A tourist in my own town

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June 23, 2003 // UPDATED 10:51 am - April 30, 2007
By: Stephanie Watson
Stephanie Watson

Continental visitors bring Downtown\'s beauty home

One evening a couple of weeks back, I walked to a bench outside my apartment building to read. I was so into my book that I crossed the street without really looking up and made my way to a favorite sunny bench, eyes still on the page.

After about 20 minutes of reading, a tour bus pulled into a nearby lot and unloaded a large group from what I guessed was some sort of international corporate convention. They all wore identical stiff ball caps and nametags bearing the same company logo, and they were speaking many different languages - German, French, English and perhaps Russian. As I debated whether I had heard Russian or some other Baltic language, I noticed that the group was making an energetic beeline for my bench.

I closed my book and looked around, trying to figure out why they would be coming at me like that. Was I going to be a victim of the Jamie Kennedy Experiment?

I gave a wan \"May I Help You?\" smile to the leader of the group, and he smiled back. Then, to my confusion, he circumvented my bench and started pointing to a sign directly behind it.

\"The Stone Arch Bridge,\" he told the group. The rest of the group crowded in, completely surrounding the bench I sat on. I watched as they craned their necks to get a peek at the sign detailing the history of the bridge, and for the first time that day, I remembered that the railway overpass was only a few yards away. They lifted the bills of their ill-fitting caps to get a better look at the graceful path spanning the river, and leaned over the edge to admire the historic curved hollows down below. Some people oohed, others aaahed.

After the last person had taken a good, long look at both the sign and the bridge, the group moved back towards the tour bus, got on, and drove away. Geez, I thought, there must be something really wrong with me if I think I\'m part of a WB prank show more readily than remember that I\'m by an astounding bridge that people come visit from time to time.

When had I become so cynical? I sat there in the warm afterglow of the group\'s interest, looking over at the bridge that everyone had found so enchanting. And just for a moment, I saw it not with my jaded Downtowner eyes, but through the eyes of all those eager tourists for what it really is: a unique, beautiful bridge.

There are lots of remarkable places like that Downtown: The Mississippi River, the Walker Art Center, the Basilica, Nicollet Mall. But for some reason, I don\'t really notice these local wonders any longer, much like I don\'t notice the pattern of my wallpaper. I don\'t see these places with the curiosity of a tourist, but I wish to.

My in-laws arrived a couple of days ago from their native Brazil, and I seem to be getting my wish, and then some. The buildings are so tall and impressive, they tell my sister-in-law over the phone, and they\'re connected by these bridge-things that mean you don\'t have to walk outside at all if you don\'t want to.

My mother-in-law can\'t stop talking about how our city is so green and lush, and now that she\'s pointed it out I see what she means. The Basilica, to my husband\'s Catholic parents, is an absolute dream of stained glass and stone. Even things that might not seem at all astounding make a big impression on their fresh eyes: the cart escalator at the Downtown Target, granite sidewalks on Nicollet Mall, daisies growing by the freeway shoulder. Everything, down to the tiniest detail, is new and exciting. And as they soak up every tidbit of the city I know so well I don\'t even know it anymore, I am seeing Minneapolis in a new light. I am being shown, in a way I hope sticks with me, that the place where I live is worthy a some ooohs and even a few aaahs.

Stephanie Watson is a freelance writerand Downtown renter. E-mail her at stephwatson2002@hotmail.com.