorite sandwich and satisfied my craving for a coffee shop with live music (for some reason whenever I pictured living on my own, it always included spending time at a coffee place that featured musicians like the place I saw on the TV show Friends).
Only a handful of friends remain in Winona, most have moved to nearby towns (like La Crosse or Rochester) while others have gone to Minneapolis / St. Paul or Chicago, and a few have spread out further, sprinkled along the West Coast (mainly San Francisco and Portland) or not far from us on the East Coast (in New York or Washington). Still, it was refreshing to spend time with people I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade. I loved seeing my friends all grown up, hearing them talk about their lives, meeting their spouses and children, spending time in their homes.
Despite all the friends and family we fit into that eight-day vacation, there were many we were unable to see. Thanks to Facebook and the occasional email or text message, I usually know about the big events in my friends’ lives and I always have a way to reach out. It makes me sad to think about how much we miss because we moved away, but knowing that we can always have a few days every couple years to reconnect in person makes the distance we are from each other almost tolerable once again.