In the summer of 2013–while underemployed and strapped for cash–I took a gig pouring beer for one of the vendors at the Minnesota State Fair. The job was rewarding enough that I have continued working every summer, even though my employment situation has improved since 2013. This summer is my sixth year working the Minnesota State Fair, and my fourth year commuting to and from the Fairgrounds via bicycle and bus (car-free).
What follows is a glimpse into my first day of the Minnesota State Fair in 2018:
The day began at my apartment in Golden Valley the evening before the first day of the fair, when I prepped for Thursday morning. The most important prep task is packing my backpack* with the essentials. After I packed everything, I emptied my backpack and repacked it, to be sure I had remembered everything. Then I laid out cycling clothes for the next morning and plugged my portable phone charger into an outlet to charge overnight. Pulling off the commute between both jobs leaves little margin for error and I have learned over the past four years I make my mornings simpler when I prepare everything possible the evening before.
My alarm clock rang at 6:00am on the first day of the fair and, after couple rounds hitting snooze, I crawled out of bed and started the day. I added the refrigerated portion of my lunch to the lunch bag, grabbed the portable phone charger from the outlet and then unpacked and re-packed my backpack a second time to be sure I had not forgotten anything. At 6:45am I left my apartment and started the daily 5.8 mile bicycle commute west on the Luce Line to my job in Plymouth.
I worked at my regular job until a few minutes after 3:00pm, clocked out and changed from my work clothes to my State Fair uniform. After biking nearly a mile to a bus stop outside the TCF Corporate offices on the corner of County Road 6 & Xenium Lane in Plymouth, I boarded the route 747 bus at 3:30pm and rode east towards downtown Minneapolis. My plan was to transfer to the 960 State Fair Express bus downtown to finish my journey to the fairgrounds. Traffic back-ups on 394 slowed the route 747 bus though and I missed the 4:00pm connection with the 960 State Fair Express bus. My only remaining option which would guarantee arriving at work on time was to bike from downtown Minneapolis to the fairgrounds.
Anyone who has biked to the state fair from Downtown or South Minneapolis understands the risks involved. Streets.mn author Janne Flisrand wrote about this four years ago, and her words remain accurate in 2018. I have never been late for a state fair shift and I was not going to make the first day of this year’s fair my first time being late, so I jumped off of the route 747 bus at 2nd & Washington, weaved through rush hour traffic to the Dinkytown Greenway and continued east until I reached the UofM Transitway. Dodging buses and braking for automobile drivers who forsake the rules of the road during the state fair, I rode until I arrived at the corner of Como & Snelling at 4:40pm–20 minutes early for my shift.
After a quick 5 hour, 45 minute shift pouring beer at the fair and a half-hour enjoying my complimentary shift beer afterward, I walked back to the bike corral on the corner of Como & Snelling at 11:20pm and retrieved my bicycle. Because it is almost impossible to bike to the fair then ride an express bus when you leave the fair (without leaving your bike behind), I was forced to choose between riding the A-Line bus to the Green Line LRT or taking the route 3 bus for my trip to downtown Minneapolis. I chose the route 3 bus and arrived in downtown MInneapolis three blocks behind the route 14 bus I needed to catch. After following for several blocks, it became clear we were never going to catch up to the route 14 bus (and the route 14 bus driver was not responding the route 3 bus driver’s transfer request), so I got off of the route 3 bus at 2nd Ave, hopped on my bike and raced to Nicollet before turning north and heading to Washington. I was fortunate to catch all green lights and rolled into the route 14 bus stop in front of Whole Foods at the corner of Hennepin & Washington thirty seconds before the route 14 bus arrived.
As I sat down on the route 14 bus at 11:40 pm and exhaled, raindrops began to fall against the bus windshield. As the rain intensified, the route 14 bus made its way north along West Broadway until reaching the 36th Avenue bus stop in Robbinsdale. I got off the bus at the 36th Avenue stop and put on my raincoat, as lightning flashed above Maple Grove and Plymouth. Racing the approaching storm, I rode west on 36th Avenue across Highway 100 then turned south at Douglas for the final stretch home. The storm blew north though and the rain ceased before I arrived home at 12:20am.
After stowing my bike in the bike locker I walked into my apartment, cracked a beer and began repeating the process from the night before.
One day down, eleven more to go.
Note: image does not reflect bus & bike time after midnight on Thursday evening/Friday morning.
- Biking: 16 miles/1 hour, 12 minutes
- Busing: 25.3 miles/1 hour, 23 minutes
- At Work: 13.75 hours
- Drinking Beer: 34 minutes
*My backpack during the State Fair is packed with:
- Work clothes (regular job)
- Work uniform (State Fair job)
- Rain gear (rain was in the weather forecast for late-Thursday night)
- Bicycle repair kit
- Air pump
- Sinus medication
- Lightning cable for my phone
- Portable charger
- Ticket to the fair
- Extra pair of socks
- Non-refrigerated lunch contents
- Annual novel I read while commuting to and from the Fairgrounds (this year it is There, There by Tommy Orange)
- Headphones (to mute the drunken revelers on the bus ride home at the end of the evening)
I beg to differ.
Thanks for sharing your story, Tim. It sounds harrowing! I could never be that committed to biking (plus, I would die).
Oh, I see T’s comment was deleted. Good.
Thanks for sharing this Tim.
Whoa, that is one organized guy. But, seriously, Tim, society owes you better bike infrastructure (and bus priority). You’re amazing.
Wow, what a day. I’m exhausted thinking about it!!