Hold your wife's hand in the mall because if you let go, she'll start shopping.
It looks romantic, but it's actually economic.
State 11: Minnesota - August 12, 2017
Occasionally, our cross country trip requires us to briefly cross over to adjacent states we are not yet scheduled to visit, or have already previously visited, to see points of interest not included in our path through a specific state. Since our path through Minnesota will not take us through the southwestern portion of the state, we previously crossed over from Northern Iowa to visit the Minnesota’s “Roadside attraction” Our trip through Minnesota officially begins here.
We woke up in a Walmart in Prairie Du Chien, WI just over the Iowa/Wisconsin border ready for a new and exciting day! Today we drive North, and enter the 12th state on our year long cross country journey to discover America and find a new state to call home: Minnesota: 10,000 Lakes. Well clearly this state doesn’t beat around the bush. They have lots of lakes, and want to make sure everyone knows it! While it’s not a catchy or deeply insightful motto, it is a factual statement. Not only does Minnesota have 10,000 lakes, it has more shoreline than any other state, and one in six people own boats. Minnesota is a large state, and we have a jammed packed agenda. In fact, we have so much ground to cover, we allotted a week and a half for exploring Minnesota. Nate and I both love the water, and we both love boats! Will the land of 10,000 lakes be the new home state of the Cross Country Couple? We will soon see!
We entered Missouri via the Great River Road. The Great River Road is a National Scenic Byway 2069 miles in length following the Mississippi River through 10 states beginning in Louisiana, and ending in Northern Minnesota. We would be taking this beautiful drive from Prairie Du Chien, WI, until we crossed the Minnesota border at the far southeastern corner of the state. The Great River Road was one of the most beautiful drives we have taken on our trip, and we wish we could have driven the entire distance. Please see the pictures below.
We were so distracted by the beauty pictured above, we actually missed the Minnesota State welcome sign, and had to double back to find it. As strange as it may sound, the “Welcome to Minnesota” sign is the nicest one we have come across on our entire trip. Most state welcome signs consist of a typical metal road sign, bolted to a pole and cemented into the earth. However, the Minnesota welcome sign featured a large cut stone base, and an antiqued wood hanging sign expertly painted in the states likeness. In addition, a driveway looped around the welcome sign offering opportunities to park and picnic. To the left of the sign, was interesting and informative displays depicting the history of Minnesota and the Great River Road. Amazingly, Minnesota had successfully made their state's welcomes sign a destination unto itself!
We got back in Rosie, and continued down the Great River Road driving an hour North to our next destination in Bloomington, MN; The Mall of America.
Opened in 1992 at a cost of 2 billion dollars, Mall of America, or more commonly known as MOA, is the largest shopping mall in the United States. How big is the Mall of America did I hear you ask? MOA has: 520 retail vendors, 4.2 million square feet of leasable space, 2.5 million square feet of walking space, 42 million annual visitors equivalent to 8 times the population of Minnesota, employs between 11,000 and 13,000 workers, and offers 12,287 parking spaces! 9 Yankee Stadiums could fit inside of Mall of America! If you were to make one lap around any one of the 4 floors, you would have walked 1.15 miles! In addition, MOA features; Nickelodeon Universe the largest indoor theme parks in the US with 27 rides including a roller-coaster, and a sea life Aquarium over 300 feet long 14 feet deep, and over 4500 sea creatures, which include sharks, sting rays, turtles, exotic fish and much more! Of the 42 million people who visit the MOA each year, 2 of 5 people are on vacation! I was shocked to learn millions of people fly to Minnesota each year to spend their annual vacation at a shopping mall! As a matter of fact, we saw people checking in to hotels at the mall with their stacks of luggage in tow.
Sometimes when attempting to really get to know a state, we find ourselves visiting locations and engaging in activities that conflict with our values. For example, although we are both vegetarians, we agreed to tour the first Kentucky Fried Chicken while visiting Kentucky a few months ago. However, we both agreed not to spend any money at KFC, and we definitely agreed not to eat their “food”. We both have our own individual and mutually shared moral lines drawn in the sand. However, we have found it occasionally necessary on this trip to walk right up and put our toes on that line to gain a better understanding of the state we are currently visiting. Doing so is always uncomfortable and extremely upsetting. However, we feel so strongly about immersing ourselves as much as our morals will allow in each and every state we visit in order to make the most informed decision on a potential new home state. Visiting the Mall of America would require Lori and I both putting our toes on the line of one of our shared fundamental beliefs for which we are extremely passionate about: Anti- consumerism. I will spare everyone my soap box schpeal on how consumerism is greatly contributing to the destruction of the environment, humanity and the breakdown of the family unit. However, as frugal minimalists and voluntary vandwellers, neither of us possess the desire, or the square footage to shop until we drop. We couldn't even remember the last time we stepped foot in a mall. In addition to disliking malls, we both hate being around large crowds of people. However, we both reluctantly agreed to deem Mall of America the highly coveted title of a Cross Country Couple “Can’t Miss Attraction” due to its importance to Minnesota. We decided on a mutually agreeable code of conduct. We agreed to look, not touch, and spend absolutely nothing at MOA. With a hand shake and an unsettled conscience, we departed for the Mall of America.
We happened to visit the Mall of America during the peak shopping time of Saturday evening. There are two parking garages at MOA; the East and West, and both were unable accommodate Rosie’s height. Just to humor ourselves, we drove around the perimeter of the mall to psych ourselves up for what we were about to willfully subject ourselves to solely in the name of state exploration. Just then, we saw the unimaginable, the unthinkable, and the absolute impossible which was proven to be possible right before our very eyes! About 100 feet from the Sears entrance of MOA, was an open parking lot with ample available parking spaces. We were both shocked, and stoked over our good fortune! After parking Rosie, we walked towards the entrance, and made our first interesting discovery. The mall was not as packed with people as we expected, although it was far from a ghost town either. Please see for yourself in the pictures below.
As more people transition to online purchasing, malls, and retail as a whole, have been going out of business all across the country, and perhaps Mall of America is feeling the pinch as well. A couple hundred feet after we entered, we came across the famous Mall of America Aquarium, and it was closed for some unknown reason. From there, we decided to start on the 4th floor and work our way back down to the ground level. However, all the escalators and elevators to the 4th floor were blocked off. It appeared they were in the process of reconstructing the entire top floor. Hmm, this was getting frustrating! By default, we decided to begin our journey on the 3rd floor.
Each floor of the 3 floors in the mall appeared to be shaped in a hexagon, with a gigantic open area within the center. In the center of this 3 ring circus was the Nickelodeon Amusement park with 22 rides, and Lego Land with a Lego monster that had to be at least 40 feet tall! It all was quite the spectacle, and extremely loud as well! I just stood there with my mouth hanging open dazed and confused for an unknown period of time experiencing sensory overload. Lori eventually closed my mouth, and smacked me in the face snapping me back to reality! I can’t even begin to find the words to explain what I saw, so please see the pictures below.
Since we were both very hungry, we decided to walk around the 3rd floor of the mall which houses not only casual dining, but formal dining as well. I was expecting to see the typical mall staples such as Panda Express and Sbarros. What I did not expect was the large selection of formal dining options. Italian, Seafood, Asian, Sushi, American, and so much more were all represented. If themed restaurants are more up your alley, why not eat at the Rainforest Café, or the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. complete with the actual suit Tom Hanks wore in Forest Gump to greet you at the door! While we saw every genre of cuisine available, we were very disheartened to be unable to find a vegetarian restaurant. However, we were currently standing in the mother of all malls, which featured over 50 dining options. We knew deep down within our hearts of hearts that somewhere out there tucked away in a tiny corner of commercialism central a vegetarian hidey hole was just waiting to be discovered! We walked another 2 laps around the 3rd floor, or 2.5 miles which sounds more impressive, in search of our omnivore mecca. Just when we were on the verge of being overcome with exhaustion and despair, we discovered a glimmer of hope in the far off distance pictured below.
Long at last we found what we were looking for! We found what we knew was there just waiting to be found! Our vegetarian oasis; Freshii Café! It was the most vacant eatery in the entire food court. Lori and I had agreed to be conscientious objectors with our money while visiting the Mall of America, by abstaining from purchasing. However, we had found an ally in the most unexpected of places, and decided to patronage their fine organic establishment. Lori had a market salad, and I had a Mediterranean bowl. The service was great, the prices were very reasonable, and the food was both nutritious and delicious!
With our bellies full and our weary legs well rested, we continued on to explore the remainder of the mall. Retail shops flanked either side of the hexagon on the 1st and 2nd floors. Not just any retail shops! I am talking about any and every type of shop imaginable. Every chain and big box store, every designer clothing store, sometimes there were even 2 of the exact same stores located on the same floor! I even saw retail stores, such as Radio Shack and Payless Shoes, whom I thought had long been out of business. The most unexpected store I visited was a 1000 sq. ft. hot sauce store called “Pepper Palace”. I like a little heat on my food, but I could not even fathom how anyone could fill up such a large space dedicated solely to hot sauce! Who knew so many different varieties even existed! Out of sheer curiosity, I decided a visit to the Pepper Palace was in order. As I walked towards the store, my eyes started to water, my throat was burning and I had to immediately turn back! Apparently, a few jars of their Signature Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce had broken on the floor. I saw someone race to pull the fire alarm, and the CDC arrived in Hazmat suits soon thereafter to clean up the mess. Luckily no one was injured, but it is being investigated as an act of terrorism in response to the proposed wall to be built along the US and Mexico Border.
We eventually made our way back to reunite with Rosie, and then drove 45 minutes to a Walmart in Cottage Grove, MN where we spent the night.