Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Skyway to Narnia (Laura)

Photo by Stephen Burgdorf
In fifth grade, I went with my class to the Festival of Nations at the Minneapolis Convention Center. I don't remember much, except that I was dressed up and clinging to my mom. I don't even know why she was there. Maybe I just imagined her. I recall that I kept looking at the floor, so different from the elementary school's. It was a grownup's domain with boring carpeting, endless rooms and many, many feet in fancy shoes. It was a big world.

I didn't know that twenty years later, after moving away from my mom and family to come back to Minnesota, I would be working in Minneapolis and returning to the Convention Center for a writers conference.

During the months leading up to the spring conference, I took walks with coworkers. Every Thursday, our small team had a scheduled meeting, and we started using the time to walk the Minneapolis skyways and talk professional development and opportunities for writers and editors around the Cities. We worked for an academic publication and all secretly (not so secretly) wanted to work with books.

Nearly every day, even now, I walk the skyways on my own. To get hot cocoa, doughnuts, to chat with friends. But mostly just to walk. I stay close and see the same hallways, shops, and escalators all the time. The hour-long team meetings were different. We ventured places I haven't been able to find again even though I've tried. Few others I have accidentally come across, and it felt like stumbling onto a magic time, a special world. Just as it did when I walked with my coworkers--my friends. Lost in our conversations about the pitch conference in town or the next Loft event or what we would do if we got the right break. What that break would look like. In a corporate city, above the busiest business streets, we got lost in the skyways. I got lost. Crossing through semi-hidden passageways that smelled like old buildings and reminded me of Chicago. Over the light rail, with a view of the Municipal Building clock tower and the torn-down stadium. Running through parking garages in subzero temperatures when a skyway abruptly ended. Staring at hotels with grand corridors, stairways, lobbies, restaurants. Bright lighting. And dim lighting over a fireplace the length of a bus.

I don't know where any of those places were, but we found them many times. The accidental background to the world we made when we stepped outside the business tower. Maybe I just imagined them. As we'd walk, I'd look down at the floors. The grownup carpeting. But it was just us in the business hours. Most people were working.

One day we found the Convention Center. I remembered it from my childhood and wanted to find it again on my own, and I tried a couple of times. I even thought I knew where the magic entrance was that opened up a set of paths I never came across in my daily walks. But I was lost from it. I went to what I thought was the right building. I went to the many hallways, but I knew them all. Then I learned about the conference coming to the Convention Center and knew I wanted to find it again. I tried and got further this time but still got lost--stuck halfway in--and could only turn back. Once again my team found it, together. Maybe I'm better at daydreaming than directions, or maybe I just needed my friends to help me find the way.

The day of the conference came, and I had the choice to take the bus a couple blocks from the Convention Center and walk in the rain. Or I could take the bus to my tower--and follow the skyways.

I got off at my usual stop, my heart beating in my throat because it was not a usual day. Instead of taking my normal hallways, I turned the other direction. I found the magic entrance that took me away from my world and into another one, at first fumbling through the rush hour foot traffic. I looked down at the grownup carpeting and the many grownup feet in fancy shoes. I was not with my fifth grade class this time. I was not with my mom. I took a wrong turn. It seemed right because I'd been there with my team. I changed direction and found the way--the one past the pizzeria, the scone shop, and the florist. Through the hotel with the swirled royal blue carpeting with red and gold diamonds on it and the brass conference room door handles. Then, yes, different people, with different shoes that were not so grownup. With book bags. Groups walking together, talking, acknowledging each other. Not with curt nods and handshakes and business voices, but with laughter and chatter and excitement. These were my people. I had found my way.

Later that spring, my team changed, and we never went back to the skyways. We have new adventures now, but I still miss our walks. Just like I miss my mom and sometimes wish she were here to hold my hand when I'm around the grownup shoes.

I will always be grateful to them for giving me the magic skyways.

Have you ever unexpectedly stumbled across a beautiful place and never seemed to be able to find it again?



  1. Beautiful post, Laura! I walked the skyways quite a bit when I worked downtown, it really is an adventure! I love the idea of your team having meetings while wandering the skyways, especially since you were discussing writing! I often have trouble finding places again, I think in large part because my imagination tends to make my recollections a little different from reality :)

    1. Thank you, Laurie! I didn’t know you use to work downtown. We might have crossed paths!


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