I moved to the Twin Cities in 1989 from northern Virginia, after a very brief stint in Bismarck. The first thing I remember seeing upon my arrival, looming beneath the gorgeous Minneapolis skyline, were the stooped white shoulders of the Metrodome.
I wasn’t smitten, exactly. Intrigued is more like it. The Dome hung under the sky, puffy without seeming lofty. It didn’t overwhelm. It held my attention like a benign white whale. And from that point on, it formed part of the backdrop of my life in Minnesota.
For seven years, as a newswoman for the Associated Press, I worked under the Dome’s lumbering shadow, right across the street.
Appropriately utilitarian, the stadium held an unpretentious Midwestern charm. Its steady presence comforted me like the cordial, shambling neighbor you’d see walking by with his dog every morning.
I didn’t realize how much I’d counted on seeing it until it was no longer there.
The Dome and me
When Mikhail Gorbachev visited the state in June 1990, he might as well have been the Pope. While more seasoned colleagues tracked the ex-Soviet leader’s every move from Minneapolis to St. Paul, I joined hundreds of other reporters in the Dome — specifically the Twins outfield — which served that day as the media’s nerve center.
Later, as a sportswriter, I wrote dozens of stories under the Dome’s teflon sky, covering every game imaginable — soccer, baseball, football — from high school on up. Leaving the stadium, there was always that shriek and pull of the wind tunnel before I was spit into the real world again.
The Dome kept me warm and dry before two cold and rainy Twin Cities Marathons. It also kept me sane through many Minnesota winters. On most Tuesday and Thursday evenings between November and March, I happily shelled out a buck for the privilege of stripping down to my T-shirt and shorts near the Twins Fun Zone and running around its dim concourses with a few hundred others.
In the Dome, my eyelashes didn’t frost up and the wind didn’t bite. I didn’t have to worry about slipping on ice. Sure, it smelled like stale hotdogs and I got dizzy running so many circles past signs for pretzels, nachos and beer, but at least it was always 72 degrees inside.
Warmth also came from the camaraderie I found there. One night in the early 1990s, I noticed a handful of fleet-footed women whizzing around the inside wall. Eventually, I found the nerve to ask if I could join them. They were members of the all-female, now sadly defunct Northern Lights Running Club, and they formed the basis of friendships that continue today.
I credit the Dome with those friendships.
I also blame it for chronic back problems that stemmed, I’m sure, from all the miles I ran on its unforgiving cement floor.
I knew the Dome never got any respect. I knew all the nicknames: Marshmallow, Thunderdome, Rollerdome, Humpty Dump, Livestock Hall. But the Dome, at least, was always there when I needed it.
Reduced to rubble
One morning in early 2014, as I exited I-94 and turned right onto 11th Avenue, I suddenly realized the Metrodome roof was deflated again. No, not merely deflated. This time it was gone.
Every time I drove by after that, it seemed another section of Dome was removed. By March, the upper deck bleachers sat exposed, forlorn, until they, too, were razed. Only a pile of rubble remained after that, and soon enough even that was gone.
All the while, the new Vikings stadium was rising up around what remained of the old one.
Right around that time, I began renting a writing studio on Washington Avenue. Outside my south-facing window, orange, yellow and green cranes loomed impossibly high, like humongous, multi-colored pick-up-sticks. (For a while, there were 18 of them.) My once-quiet studio became less peaceful. I began to hear the rhythmic thunk-thunk-thunk of pounding, and echoes of pounding.
The new stadium kept rising, a behemoth of pillars and girders, concrete, steel and glass. Its sloping roof banked upward, toward the west, its gigantic trusses rising to a point like the bow of a warship.
For a while, the structure reminded me of a gigantic ark that washed into town on an epic flood. Now it feels more like something out of Star Wars. A friend compared it to the Sandcrawler, that huge, treaded fortress built to shelter Jawas. I think she’s on to something.
Now, when I drive into Minneapolis from my home in St. Paul, the nearly completed stadium seems to blot out much of the sky. It dwarfs everything around it. The much-maligned Dome wasn’t pretty, but it was modest in its plainness. It didn’t deign to impress, let alone threaten. It always let you know where you stood.
But while the Dome blended seamlessly with the gray winter sky, the colossal new stadium makes no pretense of blending. I lose my bearings whenever I’m near it, as if I’m hit with a mild case of vertigo.
With its semi-transparent roof and glass-laden walls, I’m sure the inside will feel more open and airy and less like a vacuum-packed canister than its predecessor. But when I look out my window now, the stadium’s high black walls take up two-thirds of my view.
I miss my shambling neighbor.
Pamela Schmid is a former staff writer for the Star Tribune and the current nonfiction editor at Sleet, an online magazine. Her stories and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including River Teeth, Tahoma Literary Review and the AARP Bulletin.