We'll Always Have White Bear Lake

Who needs Paris when there's haunted mini-golf, moonlight bowling, and a wild, wild river right in your back yard?

I've heard it used to be hip to be square. But that was not in my lifetime. That was in some pre-Travolta, pre-Urban Outfitters world, when hip was the province of the elite. Now that hip is purchasable at every Target and deconstructible from every MTV clip, it's merely square to be square. If you know you're supposed to be wearing platform mules, what are you doing lazing about in espadrilles? Do you think you're some kind of rebel?

So when I tell you I'm staying in the Cities this summer it's not because I don't know what's hip--I do watch E!, and I read travel magazines. I know that the very hippest will spend this summer in bandeau tops hefting their Prada satchels into the hands of Buddhist porters in Tibet in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment and modest weight loss. I know that the also-ran hip, those drudges forced to book tickets in advance, will be kicking their Coach bags around with their Hush Puppies in Madrid and Korea. I know that the most unspeakably unhip will be sweating into their Payless jellies and shifting their recycled duty-free bags around the overhead compartments of economy bus tours in Venice and Paris. I know all this, and I know that at the very bottom of the hipness pyramid there's me, the unrelentingly square. Facing a summer without guidebooks, I won't be able to complain about unwashed Parisians, butt-pinching Romans, or lost luggage; I won't find spiritual enlightenment and I won't lose weight. If you see me dripping dry in public, look for the gloating waiter in the background.

But I don't mind, because while everyone else is exploring the vanguards of travel chic, I'll be knocking around the nooks and crannies of these Cities, where pleasure comes fast and cheap and travel adventure awaits at every step. Think of it as an exploration of the unappreciated: New Yorkers don't go to Broadway shows, Parisians don't go to the Louvre, and Twin Citians don't notice mini-golf, moonlight bowling, or the Mississippi River. All of these things are here, they're near, and they're in their own way precious: There is probably no mini-golf, and definitely no moonlight bowling, in Tibet. If present trends continue, who knows--they may not even be here in 20 years. So make this the summer when you explore the riches of the here and now, and enjoy the absence of hip.

Craig Bares

Stay Putt

Strolling in the sunshine, putting in the presence of folk art, what could be more fun? For my money the best course hereabouts is out in the hinterland of Elk River, at Fun City. Vultures hover over one hole, tombstones and spiders litter others, and at the heart of it all is a miniature Norman Bates house festooned with lights. The last four holes are played in the haunted house (look for the hunchback leering down from the belfry, the life-size diorama of the vampire in his coffin, and is that King Tut holding a putter in his bandaged hands?). For $3.50 a game, with optional add-on slushees, games of laser tag, and turns in the batting cage, it's a much better deal than the Tower of London.

Closer to home and air-conditioned, Lava Links operates on the site of a onetime U.S. Swim & Fitness franchise, with the pool transformed into the deepest water hazard known to mini-golf. In the front part of the course, rolling astroturf and dusty palm trees create the illusion of an extremely dusty Hawaii; in the back, fluorescent painted rocks and black light make a glowing lunar disco-scape, and from time to time a leering dragon head spews fog from his nostrils onto your chilled shoulders. Look for the stress-ending wack-a-gator game in the arcade room, and, if you're feeling particularly rich, splurge on a few games of laser tag: Shooting strangers in the dark is strangely restorative.

Those of you seeking more of an ecotourist, oh-the-poor-natives experience might consider a few hours at Amusement City in Maplewood--or, as I like to call it, Amusement Unincorporated Township. This decrepit little spot is so low-budget that one of the hazards is just a big rock dropped between the start and the hole. If ever a site needed a bunch of wealthy tourists to set up camp and construct some useful structures, this is it. And while you're at it, fix the tail of the pig--vandals have nearly succeeded in sawing it off. (If you haven't got enough pity for Amusement City by the end of your round, pity me: It took 25 strokes to get my ball into the cup of the simple astroturf volcano on hole 5. Imagine a polar bear trying to thread a needle and you'll get a sense of the scene.) If you like ghost towns--Tombstone, Deadwood--you'll love Amusement City.

Dark Side of the Moon

Romance in the wee hours can look quite ghastly, but everyone looks good at moonlight bowling--which is what you get when a bowling alley shuts off the primary lights, substitutes blue light, black light, or sheer dimness, and plays loud music. The balls glow like comets on the night floor, the beers form a sparkling fountain from plastic pitcher to plastic cup to porcelain urinal, the pins glow like little Caspers, and you in your flat, funny shoes fling great weights before you.

Next Page »