The first time I rode the bus

14 Dec

One thing a lot of bloggers do is tell embarrassing personal stories. So that’s what I’m doing. As always this is from memory. There may be small or large errors of fact. I do my best.

Once upon a time, I was thirteen years old. I turned thirteen in the summer of 1996. Remember 1996? I think there’s a good reason that we’ve been stuck with 80’s nostalgia for more than ten years and no one’s tried to start pushing 90’s nostalgia. Pop music then was stupid, fashion trends weren’t notable, etc. So, that’s the background for this story.

In 1996 my favorite band was The Smashing Pumpkins

When you’ve just turned thirteen, one thing that sounds fun to you is hanging out at the mall. I can’t explain why this is. The mall is not fun now, and it wasn’t really fun then. I mostly just walked around aimlessly and ogled Air Jordans at Foot Locker. But when you’re thirteen, you don’t have a lot of entertainment options. The mall is free and there’s no age limit. Those are really the two main things in its favor. I guess the presence of food courts can be a plus, but most food courts are bad, even in the eyes of a thirteen-year-old.

The mid-90s were a true Golden Age for basketball shoe design

The mid-90s were a true Golden Age for basketball shoe design

Growing up in South Minneapolis, my local mall was Southdale, in Edina. People from Edina are known as cake eaters. Southdale’s claim to fame is that it’s the first enclosed mall ever built. It seems odd to think of an America without malls. Shopping at independent department stores and no chain stores to speak of. What a world. Eventually there came Ridgedale, Rosedale, and Brookdale, but Southdale always remained the biggest and best. Until the Mall of America came along, I guess, but that place is its own category. When it was new most locals viewed it as not much more than a big tourist trap. I didn’t go there very often in those days. Southdale was the place to be.

The Hawks in The Mighty Ducks are an entirely accurate representation of Edina

The Hawks in The Mighty Ducks are an entirely accurate representation of Edina

On one particular summer day, my friend Mark and I were hanging out at my house. We wanted to go to the mall. My parents were both at work. The mall was too far away to walk to. Being rough and tough teenagers, we decided we should take the bus to the mall. This sounded like a great idea. My dad rode the bus to work downtown every day. I had ridden with him once or twice. The number 6. He caught it on France Avenue right by our house and it deposited him at the entrance of the building where he worked on Hennepin Avenue downtown. I thought the bus was great. This same 6 also went to Southdale. This, according to my dad, who we called for advice about riding the bus. (This might have all been planned the previous day or something. I don’t recall exactly.) My dad instructed Mark and I to walk to France Ave and get on the bus. He described the various 6 subroutes, and told us that they all ended at Southdale, even if not directly down France. With this information, I was confident that I could successfully ride the bus.

Southdale in 1956

Southdale in 1956

Even with this fatherly advice, I didn’t have a very good understanding of how city bus routes work. I’d never seen a route map or thought about how the same bus could go both north to downtown and south to the mall. As it is obvious to me now, if you board the bus on one side of the street it goes north. if you board it on the other side of the street it goes south. I had ridden this bus with my dad, and we boarded it going northbound. I thought that that was the bus stop, and if you wanted to get on, that’s where you went. I had no idea that there were bus stops on the other side of the street, and utilizing these stops was how you went the other direction. You might be able to tell already that my bus trip will not go well.

Here's an amusement park inside the Mall of America. This wasn't a cool place to hang out

Here’s an amusement park inside the Mall of America. This wasn’t a cool place to hang out.

So Mark and I set out to the bus stop. We boarded the bus without problem. After a few blocks, it occurred to us that we were not going toward the mall. This concerned us. But my dad had said that sometimes the 6 loops around on the back roads or something before it went to the mall. I assumed this must be what was happening. Or, rather, I hoped that was what was happening. Remember, I had never seen a route map so I didn’t really have any idea where the bus should be going. Also remember that I had no idea that there were separate northbound and southbound buses. Mark was in the same boat as I was. The difference was that he was just along for the ride, so to speak. We weren’t in his neighborhood. His dad didn’t ride the 6 and tell us how to do it. I felt like the whole thing was my operation. Mark and I sat there on the northbound 6 hoping for the best.

Pretty quickly it became apparent that the bus wasn’t taking a detour before going to the mall. It was going downtown. I had made a colossal bus miscalculation. What the miscalculation was or how it happened was still a mystery to me. At this point I started going over our options. What we should have done was get off the bus. Obviously. But if we had done this we would have been standing on a street corner far away from my house. At that point I would not have been able to figure out how to get back on the bus. We could have found a payphone (1996!) and called one of my parents, but they were both still at work and that would have been embarrassing. I did not want to tell my parents that I had fucked up a simple bus ride.

No one told me you could tell where the bus was going by reading the front of it

No one told me you could tell where the bus was going by reading the front of it

Mark and I decided to stay on the bus. We knew we were going the wrong way. Here’s what I thought: the bus route must be circular and would drop us off at Southdale at the end of the loop. I realize how stupid this sounds.

We went through downtown. At this point we could have gotten off and gone to my dad’s office. That would have been a good idea. I don’t remember thinking of it then. And as I said, I didn’t want to admit bus failure to my parents. I was thirteen! I could do things on my own! God Mom just leave me alone!

For the first part of our trip, the bus had been a pretty happening ride. All kinds of people on and off. The 6 is a pretty busy route. France to Hennepin through Uptown and downtown. But now we were past downtown. Over the river. No new people were getting on the bus. But a lot of people had gotten off. Mark and I were sitting on the back row of seats. This, obviously, is where the cool kids sit in any situation. As long as there were a lot of other people around, I felt OK about things. As the passengers dwindled, I got more and more nervous. Adding to this was the fact that Mark and I had absolutely no idea where we were. Downtown was as far north as my knowledge of Minneapolis geography went at the time.

We had been on the bus for a long time. It was probably dinnertime by now. Our best case scenario now was that the bus would loop around, we could get off at my stop and go home. I was really hoping that this would happen. I was starting to doubt it. The bus kept going. It wasn’t turning around. I didn’t know where the bus would have to go to make a loop to Edina, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t happening.

Eventually, Mark and I were the only passengers left on the bus. This was bad news. My hope was rapidly fading. After a little while alone on the bus, the driver pulled into a parking lot. We could have been in Wisconsin by now for all I knew. We must have been on the bus for an hour and a half by now. He turned back to us and said, “OK guys, end of the line.” Oh no. I said something like, “You mean this bus isn’t doing back down to Southdale?” The bus driver coolly informed us that, no, that’s not how it worked. We got off the bus.

I looked around the parking lot. We were at Rosedale. Hey, a mall! Success!

This is what Rosedale looks like now apparently

This is what Rosedale looks like now apparently. Hey, it looks like every other mall! What a surprise!

Rosedale is in Roseville. Roseville is a suburb that borders northeast Minneapolis and St. Paul. In 1996 I had heard of both Roseville and Rosedale, but I had no real idea where they were. It’s not exactly a popular destination for anyone who doesn’t live there. I’d probably been there at some point to play baseball or something, but I’d never been to Rosedale before. Rosedale isn’t even the best-known mall in Roseville. That distinction would go to Har Mar Mall, which has an interesting name and is the namesake of R&B sex symbol Har Mar Superstar.

Har Mar Superstar doesn’t really need a caption

Mark and I discussed things briefly. We would have to make a phone call. The good news was that my mom would now be home from work. The bad news was that I would have to tell her what happened and ask her to come pick us up.

My mom was very surprised to hear that I was at Rosedale. She found the whole thing hilarious, in fact. So did my dad. So did Mark’s parents. I did not see any humor in the situation. Even now my parents will bring up the bus fiasco and laugh about it. They’re right to laugh. I imagine it’s the kind of story that parents love to tell about their kids.

My mom agreed that the best thing to do would be for her to come pick us up. The good news was that we had some time to hang out at the mall until she got there. Awesome! I think we just walked around for awhile feeling like idiots. Jesus did I feel like an idiot. That was probably the right way to feel, all things considered.

OOPS

OOPS

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