Monday, February 18, 2013
Saints of the City
The world of serious vice in downtown Minneapolis contains itself, with great self-discipline, to a six block stretch of Hennepin Avenue from the Mississippi River south to Sixth St.. This little neighborhood neatly occupies a little self-contained kingdom, a kind of Vatican City, within a larger midwest city which as a whole is a very small-town, Mayberry kind of metropolis. Minneapolis is a far cry from Chicago or New York City, and there are virtually no neighborhoods that I fear to walk. But this stretch of Hennepin Ave. is our Gamorrah, at least at night.
To the east two blocks, is the ever so genteel Nicollet mall, which overwhelmingly caters to those wearing suits and business skirts. This is the world of Macy's and Nieman Marcus department stores. The folks who shop here during the daytime will do almost anything to avoid Hennepin, just two blocks away. A little bit further south is the theater district, where traveling Broadway shows and big-name concert draws will play, and just a block to the west from there is First Avenue, the nightclub made famous by Prince in the movie Purple Rain.
This northern stretch of Hennepin, though, belongs to the fringe citizens of downtown. Though relatively genteel in the daytime, later on at night most of the gritty downtown action will be found here. It's for this reason that the downtown police precinct office is located just a block away, because if there is a shooting or a major drug deal or a prostitute-related stabbing, it will most likely be near this segment of Hennepin sometime after 2:00 am.
It also is the major thoroughfare for the metro bus lines during the day.
The Hennepin Avenue folks do wander about the rest of downtown during the workday, but you think of them differently when you pass them while walking at lunch, when they are the minority demographic. Then, you might see an occasional homeless person asking for coins. Or, a fetchingly attractive young woman in very tight jeans and carefully done hair who you might peg as an exotic dancer. Not often, but occasionally you might see a prostitute making her daylight errands. Unlike the exotic dancers, these girls wear their high heels and lots of makeup all day long, even when running errands to Target. Occasionally there is the unfortunate drug addict.
At six o'clock the tide begins to turn, though, as the workers head for home in the outer neighborhoods or the suburbs, and the street folks head back for Hennepin proper to reclaim their positions. By 7:00 pm, the downtown bars have already propped their doors open and the sidewalk smoking lounges are beginning to fill. The strip clubs are beginning to blare music, and sidewalk hawkers are beginning to loosen up and talk to the beat cops beginning their stroll.
At the bus stop one night, a prostitute sauntered up to a beat cop leaning up against brick wall of a gay bar. "Hey, Bobby," she said to the cop, clearly an long-time acquaintance. "You'd swear the Republican convention is back in town. " She gesters to the suits scurrying to the bus stop. "Look at all the bankers still here at 7:00 on a Monday night."
She was talking about the rest of us, waiting for the buses to take us out of downtown. To the downtowners reclaiming Hennepin Avenue each night, we're all "bankers."