This summer I walked several miles from a movie theater in a Minneapolis suburb to my apartment in a densely populated part of the city. I take the bus to work. This morning, an enormously fat man at my bus shelter was suffering from a coughing fit. And when he wasn’t, he cleared his throat dramatically and spat onto the floor of the shelter. On most mornings the other riders are fellow “professionals”, a term that is precise yet obnoxious. Other riders, more so in the evening, are less…professional. The teenagers with feet on the seats and braying with laughter; the men reaking of pot; the man with pants unbuttoned for no legitimate reason.
So when I walk through a Minneapolis suburb at night, particularly an affluent town, I’m acutely aware of how unpleasant the bus can be. I feel shamed by the casual indifference of the affluent neighborhoods that I pass through.
Living in Minneapolis is like revisiting childhood memories or passing through an old dream. All the facts are there but the sharp edges have been worn down. The archetypal suburbs from the movies of my youth, they are still here, covering large swaths of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Edina, and surrounding towns.
The side effect of these neighborhoods – which promise peace, tranquility, and order – is that when the silence is broken, it sounds violent, like a punctured balloon. A car playing loud hip hop creates a sense of unease out of proportion to the offense. Even I, who grew up in similar surroundings, feels out of place in this milieu.
Minneapolis is small enough that when a girls’ volleyball tournament takes place in the convention center, the city takes notice. Long hair and short shorts everywhere. And yet the people who move to Minneapolis from small Minnesota towns, or Wisconsin or Iowa…they still see “the Cities” as a Big City. Recently I eavesdropped on a young man talking to an old drunk: “all my life I’ve lived in small town, then suburban, suburban, suburban. Now urban. This is urban!”
Is Minneapolis urban? According to the standards of the average Minnesotan, the answer is a strong Yes. But I suspect that most Minnesotans – and probably most Americans – would prefer the dark, tree lined streets of the suburbs. At night, the sprinklers sprout, embarking on a clandestine mission to make grass green. Are there more important goals? Perhaps. But it’s hard to imagine that there are any other troubles in the world when the night is dark, the kids are safe, and the air is fragrant with the scent of freshly cut grass.