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Sometimes getting out of town is a good idea

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River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

I was pleased on Saturday when I finally dug myself out of the driveway and made it downtown to see so many others had done the same thing. Downtown was bustling. And, sorry, Mayor Breault, but there wasn't a parking place in sight - all in all, in my book, not a bad problem for a small-town main street.

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But as much as I love shopping and entertaining myself in Hudson, it's fun to get out of town once in a while. And since I won't be making any trips south or otherwise this winter, I need to take pleasure in the smaller (translation - cheaper) adventures available to me.

Cheap was the operative word when four of us left town last Thursday morning for the big city. Among us - Alice, Diane, Mary Ann and I - Mary Ann is the easiest to please. She can make going anywhere to anything seem like a big deal. She has a natural enthusiasm that is contagious and she has the ability to bring out the "cruise director" in me.

Our first cheap stop was Ikea, where we indulged in the Twin Cities' best breakfast for a $1.99 - a full plate of eggs, potatoes, bacon, pancakes and lingonberries with a free cup of coffee thrown in. A trip to Ikea is as close to the United Nations as we are likely to get. We told Mary Ann to listen for foreign accents as these people came from all over the world to work Ikea. At least, that is what I heard at the press junket I was at last summer. But I guess everybody went back home after the place opened because the most exotic voice I heard sounded like it came from deep within "Nordeast Minneapolis."

It didn't matter. We had fun showing Mary Ann the different rooms and furniture and food there. And in keeping with the theme of the day, we managed to buy only the cheapest things they had to offer - napkins, shelf paper and, out of hometown loyalty, Kristian Regale (a beverage born of Hudsonite Nancy Bieraugel's making) for 2 bucks a bottle.

But our adventure was just beginning. The whole point of the trip was to ride the rails. We wanted to give the light rail train a try from the Mall of America to downtown Minneapolis. Diane did the research over the net. She knew how we paid and what kind of change we needed and what the senior discount was. I told them I knew where to go at the mall. But it turns out I didn't. First I took a series of wrong turns just between Ikea and the mall. I just didn't think there were that many options. I saw all the shelters kind of in front of Nordstrom there but it wasn't until I had created a parking place for myself up a curb and on the grass that it occurred to me there weren't any trains around. Heck, there weren't even any tracks. There were no people, no ticket machines. And the word "hick" was starting to take the glitter off being tour director.

We found the train station. If you need to know, just park in the mall's east lot where there appears to be plenty of space and walk to the platform. It was another little vignette featuring four country mice as we approached the totally automated machine to get our tickets. We were wondering how the machine could tell a senior from a non-senior all the while trying to get the thing to take our battered bills. Diane came prepared with quarters but it took Alice, the city girl from Chicago, to figure out that we had to press a certain button before anything we shoved into the contraption would matter.

Getting change was fun. It came out all in coins, even if you used a $10 bill. I thought I'd have to cart $8.75 around all over Minneapolis. At first I thought I was short changed until Diane, who can read small print with her new glasses, told me I had just been awarded $8 in Susan B. Anthony money. They also threw in a few of Sacajaewa and her baby.

With tickets in hand, I'd like to say we confidently boarded the shiny yellow train but I can't. We discussed for a few minutes the fact that both engines appeared to be heading the wrong way and that the sign up above said "Bloomington." Mary Ann and I noted there didn't appear to be anywhere for these things to turn around. Did they back all the way downtown?

By now I figured we looked as dumb as we felt; well, Alice probably didn't since she knows about these things but she's too polite to show up her "elders," so we boarded and asked one of the two women sitting in the car if this was the train to downtown. She nodded and had a look that said she hoped we wouldn't sit nearby.

We didn't. We rode in "first class," which is two steps off the main floor and situated ourselves across from each other. This worked out fine until Mary Ann started getting car sick from riding backwards. That set off a series of stories that seemed to both confound and entertain an elderly gentleman sitting nearby who alternated between smiling and covering his ears with his hands. By the time we got off, the young woman we asked about the train was waiting in front of Diane for the door to open and asked, "Is this your first time on the train?" Diane said, "Does it show?" The woman said, yes, but it seemed like we were having a good time - more fun than she was, I'm sure.

We arrived at Nicollet Mall in time for a late lunch. It was five blocks to the restaurant and Mary Ann resisted the urge to toss her hat in the air when we passed the Mary Tyler Moore statue. Lunch was the most sophisticated event of the day and we behaved ourselves. Coffee cost more than the train ride so we acted appropriately.

The ride back would be a snap and we were veterans by now. Diane was lucky. She got her ticket a minute before 3 p.m. and paid $1.25. The rest of us ended up paying $1.75 - the rush-hour rate. The car was a lot livelier on the return trip. It was full of people from lots of different places - kids coming from school and working people and distinguished business types. The train, it seems, is a great equalizer but I still think we kind of stuck out as sightseers. It was fun.

We arrived home safely but only after I missed the 494 turnoff and convinced everybody the ride along the river was more scenic. It was just the kind of company on just the right adventure for a cold mid-January day. We're thinking of trying a cruise sometime in the future and we're using all those Susan B. Anthony coins as seed money.

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Hudson Star Observer 715-386-9891 customer support
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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