Column: Mary Tyler Moore aside, Minneapolis after hours is not as glamorous as you might think

So Sue and I recently spent the longest three years of our lives one night in Minneapolis. Our daughter wanted to attend an all-ages concert at the music club First Avenue and, being such loving parents, we drove her and her friend down there and...

Brian Matuszak

So Sue and I recently spent the longest three years of our lives one night in Minneapolis. Our daughter wanted to attend an all-ages concert at the music club First Avenue and, being such loving parents, we drove her and her friend down there and didn't even bellyache about it.

OK, we bellyached a little, but we did try to keep most of it to a low murmur under our breath.

The concert was general admission with the doors opening at 6 p.m. Of course, the girls wanted to be as close to the stage as possible to really experience that sweaty, stinky feeling that can come only from standing for hours in a venue the size of a peanut butter jar. This meant we had to leave the comfort of our familiar Duluth home early in the day and head south to that great dark unknown that is Minneapolis.

Since Sue and I hadn't been to First Avenue since ... well, ever ... (the closest we came was watching "Purple Rain" in 1984) ... we weren't sure where to find the best parking spot. Our plan was to get close, plug a meter with some quarters, drop off

the girls, then drive away to do something fun for a few hours.


But as we approached, we saw a huge flaw in that plan: there were no meters to plug. Instead, spindly sticks dotted the sidewalks, covered in microscopic words that were impossible to read when standing right next to them, let alone cruising by in your vehicle.

From what we could figure out, drivers must pick a stick, park next to it, then transform themselves into walkers and hike a half-mile to what's referred to as a "pay station." Once there, you have to crack some sort of da Vinci parking code, randomly punch some buttons, insert your credit card, and hope for the best. We combed over that pay station like Rush Limbaugh at a free breakfast buffet, and I still can't tell you the cost of parking next to a spindly stick in downtown Minneapolis.

Not to mention if we had parked in the first place we stopped, we would have been towed because we saw later it was a bike lane. You read that right. A bike lane. Next to the curb. With automobile parking halfway out onto the street. Ah, Minneapolis! The city where you don't have to pay for parking OR towing because a bus will eventually smack into your car and drag it to the impound lot for you.

Eventually, we just pulled into the closest pay lot we could find which, SURPRISE!, doubled as the most expensive pay lot in the tri-state area. But at least we were there and the girls were finally able to begin the first stage of their concert-going experience: standing in a line outside on a drizzly October evening.

Sue and I left them to continue on with our own downtown Minneapolis after-hours walking adventure. Since we were forking over a wheelbarrow full of cash to park the truck, it was going to stay put.

With four-plus hours of free time staring us in the face, and 32 ounces of Mountain Dew bloating our bladders, the first order of business was taking care of business. Now you'd think that in all the hustle and bustle of a major metropolitan area, there would be no problem finding facilities, but you would be oh-so-wrong.

We did encounter a great number of hastily scrawled "No Public Bathrooms" signs at front entrances, and while they certainly created a warm Minneapolis welcome, they weren't helping us with our number one priority of taking care of Number One.

We seriously considered going back to the truck to retrieve our empty Mountain Dew cups when we stumbled into a downtown department store that was right out of a David Lynch movie.


Public restrooms were on the 12th floor, but the store didn't have a full 12 floors of merchandise. As we ascended in the elevator, we noticed that floors 2, 5, and 8-11 were simply not there. It would have been an experience to curiously mull over if we hadn't been lugging around ticking bladder time bombs.

Once nature's call was answered, we were now down to just 3-1/2 hours with nothing to do. After a brief walk around Nicollet Mall, we quickly realized that unless you enjoy late-night jazz, five-course gourmet meals, or paying $22.50 for a pint of ale, there's absolutely nothing to do in downtown Minneapolis on a weeknight.

We did find the Mary Tyler Moore statue and did the obligatory hat toss, but after that it was nothing but panhandlers as far as the eye could see.

At one point, a particularly scruffy-looking fellow approached us and, instead of requesting money, simply asked if we were having a good evening. We must have been giving off a vibe that suggested otherwise. I can't imagine why that would have been.

The night ended with us waiting back outside First Avenue in the rain (of course) until the concert let out. The girls had a great time and we got home safely, so all that's good, I guess.

But the morale of this particular story for me is quite clear:

Duluth. Stay put.

Brian Matuszak is the founder of Rubber Chicken Theater, and invites you to follow him on Twitter at or like him on Facebook at Rubber Chicken Theater. His idea of a good time traveling is to head to Superior, but even that's iffy.

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