In Hey, What’s the Deal With… we’re tackling everyday oddities, random curiosities, and what-the-actual-fuck mysteries about life in the Twin Cities. Got a pressing but somewhat trivial Q about something you saw, heard, or thought about while stuck in traffic? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and our crack investigative team just might try to figure it out.
Earlier this year readers wondered aloud about Elmer, the curiously obscure, 42-year-old Minneapolis Park Board tree mascot. We did our best to reveal his barky multitudes. Now, as I stoically accept my fate as the guy whose beat this is, folks are tagging Racket in posts about Skip Traffic, a similarly unfamiliar mascot whose wide, wide smile aims to spread brand awareness for Metro Transit.
"I feel like Skip Traffic has some stories to tell," reader Ethan Komoroski tweeted alongside a photo of Skip posing with local political leaders. "Dean [Phillips] is probably not the first weirdo to hold their hand like that. There’s some pain behind that smile. This is a job for Racket."
Alright, here we go: The idea for Skip was born in late 2014, Metro Transit's Jessica Cross tells us.
“It was my idea, I guess," the marketing development specialist says with a laugh. "And I’m usually in the costume.”
Prior to Skip's official 2015 debut, Metro Transit staged a naming contest for the "gender-neutral, friendly, and enthusiastic" new mascot. The contest was a hit, Cross reports, and its highest-ranking entries included: Trip, MT Rider, Big T, Super T, Mighty T, and Trekker.
MinnPost, the Star Tribune, and Minnesota Public Radio all covered the contest.
"It's a 'T' transit symbol outfitted with a smiley face, cartoon arms, and realistically drawn legs," wrote MPR's Jon Collins. "It also has eyebrows."
Skip wouldn't attract headlines again for another seven years when, writing under the headline "Why Do All the Public Transit Mascots Have to Be So Creepy?," Mel Magazine would describe our toothy, eyebrow-having friend as "essentially the face of a person who just thought someone waved at them when in fact they were waving at a person directly behind them." Skip would outlive Mel, which shuttered for the second time in two years this past July.
“I think the costume is based on the M&M costume, so it’s actually pretty uncomplicated as far as a mascot costume goes," Cross says, adding that Skip's interior gets very hot in the summer. “Every once in a while you’ll go up to someone and get the side eye, and some kids are afraid. But otherwise people can’t resist."
Interestingly, VStar Entertainment—the Minneapolis-based character shop responsible for touring productions of The Muppets and Barney—designed both Skip and the revamped Elmer. The throwback Elmer was truly the stuff of nightmares. “Early on, Elmer was much… scarier I guess is the word; kids actually were almost running away from him," Ralph Sievert, director of the city’s Forestry Department, told us with a chuckle.
Skip, meanwhile, lives a non-controversial existence, turning up at Metro Transit outreach events and grand openings with its intense eyes, pitched eyebrows, towering grin, and human legs. The mascot is also an annual fixture at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Twin Cities Marathon, and Pride. Its recent photo-op with a progressive firebrand (Rep. Illan Omar) and a centrist milquetoast (Rep. Phillips) suggests appeal that spans the metro's Democratic ideologies.
"Even if they think mascots are weird or whatever, you’ve got this goofy thing waving at you," Cross says. "And people just can’t not wave back.”