My brother, sister-in-law and their kids came up from Iowa for the weekend, in part to see the Holidazzle parade (or as my daughter calls it for fun, the Dolly Hazzle). Four kids, bundled to the point of near-immobility. It reminded me of an old Peanuts strip, where Charlie Brown slips on a patch of ice, landing flat on his back, only to find himself immobilized by his several layers of clothes.
So we took the LRT downtown on Saturday evening, bundled to the teeth against the sub-zero winds. It was slick to get off at the Nicollet Mall stop and be at the parade site with no traffic or parking hassles.
Lots of people were heading to the parade, so it was standing room on the train. We had been hoping to get a skyway viewing position, but the skyways were crammed an hour ahead of time. So, after grabbing hot chocolate and coffee to pass the time, we stood outside as the parade began.
The winds were steady at what must have been 20 mph, whipping straight down the glass and steel canyon of Nicollet Mall from the north. This meant the parade participants were walking/riding directly into it. I assumed they had Vaseline smeared on their faces. How the trumpeters and other members of the Minneapolis Police Band managed to play is beyond me.
Many of the spectators acknowledged defeat before Santa's float came down: with about 10 minutes of the parade remaining, the wind picked up to what must have been 30 mph. The street emptied in no time.
We waited inside the lobby of the Dorsey and Whitney building (thanks to the lawyers for opening their doors), to let the first wave of riders board the train. After a few minutes, we headed for the platform. It was still crowded, but kudos to MTC for sending extra trains, so that they were basically cued up to take frozen parade-watchers homeward. We were only too happy to huddle side-by side in the warm car. That was some serious holiday cheer.
[4:50 pm. As the westbound 2 emerges from under the U of M skyway on Washington Avenue....]
Young Woman in Back of Bus: "Wow!" (leans over, gazes intently out the south-facing window behind me.)
Me (seated on the north-facing arm of the 'horseshoe seats' at the back of the bus--turning to look over my shoulder): "That's quite a sunset" (or something similarly inadequate).
Young Woman in Back of Bus (gazing at what I now notice: a brilliant, orange-pink cloud mass; one of those formations that looks quilted on the bottom. The setting sun has full access to the underbelly of these clouds, because the trailing side of a front has cut them off in a straight line running from southwest to northeast, just behind the downtown skyline): "That's beautiful."
Me: "The sunrises have been beautiful too. I wish I had a camera phone right now " (I don't wish this at all, but it seems an appropriate thing to say--though why I said "camera phone" instead of camera is something I don't understand)
Young Woman in Back of Bus (slides over along the back bench toward my side, smiling widely and staring at the scene. The bus turns south on Cedar, so that we now see the burning clouds through the big screen windows on the side across from me. The colors have intensified, and I can see that they are pushing quickly to the southeast, the pillowy textures pulsing with movement and red-spectrum light). "Yeah, I should have a camera."
(The bus turns back to the east, one of the many zigs on the zig-zag 2 route. Even as I'm losing sight of the clouds, I think of the reports [rumors?] I've heard that sunsets are more and more stunning due to particulates in the atmosphere. I'm soon thinking about Don DeLillo's novel White Noise, where, in an ironic apocalypse of an ending, the residents of a college town find themselves making pilgrimages out to a freeway overpass to view the spectacular sunsets that have become regular occurences since a cloud of toxic gas was released nearby....)
One drawback of the LRT is that it runs so often.
Let me explain. Before LRT, I would typically catch a 20 bus at 6:40 or 7 AM to get to the office by 7:10 or 7:30. There were regulars on the 20 with whom I felt connected. It’s not that I spoke to many of them very often. A combination of introversion and early morning semi-consciousness usually made me content to read the paper, check my PDA, or close my eyes to the background noise of greetings and ongoing conversations (not that there would be a lot of conversation—these were Minnesotans, after all).
Still, there was quite a sense of community on the inbound 20 on weekday mornings. Riding the same bus created some cultural capital. This is a significant benefit of mass transit: it brings people together where they can make positive connections (negative connections happen too--but put all of these people in individual cars, and the chances for negative interactions are much greater than for any positive connections).
But the 20 got rerouted and renumbered, like many other lines, as part of the opening of the Hiawatha Line. Because the LRT runs about every 7 minutes during the morniing rush, and because I can catch either a 21 or a 53 on Lake St. over to the station, my departure time can now vary widely, and still get me in my ergo-seat well before the office opens at 8. I probably catch either a different bus or different train 4 out of 5 days a week. I’ve lost a small bit of community (other, more conversational riders lost more) in exchange for the big-time efficiency of the Light Rail line.
When I started riding the LRT last summer, I told friends that it felt like Minneapolis was all grown up. Standing on a train platform reminded me of being in New York, Chicago, Boston, or London. But part of that growing up involved some loss, of course. Big city transit, for me, has meant more big city anonymity, at least in this small sense. Still, the LRT is producing its own forms of cultural capital, especially among the many folks who follow more of a routine, and catch the train at the same time each day.
The other day I was going home on the 16, when I saw him standing on the side of the Cedar Avenue off-ramp (westbound on Washington Ave.), holding one of those handwritten cardboard signs. It read "Anything will help. God bless."
I was sitting with five pieces of pizza in a box on my lap, leftover from a departmental lunch event the day before. That was something. Anything. This guy would seem to need it more than I did--assuming he was on the level. I didn't necessarily assume this, as I don't assume it any time a stranger hits me up for spare change.
But I decided I'd give this guy the pizza. He couldn't buy a bottle of wine with it, if that's what he wanted money for. But if he was truly desperate enough to be begging, he could eat his fill.
So I got off the bus one stop later (I missed the Cedar stop while thinking these things), crossed the street and caught an eastbound 16 back to Cedar.
I walked up behind him, saying:
"Excuse me--want some pizza?" I held out the cardboard box.
He turned. Jeans, untucked flannel shirt, thin beard and unkempt dirty-blonde hair. Could be me on a Saturday, or even some work days. I was aware that I was signifying upper-middle class by my long wool dress coat (the label inside says "Saks Fifth Avenue," although I had picked it up for two dollars at a rummage sale--neither of those contradictory facts were visible, of course).
He turned and looked at me. He had been focused on the cars. Then, quickly, he said, "No, I couldn't. Really. Can't do that."
"OK," I said, and walked back to catch another bus. I wasn't so much surprised to be turned down as I was surprised by the way he declined. "Couldn't do that?" "Can't?" Was he bound by some corporate policy, or panhandler's code of ethics? Maybe I had surprised him, and it was his surprise talking.
But clearly, "anything" didn't include food.
(He and She board the LRT at the Lake St. Station, 7:35 am. He grabs a metal handhold next to Me; She links her arm through his.)
She: "I'm thinking of strapless black dresses for the bridesmaids, something they could wear again to a party. What do you think?"
He: (leans over and kisses her.)
She: "My shoes are all wrong though."
He: (leans over and kisses her.)
She: "And the invitations, sort of like the ones like Julie and Martin had. Does that seem right?"
He: (leans over and kisses her.)
Me: (turn away).
Are they typical, or will theirs be one of those relationships that founders on the jagged rocks of wedding planning? Discuss.
Last night, after I got off the outbound train at Lake St, a particularly harried woman hurried up to the train.
Confused (drunk?) Man (slurs this out from behind her): "So how do I get downtown?"
Harried Woman (presses button to open train door.): "I don't know" (disappears into the crowded car).
Confused (drunk?) Man: (looks around, boards).
(outbound train pulls out, away from downtown).
"Say you stand by your man,
Tell me something, I don't understand....
Did you stand by me?
No not at all.
Did you stand by me?