Sidewalk of the Week: Cedar Avenue and Edgewater Boulevard

The sidewalks of Cedar Avenue are wild as they come. Cedar stretches out over the bluff and down along a spine from the real center of town, on South through neglected pitfalls of Minneapolis’ past. It’s where Riis would have warily wandered if he’d ventured far enough west, gawking at the dirty daughters of desperate men. Its sidewalks have amassed more neglect and love and false concern than any in this city, and to gaze into its footprints is to see the family tree of the center of the middle of nowhere.

Cedar begins on the cliffs overlooking river bottoms that once warmed railroaded wanderers like flotsam, and it runs straight south through this wild triangle in the riverbend where booze and hope still comingle in the gutters. From the river just east of downtown, through the West Bank circus, it's amputated by the clumsy pratfalls of the Hiawatha freeway. Here Cedar dangles over a concrete abyss choked with moving metal, reduced to an alley for motorcycles and weeds. Cedar reappears on the far side of the trench, another Federal moat  piercing foreign tongues of drab reservations, seaming the last urban outpost of Indians lingering just past our imaginations. From there it flows down through the rusty city past porches overfilling with gravity, past yards with vacant stares, down and down along the only affordable housing for miles, sheltering people making do.

Then homes grow farther apart, driveways unsubside, gardens sprout, and gradually the weight of the city lifts itself upward floating away like a balloon slipping from the tired grip of a child. Cedar rises from the trees along the creek, tickling their leaves, driving farther south along picture houses until it meets the water and refuses to budge. The only street in Minneapolis so self-certain that it refuses to round, Cedar sidewalks cleave through Lake Nokomis like a hasty butcher and, stepping wet feet again onto shore, part the green parkland on the edge of town with traffic.

I was once asked if, in all my wanderings, I had ever found the precise place where the sidewalk ends. And yes, I have. The sidewalk ends again and again, and it’s always the same spot, always the same exhausting exhumation of bodies, and always with the same blind gleam in the reflection of windows. The sidewalk ends here, where Cedar Avenue disappears and becomes Trunk Highway #77. The sidewalks lumber up over the ground into a clunky ladder of cages, a hamster nest of bridges leading over garage doors. Bike lanes merge into onramps, houses erase themselves. The road opens up and horizons unfold. Looking south, your eyes rest on a vast impassable concrete ocean. Here the city ends.

[Two roads diverge in a green wood looking North and South along Cedar Avenue.]

[The exact spot where Cedar Avenue becomes Trunk Highway #77.]

[The pedestrian birdcage.]

[The crosswalks wear away under the press of a billion tires.]
But all is not lost. Fat Lorenzo’s sits like a lighthouse of the urbane, the last sidewalk in the East, outpost on the edge of the world. People huddle round it clutching plates, staying sure of their footing, wary of edges. They gaze into the distance. Perhaps there are sidewalks out there somewhere, islands of caf├ęs and parks and window shopping? But nobody will ever get there alone, not without hitching a ride or stowing away on a metal carapace unceasingly whining past coughing smog. I can imagine myself waving one down, flagging my shirt in semaphore distress. “Please, I am a poor foot soldier, trying to reach the next walk. Take me across this gulf?”

[A sidewalk beacon.]

[Phantoms since 1952.]

[A sidewalk cafe, boulevard paved with red cedar.]

[They repaint the Fat Lorenzo's mural each morning to match the weather forecast.]
Meanwhile these sidewalks and their homes huddle on the edge holding hands. The cluster of alleyways core a little corner between the park and the freeway. An old auto garage haunted by the 50s sits askance. A mustache’d dishwasher all in white emerges from a back door and watches with dull suspicion. The mural of the restaurant is precisely the same blue as the sky above, with clouds painted to match. The sidewalks run in only one direction, stretching under cozy oaks, but the quiet town here on the edge is too small, torn from its surroundings like a dying flower.

From here, the city seems impossibly far away. Cedar is gone, and Trunk Highway #77 runs straight as a fencepost out into the emptiness. Behind you, Cedar reaches back to the endless city out of sight. You can only trust it will lead you to the bricks, and their havens of hot dogs and strangers. But here you are on the edge, the Minneapolitan omega. One way is a desert, the other a long strange journey. In the meantime, wrap yourself in tomatoes while the sound of jets falls on your ears like dust. Here you can sit and breathe for a while, re-finding your wits before your journey. Enjoy it while it lasts. The restless city waits on the other side of the waterglass.

[The sidewalk rises to bridge the gap.]

[No people allowed.]


room34 said...

This is some evocative imagery for a road I have traveled in its entirety many times over, but I feel you're describing the experience of driving to Fat Lorenzo's and stepping out of a car, rather than really walking the sidewalks. It is true the intersection where Cedar Ave. becomes TH 77 is not incredibly pedestrian friendly, but as someone who experiences the immediate area primarily on foot at least three times a week, the picture painted here does not feel accurate. While "no people allowed" may be what you see from a cafe table, just a few yards to the north is a connection to one of the largest networks of urban foot-and-bike paths in the country.

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