Generally speaking, my work as a public speaker with Making It Count keeps me within two hours of Pittsburgh (with the occasional trip to Crazy Cleveland and Average Akron). Every once and a while, however, there is a need in a far away market. A need so great that the managers call to me to fill this void with my speakerliness. Now it’s obvious that they call me because I’ve been crazy enough to give in to their outlandish requests before, but I like to think that it’s because no one else can perform the pre-written and pre-sculpted presentation quite like me. It’s that attitude that gets me through the rigors of the Pittsburgh International Airport.
This past August, the Big Impractical Calling came in the form of a Monster College Advantage presentation at Minnesota West Technical and Community College in Canby, MN. Now, Minnesota is a BIG state. But then again, most states are much bigger than we perceive them to be. Anyone that’s driven from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia has the same conversation at about Harrisburg: “What?? Still another hour and a half?”
I flew into the Minneapolis/St. Paul (or “The Twin Cities” as even official signage refer to them) and was lucky enough to stay at a hapless Days Inn within walking distance of the Mall of America.
Now, a cynical voice kept reminding me that this was nothing more than a temple to consumerism erected by a Middle America desperate for an attraction; luckily, this was not my actual voice. I had to see what the depths of this behemoth of architecture held.
As a child, South Hills Village Mall in the South Hills of Pittsburgh was the BIG mall. This is where mom took us once, maybe twice a year and then later, where every night out in high school ended, aimlessly wandering past American Eagle wishing we could afford more fashionably worn-out clothing. Mall of America, in contrast, looms over the landscape like several airplane hangars connected by signs advertising MACY’S and BEST BUY. The actual airplanes flying to and from the nearby airport finish the image.
I could write for paragraph upon paragraph about the sights I saw in the first 10 minutes – giant Lego’s, a rollercoaster, and the most comprehensive Mall Directory I have ever seen.
You are here...I think?
I was wise enough to not actually go shopping as 1) anything I found here could probably also be found in Pittsburgh and 2) I flew here and needed to travel light. My main goal, therefore, was to find some dinner. It is here that Twitter got involved.
I am trying my best to use avoid using the most cliched term among social media enthusiasts, but it’s incredibly apt: The Power of Twitter is pretty amazing. On my way to the shopping mecca, I had tweeted that I was checking out the Mall of America and was wondering where I should eat. Within a half hour, a kindly Twitter-er named @jshopsthemall suggested that I eat at Crave, a one-of-a-kind joint on the third floor that offers an entertaining view of the amusement park section (seriously). Turns out @jshopsthemall runs a website that specifically sets up routes for first- and second-time shoppers who are overwhelmed by the experience. I ended up eating at Crave, enjoyed green beans with sun-dried tomatoes interspersed throughout, and wandered back to my crappy Days Inn satisfied.
My favorite part of the trip, however, was the moment I realized that my destination school was a mere eight miles from the South Dakota/Minnesota border. My mission was clear.
I don't know what I'm doing here either.
Naturally, I planned to simply get out of the car, take a picture in front of this sign, run across the street and take a picture in front of the Welcome To Minnesota sign, then head back to the airport.
All that happened. But then I kept going.
The GPS graphical read-out teased me by showing the edge of a State Park only about 1-2 miles away. Big deal, right? Dead wrong. I have a Passport to Your National Parks that needed stamped. While this practice is usually reserved for young Boy Scout-types or middle-aged loser types, I find myself right in the middle, so onward and upward.
Unfortunately, I soon remembered that stamps are only available at National parks, and this was a lowly State park. I did, however, have a pleasant conversation with an elderly man working at the outhouse-sized Visitor’s Center. While loading me up with brochures and travel guides (I’m constantly amazed by what “attractions” state departments can milk out of seemingly dismal offerings), we talked about the history of this park, as well as differences between East Coasters such as myself and the typical Midwest visitors. I asked if he had ever been to Pittsburgh, and he regaled me with a tale of going out on the town one night in the Steel City on his way to New York City, before being shipped out to fight in WWII. It was a fascinating and enriching stop on my crazy but ultimately unforgettable work trip.