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July 4, 2012 / Jim Fenton

Mississippi River Day 1: Going with the Flow

Stone Bridge

Stone Bridge Crossing the Mississippi

Very appropriately, the clock radio played Arlo Guthrie’s rendition of “City of New Orleans” as we awoke this morning.

Our vacation trip this year is a classic road trip. We’re starting in Minneapolis and driving down the Mississippi to New Orleans. We will be diverting a bit on either side of the river to see things and people we want to see, so we will not see the whole thing. But we hope to get a sense of the cultural changes as one follows the flow of the river.

Minneapolis is, of course, not the source of the Mississippi. The source is also in Minnesota, at Lake Itasca, near Bemidji. But we decided that it wasn’t worth it to drive four hours in each direction just to say that we had been there.

I have a bit of trepidation about the weather forecast for this trip. The central and eastern US are in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave. The high in Minneapolis is 101 degrees today, and I wonder what sort of severe weather might be in store as the heat breaks. But we live in a time when air conditioning is common. It’s not like when I was a child and my family drove across Kansas in a non-air-conditioned car when it was 104 degrees out.

We flew to Minneapolis via Denver, and upon arriving, rented our car for the trip. I need to be more mindful of those hidden rental car fees, like the $10/day to add my wife as a second driver, when I shop for rental cars. Our rental car is a small SUV, a Jeep Liberty, which is the right size for us but seems a little unrefined. It’s also black, which is likely to be uncomfortable in this hot weather. For our first two nights, we chose a hotel close to the Mississippi, both in keeping with the theme of the trip, and because there is a fireworks display there this evening.


Minneapolis fireworks

We walked across the river at the 3rd Avenue bridge, and had a quick (and excellent) dinner at Wilde Roast Cafe before heading to Father Hennepin Park for the fireworks. They were well executed, attracting a huge crowd on both sides of the river. What I found notable was that the audience was a melting pot. Despite the Midwest image of being composed of uniformly white Europeans, there were people of a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds, speaking many languages, all there to celebrate the birth of our nation.

As I have done for the past two years, I’m keeping a journal of our summer vacation and plan to publish it, delayed by a couple of weeks, on this blog. Watch for daily installments over the next 16 days.

Mississippi River crossings today: 2 (on foot)

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