On Sunday, May 22nd, I was at home watching a thunderstorm roll in from the southwest. I had all the windows open to air out the house (our house has deep eaves, so I wasn’t worried about the rain). When the power went off I started closing windows for the oncoming storm. Then the sirens started. I went out the (open) back door to the deck into a noise unlike anything I have heard in my yard before. When I looked eastward, toward the front yard, I could see a cloud of debris beyond the neighbor’s houses moving from south to north, brown and chunky in the yellow-green light of the afternoon. They have said that by the time the warning was issued and the sirens went off the funnel cloud was already on the ground. I went back inside, and downstairs.
Over the last three and a half weeks I have seen things in my neighborhood that I haven’t seen in six years of living in my home. I have seen people who may have lived next to one another for years without exchanging hellos, but now are out working together getting a limb off of a porch, or clearing shingles out of a driveway so the construction crew can get through, or nailing a tarp over a gaping hole in a roof.
It’s almost a cliché to point out the Coming Together and Neighbors Helping Neighbors aspect of it all, but it truly is something of a surprise. The day of the storm my favorite neighborhood liquor store was hit pretty hard. The conventional thought is “liquor store – can’t be a good thing for the neighborhood,” but this place really was an asset. They had wine tastings, they were always out front putting annuals in the giant flower pots on the sidewalk, they almost never had panhandlers around; they were just a locally run small business with a fifty-plus year history on West Broadway – a fixture of the north side. The storm came on a Sunday, when liquor stores aren’t open. No one was there when the windows blew out. They were looted. That is sadly what I expected to hear more of, but as far as I’ve heard it was an isolated incident. I’ve heard stories about renters caught up in bureaucratic snafus with the city inspections division, which do not surprise me in the least (don’t get me started on the city of Minneapolis inspections division – if you’re interested, see the comment from Kevin Moberg after the Newscut link below). But I am embarrassed to admit that, even after six years of saying hi to my neighbors and lending them yard tools and such (even the one or two whom I didn’t care for), it surprised me to see the level of cooperation this neighborhood has risen to.
In the day or two directly after the storm, there were people who just sat in their vans in vacant parking lots on corners, waiting for someone to need a ride somewhere. There was one guy who got kicked out by the city for his volunteer efforts. There were shops that, as soon as they had plywood over the still-exposed broken glass in their windows, immediately spray-painted “We’re open!” all over the outside of said plywood and threw their doors open to the people of the neighborhood. Monday morning Lisa and I went to the Lowry Café for some breakfast, and our waitress said they were the only building on that corner with electricity. People were coming in all morning to charge cell phones and blackberries, without being made to purchase anything. Now that’s neighborhood.
I grew up in an insular suburban community. We all would have pooled our resources to help Mrs. Pearson, or the Sawyers, if they needed it, so I’m familiar with neighborly bonds. What is weird is that in that community we all already knew each other. In north Minneapolis, some dude could walk up from the alley and tell me he’s lived here for ages, and needs some help getting debris out of the way down the block, and I’d grab a saw. I wouldn’t ask who he is. I wouldn’t question his motives. Because I’ve been on the receiving end of this Good Samaritanism, and I am more than happy to pay it forward.
I have nothing against suburbs - I loved growing up in them. And I love visiting my friends on the south side of town, or across the river, or outstate. I love living in a state where everyone is happy to help one another no matter where they come from or what their background may be, but I will say that I really love my neighborhood, and my neighbors. We on the North Side are a resilient people, more resilient than may be obvious to most of the Metro Populace, and I am proud of my neighborhood for having set a high bar as the standard for communities working together in the Twin Cities. God bless, and god speed your recovery, friends.