Minneapolis Staycation Project ’08 – Part I

I view international travel as one of life’s greatest pleasures. I’ve visited over 40 countries, I’ve lived abroad, I speak Spanish, Romanian and Italian, and my epic passport was just commissioned to be re-printed as a coffee table book, with forwards written by Nelson Mandela and Bono.

Just a few years ago, the mere mention of a so-called ‘staycation’ (a.k.a. stay-at-home vacation) would have caused me such stuttering indignation that I’d have to be shot with a tranq-gun, intubated and be forced to compose the remainder of my admonishing with my left eyelid (maybe then I’d get a fricking book deal). Seriously, what kind of psychotic loser vacations at home? Is that supposed to be some kind of joke? All right, I’ll play along. While we’re at it, why don’t we put ketchup on our lobster ravioli and only use the bathroom at the gas station?

Well, I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong (read: never). In truth, a lot has changed since that time. Fuel prices are astounding. Airlines are chronically tardy, toying with the idea of charging for water and less inclined to deliver your luggage to the continent of your choice. Tighter and arbitrarily enforced airport security measures are maddening and the thought of frittering away two precious days of one’s fleeting vacation simply in transit is sobering. Don’t get me wrong, nothing will ever beat the thrilling, mind-bending, culture-shocking hijinks of international travel, but I’ve come to appreciate the beauty and irresistible simplicity of a staycation – especially here in the Twin Cities, one of my favorite destinations on the planet.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the next person that, upon learning that I’m a travel writer, snidely comments “Oh, so basically you get paid to take vacations?” will lose at least one eyebrow in the ensuing violence. Professional travel writing may be one of the greatest jobs since Playboy model recruiter, but despite appearances the sick reality is that it’s not remotely like being paid to take vacations. You often only have 5-7 days to capture the essence of a destination, take tours, visit/assess/review several hotels/restaurants and submit to a compulsory, rapid succession of physically grueling activities like jumping out of an airplane after breakfast, climbing a glacier for a picnic lunch and finishing the day with a five mile hike in 95 degree jungle heat. Then you have exactly 12 minutes to clean up before dinner with a high-ranking tourism representative and the town mayor, where you’re expected to have a lucid, formal and stone-sober conversation about the destination, occasionally not in your native language. But even that’s not quite as bad as being regally ferried to a three hour, seven course, surf and turf dinner – to be eaten forlornly and wretchedly alone.

Truth be told, after three frantic, uninterrupted years of this singular profession, the idea of a staycation sounded like the greatest thing since, well, since professional travel writing.

As I let the concept of my impending staycation settle on my mind, it occurred to me that since I wasn’t paying for plane tickets, a rental car or hotel rooms, I could apply that part of my budget elsewhere – extravagantly so. I could eat steaks at Murray’s every night for a week and still not exceed plane fare to Paris. I could spend a day drinking Dom Perignon for breakfast, lunch and dinner for less than a weekend in a cramped, musty hotel room in London. I could make a chicken pot pie – with real pot! It was like an instant pile of free money!

That delicious reverie didn’t last long. I come from a storied lineage of dangerously sensible, frugal and drug-free Norwegians – and the other sick reality of travel writing is that it pays only slightly better than a cashier at Walmart – so my budget would have to remain reasonable. Simple pleasures like ice cream and a lake stroll would have to fill the considerable void between prospective crab cakes and vertical Brunello wine tastings.

Like a normal vacation, staycations can be substantially enriched if they are done with one’s beloved, so I kicked off my staycation in the company of my devoted, loving, non-judgmental 4-pack of Strongbow.

You always hear people reminiscing about how they started each day of their vacation with a cold drink. Maybe a beer or a mimosa or even a gin and tonic if they’re English. I had every intention of waking up Friday morning and popping open a Strongbow to nurse while I agonized over going out for an Everything Omelet breakfast or going out for an Everything Omelet lunch. But a teensy weensy snag occurred when I drank all the Strongbow in the house the night before.

I’m not proud of this, mind you. Binge drinking at home alone, even when carefully paced over six hours of first-rate, high definition Olympic coverage featuring your new girlfriend Alicia Sacramone, is bad form, no matter how much you deserve it – or if you’re trying to drink away the sorrows of your new girlfriend’s tragic double-biffing during the team finals. The first two ciders were my reward for having worked until 8pm and completed what I set out to do that day. The next two ciders were consumed with dinner. The next two (oh, I forgot to mention that I had two 4-packs of Strongbow) were the ‘f*ck it, I’m on staycation’ ciders. The next one was for the road. The last one was because what kind of mental defective leaves one cider in their fridge?

When you’ve had eight ciders, weird things occur. You wake up in the bathtub wearing your swimsuit with your family’s genealogy book in your lap. Or you realize what you thought was a VH1 special is actually a three hour infomercial for the Top 100 Hits of the 50s, hosted by Bowser from Sha Na Na.

I got into bed at 3am(ish).

[End Part I]