I arrived in Minnesota on a bright sunny, winter day in January of 1993 with all of my worldly possessions in the back of my Jeep Cherokee. I was home as last, although I had yet to find that home. It didn’t take me long. I camped at Mrs. 20 Prospect’s apartment, and the next day I bought a copy of the Sunday Star Tribune and began my apartment search. Ah, those were the days before the Googles and Yahoos and what have you. If a guy wanted something he had to turn the pages of the classified ads by hand! These kids today with their internets and their Nintendos and their sponge bobbers don’t know what it means to get ink on their hands dag-gummit! Er… sorry. Where was I?
Oh yeah, the apartment search. I was fairly familiar with the Twin Cities having visited on several occasions, and I had an idea of the kind of place I was looking for. Somewhere in the city, in an older neighborhood with sidewalks and trees and corner bars. The kind of place that I had longed to live in during my days in college when I thought I would end up finding work in Buffalo and never leaving Western New York. It had taken a while, but after 3 years of drifting around the country living out the back of a car I was finally going to rent my first apartment. I felt so… grown up.
I narrowed my choices down to 3 places. The first place I look at was a new apartment building near the corner of Selby & Western in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood of St. Paul. It was a nice place, a 4 story apartment building, with shops on the lowest floor. The neighborhood itself was set on the edge of an area of huge old Victorian era homes that were being renovated by yuppies and gay couples, and the St. Paul ghetto. The kind of place that rich white folk like to live in. There were cool ethnic restaurants in the neighborhoods, charming little cafes, and a few “Locals” for slaking a thirst after a hard day living off the trust fund. It was way above my price range.
The second place I looked at was an old Nunnery Convent, in NorthEast Minneapolis that had recently been converted to apartments. It was an awesome place with creaky floors, and exposed stone walls. I was sure it had to be haunted by the emaciated ghosts of old Nuns. The apartments themselves were a little small, and the convent was set on the corner of a pretty busy street. Northeast Minneapolis at the time was a pretty rundown place. The old ethnic groups that had built the neighborhood had aged and were dying off. There was little commercial business left in the area. A lot of vacant old buildings begging for artists, some gorgeous old Catholic and Orthodox churches, and a bar on every corner. It reminded me of so many old neighborhoods in Buffalo. I loved the place. It’s location across the river from downtown made it apparent that it was primed for renewal. It was only a matter of time before the bohemians that were being priced out of the Uptown neighborhood would discover the place, and then the cycle of gentrification would begin again. A few art galleries would open. Then the coffee houses. Then great little restaurants. Then gay couples looking for old homes to fix up and restore. Then the young hetero couples that prided themselves on having gay acquaintances to show the world how progressive they were. Then the spigots would open and the yuppies and suburban money would flow into the neighborhood like Milk and Honey. If I’d have had the cash I’d have bought property in the area and made a million.
The last place I looked was a cheaply built, 1960’s era, 3 story apartment building near Como Park. It was tucked behind a senior high rise, and sat facing out at the athletic field of the Como Park High School. The main line railroad tracks ran by the building about 100 yards away. Every 30 minutes when a freight train would pass the walls vibrated. The building was just across the street from the south east corner of Como Lake, with all of the amenities of the park just steps away. The neighborhood itself was shady, tree lined, and as comfy as an old sweatshirt. The apartment wasn’t anything special, and the hallway stunk like a musty old couch, but it was cheap. $339/mo. a month including a garage. ABB was giving me a per diem of $325/month which meant I would be just about living for free there.
After a day of deliberation, I decided on the place near Como Park. Big surprise I went for low cost comfort over high cost chic, being the cheap bastard thrifty person that I am. Now all I had to do was buy everything that a person needed to live in an apartment. And I do mean everything. The only things I had in my car were clothes, my mountain bike, camping gear, and skis.
Many people believe that the recession of the early 90’s during the term of the 1st Bush, didn’t end until Clinton took office and the tech boom of the mid 90’s got into gear. The truth is that I single handedly pulled the country out of recession with my shopping spree that week in January 1993. Bed, Table, chairs, couch, TV, dishes, lamps, rugs, glasses, pots, pans, silverware. It was like winning the lottery. $3,000 later I had a furnished apartment.
After 3 years of living in hotels, it was everything I dreamed it would be. Waking up in my own bed, making coffee in my own coffee pot. Sitting in my boxer shorts on my own couch, reading the newspaper, was all I really wanted out of life. The trains didn’t bother me so much. In fact, I quickly learned to sleep right through them. The Half Time Rec was within stumbling distance, should I get the urge for a pint of Guinness and some Irish music on a Friday night. On Saturday mornings the sound of piano playing would drift in from the apartment of the gay guy across the hall, as I was putting on my running shoes and getting ready to go out for a run around the lake in 20 degree weather. The place really had it all.
But what it soon came to lose was Mrs. 20 Prospect. We had been dating for a little less than a year at that point, if you can call long distance phone calls, and seeing each other one weekend every other month, dating. So when I moved to town I assumed everything would be better than ever. It wasn’t. We had suddenly gone from mysterious, intriguing, romantic people that we longed to spend time with, to being an old married couple. By March we had broken up.
It didn’t help that all of our friends were married couples. We had jumped straight from boyfriend-girlfriend to big time full on commitment. The romance was gone overnight, and we began to take each other for granted. We were smothering each other, spending all our time together, and soon resentment set in. When the end came it was sudden, and unexpected, and caught us both by surprise. Breaking up did not make either one of us happy.
Spring outage season had returned, and I was off again for work. A tour through Indiana and Missouri, then 3 weeks in Nevada, followed by 2 weeks in Eastern PA. I had an apartment, I just seldom seemed to be there except on layovers between flights. Finally in late April I started a month long outage inspection in Wausau, WI. It at least allowed me to get “home” on the weekends. But when I was home, I was more lonely than when I was on the road. At least on the road I had co-workers, or an excuse to spend my time alone. In St. Paul I had one friend in all the world, and he lived downstairs of my ex-girlfriend. Try as I might, I knew I couldn’t avoid Mrs. 20 Prospect forever. My friend was engaged to be married in July, and I would be the best man in his wedding. Mrs. 20 P would be there too, so we would have to eventually get back on speaking terms or the wedding was going to be a tense and awful weekend for us both.
It was a cold and rainy spring. The rivers filled and spilled over their banks. In June we started talking again. At first, we intended to “just be friends” as if we were still in High School. But it didn’t take long for things to change. Talking to each other, and seeing each other, without the expectation that we would spend every waking moment together, was what we had never had. We flirted and a courtship began. By summer’s end we were dating again. It was the first time really, and we didn’t take anything for granted.
As the storms rolled across the Midwest all summer long, dropping biblical rains, the rivers kept on rising. Summer in Minnesota was wonderful. Cookouts, and tailgating at St. Paul Saints games, with friends. I finally felt like I had a life again. In late August I was assigned to a long term project starting down in Burlington, Iowa. It would last until the following January, and while it wasn’t a short drive, I knew I could at least count on being home on the weekends. Home. It may just be the most beautiful word in the English Language.