On the second day in the Twin Cities, members of the Passport Express set out in small groups to explore various parts of the area.

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During the previous day, the group had been introduced to the history of the city and had had the chance to meet many of its residents at an Instameet and subsequent reception at Nina’s Cafe, a Saint Paul staple. So before leaving the Twin Cities, there were many conversations to continue, recommendations to check out, and people to meet up with. Below are snippets of a few of the passengers’ days, and what they experienced here in the upper mid west before congregating for a late lunch at Hola Arepa.

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Words by: Danielle Elliot

Mat Rick and I started the day with a run through St. Paul, eventually ending up on Summit Avenue. The street features pre-eat mansions. It’s on a ridge overlooking the Mississippi River. One of the houses caught my eye, so we stopped for a picture. As I started to take a panoramic, a man popped up out of nowhere. We both started to apologize for intruding (we were standing on his front walk), but he wasn’t even slightly upset. Instead, he invited us in for a tour. We practically leapt at the offer, soon learning that it was the oldest house on the historic block, had once been the mayor’s house, and that the man living there now has owned it since 1989. He walked us through every room: the office that once hosted city meetings, the elegant dining room, up the grand staircase, past the claw foot tubs, into a light filled parlor and six bedrooms. The house is 13,000 square feet in all. It’s stunning. The best part, though, was randomly meeting a man so excited to share his story, all because we stopped to take a photo of his house.

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Words by: Sionnie LaFollette

Lakewood Garden Mausoleum. Its rose gardens, manicured landscaping, architectural symmetry, and the way the light spills into each room make it a draw for photographers. The combination of white marble walls and large picture windows produce an enchanting quality of light and for a moment you forget where you are; you forget that these walls are different. These walls are etched with names and years, and the span and complexity of a life exists in the brevity of a hyphen.

Like a title on the spine of a book, each name a person and inside, a collection of stories woven together to sum up a life. A physical existence reduced to a square on a grid; placed on a shelf between other books and other stories, each equally worthy of being read.

I walked down the long hall to leave. I caught a glimpse of a woman, arm extended, reaching for a plaque. Her presence felt small in that room. She carried a heaviness and purpose into this space that I didn’t, and an innocent exploration of light suddenly felt inappropriate. Just out of sight, I stood there staring at the ground, questioning what was required of me in such a moment. When my feet found movement, I entered.

I sat next to her in silence. Ignoring the feeling of the self-perceived imposition rising in my throat.

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“Who are you visiting?” A parent. A husband perhaps.
“My son,” she said. Taken aback by her answer, our eyes met, and she wept and I unexpectedly wept with her.

Together we sat and she told me a handful of stories of what he was like as a kid, the trouble that followed him, the adventures that shaped his adult years, and about the things he loved. “We had a garden together,” she said. “He always liked the common flowers. Sunflowers, carnations, and daisies…but sunflowers, those were his favorite,” and pointed to a humble vase of sunflowers she brought him. She pulled at the pin on her sweater. “This is Kevin. My boy.” Even to a woman in her seventies, her grown adult son will always be “her boy.”

She was right, although his physical body has been reduced to a box and placed carefully behind marble, this was Kevin; a photo of how she remembered him; smiling, before leukemia, pinned to her shirt, and living in the stories she continues to share with imposing, curious strangers.

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Words by: Fran Tirado

Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes, but more exactly, the state is host to 11,842 of them. At our St. Paul Instameet, we met someone born-and-raised there who recommended that we visit Lake of the Isles specifically, citing it as a quintessential picnic point for every Minnesotan child. He said the lake was a place he would jog every week, mostly visited by locals and their dogs. Needless to say, we were sold.

Without researching much about the lake, a handful of us shuttled over to a drop-off point and found a quiet dive dock by the water without a soul nearby. For a precious hour, we dipped our feet in the water and admired the geese while speedboat fishers floated by. A few of us braved the cool waters for a swim while others vouched for taking photos, filming, or sketching. As lunchtime approached, we left the scene feeling as if we’d all taken a collective breath in in what was the quietest moment of our trip so far.

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Words by: Pei Ketron

Making meaningful connections with locals

At Tuesday evening’s Instameet, I sparked up a conversation with a man wearing a Spyhouse Coffee t-shirt solely because I recognized the name of the coffee shop from a previous visit to Minnesota. I learned that the man, Isaiah, works at the shop, but also does freelance photography gigs on the side. We ended up speaking at length about photography goals and freelance questions, some of the very things that have become major themes over the course of our time on the train. It turns out that our meet was Isaiah’s first ever Instameet and he was fascinated by our journey and what brought us all together.

Isaiah and I connected again today when a group of us stopped by Spyhouse. Coffee was on him with the promise of another chat over coffee when he’s visiting my home city with his wife in a few months. It’s amazing the connections that can be made with 48-hours in a city.

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Words by: Phil Martin

Today, I was able meet several people who are also on the autism spectrum. I was able to sit down and talk with them about growing up with autism. Those were 4 of the sweetest souls had ever met. I felt the closest connection with TJ and Madison. TJ has an amazing knowledge of public safety and rail vehicles. TJ struggles with people taking advantage of him- something that I also struggle with, and Madison finds obstacles in maintaining a healthy adult relationship. Meeting them was one of the best moments of this trip.

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The evening was spent at WA Frost, enjoying a fine meal while waiting for the next train. After the initial arrival in Washington DC, and stops in Chicago and the Twin Cities, the group was visibly excited to get out of the city and into the wild. They all knew that the following day entailed a train ride through some of the last untamed country in America, that they’d be falling asleep in a lodge in the saloon town of Whitefish Montana, and that there were vast mountain vistas and deep woods on the agenda. Glacier National Park awaited them, and a heightened sense of adventure swept them all back aboard the Passport Express, lighting and thunder crashing around the train as it sped towards through the Dakotas and towards Montana.

Come along for the ride.

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