Gold Medal Park, August 3rd, 2007, blue light from the Guthrie, and the old Gold Medal sign, a few blocks from the I-35 bridge, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
I ended up in downtown Minneapolis Friday night, by the I-35 bridge. I didn’t plan to walk down by the river. But that’s what ended up happening. Liz and I took her Mom into Minneapolis to pick her brother up at the Hilton. The four of us went to Harry’s by the old Milwaukee train station for dinner. Liz had seen a write-up in City Pages.
The chocolate banana cream pie was sizzling and creamy, the Robert Cray a little too loud, the beer bottle chandelier campy, the energy electric. The fresh shrimp appetizer stared back at me from a clean, white plate with beady, black eyes and centipede feet. I had to work too hard to snag the meaty centers. But the butterbeans and ginger dipping sauce were delectable. And we had a good time.
After dinner, Liz decided to try to drive over the 10th Street Bridge. It was blocked off. So we went over by the University of Minnesota to see what was happening. Things were buzzing: summer students, slow-moving SUVs, curious tourists, and everyday people like us. People who live here and want to steal a fleeting glimpse of what’s happened to their city.
We couldn’t see much. But we did pass by the blue and yellow media tents precariously perched on the edge of the University Bridge. There was a lot of neck-craning navigation through slow-moving traffic. People seemed unusually eager to let us in. Kind. Polite.
Later, we dropped Liz’s family off at the door of the downtown Hilton. We were tired and knew we wanted to get home. But we were so close. So Liz took a chance. “Wanna go down by the river to the parkway?” she asked. “Yeah, let’s try,” I said. Liz has amazing luck with parking. She found a spot under the gangly shadow of the Ceresota sign, right across from the old Whitney hotel. We grabbed our cameras and started walking down to the Mississippi.
It had taken me a few days, watching endless loops of media coverage, to figure out that my favorite part of West River Parkway was no more. The closest we could get was a short span of road under the Gold Medal Flour sign, next to the Mill City Museum and the Guthrie Theater. There were groups of people gathered on a little outcrop across from the Stone Arch Bridge. They stood two by two, talking one on one, quietly discussing what they were seeing.
There was pointing and head bowing and quiet honor. Shared solitude. Silent prayers, inner mourning, deeper understanding. Solidarity. The I-35 bridge over the Mississippi had caved into the river. And yet we were still here. All that was left were the bright lights, twisted beams, and green vertical V’s of mangled metal. Everything else was under the river.
The 10th Street Bridge was standing behind the collapsed bridge. The illusion was that it stood in front of it. We walked past the Guthrie, down to within a block of the Red Cross building. A twenty-something policeman with a green flashlight, blue cooler, and yellow tape, roped us off from going further. It would be a long time before I drove the Rebel on that stretch of road again.
From the last barrier, we could see the section of the bridge that had smashed into the parkway. It stood brightly lit through the dark foliage that covers the river banks. I’ll never forget the woman on the news who had gone under the bridge on the parkway seconds before it collapsed. Her account of the deafening noise, immediate silence, confusion, horror, disbelief, and helplessness, will stick with me always.
–Ceresota, August 3rd, 2007, on a walk to see the I-35 bridge, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
Liz and I walked silently back to the car. We took a few photographs, and checked in with each other when one of us would stop to stare at the river. My camera battery died. I wasn’t much in the mood anyway. I was taking it all in. And trying to hold the enormity of it. I’m not there yet. But the cover of night offered solace. By the time we were ready to leave, there were only a few people milling around near the Stone Arch Bridge.
We slowly walked up the hill by the old mill ruins. Liz snapped a few hundred ghostly orbs. We didn’t realize until we looked at our photographs this morning that bright blips of ghostly light were peppered throughout her photographs. The Spirits of the old mills are restless.
Perhaps they are shaken up by what they have seen. Or are surfacing to offer comfort to the living. There have been countless accidents and fires on that stretch of the Mississippi. Minneapolis grew up on her banks; she’s suffered a new scar. Loved ones have been lost. They are holding up the sky.
While we were driving home through the city that night, I realized how much I love it here. I was not born and raised in Minnesota. And it took me a long time to feel like I fit in. But after 23 years, this is my home. I love the Midwest. And Minnesota. I love Minneapolis.
I was surprised to feel the tears well up in my eyes this morning when I looked at the night shots of our town. I felt a strange sense of pride.
The pride has always been there, a hidden undercurrent. But Friday night, when I stared at the swollen Mississippi, quietly holding the severed, crumpled aorta of our city, the root was unearthed. I tapped into a vein of strength: a deep layer of connection and community; a place I know I belong.
Saturday, August 4th, 2007