Renewed impressions of St. Paul, MN flooded me on an day in early October 1991 as I enterred the Twin Cities on Highway 35 northbound coming from California via Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri and Iowa. It was a job offer at Northwest Airlines that had me driving a couple of thousand miles of highway alone and spending two overnights at roadside motels. The first glimpse of brilliant blood orange, yellow ochre and moss greens offer a full spectrum fall palette which appeared right around Albert Lea. I continue my journey north to the exit I am meant to take: 7th Street. Once there, I travel east towards the capital city, my goal was to just take in some initials views.
The last time I had been in St. Paul was about twelve years prior. Back then, I had been a child traveling by station wagon with my parents from our home in a Chicago suburb for summer visits to good friends on Bald Eagle Lake in White Bear. This time, driving down 7th St for the first time since reaching adulthood, I consider this place now as my first official home out of college. Most “kids” my age find jobs in their own towns, closer to parents and do not launch themselves half way across the country from a sunny climate to what could be a frigid winter existence. For me, it was about claiming my own destiny and future. And the truth is, I didn’t seek out St. Paul. It found me. In a myriad of interviews in California post-college, there were very few jobs to be found in the early 90s. The one job offer that came my way asked me: would you mind relocating to Minnesota? I didn’t hesitate for one second. Absolutely. Minnesota. Home of some of my best childhood memories. I recall that on those summer vacations, I enjoyed the occasional quick visit to downtown from White Bear to enjoy museums or an elegant lunch for the girls with their mothers at Dayton’s River Room. Everything about St. Paul helped me to reconnect with those places in childhood that I loved the most. Having lived in a suburb just outside Paris from age five to ten, I breathed in all the charm of St. Paul with its lamps that evoked an era of gas lamps, its bridges, all the historic architecture, it’s compactness, cobblestones and spires, parks and river. It was a glorious assault on my sense of place. This is where I must live.
When I finish my drive about through the city and feel properly convinced of my future new home, I continue north to White Bear for my initial overnights with family friends. My first few days in my new job, I live with this family with whom I had spent many summers until I connect with the relocation services to which I was referred by my company. I make it clear to my agent that I want an apartment life in the center of St. Paul somewhere. One of the apartments on her list is Park Side Apartments on the corner of Wall and 5th. And it’s perfect. The entry offers a domed entry with a set of five steps that rise from the sidewalk into the Art Deco styled lobby reminiscent of the 1920s with soft mauve walls and pale blue furnishings and a maple desk with two side tables that book end the sofa. There is an exotic silk floral on the hallway table. At the time, I am completely delighted. The building is primarily studio apartments, and the elevator takes me to the top floor where the currently vacant unit awaits my inspection. I enter the unit finding a corner studio apartment with vaulted ceilings and beams, open space and tall windows with enough ledge that I can sit and overlook the streets below and glimpse Mears Park under construction. During this period, the park was in progress, so there was little beauty just yet, but it would come. The studios were set up so that the initial entry offered an immediate right turn down a short hidden hallway that lead to the walk in closet and bathroom, tucked behind the open kitchen for better privacy. The kitchen had a counter that opened to the living room and the living room was big enough for a kitchen table set up on one side and my futon on the other, with coffee table and dresser in the corner. This was exciting; the idea that I could live in the very midst of this quaint historic city.
Returning to St. Paul as a resident after all these years was such a rush. I had never lived in St. Paul, but had visited many times during my childhood. My parents met in St. Paul in the early 1960s; they got engaged at The Lex on Grand Avenue. Mother is from Norway and she met my father on one of his many business trips into the Twin Cities from Michigan. He had friends here from his bachelor days that belonged to the Uler Ski Club, and Mother also attended events through this club with her fellow Norwegian friends. Landing in St. Paul as my first official adulthood foray into responsibility and life path was satisfying and a comfort. I have a piece of my parents with me each day as I imagine their lives intersecting all those years ago. And, I accept that I came home to where it all began.