Tag Archives: embarrassing personal admissions

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.



Hatewatching TV

13 Nov

I don’t watch a lot of TV. There are a few shows I like and try to watch. Two  shows that I make sure I see every week are Family Guy and Glee. I go out of my way to ensure that I see each new episode. I hate both of these shows.

The emotions involved in watching a show you hate are complex. I didn’t always hate them. I used to love them both. They’ve both changed in ways that make them bad shows. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them. There’s something fascinating in watching a show that used to be great and has, for varying reasons, become terrible. It’s not just an impartial interest that draws me to them, however. There’s a perverse satisfaction to be gained in watching and making mental notes of all the things the show is doing wrong, all the things they should be doing instead, all of the ways in which the show has failed and let you down.

Family Guy and Glee are two shows that, at their peak, were not only entertaining but ambitious. I give a lot of credit to shows that try to do more than occupy space between commercial breaks, especially on the networks. This is obvious in the case of Glee: it’s the only televised musical I can think of. It’s not the musical aspect of Glee that drew me to it. At the beginning, it had characters that were interesting and compelling. Both students and adults. This was something that you don’t often find in a show just starting out. Most shows, even great ones, start out with loosely drawn stereotypes that eventually grow into well-rounded characters. Subversive is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but I think it applies to a lot of what Glee was doing. The main character framed one of his students for drug possession, there was a barely below the surface blowjob joke between the guidance counselor and a student, there was a former teacher turned drug dealer fired for some vague indiscretion with a student. That all disappeared pretty quickly. The show was also really funny. For example, I remember a particularly hilarious joke about Andrew Cunanan that came out of nowhere. Most shows don’t have the balls to make breezy jokes about serial killers. Recent serial killers at least.

Brittany and Santana are my favorite characters on Glee. According to the internet they’re called Brittana. Also according to the internet the way I feel about them is called “shipping”. This caption is sort of embarrassing.

Family Guy, on the other hand, got a lot better from its original premiere to some point after it came back from being cancelled. Love them or hate them, but the cutaway gag concept isn’t something that other shows were trying. And at its best, the show did things that no one else was doing, and no one else was even trying. Jokes about Broadway or obscure celebrities and such. Beyond that, some episodes are really well-constructed and interesting. The murder mystery episode from a couple seasons ago is a prime example. It was an hour-long parody of movies like Clue and Murder by Death that I’d wager the vast majority of the Family Guy target audience hasn’t heard of, much less seen. The Star Wars parodies are really well-executed. The episode where Brian and Stewie were trapped in the bank vault was something that most other shows would never dare try.

Seth MacFarlane came across as a total douche in his recent New Yorker profile

But this post isn’t about how Glee and Family Guy have been or could be good. It’s about how they’re terrible and why I still watch them regardless.

I think a lot of the terribleness stems from simple laziness. The creative forces behind the shows know that they can coast and rake in cash. So they do. I’ll frequently watch Family Guy and not laugh once. That’s kind of amazing, considering that the goal of the show seems to be to insert as many jokes as possible. But I’m not the target audience of Family Guy. I’m sure that a lot of dumb people and 14-year-olds love these lazy episodes.

Glee has a similar problem. One of the reasons I’ve stuck with it is that my sister loves the show. I like talking about it with her. Sometimes I’ll call her to complain about something implausible or ridiculous that happened and she won’t even have noticed it. She’s the target audience. I’m not. The target audience doesn’t care that it’s 100% impossible for a student in a wheelchair to become the star of the football team. They simply don’t consider that that’s an indefensively dumb plot for the show to have. And when she does notice a character’s motives or behavior change without explanation from one episode to the next, she just shrugs and moves on. Writing a TV show for that audience must be the world’s easiest job.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to make a list of the things I dislike about Glee and Family Guy. That would be boring.

I took my sister to see the Glee live tour last summer. It was great. I’m going to need you to go ahead and stop judging me.

It’s hard to explain why I like watching these two shows even though I think they’re bad. My relationship with them is a lot more involved than with shows I like. One of the things about watching good show is that it’s comforting. When I turn on Parks & Rec, for example, it’s like meeting an old friend.* I turn the critical part of my brain off. Watching the show is enjoyable, but I’m not as intellectually engaged as I am watching Family Guy.

*Lazy writing alert. Also last week’s Parks & Rec featured a pretty solid joke about people from Minnesota.

I, like most people, enjoy feeling smart. Watching Family Guy and Glee definitely makes me feel smart. A great show can be humbling, in a “Wow, how do they come up with this stuff?” kind of way. A bad show makes you feel like you could do a better job producing the show yourself. That’s a great feeling. A lot of people underestimate the esteem-building power of self-satisfied smugness. Not me.

Don’t even get me started

It’s nice to have something to root for when you’re watching TV. Whether it’s a character or a relationship or a storyline, that’s the kind of emotional investment that all shows strive to create. I have something to root for in Family Guy and Glee. For them to be as bad as possible. I’m kind of disappointed when something funny happens. These shows have successfully gotten me emotionally engaged. This is perverse, but the function is more or less the same. Rooting against things can sometimes be just as good as rooting for them. It’s like watching the Yankees lose. I can’t get enough of that shit.

Preach it Mindy

In the end, I get more enjoyment out of watching these shows I hate than is reasonable. More enjoyment than I get from some shows I like. I’m so glad I didn’t stop watching them. Maybe I should start seeking out bad shows to watch. Although I think two is probably my max. The way things are going, my two hatewatching gems will be off the air soon and I’ll need to find replacements. I can only hope there are other bad shows on TV somewhere.