The Skyway Matrix

Date of writing: April 24, 2008
Waning Moon, Void of Course
Moon in Saggitarius
Sun in Taurus


I buy some coffee from the enthusiastic owner at Second Moon, and, fishing my dollar store umbrella, step out into the rain. I press the button and it opens part way and stops, so I set my coffee on top of a newspaper vendor and futz with it, but to no avail. So I must stash the umbrella and walk three blocks to the train station, in the rain.

I am wet and drippy by the time I get there, although my vinyl overcoat deflected the bulk of it, and the sweater I’m wearing over the T-shirt absorbed the rest. I sing a subconscious song in praise of synthetic fibers – I may be a naturalist, but I still appreciate human endeavor. I go to the stop at the end with the most people on it, and hit the red button on the way in.

A well-dressed well-spoken black woman raises her eyebrows. Heat? Are you cold?

It’s 55 degrees outside. Not bad, if you’re dry.

I explain that I am wet, that my umbrella broke, and I am consequently cold. I assure her the lamp doesn’t stay on that long – ten minutes, tops, and I suspect MetroTransit resets them in spring before shutting them off altogether. I’m sorry, I say. I should have asked first. She waves her hand. It’s all right. Really. She takes her long black umbrella with the wooden handle and moves on down to the next shelter.

A goth girl in platform leather booties walks up to the platform and immediately hops up on the shelter bench, to get as close to the heat lamp as possible. I feel vindicated. I compliment her on her boots, and she tells me she got them at Saver’s. I rise in her estimation when I tell her I shop at Saver’s too.

A Somalian girl in hijaab comes by and she has found some way to clip a full size cell phone to her ear. I am horrified.

On the train, I take a spare seat next to a black man. I’m breaking an unspoken Minnesota taboo – white women don’t sit next to black men, especially not if there are seats open next to women or white men. I read my book. Behind me I hear a couple, taking the train for the first time, try to figure out where to get off. There aren’t that many stops, but when you aren’t familiar with the line, the space between each stop can feel interminable. I butt in. If you’re going to go to the library, that’s two stops away.

We’re going to Government Plaza Station.

That’s just one stop.

The woman is very pregnant and has a baby in her arms, without the requisite baby carrier. It’s pretty much all her and the umbrella her husband carries. The announcement for Government Plaza station plays, that weirdly smooth robotic female voice. She stands up and immediately goes to the door. I butt in again, realizing I’m talking over her as I do it. It’ll be another half second before the train actually stops.

Everyone always gets up and goes to the door before the train fully stops. Pavlovian response to the dinging bells of the train. She calls thank you! on the way off the train.

At Nicollet Mall Station, I step off the train and struggle with my umbrella. It refuses to catch, and stay open. I walk two blocks in the rain before tossing the umbrella in a public garbage can in disgust. Downtown waste management hires unfortunates to sort the garbage for recycling and I know they’ll take care of it.

I start down the path to my first destination, and a car pulls up. A woman in the backseat asks me for directions to the Millenium Hotel. She rolls up the window, then realizes I’m actually going to try to give her directions, and I stumble through them twice. I hope I haven’t accidentally directed her into one of the endless traffic loops you can get caught on passing 7th Street. She’s amused when I tell her to look for the suburban mall in the middle of the city, but she nods with recognition when I mention fountains. You’re awesome, she says and she and her companions drive away.

Not quite drippy, but thoroughly damp, I make my way to the MetroTransit Store, relieved to see the familiar bus sticking out of the building. It is three blocks further down Marquette than I originally remember. I reactivate my Go-To card, the bus pas that saves me the hassle of scrambling for change or dealing with expired short-term passes, and after a brief and friendly exchange with a guy behind me – for some reason I feel the need to tell him, too that my umbrella broke – I wander into the elevators to the Skyway. I think I know my way around, but I’ve forgotten most of my standard landmarks and despite passing all sorts of familiar things, I wind up eight blocks away in the Thrivent Lutheran Financial Building. A wandering business man takes pity on me (or fears the woman mumbling to herself) and directs me back the way I came. I end up seeing patches of Skyway I never have before. I am also hot, and sweaty, so I take off my overcoat and drape it over my bag. Just past the Roanoke building, the coat falls off. A woman calls my attention to it, and as I go back, a youngish man in a business suit is already picking it up. He gives it to me with a genuine smile.

I hear a lot of conversation snippets as I wander the skyways. They are crowded for 10 am, and I wonder how many of these people are calling “meetings” just to get in what out of office time they can. A group of students are talking about balancing their work and family lives in the St. Olaf building lobby. I turn the corner in a building further out in the Skyway I don’t know, just off the International Center, and for a moment, it’s creepy and silent. As I move from grey marble to faux wood paneling, the noise returns. A see a lot of women wearing capri shorts or gauchos over hose with spike heels. I’m sure they feel fashionable, but no matter what size the woman, it looked awful even though I saw some really neat hose patterns. I hear a group of 20-something men and women talking about the weather and how it will affect their weekend plans; I also notice more packs of moving, young, mixed gender office cliques. I never see such packs among older employees. As I pass through the government center, I hear a lawyer talking about something that happened in a deposition, and watch an angry young man pace with his cell phone stuck to his ear, swearing about having to pay $70.

At last I find my way to the to the lone ATM on the skyway that will not charge me a fee. I extract my cash, cringe at the balance, and go to the City Center where I got to Marshall’s and dig up an umbrella.

It must be raining, a man says to me as he digs through the display beside me.

Yeah, my umbrella broke. I grin. Now I’m trying to find an umbrella embarrassing enough that my boyfriend won’t swipe it. I hold up a grey floral/paisley deal. This might work. I finally find a compact, hot pink umbrella. Now this will work.

My bin buddy agrees with me. It’s pink and it’s small. Most guys won’t.

The new Marshall’s set up forces people to wind their way through ropes to a long counter. Behind it sits a lone blond girl, staring off into space. I greet her, and she immediately starts telling me about her life. I’ve had to open and close for the last 3 days. She’s not a full time employee – they carefully keep her at 39.9 hours. She has no health insurance. I don’t ask, but I get the impression that she has a child to supprt.

What’s your schedule?

7 am to 7 pm. And I don’t get home until 9:30.

Yikes. Do you live in the suburbs?

Well, yeah, I live in St. Louis Park. I have to walk home.

That’s one hell of a walk. St. Louis Park is a nearby suburb – from downtown to its outskirts, it’s about five miles. If she lives further into the suburb, in the lower rent housing, that could be up to ten miles.

With what I make, it’s not worth the $1.50.

You know, I say, I know in the short run it won’t save you much, but transit passes are tax deductible.

She writes it down so she can look into it when she gets home.

Two farmer’s market stands are still out despite inclement weather. At one, I buy tomatoes, oranges and strawberries. At the other, I buy pink baby roses. The florist short changes me, and I can see she knows she did it – she takes my 5, and then doesn’t take anything from her pack.

I won’t be buying from her again.

My belt keeps dropping off my overcoat. People smoking outside the City Center point it out to me first. One is a large blonde woman, and I can tell from the way she’s smiling and yelling that she’s hoping for my embarrassment. I can tell from the way the East Indian men who are smoking next to her are looking at me, that she’s done this before, and they’re waiting fearfully for some reaction from me that never comes. Thanks, I call as I keep moving. I do try to tie the belt at my waist.

A short black girl comes up beside me, smiles and says hi. It startles me, and I drop the black zipped pouch that has my train pass. She apologizes for scaring me, and tells me my belt has come undone. I pull it out of its loop.

I guess I’ll just take the damn thing off. Even though I swear, I say it without rancour. We both smile – clothing really does malfunction sometimes.

On the train ride back, I have a seat to myself and upon exiting the train I wait only moments before the number 8 bus pulls up. It’s just me and a gregarious black man as passengers; the black man tells the driver he wouldn’t be there, but his ride flaked out on him.

I almost miss my stop. There’s no one to pick up, which is unusual on a Thursday.

At least it’s not cold, the driver says to me as I unboard.

Not today, I tell him. It’s going to get colder over the weekend. I had overheard multiple discussions about it getting even colder through the weekend.

No, it won’t. He shuts the door and drives off.

I look forward to the weekend to see if the driver is a prognosticator or in denial.