When you drive a highway into work the experience is anything but scenic let alone inspiring. Sound walls, fast food signs and car dealership billboards fill the skyline. You soon stop noticing anything around you because it’s so visually uninteresting. The ride is all about getting there as soon as you can while talking on your phone, listening to the radio, texting a friend, eating breakfast, putting on makeup… you know the drill. The journey is so much different on a bike. I’ve taken side streets from Colfax to Bryant, Garfield, First Avenue and many in between. I ride by gardens and pretty front porches and people sipping coffee. I bounce a block here, a block there to change-up the view from time to time. I know that more and more people in south Minneapolis are trading lush green lawns for natural low-water gardens. I see them every day. I see the purple bike with a wicker basket locked to a pole and wonder who rides it. I’ve discovered the new pedestrian bridge over the creek at Bryant Avenue and let me tell you it’s one of the most serene places in the city. I ride by eight parks between home and work and I am grateful to live in a community that believes a neighborhood is nothing without its park. I know that the tennis courts at Lynhurst Park are always busy and desperately deserve a makeover. Soccer practice is in full swing; so is marathon training. The rides make me feel more connected to my community than any cruise up I-35W. But more than anything the trips have unearthed old memories that live around almost every corner of the city where I grew up. These streets are full ghosts.
When I was young we never owned a home. I lived in 9 houses by the time I turned 16. Girard, Fremont, Blaisdell, Newton: these avenues are littered with images from my life. It’s been a bittersweet trip down memory lane this past month or so. Aldrich Avenue alone can blow my mind on some mornings. There’s the house with the clothesline where I did swings and flips for an entire summer. The place where I remember Easter because it’s the day I got Madonna’s Like A Virgin record. Yes – as an Easter present. I ride down the block where I spent a winter going door to door to shovel for money and I haven’t forgotten the one house where a creepy dude said he’d give me gum but I’d have to come inside to get it. I had street smarts enough to tell him where to shove his double bubble. Painter Park on Lyndale Avenue is where another jerk in his car stopped to ask me, a third grader, for directions. He wasn’t wearing pants. He wanted to ride on the slide with me for $5. I took off on my bike. I’ve never pedaled so fast. There’s the friend’s house where we’d sunbathe by day and break the rules at night. We quietly rolled her mom’s car out of the driveway and cruised all night. I was 13.
But of all the offbeat snapshots from my childhood, the strange shoes in the front window of a 4-plex keep nagging at me. I remember 1985 like it was yesterday. I was in 6th grade. As I said, I shoveled sidewalks to make money. I worked my butt off that winter. I vividly remember walking up to that 4-plex to see if anyone was willing to pay me $10 to clear the snow. I saw a pair of shoes in the front windows of the building and my pursuit of work was done. The shoes stopped me in my tracks. They were wedged between 2 panes of glass, each in its own window that flanked the front door. The windows were sealed up. You couldn’t touch the shoes. They were only there to be seen. I pressed my face to the glass to get a closer look. They were like nothing I’d ever seen. High heels with a little tree and house carved inside each heel. They had fabric straps over the toes and silky ties that would wrap around your ankles. Those shoes had a story and I was desperate to hear it. Who put them there? Where did they come from? I sat down on the cold stoop and daydreamed about those shoes. I was 11-years-old. I had nowhere to be. I imagined a young woman wore those shoes in an exotic place where she met the man of her dreams and he broke her heart. Those shoes reminded her of the heartbreak so she placed them in the windows of her apartment the day she moved away. Yes, this is actually how my little brain worked and still works. I have always gotten swept away by my imagination and the triggers are usually the simplest of things.
For weeks I’ve breezed up and down Aldrich wondering if those shoes were still there. Finally I decided to hop off my bike and give in to my burning curiosity. I walked up the stairs and I could not believe my eyes. There they were exactly as I had remembered. Frozen in time. They’ve aged a little. Condensation from decades of sitting in the warm and cold seasons have left water marks on the fabric. But there they sat. I was amazed. You may be thinking, “It’s just a pair of shoes.” But I get swept up in the idea that countless people have walked by those shoes for 26 years and no one has touched them. I think of all the things in my life that have come and gone since I was 11-years-old and I find it comforting to know that some things do stay the same. But more than anything I’m thankful that the curious, imaginative little girl inside of me is still there.
Angela Keegan Benson is the Assistant News Director at WCCO-TV and a mother of two. On August 1, 2011 she began her quest to live one full year as a bike commuter. Follow along as she figures out how to mesh the cycling culture with the demands of parenthood and an affinity for 4-inch heels. And yes, she’s committed to sticking it out through February storms. For more Cycling In The Cities, follow @Angela_Keegan on Twitter.