Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Car-Free Trip Across (the Mall of) America

A few days ago, as my trip to the Twin Cities was approaching, I sent an email the Mall of America. I figured that at such a huge complex, there were bound to be some unique modes of transportation. Within a few hours I received a phone call and Bridget, a PR Coordinator for the mall, was not only supportive of the trip but she was more than happy to set up a tour including some new forms of transit.


So yesterday morning I boarded the light rail in Minneapolis and rode it to the end of the line- The Mall of America. Bridget met me along with a TV crew from Twin Cities Live, and we headed into the largest mall in the USA.

We followed Bridget into one of the back entrances and within a few minutes we were riding an electric cart through the underground tunnels of the Mall of America. It takes a lot of people to make the Mall of American run smoothly, and we met up with Lydell, one of the guys in charge. He showed us around the recycling center, which was a pretty huge operation. A few times a week, people sort through the waste, separating out bottles to recycle and food to send to hog farms. Another impressive fact about the mall- they have no heating system. So how does the mall stay warm during the long winter months... I'm still not exactly sure, but it's quite impressive.

Next we headed down to Nickelodeon Universe, an amusement park in the center of the mall, where I experienced one of the most fun modes of transportation- roller coaster.


I'm in the last occupied car, wearing the green shirt. There some pretty hardcore rides, though I chose one of the calmer roller coasters, (the one that didn't go upside-down).

Next I hopped on an Electric Convenience Vehicle- basically one of those electric carts that you see people using in supermarkets.


I threw my backpack in the basket in front and rode (very slowly) to Underwater Adventures- the aquarium underneath the mall. We checked out the sharks, rays, and sawfish from the moving walkway that leads through an underwater tunnel. Then I said goodbye to the Twin Cities Live folks and Bridget and I explored the mall on my own for a bit. Not only is there a theme park and aquarium inside the mall- there's also a special retail-focused high school and a wedding chapel. And that's in addition to the 500 plus stores. I stopped by the new Columbia Sportswear store, (they're outfitting me with clothes for the trip), and said hi to Laura, one of the managers.


Then I got back on the light rail and headed back into downtown Minneapolis. I met up with Lisa, who works with Twin Cities Streets for People, a local bike/pedestrian advocacy group. They're a new organization, but are already coming up with some cool projects. The city already has a lot of bike lanes and I noticed a lot of bicycle commuters on the streets, so they must be doing a lot of stuff right.


Next I met up with Chris and his wife, Judy. Chris converted his Ford Focus into an electric vehicle about a year ago and he took me for a spin. It felt strange getting into a car, but as soon as he started up the nearly-silent car I knew I didn't have to worry. Chris didn't have any experience working with cars, but he found a lot of helpful information online, and his background in electrical engineering didn't hurt either. It's got a range of about 35 miles, which is more than enough to get him to work and back home along with a few errands on the way.

Chris and Judy dropped me off in downtown where I met up with the PedalPub. It's a fifteen person bike built around a bar, so you can enjoy various beverages as you pedal through Minneapolis. People can reserve the PedalPub for two hour rides, bring their own keg, and celebrate in style. I didn't have the cash to reserve a PedalPub on my own, but there happened to be another reservation that night and they said they didn't mind if I joined up. So I ended up pedaling along with Kelly and her friends on the occasion of her 21st birthday.


Happy birthday Kelly!


It felt a little strange crashing someone's portable birthday party, but everyone was super friendly and they seemed glad to have another pedaler along. I rode along and filmed for about an hour before I headed off around 9PM. I wanted to be able to walk back to my hotel in the light.


Early this morning I got on a train bound for Milwaukee and pulled into town around 3PM (about an hour late). I scoped out the city, looking for interesting modes of transportation. I had heard rumors of hydrobikes available for rent in one of the parks. Sure enough, I found them at the Veteran's Park Pond. Though they were floating in the middle of the pond- unused. Although it was warm and sunny out, lightening had been in the forecast, and they don't rent them out if there's a threat of stormy weather. I tried to negotiate with the woman at the rental station, but she wasn't changing her mind. She told me to call tomorrow morning to check in. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, because that could very well be my 82nd mode of transportation.

Now I'm sitting in my room at The Pfister Hotel, who generously invited me to stay for the night. I think this may be the most beautiful hotel I've stayed in so far. The lobby looks more like a museum or cathedral, complete with an amazing fresco on the ceiling. And when I got back to my room, they had left these in my room.


Pretty fancy! Now, I've got some chocolate to eat. But I'll keep you posted on those hydrobikes.

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