24.10.13

TC Sidewalks Live: Noteworthy Dive Bars of South Minneapolis Bike Tour

[Using powertools to cut decorative wine corks inside a South Mpls dive bar.]
[Guided bicycle tour of five "dive bars" of South Minneapolis, focusing on the origin and future of dive bars in a part of the city historically inhospitable to them.

Thursday November 7, leaving from the Schooner Tavern at 6:30PM (the corner of East 29th Street and 27th Avenue South, by the Rainbow Foods).


RSVP on Facebook here.]


Q: Huh?

A: This is a bicycle tour taking place in Minneapolis called "Noteworthy Dive Bars of South Minneapolis."

Q: What is a Dive Bar?

A: Cleanly defining a dive bar is difficult, precisely because dives are not very clean. It's a bit like Justice Potter Stewart's definition of obscenity. Here's what we know...

Windows - These are a minus. Dives eschew fenestration. What happens in the dive, stays in the dive.

Staff - Ideally, there's only one staff. Maybe someone works in the back. The more staff, the less divey.

Regulars - A must. When you walk into a dive, people should stop talking like in a wild west saloon and look at you a bit funny. Unless you are a regular, you really don't belong. 

Daydrinkers -Yep.

Pull Tabs - 90%. Meat raffles are also good. Best is when there's a pot of some sort of free food sitting on a table.

Nonchalance - Dives can't be trying too hard to make money. If they are, they're not dives any more. No fancy menus. No fancy paint jobs, etc.

Cleanliness - Nope.

"Craft Beer" - Nope, unless its brewed within a mile or two of the dive.

Food - Greasy or nothing. Heggie's Pizza is the hallmark of a dive. 


[Minneapolis' historic liquor patrol limits.]
Q: I thought there weren't any dive bars in South Minneapolis?

A: This is kinda true, sorta. South Minneapolis has historically been outside the city's "liquor patrol limits," an odd bit of historical chicanery brought to you by the city's well-off WASP reformers. There are, however, some exceptions.

We will be starting at the Schooner Tavern, located in historic "hell corner," and travelling to four more interesting dive bar locations in the sub-Lake Street city, including the last remaining 3.2 bar, a constitutional exception to the city' strange "five-acre" rule, an "endangered" dive, and a dive with decent food (for the hungry among you).

Q: Do I need a bike?

A: Yep. We'll be biking approximately 10 miles in total. Not too far, all things considered.

Q: It's November, you idiot.

A: I know. Wear a warm coat, gloves, and bring bike lights for the darkness.

Q: Can I come for part of it, but not hang out with you the entire goddam time?

A: Yes. I will be tweeting locations, there will be a quasi-schedule, and you can always call (if you're lucky enough to have my digits) to find out where the tour is at. Come just for one dive, or enjoy the whole diving expedition.


Q: Is it free?

A: Yes, but buying a beer for one of the hosts is appreciated or (failing that) you can always support this blogger by purchasing an artisanal postcard for a reasonable and minimal fee.

[An awaiting cooler.]

U of MN's Top 3 Bike Planning Mistakes

Celebrating the Annual UMN Kafka-Thon

The University of Minnesota loves to tout its bicycle friendly status, but as anyone who has ever actually ridden a bike on the East Bank campus knows, the University of Minnesota is a veritable Orwellian clusterf**k.

And once a year, like clockwork, the University administration celebrates this fact with its Bike/Ped Safety Month, where the campus police "crackdown" on scofflaw cyclists (while actual bicyclists get hit by cars on badly designed streets).

Here's the recent email from Vice President Pam Wheelock:
At the start of each fall semester, Parking and Transportation Services does a count of the number of bicycles on campus. Anyone who has navigated the sidewalks and streets on and around campus over the past month won’t be surprised to hear that there are more bicycles on campus than ever before.

Our fall bicycle count estimates that there are more than 8,500 bikes on campus. That’s an increase of 1,000 bikes or 13 percent over last year. The increased number of bikes, along with our on-going traffic pinch caused by the construction of the Green Line LRT, has resulted in a growing number of interactions between bikers and pedestrians that don’t meet the definition of Minnesota Nice. The number of collisions, near misses and skirmishes between vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists is unacceptable and for the most part, unnecessary. As of today, I’m calling for an end to the hostilities and am hoping we can learn to share the limited amount of space we have.

We have a saying here on campus: Safety is Easy; the Pavement is Hard. Follow these easy safety guidelines and you won’t have to discover just how hard the pavement really is: 
Pedestrians: Take the buds out of your ears, get your nose out of your phone, and pay attention to the world around you. Cross with the lights, don’t walk in bicycle lanes, and stop texting while you walk.
Bicyclists: Riding on campus sidewalks is not allowed unless they are specifically marked as bike lanes. That means you must walk your bike on most of Northrop Mall, on the Scholars Walk, on the sidewalks on Washington Avenue, or any other campus sidewalk. In the coming days, the University of Minnesota Police will begin targeted enforcement activities -- writing tickets to bicyclists who ride on sidewalks in highly congested areas. These tickets come with a hefty fine of $98. Also, Minnesota law requires bikes to stop at stop signs and red lights. You are considered to be a vehicle when you’re on the road. You must act like one.
Drivers: Forty percent of bicycle crashes in the City of Minneapolis involve a driver failing to see or yield to a bicyclist. Drive defensively on and around campus, pay attention to marked bike lanes and bike boxes, and always look twice for bikers. Please remember that texting while driving is illegal, and that talking on the phone while driving on campus is just a plain bad idea. 

Normally, I'd write a snark-tastic diatribe about Wheelock's condescending tone, the assumption that bicycles constitute "hostilities", and the U's Escher-esque approach to bike infrastructure. (In fact, that's what I've done in the past, many many times, during the annual Kafka-Thon.)

This time, given that the University seems to be turning over a new leaf, I'll simply offer my suggestions for how the U is getting it wrong.

 

The U of MN's Top 3 Bike Planning Mistakes

Mistake #1 - Focusing on sidewalks instead of streets

[An unsafe bike lane and road design on campus.]
Typically, traffic safety campaigns equivocate between road users. The basic message is that everyone is at fault, everyone is misbehaving, and that we all need to be better citizens (or something like that). In reality, automobiles are by far the #1 cause of accidents, injuries, and deaths. The bulk of safety campaigns should be focused on forcing automobile drivers to drive safely in congested areas.

On campus, this would mean focusing attention on the places where we have the most accidents, and making dangerous car-filled streets safer for bicycles and pedestrians. The administration should focus at least 75% of its attention on calming traffic on University Avenue, SE 4th Street, Oak Street, Huron Boulevard and 19th and 15th Avenues. Those are the places where cars are killing people, injuring people, and making campus unsafe. This is where the danger lies.

For example, if the University administration built cycletracks on those streets, it would go a long way to reducing bike traffic on the rest of campus. I'd bet that it would do more to foster a culture of courtesy from bicyclists (suddenly treated with respect instead of contempt by the University's built environment) than a thousand emails from Vice President Wheeler.


Mistake #2 - Having a blanket ban instead of a focused ban

[One of the superfluous dismount zone signs.]
Even by their own standards, the University's current "rules of the road" are paradoxical.

On one hand, the official campus bike ordinance states that you should:
Never ride on campus sidewalks (unless designated as a bike lane with pavement markings).

Meanwhile, they also state that you must:
Watch for designated areas to dismount and walk your bike.

If bikes are banned on all sidewalks not explicitly marked with bike lanes, why do you need designated dismount areas?

The campus-wide sidewalk ban includes something like 90% of campus spaces, including almost every bike parking rack and quite a few Nice Ride stations. It makes no sense, and nobody follows that rule.

The campus should rescind its blanket sidewalk bike ban and replace it with a blanket "yield to pedestrians" rule, and instead focus enforcement attention on its few dismount zones, places like the Scholar's Walk that are chokepoints of congestion. Until they do this, nonsensical attempts at enforcement will be disregarded by anyone with half a brain. (Note: That includes most undergraduates.)


Mistake #3 - Lack of designated routes

[If you can read this, you might be a grad student in cultural studies.]
If you provide bike routes through campus, people will use them. If you don't, people will go willy-nilly all over the place.

As you can see from the map, the University's bike routes stop and start like a youtube video on dial-up.  (Compare to my "actual bike map" at the top of this post.)

Granted, there are a lot of challenges to creating contiguous bike routes through campus. The University -- with dozens of separate colleges, schools, departments, and administrations -- was not built with elegant transportation in mind. Buildings cut off many potential routes, posing large challenges for an actual bike system.

But until the University has contiguous safe routes that don't involve launching all bicyclists into dense car traffic, bicyclists will be forced to choose between their own safety and "breaking the law." That's not a choice that any young person should have to make.

With the construction of a few new bike paths, the University of Minnesota is making slow progress towards having a bike environment that doesn't cause people to bang their heads against the wall in frustration. (Note: If banging head against wall, wear a helmet!)  In the meantime, the current "bicycle crack down" seems like another page of Kafka, Goldy Gopher-style.


[My safety awareness awareness campaign.]

23.10.13

TCS interviews Arjo Adams, a farm boy who likes welding and custodian of the late East Side People's Park



ACT ONE SCENE ONE

[A sunny day on the East Side of Saint Paul, at the end of a bunch of dead end streets. Young men wit out on a porch along the avenue, watching as TWIN CITY SIDEWALKS (TCS) walks up to a house plastered in “condemned” signs. TCS walks into the yard and finds an open door, knocks a few times. The door inside is slightly ajar. 

ARJO ADAMS (AA), a man with short cropped grey hair and a moustache comes to the screen door, cigarette dangling from his fingers. Exchanging greetings and introductions, AA leads TCS inside to a cozy living room, a television is flickering light onto some worn furniture.]  

TCS: Will you just tell me about your park?

AA: Truthfully it’s not mine. I started building it I guess thirteen fourteen fifteen years ago. I started because there used to be a lot of houses here on the East Side, down in this part of the hollow. They stretched all the way from Payne to Arcade, just three feet apart.
And then a few years back around 2000 or so the city decided, actually the School Board, they’re gonna rehab this Johnson Elementary school up here, a very progressive school… And for some reason the School Board and city got together and they wanted to tear all these houses down they got down here. They tore em down in just thirty days, really quick, and left all the rubble. And I just started bringing all the rubble over here and stacking rocks, and I dunno you stack a few rocks every day and before long you get a cliff ninety feet high and a couple blocks long.

TCS: So that’s how it started?

AA: That’s how it started.

TCS: Then what?

AA: Well, not too much. We started to have a situation here because of this house being kind of on the side of a cliff here, we started…

TCS: [Noticing that AA’s cigarette ash was dangling perilously above his his pants] You might want to move your ash tray…

[TCS reaches over and brings the ashtray closer to AA, still sitting in his weathered armchair]

You got that?

AA: [trimming his cigarette] I was saying that this house started to slide down the hill a little bit, so I wrote a letter to the city saying, “we gotta do something about your hill.” And we got into a little about retaining walls, and they send me a letter that said that if I want to build a retaining wall I could, but that would be the only way they’d agree to anything. And if they built it they’re gonna charge me like seventeen hundred dollars.

And I said, “it’s your fault!”

And they said, “we don’t care.”  [laughs] Basically.

And then so I did. I built this retaining all a few things and for a better part of thirteen fourteen fifteen years here nobody said a damn thing. And then one day it caught fire here, it just kinda roared through me before I knew what was happening they said I was bad and evil and they boarded up my house. They said this was a condemned house. You’re sitting here right now buddy. Do you think it’s condemned?

TCS: This reminds me of where I used to live over in the North End by Rice Street.

AA: Was it condemned?

TCS: No. I didn’t piss anyone off, I guess.

AA: That’s basically what happened. People look at the list of things that was on there, it was crazy by the city. They said, “who’d you piss off?”

Truth of the matter is they went to extremes beyond absolute imagination, they wrote down things for this house that were just unbelievable. They said I had to change out my waste and overflows for my bathtub because uh, they didn’t tell me a reason why. I finally got an independent guy to come in here… it cost three hundred fifty bucks… DSI [Department of Safety and Inspections] wouldn’t do it, but this independent guy comes in and says you don’t need to have your waste and overflows put in, you just need to buy a cork. [laughs] A cork, just a cork for the damn plug, because they didn’t have corks any more.

That’s all they needed to do is tell me the damn truth, so instead of a five hundred dollar bill, and a private thing and a license, all I needed was a dollar thirty-nine plug for each of my bathtubs. That’s how disgusting and despicable the city was. I’d never, I’ve never been treated like this in my life, the fact that government should do this, its just amazing to me. They took my cats out of here and killed them. They tried to pull me out of this house and lock me up. It’s just beyond a shadow of a doubt…

If this had happened any place else in the world they’d think this was crazy communism or something, and around here you have all these alleged democrats… And don’t get me wrong I’m a democrat, voted down most of my life too, but I’ve never seen anything like it.

But they won’t come and inspect, they refuse to come and inspect unless I give them five thousand dollars. And then they’ll come out and inspect and then I get my house back one hundred percent. What a bunch of… Why would citizens even approve this? From the mayor on down, all these people should be thrown out of office.

TCS: Tell me about the park though and how that kinda started, how people use it, what kinda stuff you got back there?

AA: I guess I didn’t really think it was an art park. For myself, I never thought of myself … People keep telling me that long enough, I’ll start to believe them. [laughs] I’m just an old farm boy likes to weld things up that are fun, other things… And what’s happening now is that other people are bringing their stuff and leaving it, the big stuff that’s huge and interesting and stuff like that.

Big stones and big metals and stuff like that.

But you start looking around and you see a beautiful sun face, just a few weeks ago that you put in the thing. And just the other day the gentleman who owns Borderline Antiques on Payne Avenue, the guy’s name is Ralph. He’s about eighty years old now, and he had me into the shop the other day, and said fifty years ago he built a statue and he wanted to know if he could transfer it over to this park. And I said, “I think so, sure.”

And he took me into the back and showed it to me, and it’s beautiful. About six or eight feet tall made out of old farm implements, stuff, both of them welded together. Well here’s a guy who’s been on Payne Avenue and the Payne Avenue Business Association most of his life, years and years since everyone can remember, and now he wants this piece to come over here and he’s gonna install it into this park. I don’t know if the city’s gonna let him, but I think they might, I don’t know how they could stop him…

They don’t want the park any more. For a while they put fences around it, and it all disappeared. I don’t know what the hell happened to those, people are using it again. I’m just amazed. Everyday day twenty, thirty, ten, fifteen people stop here. Every day they stop me and find me in the house, in the yard, and they want to know about it.

The other day… Almost like it’s become a tourist attraction to get to Ward 6 [a new local restaurant a block away]. You know, “go to Ward 6 and you can stop and take a look at the park.” You can walk right to it. That’s what it’s meant to be, a short cut to get over to Bruce Vento trail.

You know I can’t believe Bruce Vento would ever approve of what ‘s been done here. He was a nice guy. I met him a couple of times. But what’s been done is just crazy.

But now they broke the law. Apparently they said they broke Federal law. They used community investment dollars to buy this land originally, and apparently you can’t donate that land, according to the Federal law, to Parks and Rec. It has to be a development company. So now they have to figure out a way to take this out of Parks and Rec and give it to either a development company or another development. It can’t go to parks and rec, according to Federal law.

[sits up in his chair.] Listen to me feds: Go arrest all those seven city council members and the mayor! Take them to jail, that’s where they belong.

TCS: [pauses] Would you be willing to give me a tour of the park real quick?

AA: You heard it right here. Yeah. Turn this thing off and I’ll get my shoes.


ACT ONE SCENE TWO

[TCS and AA walk through the old small house and head out the door, into the yard and down along a path between two small rock walls. The walls are lined with statues of different sizes, plastic doll heads, small messages.]

TCS: You know, just point out stuff you think is interesting.

AA: All right, here we go. We start the walk of religions here. See goin’ around the other side… Wait a second. Somebody stole some statues here.

TCS: Oh yeah?

AA: Yeah. Mary’s missing. Jesus... Wow we been robbed.

TCS: [sheepish] That’s too bad

AA: Robbed big time. Looks like they got in here, four statues missing in here, Buddah. Let’s find out what’s happening here. Usually they don’t steal as much as destroy.

TCS: Huh

AA: That’s terrible.

TCS: Yeah especially cause it’s Jesus we’re talking about.

AA: This amount of farm implements and things like that. Now I’m kinda curious to see what’s goin’ on here. Things got moved around here, people done a whole bunch of stuff down here overnight. I see… Things got kicked over… Oh my goodness. Well… [walks around the park, up along the path and into the side yard looking around.]

TCS: [pointing to a metal sculpture] Should we put this windmill back up?

AA: Yeah we can. Hm. I’ll have to do some repairs, see what else is going on… [gestures to a round  piece of metal.] This… Stand back. [AA reaches down and spins the metal. It spins around a few times and then stops.]

TCS: What’s that?

AA: It’s a merry go round from an old one room school house. We haven’t gotten it back yet, but I imagine we’ll get it up here soon.
Let’s see what happened to all of this things. [sighs] Oh my goodness.

TCS: [trying to find a silver lining in an increasingly grey cloud] Well at least it’s a nice day, you know, except for all that crap.

AA: [walks around the top of the park.] Well this is a little bit distressful. I wonder why they only took statues referring to Christianity.

TCS: [points to a doll mounted on the wall.] The Barbie over there? That’s still there

AA: Yeah, that’s still there. [gestures to another statue] The pig’s still here. Those are sort of folklorish people. [gestures to statues embedded in the wall] Actually these weren’t done by me. These were done by other people. They came in and did this. They said, ah, I, the city of Saint Paul doesn’t’ measure up to what they consider to be community art or a thing like that, but this is about as true a community art as you can get, because people come and put the art here.

TCS: Or take it away, it seems like…

AA: Well they take it away now. But most don’t have so much confidence. Most people… Those are pretty big statues to haul away. I usually think of people just taking things and breaking them or throwing them. [looks around for rubble]


[AA and TCS sit down on a picnic table and survey the scene.]

TCS: So, describe what we’re seeing right here.

AA: [laughs] This, is a series of levels of animals and just little knickknacks and trinkets. And the reason this we’re sitting right here is that lot of times people come here and for good luck they put things here in the rock walls.

This is a traditional switch back that you might find off a mountain.

The thing about this is that they leave stuff here. [points to sculpture] Like this got left by someone for good luck. I’ve seen people put slips of paper here with their names of them ,they get lost or they haven’t seen, or I’ve seen people put… I saw someone put an engagement ring in the walls here. 

That was her good luck, her good fortune to get rid of her engagement. Another guy, he put a bullet from a 9 em em that he got hit in the neck… He got shot, and he put it here for good luck. So people do that, they leave things here for good luck

I’m really quite distressed they’d take the statues of Jesus and Mary. They were about 3 feet high. I’m glad they left the statues of Siddhartha and the others, but that’s… I think you can go to hell for that, I’m not sure

TCS: [laughs] That’s probably right!

AA: I’m almost positive. I’m almost positive that you can. So I’m lookin’ around to see what else they’ve done for destruction. I’m sure it was here yesterday. [gestures to the path leading toward Swede Hollow]

So it’s just a little park. They mowed all this down. They wanted to get a bike trail in the back here so that it hooks up there, they got one hundred and fifty-nine thousand dollars from the federal government to do it. So, but just off hand I thought maybe since we’re not getting to it damn quick, I thought I’d just finish it off myself down here. As you can see, connecting to the trail.

You know government’s just a bizarre thing some times. I’ve never seen such a group of people with so much hatred for such a thing. They didn’t want this cliff here, they didn’t know what to do with it.

Yet when somebody gets this thing here, and I’ve kept it clean, I mowed it, I empty the garbage…
You wanna go look at a city lot, go down the street here and see what they left for ten years. It’s plied high with garbage and junk that the city doesn’t clear away. They can’t take care of their own business but they can take care of everybody else’s, you know that’s crazy to me, crazy. [laughs] So I don’t know else to say other than, “Hi!” [AA leans into the microphone and waves.]

TCS: [interrupting] Do you think that you’re an artist?

AA: [quickly] No. Everybody’s an artist, I guess… I just think that I like to weld pieces together and put em up. [laughs]

People been telling me that. I saw a letter in the paper. Something for the Walker. Compared me to other places…  

I’m just a 60 year old guy who grew up on a farm in north Dakota and learned how to weld. I just, you know, its fun.

TCS: What’s gonna happen next to this?

AA: Well, I sure wish I knew. I got to go to the city council on Tuesday morning again. Some place down there. I guess I show them my five thousand bucks.

Thing about it was they threatened to take all this down push it away and get it all out of the way and do such big things with it. But they couldn’t push it down because of the cost. Just to push it down they’d have to put sixty thousand dollars worth of pylons against the side of my house just to brace it on the hill.

Sixty thousand dollars! Jeez you could open a battered woman’s shelter, you could open a place for orphans, you could do so much to help so many people rather than worry about makin’ a hill here.

You know, I ain’t so damn smart, but looks to me like it already is a hill. For the city to spend sixty thousand dollars and approximately another eighty to ninety thousand dollars just for earth moving, just to make a hill here… It’s already a god dang hill. Are ya that nuts? I mean… I’ve never seen anything so bizarre in my life, but that must be Minnesota politics I guess…


TCS: OK, well thanks Arjo. I appreciate your time.

[AA wanders back down into the park valley, TCS wanders up the hill and away from the east side.]


18.10.13

*** Sidewalk Weekend! ***

Sidewalk Rating: Horrid


 "[The city's streets] tell this tale of its foundation: men of various nations had an identical dream. They saw a woman running at night through an unknown city; she was seen from behind, with long hair, and she was naked. They dreamed of pursuing her. As they twisted and turned, each of them lost her. After the dream they set out in search of that city; they never found it, but they found one another; they decided to build a city like the one in the dream. In laying out the streets, each followed the course of his pursuit; at the spot where they had lost the fugitive's trail, they arranged spaces and walls differently from the dream, so she would be unable to escape again."

[Italo Calvino.]




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When George stops by Jerry’s apartment one day with a bucket of chicken and grease stains all up and down his tank top, Jerry is immediately disgusted. “Blech!” he cries from behind his sunglasses. He tries to give George a makeover, but nothing, nothing at all, can help the ugly George. Depressed by this revelation, George wears nothing but trash bags, but continues roaming the city with buckets of fried chicken. Jerry deems this “an improvement.”
[this]

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