Hannah Goes Fishing

A Fishing (and more) Blog

My Trip to the Tropical Midwest: Prairie Home Companion Edition

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On our way!
A few weeks ago during my trip to Southeast Alaska, I received a mysterious text from the KUAC 89.9 FM station manager, LN.  I am a semi-regular volunteer with the radio station, harkening back to when I first made radio a hobby by interning with the news department at KBBI AM890 in Homer.  I love radio, and LN has been wonderful about giving me frequent opportunities to host volunteer shows and operate the board during planned programming at KUAC.  A text from her isn’t too uncommon, but it came in late at night and read, “Call me for some exciting news!”   Huh.
I read the text out loud to Tom while puzzling over what possible exciting news LN could have for me.  Tom immediately thought of the KUAC trip give-away and said, “you won!”  For those of you who aren’t local to Fairbanks, KUAC has a yearly pledge drive during which they give away two roundtrip tickets to Saint Paul, Minnesota to see A Prairie Home Companion live from on-stage seats.  You also get to meet the cast, eat dinner with the cast and crew, and enjoy a once in a lifetime VIP experience viewing a public radio icon up close and personal.  The idea of having won this incredible trip was exhilarating, but there was a problem. Someone else had already been drawn as the lucky winner.  I logged on to the KUAC Facebook page and noticed the most recent post was a photo of an intern drawing a NEW winner, whose name had yet to be announced.  Tom and I looked at each other and, heart pounding wildly with geeky public radio excitement, I dialed my manager. 
Navigating the public transport system
A brief conversation later, I had received incredible news: I was the new winner of the give-away!  Much squealing and cries of disbelief ensued, and three weeks later this past Thursday I found myself rushing around trying to pick out an outfit suitable to wear in front of such an auditory legend as Mr. Garrison Keillor.  Early Friday morning, Tom and I boarded the red eye out of chilly Fairbanks (we’re experiencing a -55 F cold snap) bound for Minneapolis via a brief stop in Seattle.   We arrived in the Midwest around 6pm, and promptly got lost by going to the wrong hotel (apparently there’s more than one Hilton Garden Inn between the Twin Cities).  After sorting ourselves out with the help of some very sympathetic Minnesotans, we found some supper and got to bed early.   At least we got to try out their exceptional public transport system!  Fairbanks really needs a light rail.

Human brain!

The next morning, we set out with big plans to explore the downtown area on foot and visit the Minnesota State Science Museum.  Rumor (and their website) had it that the museum was currently hosting The Human Body Exhibit, which features real human organs and razor thin dissections of a whole human body allowing the viewer to see a layer of our delicate selves.  Definitely something we couldn’t pass up.  Downtown Saint Paul is an absolutely wonderful spot, and we happened to catch it during their annual Winter Carnival featuring ice carvings, snow sculptures, and unexplained men wearing capes riding around on antique fire trucks yelling “Vulcans!” (not sure what the story is with that last one).  The ice carvings were nice and somewhat intricate, but Tom and I agreed that they didn’t hold much of a candle to Fairbanks’s own. 


The Science Museum was spectacular.  Not only did they have many wonderfully preserved human parts on display, but they also hosted a number of other interesting exhibits ranging from Mississippi River culture and history to early child development to an incredible dinosaur skeleton and fossil display.  Each exhibit was generously labeled and fully interactive.  I was especially impressed by how each exhibit seemed to be designed to appeal to all age groups and, judging by the number of children present, the museum is accomplishing their goal of community engagement exceptionally well.  The dinosaurs were especially cool, and we spent much of our visit gushing over fossils, skeleton mounts, and neat displays where you could actually touch and compare ancient bone to more recently deceased critters. 
Tom experimenting with weather patterns

Perhaps the most wonderful feature was the Collection Corner, where children (and those that are kids at heart) can bring in their natural wonders (one kid was trading in a turtle shell while we were there) and demonstrate to the staff their personal knowledge of their specimen.  The staff member then awarded the kiddo points for their knowledge, and points could be used to trade for all kinds of neat things like bones, shells, rocks, antlers, precious metals, fossils… just about anything you can find in Minnesota.  The collection itself was really interesting to behold, and I thought it to be a great way to engage kids in learning about their environment and allowing them to have personal “collections” at home.  Very cool.

Our own visit to the museum ended with just one example of their attention to creativity, engagement, and excellent use of their space.  We descended (and then re-ascended, and descended again) a staircase in the back of the building to return to the exit and found that each step had been transformed into a musical instrument by breaking a beam of light with your foot.  Essentially, musical piano stairs.  We and everyone else using the stairway delighted in our musical compositions and left the museum feeling joyously entertained and slightly more educated than when we arrived.  I could on for pages more about some of the other things we enjoyed there, but I leave it at this: should you find yourself visiting Saint Paul, put the Minnesota State Science Museum on your list.
Looking out on Saint Paul

All in all, Saint Paul is a pretty neat city.  It’s diverse, has a feeling of being a city with real history (or at least history that isn’t permanently frozen), has a great public transportation system, and lots of neat things to do.  I’ve never spent any time in the Midwest, but Saint Paul (or at least the downtown portion we saw) makes a pretty good argument for America’s breadbasket as a vacation destination. 

Stay tuned for my part II and the main event of this story: Homer -The Lake Wobegone of Alaska.

One thought on “My Trip to the Tropical Midwest: Prairie Home Companion Edition

  1. It took me 29 years to get there but I was also at the jan 28th PHC show and wished I could have met you. I called Fairbanks home for 5 years (came to view and photograph auroras) and returned to Minnesota this past October to visit family. I first heard PHC in 1983 in Homer Alaska and have always dreamed of seeing the show live and decided after all those years it was finally time to get down to the Fitzgerald theater. It was an exciting and memorable evening. Warren GammelCurrently residing inClearwater Minnesota

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