It took me leaving to understand how Saint Paul is perceived by those who have never seen it. It’s Midwestern and boring. It’s Canadian and located somewhere in the middle. These ideas helped shape my own, but before I left, I saw us as Saint Paulittes. I saw us as the capital, and it never dawned on me to think of us as just some place in the middle. I couldn’t. Saint Paul was made up of Elm trees, barges and bluffs. Saint Paul was home to the Mississippi and a crooked, desolate downtown. This was our identity. I thought of Saint Paul as a place that no one leaves, which is why we had to. We needed to explore America and become more than who we were.
We were searching for a thought, city, and road, really anything we could wrap our heads around and just starting to figure out what we were going to do with our lives. If that led to less drinking, I would be able to rest easy knowing we made the right move by leaving. Due to a fear of failure, we hadn’t planned where we were going outside of driving west and listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s, America as our departing anthem. We weren’t conforming to what everyone else was doing at 23-24 years old and so we were told we were failures. As much as we didn’t want to admit it, the words were tattooed in our heads, and we needed the trip to be more than we could even imagine or else we might always be perceived as failures. To us, the song represented what Saint Paul wasn’t – change. We were hopelessly in love with change. We were 24 and change was going to be how we found ourselves.
I’ll never forget driving over the Mississippi. The car seemed to pause or maybe it was my mind pausing. Downtown felt inches from me. I felt like I could reach out and touch its old exterior. I saw our Victorian style homes and historic buildings that made the skyline downtown Saint Paul. In every possible way, the city has never and will never change. The State Capitol was standing strong, and barges were set to swim the river. I looked at the barges. They were the only part of Saint Paul to ever leave and now there would be us—I smiled at the thought. America played, Saint Paul’s skyline was small and with a blink of an eye, it no longer existed. “And off we walked to look for America.” It would take me years to think of Saint Paul as home.
Kevin Finley is a seasoned book publicist who’s been fortunate to work with many well- respected clients from both the book and film sides of the business. He is also a writer and currently finishing his first book, “Goodnight Saint Paul … Hello L.A”., which will be published by Think Piece in the spring. Other credits include the Saint Paul Almanac, Some Places to Disappear, METRO magazine, Outside in Literary & Travel and The Laois Nationalist. You can check more of his PR work at www.finleypr.com