Monday, July 2, 2012

A Few Observations on Weather

Talk about your second takes.  Banana Blossom reopened.  I know, that’s old news, it happened months ago, but it’s great news to me because I still haven’t dropped in yet, and I am so excited to try this place.  I thought I had missed my chance.  They were open for a couple years with me driving by at least five times a week and thinking I really wanna try the food there.  Then it was hit by a tornado.  Not just grazed, either, but really slammed into like a hockey puck to the larynx.  It was over.  I lost my chance.  And chances don’t come along everyday on the north side.  When I moved into this neighborhood seven years ago there was a fantastic Caribbean joint a block from my house.  They had the best food, a spectacular happy hour, and plans for a delightful & sunny patio.  They got a glowing review from Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl back when she was with the City Pages.  Even with all of this going for them they took on too much debt and closed within the year.  I’ve read the statistics - 60% of restaurants fail in the first three years, and by five years the failure rate jumps to 75%.  I’ve worked in the industry for over a decade (I even waited on Dara once, when I briefly worked at Tryg’s), and I knew how the cards were stacked.  I knew I had completely missed my window of opportunity to try Banana Blossom’s fare, and that they were not coming back.  Yet somehow they did come back after the tornado!  Last fall the new glass went into their large front windows, and now they’ve been reopened for some time, and their food looks spectacular in photos!  I shall not continue to squander this blessing.  I shall support these ridiculously lucky NoMi entrepreneurs, and go there this week, I promise.
The end of May was the anniversary of that North Minneapolis tornado.  MPR made a huge deal about it.  I was on the bus on my way to work the next week, and noticed they had taken another house on the block on the northwest corner of Broadway & Penn Aves.  Now there is the old fast food place that’s boarded up, and one house still standing.  That is all.
I honestly don’t know if anyone is living, or considering living, in this house (it’s doubtful, but there’s no plywood over the doors or windows, so it’s not unthinkable), but still it occurred to me how odd it would be to wake up one morning and be the only house left on your block.  What do you do, with no fences, no hedges, no gates or delineations whatsoever, when you have a WHOLE CITY BLOCK to yourself?  On a major crossroads?  It’s not like this house is down by the park or tucked away along the creek or anything – it is smack in the geographical center of the poorest neighborhood in the city, and it’s alone on an EMPTY block.  The building I wanted my start-up business in used to be there, but has since been torn down (a result of the tornado).  St. Anne’s Catholic Community is right across 26th  Ave, too, so it’s not like no one is ever walking around here.
Take a moment to imagine yourself at home.  Now imagine waking up one morning to find you could peer across the street in every direction without obstruction.  Weird, right?  One recent Sunday I found myself on the 50th floor where I work, and from 750 feet above street level you can definitely see the stripe of no trees slash diagonally across North, from Broadway & Penn to Lyndale & 42nd.  I always found it difficult to locate my house from up there, now it’s right next to the white stripe, half way up, a few blocks off the left side.
No, we haven’t completely recovered.  A year later there are still houses with bright blue tarps on their roofs.  Many of these houses will probably never again support human life.  Many have already been taken by the bulldozers and the excavators, but of those that remain, few will stand in another year.  My favorite anchor on Penn & Broadway is trying to recoup & rebuild across the street from their now demolished building, on the empty block – I assume just because they have half a century’s worth of ties to the neighborhood.
I was at ALDI the other day buying some groceries, and there was a woman in front of me in line with the words “Project Bitch” tattooed just above her waistline, in a cursive tramp stamp.  I thought it was an apt metaphor for our shared neighborhood.  It IS a project.  It is a project that we’ve been working on for years, and one that is consistently frustrated by profiling, or stereotyping, or tornadoes.  It is something of a bitch, and there is still a narrative on the north side of a person with their fists up, a person who resents the scrutiny.  We take care of our own here; it’s just what we do.  We don’t need local TV news to pat us on the back for it.
So now everybody’s impressed with how many things have returned to normal on the north side.  Really?  It’s been A YEAR.  Many homes weathered the winter snows (thankfully sparse this year, but still…) WITHOUT ROOFS INTACT.  That is not normal.  Nor, in any other neighborhood, would you dream of saying, “wow, they’ve come so far” if that were the case for any fraction of the housing stock.  A year later they are still bulldozing tornado homes.  That’s how many were affected.  And the sad thing is most of them had only minor damage.  They just didn’t have any tenants or non-bank related interested parties to fix the minor damage, so exposed to the elements for a year it has become major damage.  If you want to know how far we’ve come in a year, come park at Penn & Broadway and get out of your car.  Take a moment to turn 360 degrees and really take in the cityscape.  You’ll wonder how many DAYS it’s been since the storm.
So feel free to congratulate us on the progress we’ve made, but don’t pretend there aren’t still empty lots full of crabgrass that no one wants to own.  We live in a vacuum that can only be filled by investment.  We need people to want to live where we live in order to recover, and right now on the north side of Minneapolis that prospect seems like something of a pipe dream.  All I can say is how much I love my neighborhood, and how much you’d love it, if only we could get some commerce up in here, and if only we could get some positive press.  I’m still waiting to see a billboard that says, “North Side: Come weather the storm with us, and rebuild something today.”