Most first years talk about how long they’ve been at Macalester like parents talk about the age of a newborn baby. Café Mac is filled with conversations that start with, “We’ve been here for a whole seven weeks!” But the truth is, us Macalester first-years aren’t even seven weeks in, we’re just shy of two months.
But two months sounds so small in comparison to everything that has happened in the sixty plus days. I’ve been thinking about how time can be measured here, other than on a calendar—like in the number of stolen (borrowed) Bon Appétit mugs, Skype sessions home to the parents even bus stops missed at the end of the night.
There are many ways to quantify our time at Macalester. For those of us coming from farther away, across a country or an ocean, it’s also quantified as our time in the Twin Cities, in Minnesota or in the United States. But the “Macalester Bubble” is real, and it’s all too easy to get stuck in the daily routine of campus life.
The best way to get away from campus, also known as nearly the only way to get away from campus, is with public transportation.
“It’s so nice to have public transportation right by campus,” Rachel Gralnek ’20, said. “You can basically go anywhere you want.” And you can, as long as you can decipher the seemingly-random bus numbers, the colors of the train lines, and those random buses that aren’t colors or numbers, but letters.
Maddy Freedman ’20, is from upstate New York, but rarely used public transportation back home. “My first time using public transportation here, I felt a little confused, a little nervous, because there’s a lot happening. There’s a lot of different names for the lines and the buses, so it was pretty overwhelming.”
I felt exactly like Freedman the first time I used public transportation in the Twin Cities. I’m from the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, and I’ve had plenty of experience with buses and trains, but every city is different. Understanding public transportation in a new place, from how to buy a ticket to how to transfer buses, is like learning part of the city’s language.
Luckily, Macalester students can get subsidized bus passes at the information desk, so we don’t have to fumble around with spare dollar bills and quarters at the bus stop. Tap the bus pass on the Go-To platform, and you’re good to go for the next two-and-a-half hours which means you can go to Uptown Minneapolis, Lake Street, the Stone Arch Bridge or even the Mall of America.
The A-Line, which is the bus that you pay for before getting on, can take you straight to Snelling and University, where there is a stop for the Green Line train that can take you from one end of St. Paul to the other end of Minneapolis. The cities are accessible, and being nervous about public transportation shouldn’t stop you from exploring them.
“Travel with a buddy,” recommended Freedman. “Even if they don’t know public transportation well, it’s always nice to have another person there to help you figure stuff out. Be aware of your surroundings and ask the bus driver if you need help.”
Always bring a friend, your bus pass and a charged phone with Google Maps. Like almost everything else, the bus system gets easier with time, so take advantage of the Twin Cities as often as possible. Study in a new coffee shop downtown, eat somewhere other than Café Mac, and remember that being a Macalester student also means that you are a resident of the Twin Cities.