26.6.13

One Hundred Years of Crossing Snelling Avenue

[One of the lovely Snelling Avenue sidewalks.]
Last fall, the Saint Paul City Council passed the Charles Avenue friendly streets bicycle boulevard. How do I know? I came across this important story in my notes today. (Then I remembered.)

Here's the relevant bit from the Pioneer Press story from the public hearing:
The St Paul City council approved the Charles Avenue bicycle boulevard plan yesterday. The most important part of the project is a series of pedestrian medians and traffic diverters at the four points where Charles crosses the busiest streets: Marion, Dale, Lexington, and (most crucially) Snelling Avenues.

This part of the plan also proved to be the most controversial part of the project, as multiple business owners along Snelling protested bitterly any any design that would made it more difficult to drive around on this very busy street.
This reminds me.

Did you know that I've tried to cross Snelling Avenue every 28 years for the last century? It's true! I just found my trusty journal on the subject.

 

Crossing Snelling Avenue in 1916

"Oh my god I’m late!" You awake with a start from a short nap. "I’ll never make it to the store before they close."

You absolutely need some genuine swine lard for your stewpot, so you rush out the door and thank heavens that you live so conveniently close to W. T. McGillicudy and Son’s General Dry Goods, your local merchant. The shop, which sells everything under the sun, is just a two blocks away across Snelling Avenue.

You wedge yourself into your only pair of shoes, a hand-cobbled pair of lace up boots, and join the mass of people hustling down Charles Avenue on the last nice day of the year. The wind must be blowing the right direction, which means that soot from the factories is blowing the right direction. What a glorious morning!

"AOOOOOGA." The horn blares and you turn your head to see the grill of a pale yellow 1914 Mitchell Speedster growing larger, heading straight down the edge of Snelling, straight for you.

"You there! Ragamuffin! Mind my motorcar!" A dapper gentleman wearing a flatbrimmed boater shakes his begloved fist at you.

Lucky for you, the horseless carriage is only traveling at 16 miles per hour. You easily step out of the way, elsewhere onto the wide dirty street. You spit into the dirt and easily weave past a horse-drawn wagon, just like a dozen other people wandering across the road.


Crossing Snelling Avenue in 1933

"Hey, wake up." Jimmy tugs at your elbow. "Wake up."

"What?" you moan. Jimmy is your best friend, but he's annoying.

"Let's go down to Snelling and mess with the streetcar," he says.

"OK OK one second." You hike up your knickers and grab your cap. "OK already. Geewillikers."

You and Jimmy head out the back door so that his father doesn't notice, and walk down the alley to Snelling.

The street is full of people, a slow march of cars and trucks running alongside and two big green and yellow streetcars running down the middle. You sneak through the traffic as one of the big cars stops in the middle of the street and a dozen people climb down the streetcar steps onto the bricks below.

"Now." Jimmy's voice is like a dart in your ear. You're standing just by the bumper of the large machine.

You grab the cord holding the pole up to the back, both at once, and yank it to the side. It pulls off the wire with a clunk, and you hear the high whirr of the streetcar's fans start to slow.

"Hey! Somebody grab those kids!" The conductor shouts.

"Let's go!" Jimmy yells and runs off to the other side of Snelling. You chase after him. Somewhere in the distance a horn honks, a whistle blows, and you hear voices but you don't care.



Crossing Snelling Avenue in 1956

"Well, at least I'm not late," you think waking from your daydream. Work starts in a half hour. Plenty of time to walk there if you get going.

It's a warm day, a bit overcast, and you're thirsty. "Why not stop at the store?" you think. A glass of soda pop would be crackerjack.

It's on the other side of Snelling, and you walk up to the curb. The pale blue car approaches you and slows down. It's old man Grundy's car, his arm out the window. He stops to let you cross the street. "Move it along, skip," he yells out. "I'm not a spring chicken." Grundy drives away.

"I wasn't born yesterday," you mutter under your breath.

Two blocks away, behind you, the last streetcar in Saint Paul  pulls into the old garage on the corner for the last time. Later that day, a mobster from Minneapolis sets it on fire.


Crossing Snelling Avenue in 1973

"Oh crap." You wake with a start. "I'm late."

You had promised to pick up a can of Spam for on your way to Franky's house for dinner. Luckily there's a corner store on the corner. The only problem is that its on the other side of Snelling.

"Good thing I'm a locally respectable sprinter," you think, lacing up your new blue Adidas sneakers recently purchased at a locally-owned shoe store.

You crouch on the side of the concrete curb. Your legs tense with anticipation. A stream of large American sedans flows by, huge fenders glinting in the late-afternoon smog.

All your hours playing Frogger at the arcade drift through the back of your head as you crouch. Wait... There, off in the distance, a break in the three lanes of southbound cars.

You dash into the street, hurdling an AMC Gremlin and landing clean on the other side in the middle of the street.

All at once a huge grill appears before you, the letters F O R D growing larger as the SUV appears seemingly out of nowhere.

"What's an SUV?" you ask yourself, before rolling out of the way, and reaching out for the narrow strip of concrete between the two sides of traffic.

Not wanting to lose your momentum, you launch yourself back into traffic.

"Good god, I’m gonna die," you think, not for the first time.

Luckily your brand new pair of Adidas keep their precious grip on the light black asphalt, warm in the summer sun. Reaching out, the world seems to slow down and your fingers wrap around the mailbox. You are safe on the narrow beige sidewalk. You look back at the uninterrupted stream of cars, and somewhere, someone is singing a song. But you can't hear it. All you hear is the sound of unmuffled motors grumbling away. All you smell are the fumes of fully-leaded gas. 




Crossing Snelling Avenue in 1998


"Hey can I get a ride to the store?" asks your long-time live-in companion Margot, jostling your shoulder.

"Hey, I was sleeping," you mutter. "Which store?"

"You know, the only store. Target." says Margot, her blue beret jaunty and askew.

"Oh yeah. My car is making this weird noise lately. Can't you use your car?" you ask.

Margot wrinkles her nose. "Flat tire," she says. "That's why I need to go to the store."

"Why don't we use our third car?" I ask.

"Yeah but it's parked over there," Margot gestures westward, to the other side of Snelling Avenue.

"Oh yeah," you groan. "OK, I'll get it."

You step out onto the Snelling Avenue sidewalk, and walk seven blocks out of your way the the nearest stoplight, to press the beg button. After only seven minutes, the traffic light changes, showing the white WALK sign for a split second before starting to blink an orange warning. You hurry across the seven lanes of traffic and reach the other side just in time. Now its only seven more blocks to the car and home.


Crossing Snelling Avenue 2014


"Oh, I'm late." you mutter to yourself. "Look, its a CVS with a fake second story and frosted over windows. I bet they have the toothbrush I need so desperately." You're old by this time, and you say everything out loud now in a gravelly voice.

"Hey look," you mutter astonished, "a median and a crosswalk." You're old and slow but you can make it across the street now, and thanks to the city's innovative and successful pedestrian safety campaign, all the people driving cars stop for you and wait patiently while you hobble across the street in your velcro shoes.

Problem solved!

As you totter across the street, a passing chickadee craps on your toupée.


Update (from a friend):
Crossing South Snelling 2094:
You need to get a 200 gigabyte chip for your food activation ray at the Astromart on the east side of Snelling, but finding a break in the hovercraft traffic at 5pm is next to impossible. You wish they'd improved pedestrian crossings the way they did North Snelling at the beginning of the century. You make it across the first two lanes, narrowly avoiding a 240mph Sport Utility star cruiser who is video conferencing with his relatives on Mars and doesn't notice you as he whizzes by on the way to his suburban home in Waterloo, Iowa. Then, as you're crossing the third lane...

2 comments:

Carl said...

Don't miss the reader's letter about crossing Snelling in the current Villager!

Bill Lindeke said...

ooooo the current Villager! i am on it, carl. i am on it.