Sunday, September 20, 2009

These Boots, Evidently, Were Made For Walking

It was a good day right up until the last minute. After a brief argument over a misunderstanding, I stormed out of the Nomad World Pub, leaving Rebecca to walk the three blocks back to the car alone. It was about quarter to midnight.

I walked up Cedar Ave to Washington Ave, turned left, past sports bars with dazed mobs of college students choking the sidewalks with their smoke breaks. I crossed the highway and, coming the other way on Washington were three separate groups of cyclists. Maybe half of each group wore helmets, and fewer than one-quarter of each group owned working headlights. One girl had a single dim LED bulb on her handlebars, but MN statutes mandate a white lamp visible from 500'. Obviously so broke from buying such nice bikes that they couldn't afford a $14 rechargeable LED light at Freewheel.

Fourteen blocks later I turned SW onto Nicollet Mall. Now it was about midnight and I started to text my experiences to Twitter. Yet another group of midnight cyclists in dark clothes, no helmets, no headlights, and as they biked down Nicollet their traffic light turned yellow. "Red light! Red light!" they cackled. "Oh no, we're gonna get a red light!" And it turned red, the cross street's light turned green, and they--men and women alike, white to the last drop--laughed as they rode through the intersection in front of motorized traffic.

Following the law is uncool, you see. The pursuit of coolness trumps common sense or self-preservation instinct. It's cool to mock the laws that try to keep idiots like these from getting themselves killed.

After them was another group of cyclists. Slight improvement: half of them owned helmets and headlights. Still, they turned left on their red light and fanned out to ride in front of and behind me, several riders narrowly missing me in a gesture of dominance, only two of their number bothering to stick to the clearly designated bike path.

Then I went into downtown proper, indicated by a sharp decline in lawless cyclists and a gateway of lawless motorists. While I waited to cross 6th St, cross-traffic's light turned red and a pair of cars glided through the red light like business as usual. So did two more cars after them. On foot, groups of four jocks, uniformly wearing cargo shorts and Axe body spray, seemed magnetically drawn to me through some gravitational pull. There was no room for them on the sidewalk so they all had to head directly toward me, take my space, shoulder me out of the way.

There was a break in the clouds as a woman with a really nice butt appeared on the sidewalk before me, but I lost track of her when I stopped to give a busker a couple bucks. He was a quite talented saxophonist and his music was a balm to the evening, a relief to hear in the distance ahead of me and a relief as he receded behind me. The woman, however, crossed the street and marched off into the night.

From Washington Ave to 12th St is another nine blocks, and after 12th I took a shortcut between the buildings, on the north side of the Hyatt Regency. It's a paved trail that wends through some apartment buildings and dumps out onto Willow St, which runs along one side of Loring Park. Loring Park has the reputation for being an unpleasant area at night. During the day, its rolling grassy slopes are full of homeless and transient men and women sleeping on rolled-up clothing for pillows. I attended a Shakespeare in the Park performance where one inebriated unfortunate began begging the front row for change, until the actors themselves climbed down from the stage to escort him away.

But my stroll through the park was uneventful. I passed a few individual walkers, one of whom tried to bum me for a smoke, no pun intended. I passed a young glam-goth couple, drunk off their asses, holding each other up, leaning over the handrail of a bridge to yell for the ducks to make an appearance. In black jeans and a grey T-shirt, I was attracting very little attention and soon found myself on Hennepin.

This was familiar territory: this is my route where I bike to and from work each day. Now I got to experience it from the pedestrian's perspective. It's hard to say whether there's a sidewalk in front of Hennepin Ave United Methodist Church: there's a paved strip with a yellow dotted line down the middle but a block before it, in front of St. Mark's Cathedral, there's a sign that says the bike trail ends right there. I'll say that there's a path there, and cyclists and pedestrians both use it. I was menaced by neither: the cyclists breezing by through red lights, without helmets or headlights, gave me sufficient berth on the path. Maybe it was twenty after midnight by now.

I crossed Franklin Ave, walking south on Lyndale Ave. Immediately, in front of Mortimer's (the classy place that kicked me out when the bartender was too busy flirting to pop the cap on a second beer for me), I found a cop who'd pulled over a car with two black youth. No idea what was going on, didn't stare, but the area was too public for them to haul out the driver and start kicking him.

Somewhere along the way I waited at a stoplight, standing at the corner, waiting for the signal to walk. Across the street a tall drunk guy with a paunch staggered into the intersection. Sneering at me standing like a Boy Scout, he mock-confessed, "I broke the law," as he trundled by.

"Everyone does," I told him.

If young University students own downtown Minneapolis at night, Uptown is predominated with young hipsters in shitty clothing, intent on drinking shitty beer. Mobs of these drifted up and down the avenue, reminding me how very old I am and how very unsuited I am to stepping out of my home. People-watching along Lyndale Ave at night is an exercise in despondency and bleakness. Young kids who don't know any better, aging punks who never learned a thing. Around 28th St a trio of gutterpunks half-heartedly hit me up for some change, expecting either to be ignored or turned down. I nearly startled them out of their boots when I agreed, fishing out $10.

"Have a nice day," one woman said, at one in the morning.

That was nine more blocks, from Franklin to 31st St, where I turned right, two blocks to Bryant Ave, and then I turned left and walked six more blocks. In front of an apartment building two denizens were cooling off from some internal drama. A short, stocky guy in a white shirt stood on the sidewalk with his arms folded, while a round girl in black clothes slumped on a small semi-wall, holding her head in her hands. As I approached, the man greeted me with a curt "Morning."

I blinked at him and said, "Morning?"

The girl looked up at him. "Did you just say morning?" He shifted his stance slightly and enigmatically gazed into the distance, and I trudged the last few blocks home.

In the bathroom I found a letter my wife had written me, explaining her half of the evening. She gave me time to read it and mull it over, and when I was ready I sat down with her and we talked about my half of the evening. She went to bed and I stayed up to write this. Google Maps tells me I walked five and a half miles tonight, and I guess that sounds about right.

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