An October 2002 trip
to Minneapolis by wanderluster
Quote: I grew up an hour south of here, frequently visiting both relatives and attractions. Recently, I returned to Minneapolis for my sister's wedding, taking time to explore new and familiar places with my husband and introducing our 18 month old to some of my childhood favorites.
Over 30 lakes, excellent museums, great parks, zoos, amusement parks, innovative theater, international cuisine and top sporting events make this area a marvelous place to explore. There's so much to do that I leave here wanting to spend more time the next visit.
In fact, I'd like to spend a week just trying different ethnic restaurants and watching foreign art films. For starters, I'd ask to sit in a bamboo goodoo hut inside the Ethiopian restaurant Odaa, then watch a foreign film under twinkling starry skies and elaborately decorated walls in the Suburban World Theatre in Uptown Minneapolis.
Next, I'd try the Latin American food at Machu Picchu followed by a film and imported chocolates at the plush Lagoon Theater, or step inside the Art Deco-styled Uptown Theater to watch a first run release surrounded by sculptures, etched glass and stone carvings. What choices!
Then Italian food at Café da Vinci, where oversized paintings and inventions...
2. Buy a guidebook. My favorite is ACCESS which arranges information by neighborhood. Read it to find selections for your "Must see/Do" list. Then see what accommodations, restaurants, shops and museums are located nearby to keep driving to a minimum.
3. Call the Visitor Bureau for tourist information in BOTH cities. St. Paul provides the best information in my view, including coupons for attractions & Mall of America. (Minneapolis: 612-661-4700, St. Paul: 651-297-6985)
4. Bring warm clothes year round. We're not talking parkas in the summer, but sweatshirts, jeans and sweaters are still pretty comfortable in June. In the winter, bring your parka. And your boots, gloves, scarf, hat, long underwear...it's beyond nippy.
5. Plan to drive or rent a car. Unless you stick downtown in either city, buses and taxis are pretty hard to find. If you're flying, and want to see the Mall of America, store your gear and take the 5 minute shuttle from the airport. You won't have to remember where on earth your car rental is in that HUGE lot.
Highway driving is frustrating because there is no advance warning which lane you're supposed to be in...until you see the sign above your head that instructs you to exit in the far left lane HERE... four busy lanes over...impossible!
But the BIGGEST confusion is Highway 35. Pay attention here, ‘cauz this is important~and cost us two hours extra driving time last May en route to Duluth. (Hint: don't rely on verbal directions.)
Highway 35 travels north and south. Simple enough. But there are TWO Highway 35s. One West and one East. Throw out the assumption that 35W actually travels west. It doesn't. It goes either north or south. Same applies to 35E. Confused? Look at a map and it makes perfect sense: 35E is located in the eastern half of the Twin Cities in St. Paul, whereas 35W is located in Minneapolis. Aha!
We ate here after reading a description of it in a guidebook en route to Minneapolis. Luckily my husband was game. (Meanwhile, relatives ate meatloaf and burgers at a 50's diner, completely baffled by our choice.)
The decor was colorful. A hand-painted map of the world, exposed brick, tapestries and arches decorated walls painted green, blue and gold. Newspaper clippings and pictures of Kurdish people were everywhere, even in the bathroom children peek out from frames. It's a casual atmosphere, perfect for romantic couples or small groups of friends.
The menu describes how Jamal Karim from the Babanis tribe in Kurdistan came to America and went to Minnesota in search of a blond maiden, found Gail, married her, and opened the first Kurdish restaurant in America. If you've never tried Kurdish food, it's best described as Middle Eastern with an Indian slant.
Traditional Kurdish dishes center around vegetables, chicken and lean ground beef–no lamb. You can choose from eleven entrees. Sauteed, simmered or stuffed into dumplings, meat is combined with garlic, lemon, yogurt, eggplant, feta cheese, peppers, or lentils and served over Basmati rice or lettuce. Entrees ($10-12) include soup or salad.
Niskena: blended red lentils, onion, olive oil and spices.
Dowjic: chicken, yogurt, rice, basil and lemon. (Yum! Tangy and reminiscent of Thai soups)
Mahagic vegetables and chicken in a broth.
Jaajic: cucumber, dill, garlic in a yogurt sauce (like Indian Raita).
Tabouli: couscous, parsley, tomato, garlic, scallions, lemon.
Silopi: cucumber, onion, tomato, lemon, spices, olives, parsley, olive oil.
Appetizers center around thick, warm Kurdish bread served with either a blend of feta cheese, olive oil, and olives, or a spicy red jalapeno sauce. Both were wonderful, and the bread was chewier and tastier than Naan.
ENTREES we selected:
Kubay Sawar-wheat dumplings filled with beef, walnuts, and spices, sauteed in olive oil, served over warm lettuce, and topped with a jalapeno sauce. This dish had a kick–I loved it! Jaajic was a perfect complement.
Chicken Biryani-rice baked with peas, almonds, raisons, vegetables and spices served under white chicken pieces. A bit hit with my hubby, but I liked mine better.
We passed on Baklava and Flan, but would've had the Kurdish Tea had our little one not begun to wiggle with increasing vocalizations to get "Down, Mommy!" Yes, time to go bye-bye. It's not easy taking a toddler to a restaurant like this, especially at 6:30pm on a Friday night, but our waiter had assured us children were welcome. Thankfully he seated us in a quiet cubbyhole in the rather intimate restaurant, and she was an angel in her highchair.
Located in downtown St. Paul, it is frequented by a yuppy crowd and theater-goers. The Minnesota History Theater and Fitzgerald Theater are just two of the biggies in the neighborhood, both within walking distance.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 9, 2002
Babani's Kurdish Restaurant
544 St. Peter Street
St. Paul, Minnesota 55102
Attraction | "Como Park Zoo"
Such is the sentiment at Como Park Zoo, where animals are wonderfully accessible to the visitors. No chain link fences to peer through or acreage-like pens where animals roam and disappear from view.
Kids love it here! I know I did. Revisiting as an adult brought back a flood of memories... watching polar bears, Sparky the Seal shows, riding the Tilt-a-Whirl, eating cotton candy, and walking through the Conservatory with my grandma to see the pretty flowers...all still here at Como Park.
Being October, the rides were closed for the season. We didn't visit the glass-domed Conservatory either, which houses tropical plants and specialty gardens a short distance away. Or the fully restored 1914 old-fashioned carousel where kids and adults ride carved wooden horses for just $1.50. We'll save that for a sunny, warmer day.
We were here to see the animals!
We saw a wide assortment of monkeys in the Primate House, but our favorites were watching three gorillas alarmingly close and the entertaining antics of a mama orangutan and her adorable baby rolling around, somersaulting and poking each other.
At Seal Island we watched seals swim around under watchful eyes of pelicans perched on limestone rocks. Kids can feed the seals here. During the summer (11am and 2pm), Sparky the Seal balances balls and jumps through hoops in a pool built into the base of a stadium. His 30 minute shows are a highlight of the zoo, and the reason why many birthdays are celebrated here.
Off season, we saw Sparky swimming in his own private pool in the Aquatic Building blissfully content in a rather small space, hamming it up for us and another family. He swam in circles and jumped out when he approached the children, surprising them. They giggled and clapped, and ham that he was, clapped back in response–much to their delight.
Elsewhere in the Aquatic Building we joined others on benches facing the bottom of a glassed-in pool to watch a polar bear swim. Repetitively he swam toward the glass, then surfaced, pushing his huge paws against the wall for extra oomph in his backstroke. My little daughter stood fearlessly at the glass waiting for him–exclaiming a reverent "Wow" each time his huge head appeared in the murky water at eye level.
Como Park Zoo is free and open 365 days a year (10-4pm). There are also lions, bears, giraffes, zebras, penguins, bison, flamingos, antelopes, a tiger, leopard, wolf and ostrich.
A wonderful place!
Como Park Zoo & Conservatory
1225 Estabrook Drive
St Paul, Minnesota 55103
Little people enter through a miniature door built into a larger purple door.
When we approached, my 18 month old giggled in delight when she spotted a cat peering out the glass. Her excitement grew when she discovered more cats inside, and a chicken strutting across the floor. Forget the books, let me chase the animals!
Wild Rumpus is a whimsical, fun place for kids of all ages. The roaming animals, doves, parakeets, lovebirds and caged rats, tarantula, salamander and fish give the store a lively interpretation of it's namesake book, "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak. The space is colorful, interesting and unique. Even a kayak hangs from the ceiling painted to look like the sky and a river.
Bookshelves are stuffed with selections from small presses and big publications, offering twice the titles that a typical superstore stocks, according to co-owner Collette Morgan. Being an independent bookstore, they can afford to take more risks with their inventory. And they do. It was refreshing to see new authors and different books than those commonly seen elsewhere.
Creatively displayed books are arranged by age and subject matter. For example, there are bath books in the bathroom (where else?) where fish swim in the bathroom mirror. Christmas books are arranged around toys in a section decked with lights and Christmas decorations. Foreign books, including three preschool Spanish books that we bought are arranged under wall maps and tiny people costumed from around the world. Even the "Lottie" series, featuring a chicken going to the beach and other places, are situated next to the chicken cage.
But my favorite display was the Haunted Shed. Scary books are displayed inside a wooden shack complete with squeaky floor boards, spiderwebs and rats running under plexiglass!
Are these people creative, or what?
There's also a table of used books, tiny stools made out of tree stumps, old ratty chairs where kids and cats like to nestle, and plenty of space for kids to browse through the books. Each Saturday at 1pm there is an activity, best reserved in advance. Last week the activity was translating your favorite saying into Latin and imprinting it onto ceramic to take home. It's always something different.
Wild Rumpus is clearly a place that loves children and is interested in making them happy. Not interested in expanding or selling over the Internet, the owners say the charm of their store has to be experienced in person. Apparently, they've found a special niche. This month's issue of TIME (October 2002) highlights Wild Rumpus as one example of a small businesses in America that's making it despite superstores and Internet sales.
Location is in a cute uptown shopping district near Lake Harriet in southern Minneapolis. Travel 35W south, west on 46th Street, right on Linden Blvd, left on 43rd. Open Monday through Friday from 10-8pm, Saturday 10-5pm, and Sunday 12-5pm.
Wild Rumpus Children's Bookstore
2720 W 43rd St
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55410
Highlights for me were the dinosaur exhibits and the OmniTheatre.
A wide variety of dinosaurs are well-posed and informative. I thought the coolest exhibit was walking through the "Lost World" showing how dinosaurs, birds and turtles lived among fossilized trees in a forest. But kids preferred cranking jaws of a T. Rex open and closed, and watching lab assistants piece together bones in the Paleontology Lab.
Other exhibits included the Human Body, World Culture and Weather. The Human Body displayed Circulatory System and Connective Tissue models which were trying to be kid friendly, but wouldn't have captured my interest as a child.
The World Culture exhibit had a life-sized Hmong Hut, stuffed animals, African masks, Asian clothing and textiles from around the world. (What's the science connection?) The Weather display had a wave machine, and some experiment stations set up to create different types of weather.
The Omnitheatre was showing Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees filmed in Gombe National Park in Tanzania. We easily secured our tickets and thoroughly enjoyed the chance to see the chimps up close. Frodo, an aggressive alpha male, is shown throwing rocks and acting out. Even Jane seems to fear him, and rightly so! (A week after I saw the film, I read in Outside Magazine that Frodo recently murdered a 14 month old toddler in the Gombe Forest. He ripped her from her mother's back while hiking in the forest, and smashed her against a tree repeatedly until she became disemboweled. HORRIBLE.)
The film spends only a minute or so on the violent behaviors of Frodo such as when he went on a rampage and murdered an entire troop of Columbus Monkeys single-handedly. I covered my own 18 month old daughter's eyes during that part, but for the rest of the film she laughed at the "mon-keys!" watching with big eyes as the chimps climbed, swung and played around. Wild Chimps runs October 2002 to May 2003.
Pathway to the Stars was also playing in the new 3D Laser Theatre. Visitors wear 3D glasses to view the astronomy program. Other 3D shows feature oceans, flight, astronomy, ecosystems and the brain. We didn't get a chance to see this, but have seen something similar in Chicago and it was wonderful. Every object leaps from the screen realistically. Limited show times vary by day. Call 651-221-9444.
Museum hours are 9:30am to 5pm, except Thursday through Saturday they're open till 9pm. Off street parking is available in the lower level of the museum, located in downtown St. Paul not far from the Children's Museum, Minnesota History Center and state capitol.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 9, 2002
Science Museum of Minnesota
120 Kellogg Blvd W
St. Paul, Minnesota 55102
It is a fun, creative place for even the little bitty ones. My 18 month old loved it here! She could touch, run, climb, slide, play in water, hide in caves, pretend to use the cash register, make bubbles, crawl through a log, dance, and push buttons to her heart's content. Surely the creator of these exhibits was a kid herself!
Habitot is a special place for babies and toddlers where they can explore four Minnesota habitats: prairie, forest, limestone caves, and a pond. The whole room is safe. Everything is covered in fabric, so kids can explore without scraping their arms or bumping their heads.
Babies love to gaze at the shiny rain coming down from foam clouds over the pond where they lean against fabric frogs on lilypads. Toddlers love to run up the entryway to the caves where they can hide in little nooks and crannies, peer through a telescope and push buttons to hear different animals sounds.
In the Prairie, kids can plant fabric flowers, discover hidden animals in the earth or climb a rope ladder. My daughter loved crawling through the fabric log in the Forest, crossing the miniature swing bridge and sliding down a slide. There's also a cozy reading area, and a private room for nursing mothers.
The traveling exhibit "Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?" is here until January 2003. We sat on the brownstone steps, sat in Big Bird's nest to read a book, and saw displays where other kids sang the alphabet with Elmo, repeated Spanish words with Rosita, and heard songs considered to be the show's greatest hits. (I wouldn't know.)
Downstairs are a couple of permanent exhibits appropriate for little tykes. In the City Street Gallery, kids can pretend to ride a bus, sing in a music studio, take care of sick dolls in a doctor's office, go grocery shopping, eat at an Asian restaurant or role play the waitress, cook or guest. Why do little girls enjoy "playing kitchen" so much???
Another exhibit is Water World, where kids don rubber aprons and get wet in various water activities. They can dip a huge wand in a tub to make bubbles, poke colored ping-pong balls into plastic tubes, race boats in another water area, or try to make a ship sink by adding weighted cargo. My daughter threw a fit when we left, because she had no intention of leaving. She was having a ball!
Older children have their own exhibits. We saw girls making crafts, and decorating their faces with glittered paint. In a another corner, kids were making paper. In Earth World, they can also crawl through an ant hill in or operate cranes and other equipment.
Great museum! Located in downtown St. Paul. Open Tuesday-Sunday 9am - 5pm.
Minnesota's Children's Museum
10 West Seventh Street
Attraction | "Gangster Tours"
Back then, Police Chief John O'Conner allowed gangsters to safely live in St. Paul without being persecuted for their crimes as long as they continued to pay him off and didn't commit crimes in his city. Owners of gambling houses and brothels also freely established their businesses here adding bulk to the pockets of corrupt policemen and government officials. This agreement, known as the O'Conner Layover System, brought revenue to St. Paul and protected all residents from both crime and prosecution.
Three tours are offered. Wabasha Street Caves is a one hour walk through a huge sandstone cave where mushrooms once thrived and gangsters partied. This is the tour that we took. Ma Barker led us around, informing us about the large profitable mushroom farm that flourished, and pointed out areas where liquor, ammunition, arms and supplies were stored.
The highlight of the cave was seeing the decorated area once known as the Castle Royale Nightclub, where the big names hung out–the Barker gang, John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly and Baby Face Nelson. We saw bullet holes in the fireplace where gangsters practiced their target shooting (no one was killed here). We heard stories throughout the walk, such as the tale of how Doc Barker shot two cops and a bystander in a bank robbery in Minneapolis, yet crossed the street into St. Paul and safely hid out here, protected by the corrupt police. Tours are 11am Saturdays and Sundays or 5pm Thursdays. Cost is $5.
The St. Paul Gangster and Mill City Mobs are motorcoach tours lasting 2 hours each. Again costumed gangster tour guides explain the history of the infamous bad boys and lead tourists to sites where gangster activity took place. The St. Paul Gangster tour visits former residences, brothels and flaming nightclubs where the fellas picked up women and socialized with the public, whereas the Mill City Mobs tour stops at sites where kidnappings, gun battles and robberies were committed in Minneapolis, plus the location of John Dillinger's shoot out. Approximately 14 sites are visited on each tour. Cost is $20 and reservations are required. The St. Paul Gangster tour operates year round Saturdays at noon, while the Mill City Mobs tour operates in the summer only (check time and date...last summer they ran at noon on Sundays).
Down in History Tours
215 Wabasha Street South
Saint Paul 55107
This 33 room mansion was completed in 1908 for Swedish newspaper publisher, Swan Turnblad, a Swedish immigrant who lived here with his young wife and daughter. He spared no expense creating a beautiful home to help lure his wife away from their homeland.
He hired 200 craftsmen to carve intricate designs into the oak, mahogany and walnut interiors, sculpt plaster ceilings, and create a magnificent two-story grand entrance hall. Mythical beasts, cherubs and barbarians are carved into the woodwork throughout the mansion. Turnblad's original furnishings, photographs and personal items decorate the rooms along with the eleven porcelain tiled stoves, Kakelugnar, that he had shipped from Sweden. These combination fireplace/stoves, distinctly different from one another, represent the largest Kakelugn collection in the world. Varying in color, ornamentation, design and shape–some are embellished with mirrors and paintings.
I enjoyed wandering around the mansion admiring the craftsmanship and unique Kakelugns, imagining what life was like for this young wife and daughter living in a country so far removed from familiar surroundings. Were they adventurous types that embraced the change? Or lonely misfits in a foreign city?
The mansion has two permanent exhibits revolving around Swedish life in the Twin Cities, and an extensive showcase collection of Swedish glass. You can listen to recordings and watch video segments that illustrate what life was like for immigrants as they adjusted to a new land, and learn why they left Sweden and chose to settle in Minnesota. Written stories provide personal, often humorous, accounts of early Minneapolis.
Current traveling exhibits focus on the origin, function and design principles of the Kakelugnar stoves, and the life and times of Saturday Evening Post illustrator Eugene Iverd.
Two annual holiday exhibits about St. Lucia and Scandinavian Christmas Decorating are displayed November 22 to January 12. Learn the legends about St. Lucia, and view holiday tables and trees distinctly decorated with dishes, linens and ornaments from Finland, Norway, Sweden, & Iceland.
Curious about your Scandinavian roots? A research library contains reference materials on Swedish immigration, and the history, life and culture of Sweden.
If you live in Minneapolis, take advantage of the great programs offered by the American Swedish Institute. Svenska skolan is a Saturday morning Swedish immersion program for children age 4 and up, which includes singing, crafts, stories, games, refreshments, and short movie, all in Swedish of course! Adults can take 8 week courses in lace making, woodcarving, dala painting, rosemaling, dance, or language classes.
Be sure to visit the gift shop! It's a hoot just to listen to the Scandinavian staff speak ("Ooooh, noooo, I don't mind the snoooooow.") Books galore on cooking, crafts, photography, art, biography (Greta Garbo, Charles Lindbergh), interior design, immigration, travel, Pippi Longstocking and other excellent children's books; plus imported games, food, crystal, toys, videos, trolls, ornaments... Call to request their catalog if you can't visit 612-871-4907. Ya gotta try the ligonberry jam!
American Swedish Institute
2600 Park Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55407
A spiraling roller coaster, Ferris wheel and 28 additional rides entertain kids in the 7 acre amusement park. How often do you get to ride a roller coaster to break up aimless wandering through a mall? I just had to give it a whirl, and wasn''t the only adult laughing aloud as we whizzed through Camp Snoopy.
Nearby LEGO Land was a fun place to walk through. Amazing to see what can be created out of legos! Huge animated dinosaurs, astronauts and a clock tower loom over the four-story space.
An aquarium featuring over 3,000 living creatures is also located on the lower level of the mall. Here kids can touch real sharks and stingrays in an exhibit rated one of the world''s best shark encounters.
Cereal Adventures is one of the newest attractions where kids skip through Lucky Charm''s Magical Forest, play in Cheerio Park or ride at the Trix Fruity Carnival. They learn how cereal is made and concoct their own cereal combinations to take home.
Adults can race 195 mph against other cars in simulated machines at NASCAR Motor Speedway, bowl at Jillian''s Hi Life Lanes, or get married in the Chapel of Love.
What will they think of next?
On the top level, there are 14 theater screens, 4 nightclubs, Hooters, Hard Rock Café and Gators. Elsewhere are numerous restaurants. We ate at the Rainforest Café amid parrots, waterfalls, tropical plants and sudden thunderstorms that occurred throughout our meal. Just be prepared for a long wait. Café Oddysey is a place I''d like to try next time, where international food is served in settings of Atlantis, Machu Picchu or the African Serengeti.
The mall hosts events throughout the year. Regulars are National Geographic exhibits and Toddler Tuesdays where kids eat breakfast with characters like SpiderMan, Rudolf, Cat-in-the-Hat or Madeline.
And oh yeah, they do have stores. Plenty of them. Three gigantic floors full. In fact, a walk around the storefronts alone is a 4.3 mile walk. The anchor stores are Macy''s, Nordstrom, Sears and Bloomindale''s. In between are the typical chain stores like Old Navy and Gap, along with others like FAO Schwarz, Scientific Revolution, The Right Start, Love from Minnesota, Hologram Fantastic, and Baushka Dolls. But my favorites were Alpaca Pete''s where I bought two alpaca sweaters, and Brainstorm where I purchased laminated medical posters for educating my patients in the rehab hospital. If you want it, it''s probably here. Just don''t expect a bargain!
Hours are Monday-Saturday 10am-9:30pm, and Sundays 11-7pm. Closed Thanksgiving (but not the day AFTER!) and Christmas. Located in southern Minneapolis in Bloomington, just three miles from the airport, it''s a 5 minute shuttle ride. Most hotels also offer shuttle services to the mall.
Mall of America
60 East Broadway
Bloomington, Minnesota 55425
The Minnesota History Center is an innovative, colorful, interactive, fascinating place that opened in 1992 with the intent to make history fun, alive and relevant!
My favorite exhibits:
Weather Permitting illustrates how Minnesotans adapt to their cold snowy environment, deal with tornados, and escape to their 10,000 lakes.
Seeing a car stuck in a snowbank–an all too familiar scene for those of us who've lived here–was funny, as was the film playing in the car window showing the daily hassles of winter living. Mannequins huddled at a bus stop, bundled up in snowmobile suits, parkas and buffalo coats show what a pain it is to stand idly outside.
In My First Minnesota Winter, the shocked reactions of present day residents who immigrated from Venezuela and Somalia are hilarious to read! See how Minnesotans embrace winter with a Carnival (the lighted ice castle is spectacular!) and turn frozen lakes turn into miniature cities. You can peek inside an ice-fishing hut, watch videos about this popular sport and listen to Garrison Keiller recordings.
Did you know waterskiing was invented in Minnesota? Yep, in 1922. See the original skis Samuelson used when he first attempted this sport in Lake City.
Help Wanted provides a glimpse of what jobs were like for the working class living here during the 1930s and 40s. You move through simulated "work" stations trying your hand at different jobs. (I was a poor telephone operator.)
Home Place has ten minute plays about early settlers to Minnesota based on diaries, memoirs and novels. Whereas Tales of the Territory highlights life from 1849-58 before Minnesota became a state. Instead of focusing on pioneer life, you learn about the cultural clashes that occurred between Indians, French and Americans. Special effects with mirrors make these characters spring to life as they tell their tales.
Minnesota A to Z displays 700 items specific to Minnesota arranged around a theme. Listen to a loon, watch the Twins win the World Series, see Prince's costume from Purple Rain...
Grainland is a 24 ton boxcar and grain elevator that kids love to explore while learning about the importance of farming in Minnesota. There's a great display on harvesting wild rice.
Sounds Good to Me is the newest exhibit. Walk through a streetscape and hear different kinds of music depending on which door you step inside...a nightclub, home parlor, DJ booth, ballroom and more. Elaborate sets, rare film footage and oversized dolls for visitors to dress in styles of the 20s, 50s and 70s make it fascinating and fun.
Hungry? The wild rice soup in Café Minnesota is absolutely yummy, as are the gourmet lunch selections.
The Museum, located in downtown St. Paul near the Capitol, is FREE. Open Tuesday-Sunday. Check it out!!!
Minnesota History Center
345 West Kellogg Boulevard
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55102
Attraction | "Go Kart Racing"
We were last in the lineup at the start line by choice, fearful of being run over by those overzealous drivers before we could get the hang of operating the accelerator and brake pedals with separate feet. Climbing in, the seat felt securely snug, and the leather around the wheel good for gripping. I stretched my legs forward in the low-sitting car, and immediately noticed a problem. So did my sister. We simultaneously lifted the plastic face shield on our heavy helmets and tried to shout over the roar of idling engines. Neither of us could reach the pedals. But before we could panic, a flagman came over and stuffed foam cushions behind our backs. Now we were ready.
All verbal communication thwarted by the noise, drivers exchanged thumbs up with the flagman, who touched some magic go button, and we sped away. Once racing, communication relied on flags, explained in a ten-minute safety briefing held on the quieter side of the glass wall. I just hoped I'd keep them straight.
If a blue flag was waved as you approached, it meant pull over the right so cars can pass on your left. Yellow flags meant caution: accident ahead (comforting thought). Black meant you've committed a no-no and had to pull over for a scolding.
The polished concrete track lined with rubber tires wound around the room in a series of tight curves with two long sections to recover speed and pass your opponents. Zooming down the straightaways up to 40mph and maneuvering the twisting corners of the loops without spinning out or crashing was challenging, but a rush! And surprisingly intense. The track's width of two cars made passing tricky without crashing into the tail end of others, penalized by time waiting to get unstuck by watchful flagmen.
Passing other guys was especially exciting in the competitive, charged atmosphere. After the ten-minute warm-up, my throat was parched, my shoulders stiff from tension. Even guys had shaky hands lifting shields from their helmets in the short respite before the upcoming race.
Our group rented the track for 30 minutes. The $300 fee included a warm-up session, race and gear for ten drivers. Individual lap times, penalties and rank are tracked by computer and posted on large screens for both the warm-up round and final race for all to see. Observers can sit at tall tables near the snack bar or inside the track behind a 4-foot fence.
Keen on giving it a go? Record lap time was 18 seconds back in 2001. Just for comparison, my best lap was 30...
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 9, 2004
Go Kart Racing - ProKart Indoor
12500 Chowen Ave South near Mall of America