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My hotel is downtown, in the forest of glass-and-steel skyscrapers that makes up the dense center of Minneapolis. The streets are clean enough to eat off, and seem curiously devoid of pedestrians—a ghost-town ambience that can be attributed to the Minneapolis Skyway system running overhead. Back in 1962, city planners gave up trying to deal with the northern winters, where temperatures have bottomed out at 34 below, and began turning the entire center of the city into a giant human Habitrail. The Skyway is a series of sealed bridges above street level that winds for mile after disorienting mile through arcades of shops and plazas, opening on vast atriums with indoor waterfalls and trees to remind the tunnel-dwellers of the outside world.
The airplane black box, the Nerf football and even the proprietary controlled-foam-extrusion process for creating “marbits”—the pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, green clovers, blue diamonds and purple horseshoes found in Lucky Charms cereal—were developed here. Medtronic, now the world’s largest medical technology company, was started in a Minneapolis garage in 1949. The company’s founder, Earl Bakken, went on to invent the first transistorized cardiac pacemaker in 1957. Indeed, some of the city’s most prominent advances are in life sciences and medicine.
In the desert city, water says wealth like nothing else, and there’s a lake of it in front of the Bellagio, with fountains blasting 240 feet in the air in time to Broadway show tunes. Just up the street, the Mirage demonstrates that it has money to burn with a fiery volcano erupting from the top of a 119,000-gallon waterfall. Tucked away on the service roads behind the Strip, the humble Budget Suites of America hotels are, in contrast, nearly invisible to tourists. Catering not to revelers but to the hordes of migrants looking for quick work in America’s tourism epicenter, Budget Suites eschews flashy displays of any sort, flaunting instead affordable weekly rates and the homely comforts of laundry rooms and kitchenettes.