Monday, February 29, 2016


Last September I was playing around on Travelocity (yeah, I do that) and happened on an unbelievable airfare for a non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Minneapolis: $135 round trip. I thought it might be a mistake, but no, when I clicked through to purchase, it said $135 in the "Pay this" box.

My sister Angie lives near Minneapolis, and I had been checking the fares occasionally over the last few years. I never saw one that was less than $300. What could we do? We HAD to go, so we booked a flight for early October. As luck would have it, we got an incredibly good deal on a rental car as well: $107 for five days through Costco Travel and Alamo. Then I found a place to park near LAX for $48 (Fox Auto Park). All totaled up, that was $425 for our flights, our rental car, and our off-site airport parking in Los Angeles. I'm telling you, the stars were aligned in our favor! (Well, except for the additional $60 baggage fee, but more on that later.)

Our flights were on Spirit Airlines, a company we had not flown with before. I had heard it was a discount airline, similar to Southwest.

Not even close.

It's not that I wasn't grateful for the cheap flight, but Southwest is all about customer service (free bags, free change fees, free drinks and snacks) and Spirit Airlines is all about keeping the cost low by charging for everything, and I mean everything. Still, Spirit has a wonderful sense of humor. For example, check out the stretchy things that created the long line for check-in:

It was good I'd done a bit of research ahead of time and knew that we should have our boarding passes with us when we got in line. It would have cost $10 at the check-in desk if the attendant had to do it for us.

Also, the only free carry-on is something the size of a purse or a computer case or perhaps a very small back pack. If you haven't paid in advance, you'll be paying $55 each way for that carefully chosen carry-on that fits most airlines' size requirements for a free bag.
If you pay when you book your ticket, a carry-on costs $35 each way and a checked bag costs $30. That's right; a checked bag is cheaper than a carry-on. Bob and I decided to share a checked bag, but then when it came right down to it, we decided for an extra $60 we wouldn't have to deal with each other's stuff, and even with the extra fee our tickets cost less than $200 round-trip, which was still half of what we would be paying on any other airline, so we pre-paid for two bags. (Paying at the airport, of course, costs a lot more: $100/person for the round trip.)

On our way to the gate, I stopped to enjoy this intriguing installation. It looks like a flock of birds:
. . . but up close I could see it was a fleet of paper airplanes made from the pages of books, newspaper, and other kinds of paper:

Speaking of planes, this is our plane (or our plane's relative). I really like the spunky yellow, a color used for everything related to the Spirit Airlines:

I get this, and it's not a bad idea, but shouldn't at least a carry-on be included in a traveler's fare? Who flies somewhere with just a purse? 

Want a soda or bottle of water? It's $3 on Spirit. That's about a 600% mark-up from the grocery store price, but probably comparable to what you pay in the terminal.

We were happy to land in Minneapolis and get out of our cramped seats (another way they cut costs). Did you know Charles Schulz is from Minnesota? There is a sweet, somewhat unusual, tribute to him in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport:

We picked up our rental car and headed toward Mall of America, where we were planning to meet up with my sister. We got our first view of Minnesota's opulent autumn on our way:

The Mall of America is the largest mall in the United States; its 4,870,000 square feet cover 96.4 acres. Each year over 40 million people shop in its 500+ stores, or about eight times the population of Minnesota.

We got to the mall a little early, before my sister arrived and before the stores were open, and yet there was already a line of people waiting for the Apple store to open. Incredible.

We spent about an hour wandering around the mall, and I think we saw about 1/100th of it.

I was impressed by the Lego Store. Our kids were always obsessed with Legos, and they would have loved this back in the day:

A 34-foot-tall Lego robot watched our comings and goings:

Meanwhile, a life-sized Lego Storm Trooper scared off shoplifters:

Even the art on their walls was made of Legos:

I've never been to a mall that has an indoor amusement park:

Sponge Bob, another one of my kids' favorites:

An indoor roller coaster? Wow!
The amusement park includes a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ride, more of my kids' favorite characters. They would have LOVED this place:

There is no way to do this mall justice in a short post, but here's a smattering of some interesting things we saw.  For just $524, you could own the world's most impressive Swiss army knife. You would never need to buy another tool and/or knife again:

It's just impossible to walk past this store and not read the name out loud:

A Peeps store? How cool is that!

Yeah, I wish I'd bought one of these t-shirts:
I think on our next visit to Minnesota, we need to plan for a full day at the mall. Hmm . . . I'm guessing that will have to be a trip I make WITHOUT Bob. Of course, we didn't really visit the food court. Angie, is there anything weird in the mall's food court? We may get back there sooner if there is.

For some reason David Michaelis's 2007 biography of Charles Schulz entitled Schulz and Peanuts has really affected me. I'm about half-way through, but I have been very moved by Schulz's lonely, somewhat melancholy childhood (he was an only child in a family that didn't communicate much to begin with) and his struggle with feelings of inadequacy. This isn't just another quiet-boy-who-perseveres-makes-it-big story, but rather the story of a young boy whose weaknesses in a very real way become the foundation of his success.

Details of Schulz's life are very interesting: his boyhood in Minnesota (where he was known universally as "Sparky"), his desire from a very young age to be a cartoonist and early attempts to break into the art world, the wrenching death of his mother from cervical cancer, his service in World War II (he was part of the team that liberated Dachau), and so on. As he covers these timelines, Michaelis references events and people in Schulz's life that would later appear in his famous "Peanuts" comic strips, including his dogs Snooky and Spike who together became Snoopy. While Schulz actually had a friend named Charlie Brown, it is clear that Charlie Brown is Schulz's alter-ego, making the strip that much more poignant.

This book has piqued my curiosity about the man behind the most successful and most influential comic strip ever. I have put the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California, on my "Places to Go" list.

(Note: This book has been somewhat controversial, especially with Schulz's family, and I can certainly understand why. Especially when he gets to the "success" period of Schulz's life, and also in writing about family and marriage problems, the author interprets events and motivations in ways the Schulz family does not agree with. The book has also been criticized for trying just a bit too hard to tie events and people in the artist's life to his comic strip, Whether it is all completely accurate or not, it is still a fascinating portrait of a complex man.)


  1. Spirit Airlines is a "no" for me unless we ever find another incredible, incredible bargain. Lots of screaming kids, much more than usual, as well as the over-the-top pricing strategies. I loved Minnesota, but the love did not begin with Mall of America. I'm looking forward to your getting to the good stuff.

  2. Yeah, I think you get what you pay for. I'm really tired of cramped airplanes, no where to put even a small carry-on and the million and one ways they've figured out a way to charge you for the air you breathe. Looking forward to the real Minnesota!

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