My downtown bus stop was moved recently from Nicollet Mall to Hennepin Avenue, a street known for figuring prominently in Prince’s movie “Purple Rain” and inspiring Tom Waits’ song “9th and Hennepin”.
Hennepin Avenue is an “iffy” place, a place with an upscale hotel that features a seasonal, outdoor bar made entirely of ice on the one hand and bars that feature transgendered folk lipsynching to Cher’s greatest hits and shouting at slow-moving vehicles on the other.
It’s a grittily friendly area, the average crimes being panhandling and visual assaults from dubious, toothless individuals in stained sweatpants and slip-on track shoes.
As stained and low-rent as areas of it may seem, however, Minneapolis cares about its downtown citizens and boasts a contingency of green-jacketed ambassador-style folk who give directions, pick up garbage, and offer general assistance.
The people in the green jackets weren’t around in the 80s.
Hennepin Avenue in the 80s: The Replacements were at First Ave., wet tee-shirt contests were titillating the opportunistic, and the city had yet to start the “Block E” renovations that would transform the street from truly seedy to just mildly seedy.
It was in this part of the city that I had found myself following a job interview.
Nineteen years old, hair curled in a I-can’t-quite-get-over-trying-to-be-Farrah-Fawcett sort of way, I had borrowed my sister’s dress, a flowered, summery bit of happiness with cap sleeves, a belted waist, and a hemline that stopped just above the knee. My mother’s nylons, a friend’s high heels, and suddenly I’m Mary Tyler Moore.
I've wowed my interviewer with my ability to type 40 words a minute and speak goodly English, and now I wait on the corner, wait for my boyfriend to pick me up.
A red convertible pulls up. It is just past noon on a Monday. He is in a suit, possibly in his 30s, quite handsome.
“Hi!” he shouts at me, smiling.
“Hi,” I say, smiling.
“I wish!” I say.
“You waiting for someone?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Well hop in!” He pats the seat next to him.
I wander closer to his car, frowning, my head cocked to one side in unconscious imitation of my mother. He has a six-pack of beer on the floor of the passenger side. “What?”
“Jump in,” he says. “I can have you back here in under 30 minutes. You got somewhere we can go?”
What in the world was this guy talking about?
Simultaneous light bulbs appear above our heads. We stare at each other. In shock, our respective eyes widen, our mouths gape.
He’s looking for a prostitute.
He’s found a teenager.
“Oh my God,” he says, and he tears away from the curb and through a red light.
And I pull my compact from my purse and look at my face.