I flew to Minneapolis. I saw things and ate things. It was wonderful and extraordinarily harrowing at points, like:
Riding in the shuttle from the airport to the hotel. It was so green, and the grass was far higher than back east. Thick stemmed and wispy at top, it reminded me that on the East coast, we tend to not allow that sort of ambition in our greenery, which is tightly regulated and all business. I bounced along in a van with four strangers.
Getting into my room and turning on the air-conditioning almost as low as the guage would allow. This later proved to be an insane mistake. But the bed was huge, and I was warm from excitement, and I needed to stare out the window and have cold air blow on my shoulders. The window split the skyline into a triptych. The center pane featured a tiny drama involving two pairs of cranes, two in the foreground above a parking garage, and two off in the distance behind what looked like a steeple. Three of these cranes, which had been abandoned for the weekend, pointed east, and the fourth, which was on the extreme lefthand side of the group, pointed west. I was struck by how weird it was to see industrial equipment that appeared to be reenacting some sort of morality play. This centerpiece was bracketed by the streaming highway on the right and a billboard from Progressive auto insurance which kindly let me know that they were doing their level best to make car insurance easier, on the left. In the drawers of the various furnitures around the room, there was: a Bible, the biography of Hilton’s founder (which I thought was unnecessary, but nice) and something called a “Guest Informant” that had a lot of pictures and very large type.
On Sunday night there was an open reception. So I had about 8 or so hours to kill between when I got there and then. I wandered around Minneapolis, tried to find food (which I did at this restaurant called Bombay Bistro, that had a snazzy buffet and polite people working there) and cigarettes, which I found out were pretty much illegal on Sunday nights, as all the convenience stores in the walkable area were closed. I finally got some from the gift shop of the hotel for about the price of a good steak. Nicollet Mall looked like a nice place to be, and it was, I found out later on. I ate dinner at an open-air place that bordered on the Orchestra place, during some kind of Sommerfest (this is how they spelled it I think). The sandwich was good and there was a nice cool breeze blowing, and I watched couples stagger in and out of the music hall to get dessert and drinks and food.
I went back to the room and got dressed for the reception, which was to be held downstairs and in business casual dress. I showed up and was immediately sorry I had. There were tons of people, and everyone seemed to know everyone else, except me. I gingerly took my drink tickets from the (super-pretty) receptionist and went inside to the hall. There was a huge dessert table set up in the middle of the room, and multiple dinner tables scattered throughout. I searched frantically for the open bar. It was protected by a garrison of people who were talking loudly and animatedly and looked as if the last thing in the world they needed was to be asked to excuse a tall kid with red hair and glasses who was sheepishly trying as hard as he could to sort of politely shoulder-tackle his way to the bartender. So I just snuck my way over there and ordered a Heinecken. Which I then drained so hard and fast that I felt like I was going to die. So I went back up to my room and watched some television and thought about how, downstairs, there were wonderful people having fun and laughing and asking themselves “my God, could we even *have* more fun? Good lord, this is amazing!”, etc. So I sort of went back to the reception, talked to a few people who were much much much older than me and male and got so depressed that I went back to the room and fell asleep.
The next day was more of the same feeling- that I really should be making more of an effort with this whole mingling thing, but that it just wasn’t going to happen. I pictured myself walking up to someone and doing what I pretty much always do when confronted with the brute force of not-knowing-someone, which is making totally inane and repetitive comments which are, to most English-hearing ears, almost perfectly devoid of meaning, i.e. “Yeah, so how do you like it out there? (person answers) Wow, that’s cool. I’ve always wanted to visit. I think it would be fun. That would be nice, you know? That would be good.” ad infinitum.