A Lament for Liquor Lyle’s

I asked my friend to describe the strangely named bar that he said was our destination for the night. He paused, frowned, and sought out the right analogy. “Well,” he said, “It’s as if a 50s diner met a hunting shack.”

So began my first visit to Liquor Lyle’s, an establishment just south of Hennepin Avenue’s corner with Franklin Avenue in the Wedge neighborhood of Minneapolis. A year later I moved into an apartment next door, and for my two years in the Twin Cities, Lyle’s became the hub of my social life, the one place that could summon a crowd with a simple text: “Lyle’s?” It hosted grad school study sessions and end-of-semester blowouts and many a nightcap after a long night on the town. A handful of young alumni turned it into a Georgetown bar when the Hoyas made the NCAA Tournament in 2015. Whenever one of us left the city, Lyle’s was the home to the last party, and after I went on my way, no return to Minneapolis was complete without at least one night in that dark, lovable hole. In town for a professional conference in Minneapolis some years ago, I dragged a group to the bar and blended a few of my worlds. After another day of state hockey, we would decamp there to relax, maybe lure in a few friends who weren’t into hockey to catch up with them, too. My last bar experience before the Covid-19 outbreak took me to Lyle’s after the last night of the 2020 Tourney. At least I know I was one of the last people to enjoy it.

Liquor Lyle’s was the platonic ideal of a dive bar. Its entrance was vaguely tomblike, a descent into an underworld lined by sparkly red vinyl booths. Above one sat a plaque commemorating a proposal from decades ago, a happy couple lording over revelers down the years. The grime from down the ages coated the black-and-white tiled floor. The graffiti along the urinal trough was first-class. The bartenders rarely changed, and the bouncer never did. (Curiously, he absolutely refused to accept passports as valid IDs, ruining one night with an out-of-town friend.) A tray of girl scout cookies always sat on the ledge by the door next to him, free for the taking.

Lyle’s welcomed everyone, and its human menagerie delighted those of us whose own crowds have always contained multitudes. Wander in at 4:00 on a weekday, and a group or regulars lined the rectangular bar, occupying stools they had probably occupied since the place opened in 1963. A grungy, musical crowd often crowded the booths toward the back of the main room. Sometimes the Uptown bros were out in force, or a bachelorette party rolled through near the end of the night. My roommate in the apartment where we lived next door, who had the bedroom in the corner of the building immediately opposite Lyle’s, occasionally enjoyed loud, drunken break-ups that were amusing enough to make up for the lost sleep. Sometimes, stepping out the next morning for an early run, I’d find a few dead soldiers on our front stoop. Never have I looked upon litter so fondly.

No matter how far my friends and I wandered in those years, the night ended at Lyle’s, a return to the homely comforts of its burgers and the Tetris Tots. Also on the menu was a mystery beer, though they discontinued that a few years back. (My friend J., who lived on the other side of the place, took home the last one they ever served.) The mystery beer was, inevitably, a Magic Hat. The bar’s most famous deal, however, were its ubiquitous two-for-ones, which actually proved problematic when the place briefly imposed a $10 limit to use credit cards. Can’t pay for your four drinks with a card? Ah well, what’s two more?

Two-for-one veterans knew always to ask for bottles to maximize volume. Grain Belt bottles, sometimes coated in dust, were my go-to: no other drink quite fit the mood of a Minneapolis dive. Woe unto the visitor who expected a high-end rail drink: the beer list was passable, but no one went to Lyle’s for the flavor. They went for the company. The Otter may have better karaoke and the Moose may have the wackiest crowd and the CC Club may have “Closing Time,” but no other bar quite fit the city like this old windowless gem, or provided the same sense of home.

As urban planners, my friends and I had a lingering fear that Lyle’s might not be long for the world. It was clearly a holdout from a different era, a funny little piece of dated real estate on a corridor that was enjoying a burst of density. The demise of Nye’s on the other side of downtown and the steady conversion of Uptown meant the writing was on the bathroom wall, most likely scratched in with an off-color joke. But we held out hope that Lyle’s would remain Lyle’s. Alas, it was not to be: Lyle’s is for sale now, uncertain whether it will survive in its present, precious form, felled in part by a changing city and a pandemic that has taken far too many sources of beauty from this world, but primarily, it seems, by the simple march of time for its aging owners.

For years from now, though, I will return stray nights at Lyle’s in my mind, trace back those old paths of a younger self. You and your crew toss open the door, wait as the bouncer whips out his mini-flashlight and strains to find some defect in your ID. Some football game is on in the bar, and the crowd erupts at all the right times. The bar overflows, its stools packed deep and a ring of thirsty standing around the edge. In the area behind the divide, a large group has pulled the tables together, may be midway through a game of Jenga with the set that required embarrassing or expensive tasks on each block removed from the tower. (If someone tried to pick you up at Lyle’s, there was half a chance your suitor would have a Jenga tile in hand.) Tish, the server in dreads and chains, fetches your beer at the table that forms your temporary home. In the back room, someone who has never shot a gun in his life is playing Big Buck Hunter, while the pool sharks put the rest of us in our places. Someone cranks Toto’s “Africa” on the jukebox and follows it with a string of bands from your youth. Two of your friends suddenly disappear, later to reveal themselves as a couple, love born at two for the price of one. Right there, on a barstool amid the cacophony, you just might find yourself spilling out your soul to a friend as you never have before. At closing time, the lights slowly come on, and your party works its way out to the sidewalk, where stray groups linger and jaw at each other in the night, awaiting their Ubers or readying their plods back down the streets of Uptown.

I’ve used this Nathan Heller quote on this blog before, but when I did so, the night I had in mind was most certainly one I had at Lyle’s:

The shock of the twenties is how narrow that window of experience really is, and how inevitable it seems both at the time and afterward. At some point, it is late, too late, and you are standing on the sidewalk outside somewhere very loud. A wind is blowing. It’s the same cool, restless late-night breeze that blew on trampled nineteen-twenties lawns, dazed sixties streets, and anywhere young people gather. Nearby, someone who doesn’t smoke is smoking. An attractive stranger with a lightning laugh jaywalks between cars with a friend, making eye contact before scurrying inside. You’re far from home. It’s quiet. All at once, you have a thrilling sense of nowness, of the sheer potential of a verdant night with all these unmet people in it. For a long time after that, you think you’ll never lose this life, those dreams. But that was, as they say, then.


Minnesota Burning

2020 is nothing if not relentless, a barrage that takes different forms, sometimes invisible and sometimes in raging flames. Here in Minnesota in late May, the coronavirus’ lingering malaise turns to death and fire in the streets. History creeps closer like a dread storm, the gyre now wide enough to swallow us whole. If this isn’t my generation’s 1968, I shudder to think of what may come next.

Ash rains down on friends’ yards in South Minneapolis. Businesses I have patronized lay in ruin. In a bitter piece of awfulness, an affordable housing development appears to be the most prominent property loss. None of that, however, stacks up against the loss of human life. Some friends struggle to explain this world to their young children; others wonder if their cars are safe in their normal parking spots. Walls go up, defenses come down, raw emotion pours forth. As it should.

I have no great new insight into police violence or riot dynamics, nor can I claim to tell the tale of centuries of systemic oppression. How can I? I’m a white kid from a very white corner of a very white state, and while it is basically my life’s work to understand as much as I can understand about my world, nothing in this life will ever give me the perspective to tell that story as it should be told. I can only fire off an email or two and be a vicarious witness. I lurch down a grotesque social media hole, the revolution Snapchatted live, and pull myself out only after wallowing for most of an evening. These lenses put us in the moment but shut out everything beyond, a skewed perspective that hones in on what some random individual has chosen to capture but offers no narrative, no story, no compelling arc that might guide us incrementally down that path toward comprehension or dialogue or reconciliation. They offer only raw, violent shocks to the system. Violence begets a violence, an eye for an eye, the whole world blind.

What is it we have lost, here in the spring of 2020? Lives, first and foremost, the product of a society that at times seems worryingly callous about human life, a fear that is always there but these days comes in cues from the top. Livelihoods, for those who had the misfortune of living in the crossfire. Many senses of security, at least for those of us who were fortunate enough to enjoy them in the first place. Some never did, though we all have been compromised further in some way. The rational mind can find some distance, sort through which reforms might actually work, move us toward a reduction in violence. But the rational mind has little to offer in an immediate crisis, when people are dead and generations’ worth of rage teams up with a quarantined society on edge to burst forth.

Minnesota may seem an unexpected flashpoint for American racial history: largely white, largely prosperous, rarely on the front pages. But the things that make Minnesota such a pleasant place to live for so many of us remain inaccessible to others all so often, that inequity that much more glaring. Without a reckoning, we will repeat this cycle again in a few months or years or decades, left again with clueless questions of how this could happen and why people behave this way when their own lives have given them no reason to believe things can change. In the coming days and weeks, Minnesota will have the power to rectify some of what has happened, to keep an individual tragedy from becoming a tragedy of history.

This Minneapolis May might seem distant for those of us not there on the ground, but the world that fomented it surrounds us. A few hours north, in my city of Duluth, the first few summer-like days stay calm, though I appreciate the horns a few blocks from my place last night at the site of our very Duluth protest, where there is some confrontation but mostly honks of support and police posing for photographs in solidarity. But this corner isn’t safe either: we are just two weeks away from the 100th anniversary of Duluth’s greatest sin, a horrific act that today feels like just another episode in a painfully predictable, endlessly repeated American tragedy. This time it truly is impossible to remain silent, and even as things smolder, I find a sense of hope, if that can really be the right word, that we’re showing some signs of learning from past mistakes.

It is hardly an original insight to condemn violence and plead for recovery and healing at this stage, a feeble bleat that feels ill-suited for our times. But this conflagration makes me believe anew that the responsibility to respond in whatever way we can is a collective one, a societal need to reaffirm certain values in the wake of brutality and subsequent anarchy. As the fires die down and the rational mind can assert some control again, it is time to make good on Minnesota’s promise, which touches every one of us in this state. 1968 did not bring the necessary American reckoning, but perhaps 2020 can.

Farewell, Minneapolis

I’m settling back into life in Duluth right now, temporarily back in my childhood bedroom as I find my own place and make some other purchases to prepare me for working life. Before I completely turn the page, though, I’ll say a fond farewell to Minneapolis, my home for the past two years. I only ever expected it to be a short stay; a stint that would simply prepare me for an eventual return to Duluth. I didn’t invest myself too deeply in its politics or inner workings, and kept my attention fixed to the north. One can only handle so many political sagas at a time, though I was there for long enough that I certainly know the lay of the land now. Things went according to plan, so this post won’t approximate my “Farewell Duluth” saga from August 2014. But I did fall for much of Minneapolis in my time here, and I will miss parts of it.

For starters, my apartment and neighborhood were ideal for my situation. I lived in a spacious apartment in an old red brick building with hardwood floors, though the building’s greatest feature was Frances, the elderly, vivacious building manager who kept us all in line. My friend in the apartment’s other bedroom, a fellow Georgetown grad, provided a necessary sounding board, as two people who had their critiques of the Minneapolis mystique could vent freely while pursuing our goals, divergent as they were, with typical Hoya ambition. Lowry Hill East, despite its hopelessly dysfunctional neighborhood board and historic renovation slush fund, gave excellent access to the whole city. It was right between Uptown and Downtown, both a short ride or a long walk away, and express buses to the U took me there in less than ten minutes. A short run was all I needed to reach many of my favorite parts of the city: the lakes, the sculpture garden (RIP), and my favorite refuge here, Theodore Wirth Park. And, next door, Liquor Lyle’s, that magical den where you can find a little something of everything.

I saw nearly every corner of the city in my time here. Downtown, where I worked for a year, threading the skyway hive and watching as the beast of a new Vikings stadium arose day by day. The North Loop, its warehouses all freshly renovated, home to happy hours and Twins games. Northeast, with its ever-expanding network of breweries and dive bars that put Lyle’s to shame. St. Paul, which I frequented on bike rides up Summit Avenue to a winnable trivia, and of course that southwest corner of downtown, which I’ll continue to visit every March. Lowry Hill, Linden Hills, Bryn Mawr, and the Chain of Lakes, where I sized up grand old houses and dreamed of the future. North, site of many a run, and subsequent reflection on race and poverty in this otherwise gleaming city. Quirky, crunchy Seward; the looming towers of Cedar-Riverside. The riverfront, always a convenient escape, whether down along the southern bluffs or from a bar on St. Anthony Main with that incomparable view. All those hockey rinks out in the suburbs that became frequent haunts in the winter months. I could trail on.

The University of Minnesota campus isn’t an aesthetic masterpiece; that’s especially true on the droll modernist West Bank, where I spent most of my days. I enjoyed being part of a power conference school (albeit one that doesn’t win much in the big sports), with all the attendant atmosphere and that infectious buzz of spirit. Comparing it to Georgetown naturally dooms it: they serve different purposes, and of course a large, sprawling research school is going to spawn a few more weak instructors and a bureaucracy that often left me in disgust. Thankfully, they were outshone by handful of committed leaders, and their numbers seemed to grow in my time as a Gopher.

What the U may have lacked in institutional efficiency, however, it made up for in the community it built in my graduate program. My fellow students of cities will stay friends for a very long time, and saying goodbye wasn’t easy. Our social calendar was nearly nonstop, and I’m sure I’ll be watching it forlornly from a distance for a while. I spent so much of my time in this city on the couch in the MURP Lab, where I rarely ever got anything done, but rarely regretted the detour. It was the prefect venue for coming into one’s own.

This is, of course, a brief goodbye. There will be many return visits for nights with old friends, for trips to suburban ice rinks and Orchestra Hall and Target Field. I’m excited to show off my hometown and my new life to many of them, and am ready to open up a mini boarding house for any Minneapolitans in need of an escape northward. Wherever I end up living, there will be plenty of space for guests. (After miserable DC and inflating Minneapolis, Duluth real estate is dreamy.) Thanks for serving me well, Minneapolis, and I expect you’ll always be a pleasant home away from home.

A few housekeeping notes: blogging may be a bit sparse as I settle in to a new job and home. Since I try to maintain a pretty strict work-blog separation—in over three years at this, you’ll never find more than a passing mention of any of my jobs—I also might not resume my Duluth politics coverage on the same level I was at a couple of years ago. Now that I have a job that can have some effect on these affairs, I’ll aim to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest. But I certainly won’t cut myself off entirely, either, and I expect to have some openings for comment now when I’m back in the thick of this cozy political world, where there’s little space to hide. On the hockey side of the ledger, I’m naturally excited to be back in my alma mater’s backyard, and also look forward to touring a number of northern Minnesota rinks this winter. Rest assured that I’ll make a few well-timed weekend visits to the metro, and the podcast should be able to go on with me as a call-in correspondent. If anything, our network is just expanding, and the future looks bright on many fronts. Stay tuned.

RFK in Indianapolis, 1968

On Friday morning, I went for a run along Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis. It was a chilly morning, one that forced me to pull out the sweatshirt and the gloves, and a lingering winter sun provided little warmth. Later in the afternoon, a vigil and protest would take place here, but at this early hour, the streets sat silent as I approached an impromptu memorial. Ahead of me, a man and a woman crossed the street to ponder the collection of mementos to a dead man and snap a picture of themselves. I pushed on, past quiet midrise apartments and the Fourth Precinct police station, it too in an end-of-week slumber. Should it be reassuring to know we can soldier on as if nothing happened, or is it chilling that it can disappear from consciousness so quickly?

On Wednesday of this past week, Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney, announced two Minneapolis police officers would not be charged in the death of Jamar Clark, a young black man killed in an altercation last November. Freeman cited DNA evidence and the officers’ testimony to justify the use of deadly force. He reviewed the case personally to avoid the anonymity of a grand jury, and released a mountain of evidence in a quest for transparency. The community along Plymouth Avenue and its allies, skeptical after competing claims from eyewitnesses and burdened by a long history of mistrust, did not buy the attorney’s tale. Hennepin County employees bolted the Government Center en masse to avoid getting caught up in a protest that afternoon, but I hung around, and it all remained tame. We’re Minnesotans, after all.

The march made its way to the plaza, and its speakers made their case. After my run on Friday, the protesters returned to downtown Minneaplis, this time taking their case to the skyways before heading back to the little memorial for another remembrance. They promise to continue their crusade, and additional investigations will carry on. To what end? To justice; to peace, whatever those may look like.

It is easy to dispense judgment and advice from an Uptown armchair a world away from North, a world away from the streets where young men try to carve out some safety, or the beat walked by police in an effort to hold it all together. Perhaps I’m ignoring an imperative for justice after a legacy of oppression; perhaps I’m shirking my call to uphold a fragile order that stands between this country and chaos. Two degrees in public affairs, countless debates, and ten thousand hours of reading get me no closer to an answer. I can offer only one unsatisfying bit of analysis: the Clark affair has pulled up the curtain on Minnesota Niceness and revealed a simmering tension that this state must reckon with. The collapse of that façade opens up a possible dialogue, but also threatens to tear it all apart at the seams, with everyone speaking past one another as each person attempts to impose one narrative on an uncooperative history.

At this, I recall the words of one man who tried to transcend these tangled narratives. Forty-eight years ago today, in Indianapolis, Robert F. Kennedy made one of the more enduring speeches in American history. In a few short minutes, he broke the news of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death to an unknowing crowd, pondered his role as a white man speaking to black Americans, and found, in ancient wisdom, a guide toward a common goal. His quote from Aeschylus is as haunting as any in literature, and he crescendos to this finish:

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King — yeah, it’s true — but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past, but we—and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Two months later, RFK would join MLK in martyrdom. His ideal struggles on, often wandering in darkness, but never dead. Time to rededicate ourselves to that old Greek task. The stakes are growing higher.

A Patient Cyclist

Fall is kicking in to gear in Minnesota, which means that it will soon be time for those of us who are not ambitious winter bicyclists to stash our steeds away for a few months. For reasons that now elude me, I was never a big biker as a kid; the bike helmet strapped to my bag is a new addition, and given the choice, I’d rather just walk everywhere. But my graduate program contractually obligates me to begin something akin to a Tour de France training regimen, and so I have begun my education.

As Adam Gopnik writes in a recent urban planning omnibus New Yorker piece (alas, it’s behind the paywall), cycling rose to prominence in the 1890s not because it was cheap or necessarily fun, but because it was the fastest way to get around at the time. This became true for me this summer, as construction fouled up traffic between Uptown and Downtown Minneapolis. I took a certain glee in whizzing past the people trapped in their cars along Hennepin Avenue every morning, and Minneapolis’s generally excellent bike infrastructure made the decision to abandon the bus an easy one. When safe lanes are in place, the cyclists will follow.

As the summer went along, though, I began to take a few trips beyond the route of my daily commute. My Tours de Minneapolis never did quite enough to make my runner’s knees totally happy on a bike, but there’s something deeply satisfying in coasting through Theodore Wirth Park or pushing the pace past laboring cyclists on the few inclines this city has to offer. I would around the lakes, cruised along the river, and even made my way over to St. Paul from time to time. A bike camping trip out to the crimson trees of Maple Grove this past weekend seemed the ideal way to cap my first summer as a regular biker. It’s a pleasurable way to cruise about a city, with every corner suddenly at one’s disposal; nimble and versatile, both leisurely and a decent workout, depending on one’s desires.

Defenders of the bicycle are locked in a long-running, low grade war against their great antagonist, the automobile, and no self-conscious cyclist can pedal away from the debate. A lot of drivers are supremely ignorant of cyclists, and I’ve witnessed more than a few cyclists returning the favor by weaving recklessly in and among cars. If this is how rule-conscious, respectful Minnesotans handle things, I can’t imagine the battles elsewhere. As a runner, I’ve also endured countless cyclists who either give no indication of their presence or like to think they own the entirety of a shared path. Such is the grey zone of cycling etiquette, and the frequent imbalance between the letter of the law and what proves good practice on city streets.

In the end, people remain people, often inclined to vent their disgust at other anonymous individuals hurrying off to wherever it is they need to go; sometimes they simply have larger machines with which to express their pathologies. My code on the roads ignores rigid rules and settles for basic common sense. Cyclists need not come to a halt at every stop sign and red stoplight if there is no traffic in sight; a simple yield will do. For pedestrians’ sake, bicyclists should stick to streets when possible, but it is no sin to escape to the sidewalk on particularly dangerous streets. Signaling turns is the polite, and safe, thing to do. Please, cyclists, announce your presence (without sounding passive-aggressive, as if your presence should be self-evident) when approaching pedestrians who appear oblivious or might risk wandering into one’s path. And drivers, open your eyes: you do not have a monopoly on the use of our streets, and never will.

As long as I’m on the topic, I’d be remiss not to add a few stray words on Duluth’s bike controversy this summer. Even though I think the Michigan Street compromise was the most practical option—and for the skeptics of it, I always took Michigan Street both ways on the handful of occasions that I bicycle commuted from my childhood home out east to jobs on the west side of Downtown—I couldn’t help be a bit sad to see the Superior Street push fail. I understand the practical limitations, but it otherwise seems like Duluth is going all in on the bicycle mecca development plan, and the lack of any accommodation for them on the city’s signature street is a glaring miss. (Suggestion for making the Michigan Street corridor work: get a ramp from Lake Place down to the street. Lugging a bike up and down those stairs isn’t ideal.) As long as the network continues to grow and people can learn what a cheap, fast, and valuable form of transport bikes can be, the end result will be a happy one.

Run This Town

I’ve been a Minneapolitan for eight months now, and I’m slowly starting to mark this city as my own. There is much to like here, though I am skeptical as to how real the Miracle really is when one looks into its underbelly, and don’t know how long I’ll stay after my two-year stint here is up. Still, I’ve been coming to know it in my own particular way, as I have in the past with Duluth and Washington: by foot, running its streets in every direction I can, those runs sometimes degenerating into walks when I stray too far afield to keep up the intensity or find something worth watching at a slower pace.

Home base is in a neighborhood known as the Wedge, both for its triangular shape and the way it shoves itself in between the opulent old money homes of Lowry Hill and Lake of the Isles and the diverse, eclectic, and poorer neighborhoods to the east. It gives easy access to downtown to the north or Uptown to the south, the connections all fluid. It’s spring in Minnesota, that time of year we appreciate best, and it’s time to head back out.

My best-worn route sends me on an architecture tour of the fine homes wrapping around the lakes, though someone long ago had the good sense to save the lakeshore for the public, leaving us with promenades for bikers and walkers, there to see the wealth and to be seen themselves. I’ll meander off the running paths and into the quiet streets beyond, past the Mary Tyler Moore house and out to a landing on Cedar Lake, or over the crest of Lowry Hill and down by the Blake School, one whose façade I’d admire if not for my unshakable pride in that brick building overlooking Lake Superior back home. The Walker Art Center is there, complete with sculpture garden and iconic cherry; just beyond is the Parade Ice Garden, home to Minneapolis hockey, such as it is. Beneath the overpass and over a footbridge is Bryn Mawr Meadows, its ballfields turned to cricket pitches by the latest wave of immigrants.

Beyond the dandelion fountain in Loring Park Downtown stirs to life, as the sunlight sucks people out of the skywalks and on to the streets. The restaurants bring back their outdoor seating, and Target Field opens its doors to further Twins mediocrity. Nicollet Mall bustles, though it’s hard to keep up any speed with all the stoplights and traffic; in time, I make my way up along the riverfront, finally open to the city as the centerpiece it deserves to be. Further down, past the scores of new apartments, the Guthrie Theater, and the rising shell of that financial monstrosity of a football stadium lies the University of Minnesota campus, ideal for springtime people-watching, as everyone emerges from whatever room or study hole or bar they’ve ensconced themselves in over the past year and revels in the sunlight.

Cross a bridge and there is St. Anthony Falls or Nicollet Island, those old icons of Minneapolis now dwarfed by the towers around. Old Main has the best patio seating in the city, and Nye’s, that irreplaceable polka bar, beckons me into Northeast, the old realm of European immigrants now filling with immigrants and hipsters and the like. Changes are afoot to the south as well, where a battalion of new loft apartments forms ranks along the Greenway, Uptown’s transformation near-complete. Further along Lake Street is the Midtown Global Market, plus the stretch were I’m apt to go in search of some genuine Mexican deliciousness. And, of course, that damn K-Mart is still there, ruining the flow of traffic along Nicollet but providing a service no one else can in this low-income district.

To the east of home base, across Lydnale, lies Whittier, the apartments growing a bit larger and a bit more frayed around the edges. There is a little bit of everything here, with Eat Street along Nicollet and little pockets of old grandeur, especially around Washburn Fair Oaks Park, home to the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, the stately Classical museum gazing out upon the center of the city. A pedestrian bridge just a block away lofts me over 35W and into Phillips. Urban farms abound, and curiosities such as the Swedish-American Institute poke their way out of a steadily declining housing stock. Now it’s diverse as can be, with even a Native American strip up along Franklin, and over in Cedar-Riverside, just off the West Bank of the U, is the heart of Somali America. They’re stuffed into Riverside Plaza, that tower block of mismatched Legos that is only one-seventh the size it was supposed to be. Why did we ever think it was a good idea to stuff people into these things, I wonder, though at least some have carved out a little oasis for themselves between the foreignness and ignorance of the broader culture and the allure of al-Shabaab. If people can build community here—and I don’t know whether they can or not—maybe all this grumbling about the offenses of brutalist architecture misses the point.

One day I take a path not yet taken, a bridge beyond 394 that carries me into neighborhoods that few people I know have deigned to visit. My surroundings take a turn for the bizarre in Sumner-Glenwood, one of those hyphenated havens of low-income housing. Twenty years ago this was all projects and towers, but they all came tumbling down in the late 90s. In came the next-generation urban renewal scheme: instead of shoving poor people into towers like sardines, we now scatter them about green New Urbanist landscapes, with cheap housing that tries to look like it’s historic and suburban. The result: far fewer units, and acres upon acres of lifeless, empty grass separating buildings that look like they are pretending to be something that they are not. Harsh, perhaps, but it was hard not to look at this space and not think of the bankruptcy of any theory that thinks the design can rewrite these lives. The only life anywhere along these roads are two decrepit people sitting on their walkers across from their senior housing looking positively miserable, and one lady who yells obscenities at her dog as it chases after me for an entire block. The return route down the next street takes me past Bethune Elementary, one my teacher friends describe as “the worst.” It may not be ugly, but it still seems a wasteland.

To the north is North, though there is plenty of Minneapolis north of North. This is the heart of the ‘inner city,’ the place I’m told fills all the stereotypes of crime and blight and a large black population. It doesn’t entirely look the part: the upkeep of some of the historic homes is better than in Phillips or Whittier, and there is nothing remotely threatening about its streets on a Wednesday morning. In the distance, flashing lights make me wonder what is going on, and before long it’s clear the haze in the air is something more sinister. Several streets have been blocked off, and all that I can see from the corner as I peer past the crowd of onlookers is a fire engine’s cherry-picker looming in the smoke. An entire block has gone up in flames. Not wanting to gawk, I run on, though I circle around the perimeter of the cordons.

Up Broadway, a bustling shopping street laden with fatty food options. Down around the bedraggled football field belonging to North High, then doubling back to pass three more schools: a stately and quiet Catholic school, Elizabeth Hall Elementary with its tame and bustling playground, and a crumbling concrete shell of a former charter school just down the block. Nothing quite conforms here, and the face of 21st-Century urban American poverty just doesn’t show the squalor of the past. The forces at work here are deeper, more subtle, but often every bit as pernicious, the cycles of financial struggle and broken families only perpetuating themselves, here in this city with an achievement gap that ranks among the worst of the worst. The Miracle has a dark side, hard as it may seem to believe on my next run, when I’m cruising down along Lake Harriet, darting in and among the beautiful people finally free to break out their summer finery.

I’m sore now. It’s time to head home, check out my latest route on a map, and plot my next venture outward. Every one of them seems to open up another corner, remind me how little I know of this place, even as I head further afield. There’s always more to discover.

Disjointed Vomit

I’m not sure when vomit is ever jointed, but the title of this post is just there to convey the sheer randomness. For starters, it’s the first post I’ve ever written in WordPress’s post box, instead of pasting from a Word document. There is no plan here. I haven’t posted in a week, and even with most of those last two posts, I’d done most of the groundwork over the summer. I just need to get something up.

It’s not for lack of effort; I did get halfway through a post that meandered through thoughts on adolescence and American culture and the state of democratic society and so on, but it was dragging, and didn’t seem to say anything I haven’t said on here before. The goal, as always, is fresh content, not endless repetition. I’ll settle for directing readers to the two articles that prompted all these thoughts. The first, by film critic A.O. Scott on adolescence in American culture, hits on themes I’ve mused about in many places, from my thoughts on U.S. foreign policy to book and film reviews. The second is by my old professor, the oft-cited Patrick Deneen, and worries about the decline of democracy in the U.S., diagnosing private obsessions and a bit of adolescence at its root. I appreciate both, but I have some critiques of them, too. If this all interests you, get back to me with a report on the articles and we can talk. Someday, I’ll get around to fleshing all of this out in a coherent way. (Yes, being back in academia is rubbing off on me. Sorry.)

Now, on to some administrative notes and a life update.

A few people had asked if, now that I’m in Minneapolis, I’d move on to covering Minneapolis public meetings. My schedule down here has decided that for me; with few free evenings, it’s not possible. So the answer is no. Likewise, watching webcasts of Duluth City Council meetings is out of the question, at least through mid-October. That said, I am still watching Duluth affairs from afar. Comments will come at some point.

I am, finally, comfortably settled in Minneapolis. My neighborhood, which is somewhere around the place where Uptown and The Wedge and Lowry Hill all come together, is a delight. This is a place where it’s easy to live well, with incredible variety all around and easy access to both the frenetic Downtown and or the relative tranquility of Lake of the Isles. Of course, there’s no Duluth-style community or solitude to be found, which I can miss at times, but I do have enough of network in this area that I’m never too far from home.

My program is a vibrant one. Some of the people involved have incredible niche interests, while others (like myself) are a bit more detached about it all, but it’s easy to see why we’re all here. The workload is not daunting (yet). I’m still feeling out what the standards are, how it compares to Georgetown, and how not to sound like an obnoxious elitist when talking about Georgetown. The lifestyle is fairly different from undergrad, as many students have already had a career of some sort, and people are married or significantly attached and just generally have busy lives away from the school bubble. Still, there’s some camaraderie building, and that should only grow. I expect my coursework will come out in a blog post or two as well. There’s lots to think about here.

The U of M is big. Really big. I’m somewhat isolated from it all on the West Bank, but it’s a change from both Duluth and the very compact Georgetown campus. Life in a larger city is inevitably a bit more fragmented, though all of the opportunities help make up for this. I enjoy being on the campus of a Big Ten (Big Fourteen? Big Sixteen? Big 37? I lose track) school, despite the mediocrity of the football team. Hey, at least they have their integrity, unlike a certain other local sports franchise that wears purple. This past week has left me relieved that I a) root for a team that does its best to do things the right way, and b) consider football inferior to most other sports out there. Maybe the football bubble is finally starting to implode. At any rate, Minnesota’s competent male professional sports franchise gets going in less than a month, and I should get out to see some Elite League high school hockey before then, too.

For someone who enjoys travel as much as I do, I’ve done shockingly little over the past two years, which means a trip to a new destination next month is very welcome. I’m off to Phoenix for a long weekend in early October, in part for a school board campaign victory party (long story), and also to visit an old friend. Blogging will ensue.

For now, though, that’s all I’ve got. Back to work.

Cycling Southward

People who know me already know this, but I suppose an announcement for the broader blog following is in order, so here it is: one month from now, I’ll be headed south to Minneapolis, where I’ll spend the next two years in graduate school.

In an ideal world, I’d be back in Duluth in two years and settling into a career. Sadly, I don’t live in an ideal world and you don’t either, so who knows what will come of that plan. The number of things that can change in that time is impossible to imagine. But, no matter what, this is certainly not a definitive good-bye.

So, to business: how does this all affect my blogging?

The hockey coverage can obviously go on as usual from Minneapolis; I’ll try to avoid letting the dreaded Metro Bias leach into my writing. Duluth East heads south often enough that I should be able to see the Hounds with some regularity, and of course there are school breaks and such. After doing my undergraduate studies 1,000 miles away, Minneapolis practically seems next door. Duluth will never be more than a quick bus ride away. My thoughts are already starting to form about the coming season, so stay tuned.

The rambling on culture and philosophy will likely take a hit, but I doubt it will go away, either. I’m in this for the long haul, and I keep my word. I never stop thinking about that stuff, and it can prove a pleasant break from obsessing about other stuff, so long as I don’t get too caught up in that, either. This blog has proven a great outlet on this front, and it will go on.

Coverage of Duluth political meetings will likely drop off, at least in its present format. I’ll definitely be watching from afar, may pay a visit or two when back in town, and could even make use of web broadcasts as time allows. There will definitely still be Duluth coverage; I just can’t commit to the consistency I’ve had over the past year and a half.

I will keep going right up until the end. That means one more meeting of both the city council and school board (both the week of August 18), and my departure will give me a good chance to reflect more broadly on what I’ve witnessed in all those meetings over the past year and a half. There will also be another post on our favorite new voting method, instant runoff (ranked-choice) voting, in the not-so-distant future, as I’ve had a crash course in it over the past few weeks.

This last month also offers an opportunity for lots of sappy Duluth posts and other such considerations of what this city means to me and where it’s going. This is my wheelhouse, so I’ll try to have some fun with it. These past two years back home certainly were not part of the plan when I left here for college six years ago, and while I came around and was happy to come back, I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were some moments of wavering faith. It is time to head back out, too: I’m a Duluth boy at heart, but I’ve always had both the blessing and the curse of being a bit more than that. As always, it’s a cycle, in and out, there and back again. I have a lot to say here, some general, some personal, some inextricably tangled up between the two. But, I’ll save that all for later—no need to ramble here. I’m on Park Point, it’s a beautiful night, I’ve got a wine bottle, and the beach is calling.