Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Hippies, the Catholics, and the Middle Class in Northern England

Our Way or the Highway: Inside the Minnehaha Free State is Mary Losure's account of what happened to the anti-Highway 55 movement in the Nokomis neighborhood after those fucking hippies moved in.

I was sixteen and working at the Bridgeman's on Hiawatha next to the old Walgreens location, which is next to the For Pet's Sake and the Chinese restaurant, and on the other end from the Burger King and the gas station. That Dairy Queen across from Minnehaha Falls is around the corner. Jerry and Kathy, the couple who owned the Bridgeman's franchise, were opposed to the 55 reroute. So was I, so were my brother, my parents, the next door neighbors, the across-the-street neighbors, and hundreds of other people who lived within a mile or two of the 55 corridor. I remember a full past capacity meeting in the Roosevelt High School auditorium: Then-mayor Sharon Sayles Belton gave a little speech about "Light rail!" and everyone cheered. The county planning commissioner came up to the microphone and effectively said: "This has been on the books since the '70s. Why are you complaining now?" Then the floor opened up for public comment. People lined up, pro- and anti-reroute, and alternated speaking at the microphone. They ran out of pro-reroute people in twenty minutes. The neighborhood was solidly against the reroute. A few weeks later, I was riding the bus from the U, and I saw a dreadlocked dude walking across the grass, barefoot, in Minnehaha Park. In November. An old lady next to me said, "There are those protesters," and I knew then that the neighborhood had lost because the anti-55 activism had been taken over by unwashed youths who went shoeless to make a point about, presumably, The Man. After that, community meetings stopped being something I went to with my mom and my brother and started being something everyone read about afterwards in the paper.

Our Way or the Highway explains what the protestors were doing wandering around Minnehaha Park for all those months. Apparently, word about the reroute spread to someone who told someone who told someone who was way out West and a veteran of the anti-logging campaigns in Northern California and they and all their friends showed up on Riverview Road, which is one of those weird little roads where the river keeps Minneapolis from being a perfect grid. Several houses on one side of Riverview Road were already slated for demolition; the only hold-out was an older lady named Carol Kratz. The other side of the street was not slated for demolition and remained occupied by good Minneapolitans. Carol Kratz welcomed the Earth First! activists and some tribally unaffiliated Native Americans. They pitched tents and tipis in Carol's yard and along the empty street, drumming and singing all night long and peeing wherever they liked. The neighbors across the street were trying to live their lives and raise their kids. The same neighbors who had been turning up at public meetings for years, saying, "I don't want to look out my front window and see a retaining wall!" were calling their city council members and their legislators saying, "Fine! Get rid of the hippies! We'll take the retaining wall!"

The trouble with the 55 reroute, something that I didn't know until I read the book, and something that the protestors never learned, was that the battle against 55 had been raging for decades. Higway 55 was, on its first imaginings, going to be a major freeway like 94 and 35, ripping through neighborhoods, destroying hundreds of homes and blocking the Nokomis neighborhood from the Mississippi. A couple named Walter and Carola Bratt questioned it. They enjoined neighbors, attended meetings, spoke to every alderman they could find, volunteered on every committee and proposed a four-lane, forty-mile-per-hour, ground level freeway with light rail, which is what it remains to this day. Walter and Carola Bratt saved the city from another massive freeway smashing its way through the neighborhood and ruining everything, and then-Hennepin County chairman Peter McLaughlin respected them as people who could stop a freeway.

The Earth First! camp was raided by police several times, partly for the protestors safety. They had some legislative support until a protestor shoved a vegan cream pie into a 65-year-old, pro-reroute female state representative's face. Ms. Losure's book is well-written and unbiased. She was a reporter for MPR during the 55 shenanigans, and knew many of the protestors well. She weaves an interesting narrative, and fills it in with plenty of history. As we all know, The Man won, as he often does. Honestly, 55 couldn't look better, the green space over the tunnel is seamless and I don't regret the reroute at all. However, it would have been nice to let the neighborhood make the decision itself instead of having the situation wrested from its hands by a bunch of barefoot, dreadlocked, tree-sitters.

Juliet, Naked is no High Fidelity, but it's also no How to be Good. Nick Hornby seems to have his writing powers back, although he's never going to recreate the success of his two brilliant masterworks. Juliet, Naked is a quiet story about British people and an American, who is, thankfully, not as bombastic as British people usually make Americans out to be (see David Lodge). Duncan is obsessed with a reclusive American rock musician to the point of running a fan site. Annie lives with Duncan and works at the local seaside museum. Tucker Crowe is the reclusive American musician. Annie posts an article on Duncan's website and Tucker e-mails her and says, "Watch out for the fan site weirdos," and they strike up a correspondence while Duncan and Annie's relationship falls to pieces. Some great lines, like, regarding Duncan, "“He had never once felt itchy, in the way that two connecting pieces of a jigsaw never felt itchy, as far as one could tell. If one were to imagine, for the sake of argument, that jigsaw pieces had thoughts and feelings, then it was possible to imagine them saying to themselves, 'I'm going to stay here. Where else would I go?' And if another jigsaw piece came along, offering its tabs and blanks enticingly in an attempt to lure one of the pieces away, it would be easy to resist temptation. 'Look,' the object of the seducer's admiration would say. 'You're a bit of telephone box, and I'm the face of Mary, Queen of Scots. We just wouldn't look right together.' And that would be that.” Juliet, Naked is a good, solid minor novel hampered only by a weak ending, when there's a strong tension between what the reader expects to happen and the characters' lack of interest in doing that thing, leading to foreplay by googling health concerns. Nothing sexy. The actors on the audiobook are all perfect in their roles.

And Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, author of Half the Sky, the best hiking novel so far, is kicking ass on religious topics in Leap of Faith. Abby stabs her classmate and is forced to go to Catholic school. This book has so much going on but none of it feels forced. The themes are so seamlessly woven that Brubaker Bradley moves from space-cadet parents to love of theater to sexual harassment to Catholic sacraments to friends' parents to anger and makes it all a whole. Leap of Faith is a nearly exquisite novel about the mundane. I'm feeling a little rushed on the Brubaker Bradley, as Leap of Faith came into work right after I reserved her other book, For Freedom, at the library, so I should read two books by the same author one after the other, which I don't really like doing, if I want to get For Freedom back to the library in a sensible amount of time.  

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