As a gift for my birthday this year, my parents got me a Cabela’s gift card and a candle. I’m not sure if they are related. The gift card was for the amount of $30. As I was thinking about how to spend it, I realized that there are no Cabala’s’s in any Minneapolis neighborhood (maybe a gun thing?).
I’m not sure, but I think my parents, being staunch conservative-suburbanites, were making an attempt to bring me into their fold with the overpowering influence of being inside a Cabela’s store. I saw this as a counter-attack to one of my Christmas gifts in a prior year – a gift card to a nice NE Minneapolis restaurant, which I believe has remained unused.
I looked up the three nearest Cabela’s’s and they are in Woodbury, Rogers and Owatanna, respectively. As I was rearranging letters of these city names in a Kabbalah-esque concentration exercise (Cabala’s?) I got it in my head to travel to a Cabela’s location entirely by city bus. This seemed the best way to counter their conditioning attempt. I would take my urbanism all the way to the foot of the temple – a blasphemous act sure to upset the balance in my favor. I thought: which brazen Metro Transit route has the stones to take me through Mordor and deposit the gift card in Mount Doom? Read on!
A cursory route plan on google maps appeared to show the trip to the Woodbury location was feasible. The other locations returned “No Route Found”. I attempted to get a friend to go with me for moral support, but deep down I knew this was something I would ultimately have to do alone. This turned out to be true.
The morning of June 2nd, I awoke and felt a malaise. I had a number of tedious errands on my to-do list and was feeling bored, even at an early hour. Suddenly, the thought of adventure took me. I knew that the hour had come for me to make my trip to Woodbury. I kissed my girlfriend on the cheek and prepared to set out.
However, when I checked the google trip plan, the first eastbound bus to Woodbury wasn’t until 3pm. It was 7am. Frustrated, I almost gave up, but the thought of wandering around St. Paul for a few hours rejuvenated me. Since I had time, I decided to do the dishes and take out the trash and recycling to get back on my girlfriend’s good side (I woke her at 6:30 am to announce I was leaving for the day and she should cancel all plans with me).
This kind of worked. I was feeling sort of torn at this point. Was I being an asshole or simply an assertive, independent person? I got her an iced latte from the local coffee shop in hopes of further assuaging my poor relationship skills. She acquiesced to my independent exploration, but I could tell she was still a bit frustrated. I resolved to make my journey a success in her honor.
With approximately 5 hours to kill, I set out on the 17 bus from outside my apartment at Harriet and 24th in Whittier, Minneapolis. I planned to take the 94D bus to St. Paul and hang out there for a while because I was… not bored, but Used-to my local Minneapolis haunts. I made sure to document my journey on Snapchat and Twitter by too-frequently posting pictures and text.
The 17 made it downtown without incident. I sat by myself and made sure my backpack didn’t take up more than my seat. My phone died so I just looked out the window. It was a really nice day.
I arrived in St. Paul, dropped off at 5th and Wabasha. I exited the bus and decided to set out for the skyway. I had a loose idea of walking to get food in the 3-or-so hours I had to kill before the bus to Woodbury.
I made my way to the skyway entrance by Pazza Luna. I walked up the weird stairs by Aroma’s Deli and looked down on the sad-looking individuals chowing down on intoxicatingly greasy-smelling calzones and pizzas. The tables and chairs were arranged in between randomly placed columns and arches. As I walked up the twisted staircase to the skyway I felt I was in some sort of modern pop-art Dali.
At the top of the stairs I was struck by a large, completely blank wall in the skyway — blank except for a single electrical outlet placed in the middle. I dug out my charger and began charging my phone. Periodically, groups of people rushing to or from lunch would pass. A group of lawyers accustomed to unimpeded skyway swagger glared down from their Macy’s suits at me in my L.L. Bean-catalogue relaxed fit jeans and loose-fitting Patagonia sun-plaid shirt. I waved at them, but they were on to the next topic of sharing personal conquests.
I was browsing the web and tweeting at friends in search of a good place to eat lunch in DT St. Paul. I decided that Mickey’s Diner fit the nature of this journey to a T. With my phone up to 90% (enough to turn off low-power mode), I left my skyway perch for some lunch.
On my way to Mickey’s I was almost hit by a car in the crosswalk (it was “go”) and the driver shouted “walk slower!”. In the very next crosswalk a truck pulled up and stopped in the middle of the crosswalk for the light. It was “go” for me and I had to walk around the front of the truck.
Whatever… I gingerly walked down St. Peter toward Mickey’s, careful to avoid being hit by any more cars. As I crossed W 7th Pl., I noticed lots of good food things like Meritage and Wild Tymes. I decided to take a quick detour. I was glad I did as I spotted an Afro Deli down at the end by the abandoned Macy’s. I switched plans and decided to eat there instead of Mickey’s.
There’s nothing wrong with Mickey’s, but they make a certain type of food and I needed as much nutrients, healthy fibers and plant protein as I could get on a journey such as this. I couldn’t afford the lethargy that often comes with consuming “royal food”. I ordered a falafel sandwich and 3 sambusi to be packaged and nibbled-on later. What good food! I have enjoyed Afro Deli many times at their west bank location. But this is not a free advertisement for Afro Deli. I have a job to do dammit. I’m writing a story!
After lunch I decided to check out the bus stop where I would theoretically be picking up the 351 to Woodbury. It was right in front of the Ecolab tower (Wabasha and 5th, I believe). The bus stop had a “351” indicated next to the other routes. This seemed like a good sign. I checked OMG Transit, google maps and the Metro Transit site. They all seemed to indicate that a 351 would be picking up here. In addition, they seemed to indicate that an Eastbound bus would be dropping off within a mile of Cabela’s and a westbound bus would pick up right in front of Cabala’s. I decided to call Metro Transit to try and sort this out.
As an aside, I highly recommend calling Metro Transit trip planning services. They are very nice and helpful and just friendly in general. It’s one thing to figure out a route with bus maps, but having an experienced bus professional guide you along (for free) is a wonderful experience. Nevertheless, after explaining my situation to the operator, she regretfully informed me that my trip would be all but impossible. The earliest westbound bus would get me to Woodbury by 3:30 pm. It would drop me off approximately 1 mile from Cabela’s at which point I would need to walk or take a cab the rest of the way. This would get me to Cabela’s around 4:00 pm. The last Eastbound bus from Woodbury to St. Paul left at 5 pm.
While technically possible, she couldn’t in good faith recommend that I take the trip with so little room for error. I told her I would not be dissuaded and that I was going, regardless of the risks. As a final helpful comment, she recommended taking a cab to the Sun-Ray bus center in Maplewood, should I get stranded in Woodbury past 5pm. The Sun-Ray bus center has regular bus service to St. Paul and she suggested it as a reduced cab fare option. That sounded promising! I thanked her for the helpful advice. I considered her warning an indicator of the importance of the timing of this trip rather than a recommendation to go home.
I still had about 40 min to kill. The nearby Dunn Bros was calling my name. I attempted to order an Iced Crema (remember those?), but I was informed that they are now called frappes (does Starbuck’s know?), I guess I haven’t been to Dunn Bros in a while! The barista was smiling and laughing during my order. I gave her a quizzical look — she explained that all of the togo lids were slowly exploding from the packaging as I was ordering. The whole thing was cracking her up. The frappe, however, was as delicious as I remembered it. As the DB PA played “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” I exited toward the bus stop.
This time at the bus stop the energy was a bit higher. There was a loose queue of about 30 people, recently off work. Some were jamming with headphones in, others talking happily with friends. As the buses began pulling up, the queue shrunk. Finally, heigh ho! My bus had come! I saw the 351 come around the corner and approach. Overjoyed, I said to my be-headphoned, queue-neighbor, “that’s the 351”. It pulled up and I brought out my magical UPass. “BEEP!” went the card reader and I felt like I had the key to the city.
I had a huge grin on my face the whole ride to Woodbury. The 351 was an accordion double bus with nice seats and air conditioning. I cracked open my book and enjoyed the ride. Riding a bus is like riding the most powerful horse in the world. In addition, this horse requires no direction, it is its own “horseman”, as it were. I looked upon the fields of St. Paul, Maplewood and Woodbury flying by and felt perfectly at ease.
However, as we exited the freeway, my thinking mind sprang into action. Here was the most important transition of the trip, and all had to go perfectly if I was to survive. I had my Google Maps app and the Metro Transit website open on my phone and was tracking my location in relation to the marked stops. I had OMG Transit open as well, to triple check. It appeared that I would have about 10 minutes to dart across Radio Drive to catch the northbound 351 bus back to St. Paul, and to Cabela’s on the way. This perverse shortcut was only necessary because of the dearth of other transit options in Woodbury (and because I neglected to bring my bike).
As we neared the right turn onto Radio Drive, I rang the stop bell. A few people in the bus turned their overworked heads at me in surprise. I think very few riders felt safe exiting the bus outside of the relatively safe confines of the park-n-ride. Woodbury is a car town. I got the sense that traveling outside of a large vehicle is not only frowned-upon, but downright unsafe. That sense was further instilled by the fact that, upon thanking the driver and hopping off, my feet were upon grass — no sidewalks here.
I trudged up the sandy-grassy shoulder toward the intersection. I realized that darting across the 4-lane, 50 mph-speed-zone Radio Dr. would be a bad idea. I walked up to the light and pressed the beg button. Instead of shouting “WAIT!”, like they do in Minneapolis, this one was silent. The very real threat from the roads were all too obvious. A series of cars whipped past at 50-60 mph. I could more easily wade through the Mississippi at Franklin Ave then cross here.
As the cross-traffic light turned yellow, then red, and the last few SUVs roared through the intersection at 80 mph, I felt a stillness and calm take hold. The worldly sounds stopped and the world went slow. I noticed a pigeon flapping and landing on a telephone pole. I smelled the oil and gas from the road. I saw the glass glittering along the roadside like sand on the seashore, piled up from the countless wrecks and car atrocities committed here. Suddenly reality snapped back in as the walk light turned. I prepared to walk, but jolted back as a lifted Dodge Ram (hemi) fired past before I could enter the intersection. After it had past, I gingerly stepped out, checking back on the Buick driver who was patiently waiting for me to cross — likely a member of the Woodbury Pedestrian Safety League. I crossed the rest of the street nervously, but successfully, and made my way down the other side.
This far side of Radio Dr. was blessed with a paved multi-use path for all of the transit undesirables: bikes, pedestrians and the odd runner. Grateful for the safety from the road I made my way down. However, each time I passed a sign which looked about the shape of a bus stop from the back, I would glance around and notice that it was some other inane sign like “NO PARKING ANYTIME” or “SPEED LIMIT 40 MPH”, the former ridiculous to anyone within 1 mile of this river of carnage and the latter widely ignored by motorists. I began to sweat. On the Metro Transit map, there were stops clearly shown by little icons that I should have seen by now. I kept walking in hopes of finding a bus stop sign to wait by.
As my 10 minutes ran to 5 and 2 minutes on the OMG Transit app, I became resigned that I would have to assertively flag down this Northbound bus. I found a section of road that was reserved for right turns into the neighborhood (I doubted Woodbury motorists would yield to buses picking up passengers). I grimly regarded a bus-shaped vehicle approaching in the distance. “Student Driver”, damn. I waited further. OMG Transit showed “now” for 2 minutes straight. Finally, a shorter bus approached with “351” on its display. I started waving frantically, even stepping on the shoulder, ready to throw my body in the way, if necessary. The bus slowed and turned off. I breathed a sigh of relief. I boarded the bus and thanked the driver profusely, like a man picked up from a desert island. The bus driver cracked back, “You know you shouldn’t wave so much or I’ll just think you’re just wavin’ at me to say ‘Hi’!”, this made not a bit of sense to me, but I said “Sure, I’m sorry I will remember that for next time.”
I sat near the middle, still hardly able to believe I had done it. I had cracked the system, I was now taking a shortcut to Cabela’s that would allow me to return to St. Paul this evening instead of 12 hours later. As we progressed northward, I realized that I had no idea where I should get off, the stops were not marked and I wasn’t able to track my location and coordinate it with stop locations fast enough to ring the bell in time. I resolved to make the driver let me off as soon as I could see Cabela’s. The St. Paul bound Cabela’s picked up more tired workers returning home, or perhaps to second jobs. They left sad office parks, chosen for low rent and convenient access to chemical dumping locations.
We rounded a bend and I saw it — a sign for Cabela’s. I quickly rang the bell, then thought better of it. I yelled at the driver, “is there a closer stop to Cabela’s? I want that one.” She stared and said, “yes the next stop is closer.” The other passengers looked at me blankly. I suppose someone taking public transit to Cabela’s might be one of the more ridiculous things to happen. As we skipped my first stop the next stop approached, I rang the bell loudly again, despite my verbal commitment to it. I would take no chances here. We pulled up and I thanked the driver.
There it was, in all its glory: Cabela’s. As a slight breeze came up, I was greeted with the smell of Monster Energy drink, likely just an odiferous tree or swamp, but indicative just the same. I ran across the street and walked through the parking lot taking pictures. Some were sitting in their cars reading newspapers. I imagined they regarded me as a potential terrorist, taking pictures of structural weaknesses of their C-Fort (places to plant operatives with explosives and aircraft entry points — jet fuel can’t melt steel beams). I paid them no mind and walked up to the doors. Exit only! Oops. Like all good forts, the entrance and exits were clearly enforced to ensure all had their papers and were going about their business. I walked around toward the real entrance and had to stifle a laugh as I was greeted by a taxidermy display of epic proportions. A bear was attacking a bunch of geese flying upwards? A woman sitting in one of the overstuffed chairs by the fireplace in the entrance area glared at me stonily. “What brings you to these parts,” she seemed to say. A security team member jumped me. “Welcome to the store” he shouted as he gave me an ocular patdown. “clear” he whispered into his prominent radio headset.
Ah, Cabela’s… After so much work to get here I simply wandered toward the store center, taking it all in. Camo. Everywhere. Camo binoculars. Camo shirts. Camo bikinis. Camo lawn chairs. The round folks limbering through the store would not be made any less conspicuous by the best gilly suit. But that’s my urbanist bias coming in (if you’ve made it this far you know this). I wondered what to buy. I had $30, enough to buy a camo something or other but what?
Near the center back of the store was a taxidermy display even more ginormous. A plaque was placed in front of it. “To the hunters” the plaque read. The plaque explained that hunters were the ones primarily responsible for the conservation of animals. The biggest animal rights activists, if you will. With a few prickly sentences, it explained that hunters were responsible for ridding the earth of the real problem, bad animals. The bad animals kept the good animals endangered. Whatever, I don’t know anything about zoology, but killing and eating animals seems to be at odds with being an animal rights activist. I wondered how many native species were displaced by this Cabela’s development alone.
I wandered further. Deluxe motorized lawn chairs, boots and… boat stuff. I made a 90 degree and headed toward clothes. I began chuckling to myself as I imagined what the largest t-shirt size could be had here. I decided 3XL would likely be the limit, unheard of for most places. I went back and forth about the pros and cons of buying a 3XL shirt vs. the likely scolding I would get from my girlfriend, bringing home such a useless item. I browsed through UnderArmour and Columbia displays, along with a wall of “God Bless America” shirts with various garish designs. Finally I came across a table of “bear” and “deer” shirts. I sorted through them and lo and behold: not 1XL not 2XL not 3XL… 6XL!!! The mother lode! A 6XL shirt could be had for $22! I clutched it thinking of the trouble it would bring.
I wandered around some more and found some SmartWool socks, the nice kind for summer. Ugh… I stashed the shirt in a boot and grabbed two pair of my favorite socks. Before leaving, I stopped by a sub-store called the “Bargain Cave”. It was full of round, bearded men who glared at me upon entering. More boat stuff, ok, I headed for the registers. My total was about $27 for the two pair of socks so I grabbed a back of combos to round it up. After checking out I looked around the Cafe for a wall power spot. No dice. With 30%, I decided I would have enough juice to navigate home.
I had finished my trip before the last bus to St. Paul, soon enough to catch the 2nd-to-last bus, actually. OMG Transit said I had two minutes, with my eyes locked on the road to catch any bus dealings, briskly half-jogged through the parking lot toward the stop. No bus yet. I reach the stop and waited. It seemed like I would have to take the last bus after all. I decided to walk up the road to see around the bend and see if I could see any bus coming (always a risky move). I almost reached the bend when a bus came charging around the corner. Shit! A 351! I turned and sprinted back toward the stop. I wouldn’t make it, the light was green. I kept running. The bus driver graciously slowed and stopped early to let me on. All sweaty, I thanked him and boarded. More nice AC on this bus. I sat down and caught my breath. I had done it. Cabela’s and back by bus.
I made it to St. Paul without incident. After my stop I walked up to Tin Whiskers brewery for a celebratory beer (and a few glasses of water, I was parched!). INCREDIBLE! I thanked the bus gods and drank a bit of a very fine lager. It just goes to show, where there’s a will, there’s a way… provided access to technology, expert help, a UPass and a bit of luck! I like to think my journey has paved the way for others, but at the very least, I hope you enjoyed this article about my bus trip to Cabela’s and back!
Lucas Taylor is a laser scientist who lives in Minneapolis.