I was doing the math in my head yesterday, and this is what I came up with — if you strung together all the hours I’ve spent at the University of Minnesota, and I mean the actual hours on campus, it would come to over three years. I’ve worked at the U for 13 plus years, and it is the only place I’ve really had a permanent, full-time position of any kind. I started out as basically a secretary and with the grit and determination of Horatio Alger hero, climbed my way to the middle. I’m pretty happy in the middle, since I prefer not to work 70 hour weeks and hustle from meeting to meeting.
In any case, the U of M has become a kind of home to me, considering the hours I’ve put in here. It’s a massive, sprawling campus in both Minneapolis and St Paul, and with a little river called the Mississippi running through the Minneapolis version. I work on the oldest part of the camus, “the mall,” a nice arrangement of stately, collegiate, buildings flanking the student union on one end and the auditorium on the other end. The auditorium is frequently used by ex-presidents and Nobel laureates giving speeches, when it’s not being used by dance troupes or rock bands. Dylan played there the night of the election.
Another interesting landmark is the Washington Avenue Bridge, a two-tiered bridge with a covered pedestrian walkway up top and motor traffic below. Student groups paint signs all along the inside, and the outside used to be an object of anthropological fascination for me, with several decades of graffiti in indecipherable layers. About ten years ago it was blasted off and repainted, and has been fairly well maintained ever since, which is a loss to those who like quirkiness better than beauty. We can still enjoy a tree inexplicably laden with old shoes, and students of literary history can map out (as I have done, with a friend) the area where a famous poet took a swan dive, and quietly pay their respects.
My favorite neighborhood used to be Dinkytown, a little market area just off campus to one end featuring consignment stores, coffee shops, and burger joints. On nice days you can go to the deck of Annie’s and enjoy an actual egg cream (which is made with neither eggs or cream) on the sunny deck and watch the old train yard which plays into the name somehow. You can also point out the fancy restaurant that used to be a drug store, and above which a young Robert Zimmerman would teach himself Jimmie Rodgers and Pete Seegar songs before he changed his name to Dylan and moved to New York City. Another touchstone of historical interest is the Dinky Dome, which used to be a bible college, and is where an ernest young spritual pilgrim from Michigan named Jimmy met a cute little Minnesota girl named Tammy, married her, and started a traveling Christian puppet show that went all over the midwest.
If you continue down University Avenue, you’ll see the new stadium being built, the future home of the maddeningly mediocre Golden Gophers football team, who have ached for ages to be big enough for the Big Ten conference where they play. There’s a secret bike path behind the stadium that gets you to the St Paul Campus, the curiously Kafkaesque tumble of buildings and barns where I am today, jotting off a quick blog entry before I get to work for another 13 years.