Yesterday was crazy. No, it wasn't a full moon; that was Tuesday. Yesterday was Saturday night in downtown Minneapolis, Hallowe'en. All I wanted to do was bundle up my ingredients for a punch I was bringing to a friend's party. My wife made a gallon of raspberry liqueur, and I supplemented this with strong ginger ale, limeade (couldn't find pineapple anywhere), frozen raspberries and lime slices. I just had to transport this from Minneapolis to St. Paul via public transit.
It's hard to tell this story without sounding racist. The easy immediate reaction is, Why is it necessary to point out everyone's ethnicity? There are polite, well-behaved people and rude, ignorant people in every ethnic background. This is true, but to strip the events of last night of their context doesn't impart a full understanding of why people were acting the way they were. I don't want to say "they did this because they are black," because there is nothing inherent to either ethnic heritage that commanded this behavior; however, it is more accurate to bear in mind that X-person behaved because they came from a lineage of unaware privilege, and Y-person was the result of a heritage of abuse and limited options, and they clashed because each was operating in their own context without consideration for others, and they had reasons to not be considerate of others, and that's how things escalated.
Far be it from me to tell anyone how to live; all I'm saying, more consideration would have helped everyone last night. (And yes, I realize halting the storytelling to wade through the awkward "I'm aware of my privilege" preamble can be as offensive to those I'm trying to defer to as speaking candidly and offensively in the other direction. I haven't yet found a helpful solution to all this.)
I waited at the bus stop with my large cloth carrying bag of ingredients, dressed as the early 20th century French Algerian philosopher Albert Camus. This is not an obvious costume at all so there's no reason for anyone to think I'm the author of The Stranger and The Rebel; if anything, I look a little down on my luck and maybe a little unhinged.
I got on the northbound 4 route bus. The weather outside was the cold side of autumn, so it stood out that this bus was packed with people and the air was hot, humid and redolent of unpleasant smells like fast food and rail booze. It wasn't standing room only, but a mother's over-sized stroller and an elderly woman's walker effectively walled off the aisle, so I stood at the front because I'm physically able to. As well, the passengers were almost painfully loud, with a lot of young white men and women dressed up in costumes, going to parties downtown, and two or three black families (women, no men, lots of kids) debating the best transfer points to reach a pizza place near St. Paul.
The old woman was moving her mouth but her words were drowned in the cacophony, a wall of sound the driver felt no compunction to quell. I leaned toward the old woman and she asked where we were. "We're on 31st, about to turn up to Lyndale. Where are you going?"
"Thirth-seventh," she said miserably. "I couldn't hear the stops," she added, her eyes darting sidelong in a very timid gesture of accusation, "it's just too loud in here."
The driver asked me what was going on and I appraised her. She pulled over and lowered the ramp, telling the old woman there was a bus stop just across from us and a southbound 4 was due any minute. The old woman strained to her feet and awkwardly maneuvered her walker past the stroller, making a couple more pointed quips about the other passengers. But she got out and crossed the street, and the mother with the stroller showed some concern as to whether the old woman would be okay. I looked out the window and saw that she was walking the wrong way up the street. The driver agreed to wait for me, and I ran out and walked her to the bus stop. She was wearing a white coat, so the driver would see her easily, and I urged her to tell this driver where she wanted to get off. Maybe I should have let this bus go and stood with her, but then I would have missed the rest of the night's events.
It was loud to me too. Usually I bring over-ear headphones and listen to podcasts or instrumental music to block everything out. Tonight I decided to open myself to the roar of humanity and appreciate life rather than resent it, as a meditative practice. I was dressed as Camus, after all, and he had a lot to say about accepting your situation rather than tormenting yourself with hope for things that did not exist.
Soon after this a middle-aged white woman in a bright yellow coat boarded, but this wasn't relevant until much later.
We drove on into the Lyn-Lake neighborhood and, eight blocks later, when we reached Franklin Ave., a young white couple got on board. The woman looked like a heavy metal rocker, but the man was dressed in the stereotypical pimp costume, with purple leopard plush lapels and a diamond-headed cane. He didn't behave like he'd ridden the bus before, quibbling with the driver over a fistful of ones, not understanding that drivers don't make change, and it took a long time for him to finally pay their fares and find a seat.
If that bus was noisy before, it quieted down as this douche slowly threaded his way toward the back. I believe I even heard him quietly apologize to a couple people, but maybe that was because he'd literally—as well as figuratively—stepped on some toes. Wish I would've gotten a picture of this clueless hipster suddenly being confronted with the context he worked so hard to avoid.
We finally arrived in downtown. People got off at various stops based on various clubs hosting costume parties, but most of us got off at 5th St. to catch the LRT. I crossed Hennepin, touched my GoTo card to the meter for a transfer, actively refrained from noting the people who did not. Because now we were in a dangerous environment. Even outside of the holidays, cops and sometimes SWAT are called into downtown when the seedier bars become too active, when partying corrodes into violence, which happens a lot in downtown Minneapolis, which is why I avoid it. Tonight I was in the middle of it.
Here the schism repeated itself: there were a lot of white people in lazy Halloween costumes and various degrees of inebriation, and there were a lot of black people in trendy street clothes, happy to see each other but occasionally looking around with dangerous expressions. I didn't want to be here very long, so I was dismayed to read the LRT schedule updates. The sign insisted that a Green Line was due, but none was forthcoming; it said a Blue Line was due, but then that entry disappeared and said another Green Line was due. The LRT routes were being canceled and all of us were stuck together on the platform, the crowd slowly growing denser and more irritable.
There were a couple sparks thrown, before a potential explosion. A cop car cruised by the LRT platform, rolling very slow and going the wrong way up a one-way street. The driver stared out the window, elbow resting on his door, eyes unblinking as he deliberately looked at every person on the platform, and maybe half of us looked back. The others found something better to do, pivoted on their heels, slowly waddled off in another direction, into the crowd.
One guy started asking what was up: "Has the Blue Line come by yet?" but the person he asked was trying to be inconspicuous, so he didn't know. I craned my head around, like a stupidly helpful white guy, and said it had been canceled, no LRTs have come by yet. He nodded and looked up the tracks. A man had hopped down from the platform and was doing a mocking little dance on the tracks, clowning for his friends.
Sirens. A cop car came racing up 1st Ave., at the other end of the platform, banking a hard left and driving away toward Target Stadium. There was an ambulance immediately after it. This wasn't relevant until a little bit later.
Some young guy in a black hoodie and reindeer antlers came up through the crowd on the platform. By his carriage he was daring himself to do something challenging: despite his nonchalant pose, his upper body was way too stiff while his legs navigated him with nervous energy through the crowd. He bumped into people but tried to play it off. He was taking some stupid chances: he should have been on the sidewalk instead of seeking attention on the crowded platform, because attention followed him. First it was the crowd of young women taunting him as he shopped in the corner convenience store; then it was the large thug who decided he needed those antlers more than the kid did. The big guy wore them over his stocking cap, a meager trophy for showing an uppity kid where, despite his privilege, the real power lay, lest he forget.
Then a sketchy white homeless guy scurried up by the tracks. His gaze twitched and swiped all around him; he weaved in place, then he darted backward, then he stumbled back up to the tracks. He struck up a conversation with me about the Blue Line, then ended it when he learned I was going to St. Paul.
Across the street, two middle-aged couples were walking along the sidewalk. They weren't in costume, only chatting among themselves in a defiant aura of having a nice night together. I looked away because there was nothing about them; I looked back when jeers and laughter exploded. One of the men was rolling like a barrel on the sidewalk, recovering from a fall. I didn't know if he had been trying a stunt that went wrong, or if he merely caught an uneven corner of pavement and tumbled. The other man delivered a lame joke a little too loudly, but they all giggled and walked away and the moment passed. That was good.
Finally the Green Line pulled up and we piled into it. I sat near the front, and the middle-aged white woman in the bright yellow coat sat a few rows ahead of me. Right behind her were two young black women. The white woman had pulled out a book to read, but the two black women started up a loud conversation with graphic descriptions and crude language. There was no need to speak that loud, the train car was just over half-empty and quiet, but they were lively people having a nice night. However, the white woman was frustrated, packed her book away, and stormed (rather than casually strode) to the handicapped seating, struggling to unfold them and push them down and resume reading.
The attitude was not lost on the black women, who paused, glanced at the woman as though deciding what to do, then commented that the white bitch could fuck off and that would be fine. I wondered what the white woman could have done: she didn't ask the black women to keep it down, and if she had, she would likely have received the same reaction. The best peacekeeping gesture would be to sit there, enduring the distraction, not being able to read her book, swallowing her resentment. Second best would have been to find a less obtrusive way of moving to another seat, perhaps pretending to have gotten on the wrong train and moving to another car, but that's a lot of hassle for someone who just wants to sit quietly and read her book.
There was an announcement on the LRT platform speakers, but the speakers are of shitty quality and the words were incomprehensible. Most of us riders have learned to dismiss these announcements, since they're usually preprogrammed and repetitive with no useful content.
The Green Line left the Warehouse Station and pulled into the Nicollet Ave Station. People got on and the incomprehensible announcement played again. It was just noisy and muffled, but this time a few of us looked up because it started to sound like something was going on. The speakers were a little better here, but I heard nothing beyond "the second and third cars." Usually that means they want us to leave where we are and move to another part of the train, but the details were still unclear. We didn't move, the doors closed, and we left and pulled into the Government Plaza Station.
That was where, after the muddied and staticky announcements, the driver finally pulled down his service window and yelled at us to leave the train, to move to the second and third cars.
"Why we gotta do that?" the two loud women yelled at him.
"Never mind. Just do it," he ordered back.
This told me something serious had happened. When public service workers become gruff and uncommunicative, the shit has hit the fan and they're inexpertly trying to keep the situation from escalating.
Everyone else piled out of the first car and started walking back. On my right was a line of young men and women wearing poorly decorated t-shirts, probably a set of themed costumes I wasn't picking up on. On my left were the open doors of the end of the first car. Yellow plastic CAUTION tape was laced around the metal handrails, and there was a large pool of fresh blood in the middle of the floor. I know this was Halloween, full of zombies and vampires, but this was not fake blood. The people in t-shirts were staring very soberly into the car, but I couldn't discern whether they were involved.
The woman in the yellow jacket was sitting on a short bench of only two seats. She was bristling with anger and fear, so I took the seat beside her to defuse that energy from finding any connection elsewhere in this car.
She sat silently for a moment, then muttered a comment about a crazy night. I agreed with her. She made another comment, I returned with a question, and she opened right up.
"I just don't know what the hell's going on tonight! I was on the 4 earlier..."
"I know, I was there too." She glanced at me. "Your jacket's very distinctive."
"You were there! I couldn't believe the noise! What was up with that?"
"It's Halloween, it's the weekend. It's just gonna be crazy tonight."
She laughed, relieved to know someone else felt the same way. We talked very rapidly about a lot of topics, and she began to laugh and nudge my elbow for emphasis. But then she asked what had happened with the LRT, both with how late it was and then the transfer to another car. I told her about the blood and she tensed up. It hadn't occurred to her to look so this was surprise to her, and unfortunately it reaffirmed her impression of the dangerous evening. "So they moved us to the other two cars, and now they're going to decouple the first car at the Metrodome Station and drive that back to their garage."
"Is that why the LRT was late?"
Her question jolted my mind, and belatedly I made the connection with the cops and EMT racing up 1st Ave. "I'm guessing there was an assault, maybe a stabbing, either at the Target Station or right before it, when the LRT reached the end of the line at the Target Station and headed toward us."
Her eyes went wide as she stared out into the darkness. Then she laughed: "I can't believe this is really happening. This is like a TV show... you're like a detective!" She elaborated about cop/detective shows on TV, reasoning that they must pull their material from real-world news events. I said yes, that was a lazy and popular way to mine for material, which led to an indictment of reality TV.
Nothing happened after that. I asked her about her book, The Effect of Living Backwards, and she recommended it as hilarious and a great read. We talked about how she lives alone and doesn't like to go out (especially because of nights like tonight), how her mother's in the hospital but seems to have an indomitable spirit. I told her about my job as copyeditor for the University and how my wife's out of town, so this should be time for me to get some creative writing done but my schedule's been filled. Then it was my stop and we thanked each other for the conversation. She didn't take up her book again, just stared out the window.
I walked a few blocks to my party, mixed up the punch, and I had an interesting story to tell my friends.