A bit busy now, so you have to deal with something I wrote last week after I penned the phrase "The Difficult Dinkytown Feeling." What did I mean? It has to do the emotions you have for a place where you used to live. We all have those places, from different phases of life. Profound! Also, who cares? I wouldn't bother you with it, except it's a lesson in what makes a place, and what unmakes it for others.
There's always a place that's still the familiar thing you loved, and not that place at all. Normal for any old college haunt, I suppose. I don’t feel that way about Stadium Village, where people in the dorms called home; it had no center. I surely do not feel that way about the West Bank. I lived there for a year and loathed it. For one thing, I did not mesh with the counterculture vibe - yes, I know, that’s a head-scratcher. The tone of the place was set by a corner co-op coffeehouse that had the dreaded folk music, and by the Brutalist towers of Cedar Square West, where I lived. To its south was the great vacancy of a freeway spaghetti bowl. I had been convinced to move there by the current gf, who lived in the nice part of CSW, the building where Mary Richards moved in the later years of the Mary Tyler Moore show. She had a two-level place, tiny, but spare in that 70s style. White cupboards, metal railings, everything looking as if it should be the home to Marimekko furnishings.
Dinkytown was different. It had an intersection that the others lacked, a place of compacted energy: pedestrians and traffic. Trains ran beneath a bridge. It contained the gateway to the U, to the Old Campus, a small collection of early 20th century structures. And it was a true little city, with one of everything. A hardware store, a Fanny Farmer chocolate, a pet store, stationery, pizza, laundry, musical instruments, used books, a drug store with a fountain, a shoe store, a movie theater, and on and on. Three Italian restaurants. One bar, several 3.2 beer joints, one 24 hours restaurant, two chain fast-food joints. It was a small town in the middle of the big city, and on three sides spread a neighborhood of old homes and 60s apartment buildings. It was cheap. It was safe. It was home.
The Valli, where I worked for a few years as a waiter and pub factotum, was the social center for us. You could always find someone you knew there, either sitting in a booth having a meal, or, more likely, downstairs in the pub shoving around a pinball machine. The beer was weak and the wine was swill, so we drank coffee, and lots of it. The management occasionally tried to limit refills, but this was hopeless. Customers helped themselves. They ate the free popcorn in lieu of lunch. But as long as they put quarters into Space Invaders and Asteroids and Missile Command and the pool table, it was okay. The place did good business, until something happened, and it was no longer viable. By then I’d moved on, and was glad to be denied the opportunity to waste time there. It was a black hole, and for a long time we all felt trapped on the event horizon. I mean, people left town to get out of the clutches of Valli culture.
What’s changed? Well, the Valli is something else now, and it pops up on the crime blotter twitter feed. They demolished half the block that held old stores and a strange two-level McDonalds that adjoined the train-track tunnel, and a project of startling enormity rises there now. It fits in with the other big projects, giving Dtown the look of a big-city campus community. If I was a kid in a small town and I saw pictures, I’d want to be there: surely that’s where it’s at. Whatever it is.
Now I go there just to pass through. One year the trip home from the State Fair took me past the old StarTribune building, suffering its demolition. I remember recording all that with a strange sense of disbelief: this wasn’t really happening. It’s just a show, a collection of illusions. How can this place go down?
But they do, of course. So it’s nice to have a place in Dinkytown that isn’t the Valli, but still has some of the interiors, and has the staircase that goes downstairs to the game room, complete with the cheap psuedo-Tiffany light fixture that was there the last time I checked. I can go back anytime I want, and it’ll be there.
Thing is, I never do. Thing is, I never want to.
Anyway, let me show you what I mean about the then and the now, and how it's better. Mostly.
In the old days this was a high school: Marshall-University. It lent a cheerful loud note to the neighborhood to have a high school.
Closed in 1982, turned into a technical institute. Now:
Across the street, there was the House of Hanson, an overpriced convenience store. A few houses. The brutalist dullard in the background is "the Chateau."
Another corner was home to one of those late 60s / early 70s two-story luxury apartments. Those balconies! How we envied the lotus-eaters who had balconies.
Now it's very yellow. The street a few years ago:
Much more urban, but those colors . . . well.
The old Ralph-Rapson designed library then . . .
Now. And finally: there's no loss here. It was a Burger King once, with the Tables out front for people to meet and chat and wile away some time.
The huge project referenced above now fills the space. Better than franchises, and it makes Dinkytown seem more like a city.
But less Dinky.
Don’t get me started on the Remnant Uptown Ache.
Now, this year's Above-the Fold Kul-chah Feature, or ATFKF.
Some royal guy dies, you gotta have a picture. The lesser the guy, the lesser the artist. It's the "Allegory of the Death of William V, Prince of Orange, 1806, Jan Willem Pieneman, 1806."
What is this? I leave for one minute and the lion breaks the sword and the kids are flying around with the nice gold dinner plates? I can’t trust you with anything!
The putti are working on the medal they'll drap aroud the neck. so that's how he died: neclk broken by an oversized pointless honor.
He seems to be eyeing them, doesn't he?
The lion sleeps tonight. his instruments of war broken and abadoned.
By the way, I have to admit to something: I’ve altered the color. Here’s the original.
I really don’t think he painted it with PAM butter spray.
As for the subject:
William V (Willem Batavus; 8 March 1748 – 9 April 1806) was a prince of Orange and the last stadtholder of the Dutch Republic. He went into exile to London in 1795. He was furthermore ruler of the Principality of Orange-Nassau until his death in 1806.