I frankly admit that for my whole adult life, I’ve been a tourist. Not a traveler, mind you — they are far more sophisticated and spend long time periods trying to relax and fit in with the locals. That would be nice, but I’ve never had the time. I want to know what’s available, see the sites and move on to the next adventure. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve learned more about the local sites than the locals. So I was thrilled in 2001 when the editor of Skyway News accepted my proposal to write a “Lunchtime Tourist” column about downtown’s “art, architecture and cultural curiosities.” My first columns were about the Grain Exchange, Peter’s Grill, the frescoes at St. Thomas, the Art Deco women’s restroom (in what was then Marshall Field’s), and the artworks that brightened lobbies and graced downtown’s sidewalks. Early columns were hand-illustrated and included a compass logo. Every destination was followed by a short recommendation on where to have lunch. At one point, someone wrote in and said a group of friends met weekly at the current destination, then had lunch where I suggested. I was thrilled!
Within two years I’d written about 100 destinations. I wrote: “The Lunchtime Tourist officially turns one hundred! When I started writing this two years ago, I wondered how long I’d be able to keep it up. Thanks to the valuable resources at the public library and tips from loyal readers, I hope to continue for at least 100 more.” Then I wrote about hitting 200 and 300 destinations. One of my life’s greatest moments was when I was exiting a downtown parking ramp and the attendant looked up from her paper and said: “You’re the tourist!”
Skyway News transitioned into Downtown Journal then merged with Southwest Journal and my coverage area increased. As the Weekend Tourist, I wrote about parks, museums, railroads, public art, street names, stores, interesting commercial intersections and historic places. I had scavenger hunts and other competitions and occasionally ventured out of the newspaper’s distribution area. Somewhere along the way I lost track of how many made it into print, but it must be 500 or 600. Who would think there’d be that many interesting places nearby? Several times I thought I’d run out of ideas. Then my lists grew longer again.
After 19 years of mostly looking at my city through a tourist’s eye, I firmly believe a person can find inspiration, entertainment and new ideas just by being open to them. There’s something new almost everywhere. Or new to you. Take a different route. Walk. Pick up something you haven’t read before, even a brochure. Look up. Look down. Being a tourist is just looking for things you’d like. We all need more of that these days.
Last week I went to Minnehaha Falls. I’ve gone there since the 1970s when my grandmother took us to Svenskarnas Dag. I’ve been back too many times to count. But as we learn more and get older, we see things differently. And they can change along the way, too. I stood on the bridge overlooking the falls and thought of the times I’d walked along the creek’s bank toward the Mississippi. Gazing down into the water, I noticed sunlight bouncing off hundreds of shiny copper pennies. It was beautiful. And not at all what I expected. I thought of all the wishes people likely made when tossing them in the water.
Thank you, Janis Hall and Terry Gahan, for taking a chance on me. And thank you to my five editors for cleaning up my copy. I never met the designers, but thank you for the beautiful page layouts and for putting up with my own illustrations and maps over the years. Thank you to whoever does the newsstand distribution for not ratting me out for stealing the last of the Skyway News racks that had been forgotten under a staircase in a building not to be named — it proudly resides in my office now. And thank you readers for writing in with your comments, tips and occasional criticism and for allowing me to explore, have a ball and share it all with you. This has been an adventure I’ll never forget.