This year's National Association of Tax Professionals annual conference was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the Hilton Towers. It was my first visit to the "land of 10,000 lakes".
I prefer to fly non-stop if at all possible, but my online research indicated that I would save $150+ going via ATA with a stop each way in Chicago. It turned out that on both ends the plane would be going all the way to my final destination, so when we stopped in Chicago I did not have to change planes, or to even "deplane". On the first leg of the trip, both coming and going, I could spread out, as the middle seat in my aisle of 3 was empty.
The hotel was excellently located in the heart of downtown, diagonally across from Orchestra Hall, and a block from the pedestrian-friendly Nicollet Mall, an 11-block upscale shopping and dining district. It was on Nicollet Mall, in front of the IDS Center office building, that Mary Richards made her famous "hat toss" during the opening credits of the Mary Tyler Moore Show.
After checking into my 7th floor room with a view of the downtown skyline, I explored Nicollet Mall, stopping to listen to a live band concert in Peavy Plaza, which was apparently part of the Minnesota Orchestra's annual "Sommerfest" (no, that is not a typo).
San Antonio, where I was last year, has the Riverwalk. Downtown Minneapolis has the Skywalk, a 5-mile network of privately built and maintained enclosed pedestrian bridges on the second floor level connecting stores, office buildings, theatres, parking structures, and hotels over 50 downtown blocks. I was able to avoid the rain one afternoon by going from 5th St and Nicollet Mall to my hotel at 10th St and Marquette Ave via the Skywalk.
The NATP literature said that Minneapolis is home to a theatre scene second only to New York City. Prior to the trip I had gone to Playbill.com to check out what would be playing during my visit, and purchased tickets for 2 performances online - TRIPLE ESPRESSO at the Music Box Theatre for Wednesday night and HIS GIRL FRIDAY at the Guthrie Theatre for Thursday night.
TRIPLE ESPRESSO is a "highly caffeinated" review combining elements of slapstick and vaudeville created by three solo performers, a musician, a comic, and a magician, as something they could perform as a trio. It premiered in 1996, and has been running at the Music Box since the spring of 1997 with various casts.
During the 25th anniversary of a lounge lizard's run at the Triple Espresso niteclub, the lizard's former partners visit for a reunion of the rather unsuccessful show-biz team of Butternut, Maxwell and Bean.
The show features a bit of audience involvement, with some members introduced as family of the lounge lizard (the couple sitting in front of me was identified as his parents and a girl in the first row as his wife) and a few called onstage to assist the performers. During a bit I was introduced as a college faculty advisor.
When I booked HIS GIRL FRIDAY online I had no idea who was in the cast. Upon arriving at the Guthrie I was pleasantly surprised to find that the show starred real-life spouses Angela Bassett and Courtney Vance. It also featured familiar television faces Reginald Vel Johnson (FAMILY MATTERS) and Peter Michael Goetz.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY is John Guare's (SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION) adaptation of the Howard Hawks movie version of the classic Hecht and MacArthur play THE FRONT PAGE. As in the movie, which starred Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell (and which was updated to television journalism as SWITCHING CHANNELS with Burt Reynolds and Kathleen Turner in 1988), the role of reporter Hildy Johnson is changed from a man to a woman, the ex-wife of editor Walter Burns.
This production, the play's US premiere, is the opening show of the Guthrie's 2005-2006 season, its last season at the current Vineland Ave location, Guthrie's home since 1943. A new facility is currently being built along the Mississippi River.
Despite having ordered the tickets online (HIS GIRL FRIDAY directly from the Guthrie Theatre website and TRIPLE ESPRESSO via Ticketmaster), my seats in both theatres were excellent. Actually, neither theatre really had any bad seats. My ticket for HIS GIRL FRIDAY, certainly a Broadway-quality production with a Broadway-quality cast, was only $46.00, plus a $2.00 "handling fee"! The ticket for TRIPLE ESPRESSO was $31.50, but with various convenience and order processing charges and "additional taxes" the total cost was $41.14.
I could easily walk to the Music Box Theatre, on Nicollet Ave (aka "Eat Street") just south of downtown. I took a taxi to the Guthrie Theatre, and anticipated a queue of taxis waiting when the show was over. Exiting the theatre I was surprised to find there were no taxis, and ended up walking back to the Hilton, over a mile away, using a familiar high-rise building as a landmark.
My Quickfinder 1040 Handbook indicated that the allowable "meal and incidental expense" per diem for Minneapolis was $51.00, which is the highest per diem amount. I had several meals at Harmony's, in the Hilton lobby, which was extremely reasonable - especially for a high-end hotel restaurant. I especially enjoyed their Monte Cristo sandwich and signature Minnesota Wild Rice Soup.
I did dine out one night, al fresco, at Brit's Pub and Eatery, across from Peavy Plaza on Nicollet Mall, enjoying cool breezes, Shepherd's Pie and "Newkie Brown" ale. Brit's also has a roof-top garden with an 11,000-square foot lawn bowling green.
My only disappointment was with the Mall of America. It turned out to be just a mall - a really big mall with an amusement park (Camp Snoopy) in the middle - but nevertheless just a mall. I had hoped there would be more variety in the types of stores, but it pretty much had the same stores as any other mall, just more of them. I found a cat and dog themed store, Bow Wow and Meow, but it was small, with limited inventory, and expensive. There was a Dollar Store, but it had nothing that I couldn't get in a local Dollar Store for the same price. I had set aside too much time, hoping to have dinner at the resident Italian restaurant. But after 2 1/2 hours I was bored and headed back to the hotel.
Getting to the Mall was easy. I walked 5 blocks to the Nicollet Mall light rail stop (Metro Transit Hiawatha Line Route 55), purchased by $1.50 ticket at the machine, and took the 40 minute ride to the last stop, passing the Metrodome and the airport along the way. I made the return trip at 3:30 pm, which is considered to be within the "rush hours", so that ride cost $2.00. Similar to my experience on the Hudson County Light Rail, no one checked my ticket on the trip to the Mall, and I was only checked as we approached my stop on the way back.
Instead of going to the Mall in the afternoon, I should have taken the half-day Twin Cities PM motorcoach tour offered by Metro Connections, or toured Minneapolis on the hop-on, hop-off River City Trolley, and gone to the Mall in the evening for dinner.
Once again I parked my car at VISTA Parking while away. The drop-off and pick-up points at the various terminals had changed, apparently due to security concerns, but the process continued to be smooth and "more better", and cheaper, than queuing up for a taxi. I even found a parking spot across from my apartment back in Jersey City when I returned home at 7:30 pm on Friday!