“If you grew up in MINNEAPOLIS, how did you end up here?” you ask.

COACH gives you a long, inquisitive look, and turns to rummage in an industrial-sized refrigerator behind the BAR. She pulls out a case of O’DOUL’S tallboys and sets it on the BAR.

“You look uncertain,” says COACH as she begins to empty the O’DOUL’S cans into a smaller refrigerator beneath the bar. “And I don’t say that as a knock against you. I know the look of uncertainty. I see it every day in the mirror. But here’s the thing. Uncertainty can fuel anxiety. It can fuel depression. It can amplify worries. Trust me. I’ve been there. Still am sometimes. Yet, uncertainty can also be a beautiful thing. Just as easily, it can fuel curiosity. Exploration. Creativity. All it takes is a little bravery, a little courage, to bend that uncertain future into the better one we all hope to have.”

You say nothing, worrying that COACH deflected your question because she was offended for some reason. COACH continues to work quietly, her face steady, unrevealing of her emotions. You’re also trying to figure out if her advice on uncertainty is actually good, or if it’s just quasi-motivational mumbo-jumbo recycled from speeches to a middle school ping-pong team. You begin to think it’s both.

“I just got back from a trip to visit my mother in MINNEAPOLIS,” continues COACH, looping back to your question. “I stopped by one of my old neighborhoods, CEDAR-RIVERSIDE. When in I was in middle school, we moved across the highway from downtown MINNEAPOLIS to RIVERSIDE PLAZA, which I think might be the city’s largest complex of public and affordable housing. The PLAZA was designed by Ralph Rapson, the one-time head of the U of M’s architecture department. Typical of Rapson, RIVERSIDE PLAZA was constructed in the BRUTALIST style—lots of concrete and 90 degree angles—though RIVERSIDE PLAZA had much more color than Rapson’s other buildings, like the imposing RARIG CENTER only blocks away on the U campus. Shots of RIVERSIDE PLAZA were used for the exterior of Mary’s apartment on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, something which I always took pride in.

“Yet, somehow, RIVERSIDE PLAZA has been divisive amongst some Minnesotans. Some say the PLAZA is ugly. Sure. If you’re not a fan of BRUTALIST architecture, then you probably won’t think RIVERSIDE PLAZA is very pretty. I disagree with that, but I’ll accept the ‘ugly argument’ because it comes down to taste. That’s fair. We’re all entitled to a taste in architecture. The other arguments against RIVERSIDE PLAZA – which I won’t even get into, lest I get too worked up – stem almost entirely from classism and racism, whether the people making those arguments understand so or not. Now, it’s not like RIVERSIDE PLAZA is without its flaws; cram forty-five hundred people into a few buildings, there’re gonna be issues from time to time. Yet the place is an important, historic, resource to the city, and very near and dear to my heart, so I was happy to see it again last week.

“As a non-resident, I couldn’t visit the PLAZA’s interior, so I took a walk around the neighborhood. My beloved KEEFER COURT bakery was gone, but my favorite greasy spoon – my “fried-or-die” if you will – THE WIENERY was open, and still offering their expansive vegan-friendly menu. THE WIENERY really puts the grease in greasy spoon. God, I hope they never clean that place up. Thankfully, they have a solid track record of not doing so. For murky reasons, the grimier a restaurant is, the more I enjoy eating there. Could it be for the small victory I feel every time I don’t get food poisoning? I’m sure there’s a point of diminishing returns when it comes to this rule, but neither I nor THE WIENERY have reached it. Of course, my greasetastic rule doesn’t apply at this fine establishment,” adds COACH with a wink. 

You silently contemplate whether COACH’s wink was supposed reinforce her last sentence, or negate it. If the dust bunnies on the floor and the sticky vinyl BAR STOOLS are any indication, cleanliness doesn’t seem to be one of the DAM BAR’s strong suits.  

COACH continues: “I ordered a WARSTREET dog at the walk-up window, and it was ready in a jiffy. And only five bucks, I should add. There’s a little courtyard next to the WIENERY now. I sat down on one of its funky little benches to enjoy my dog. A person in a camouflage bandana worked quietly on the courtyard’s veggie beds while a flock of pigeons pecked at the gravel. My bench provided the perfect view of RIVERSIDE PLAZA, specifically, the tallest of the PLAZA’s structures, the McKnight Building. I could see all thirty-nine of its floors from where I sat. As a car drove by, the pigeons took to the wing. The whisper of their feathers took me back to my twenty-fifth floor bedroom window.  One March morning, I woke to the familiar swishing of wings. Still lying on my bed, I looked out my window to see the largest flock of pigeons I’d ever seen. They were in some sort of formation, circling over and over and over. I lay there watching them as the sun emerged from behind the horizon. Have you ever really watched the sun at dawn? The light... it moves differently. Faster. As the sun rose, I could see the shadows of the nearby buildings rise, grow, and shorten. All in seconds. 

“They say bamboo can grow an inch in an hour, right? But even if you stare at it, you’ll never notice the movement. The same is true for shadows cast by the sun. We all know the sun moves across the sky, but its pace isn’t something we can comprehend. But that morning, I could clearly see the sun moving. The shadows moving. Never before and never again have I seen anything like it.

“Of course, it’s not the sun that’s moving, it’s the earth. I know that. I also know that the sun’s increased ‘speed’ at sunrise and sunset is basically an optical illusion. But something about that morning stuck with me. Before I went to sleep that night, I wrote this in my journal.” Coach points to a laminated rectangle of yellow paper taped to the wall behind the BAR.

Any day where I haven’t hurt anyone, any day where I’ve read a book, any day where I’ve breathed fresh air, any day where I’ve shared friendship... any day where I haven’t made this world any worse than it already is – that’s a day well spent.

“And all these years later, I still live by those words. And I do my best to exceed their expectations. It’s not just about keeping this world from getting worse; it’s vital that we work to make this world a better, just place. But sometimes, the pressure, the weight, the gravity of this life is too much. No matter how we do this work – education, art, advocacy, activism, science, plumbing, taking care of family, millions of other ways – working for positive change can be hella tiring. Exhausting. Burnout-inducing. We need rest. We need friendship. We need to soak in this bizarre and beautiful world. We need to roll beneath autumn’s arboreal blaze, wade in cool spring creeks, snooze in summery gardens, dream at wintery horizons. We need to read. To listen. To share a goddamn snack. And we need to rest easy knowing that what we’re doing is worthwhile. When it’s time, and not any later, we’ll return to our work. And we’ll work hard. Like the sun moving across the sky, our progress might not be obvious now, but one day soon, we’ll reach the horizon. And we’ll see just how far we’ve come.”

With that, COACH raps her knuckles on the counter, picks up a stack of pint glasses, and walks to a trio of sinks at the far end of the BAR.

What do you do? 

Talk to the DART PLAYERS
Talk to the FAMILY FEUD watchers
Talk to the CYCLISTS