Teenage Wasteland: Innocence Lost and The Fight

This post was written for my nemesis Caroline Thompson at Teenage Wasteland.  We frequently have boss battles which tower over Downtown Minneapolis and end in the destruction of many iconic structures.  And then, we do happy hour. 

Elementary school at Horace Mann kept me within a physical bound – Saint Catherines to the North, Highland Parkway to the South, Fairview to the East, and Cleveland to the West.  It was only 20 square blocks.  This was my world.  I was within the safety of knowing that I was always close to home.  My parents saw me leave in the morning and my Mom would be home when I got home.  They were almost always close.  Safe.

My choice for middle school was between two amicable institutions – of which I knew nothing about in regards to academics or atmosphere – Ramsey or Highland Junior.  I had two points of confliction.  I had a great group of friends at Horace Mann and most of them were going Highland Park.  They had their reasons, older siblings, proximity, parents not giving them a choice, but these reasons had no barring on my decision.  It was completely social.  I had an equally great group of friends at the Jewish Community Center – another point of confliction, because I was not Jewish… as far as I could tell.

I followed a portion of my friends from the JCC to Ramsey Junior High, mostly in part to my actually Jewish friend Aaron.  So there it was, Ramsey Junior, the ascendence to adulthood.  Innocence lost.  My elementary years we even punctuated with The Graduation Song by Vitamin C (Horace Mann Class of ’01 woo).  I was really taking a big step here.

The most reasonat feeling I garnered from my Junior High experience was the avoidance of conflict.  I was a sensitive kid and as such I was always acutely paranoid that someone was setting me up.  When somebody asked if I wanted to do something after school, I had a sensational notion that the end game of this invitation was to pants me and leave me in a heap of humiliation.  This never materialized, but I was ready.  Really, I was the only one who brought on any confrontation.

That One Time I Punched a 12-year Old in the Head and Felt Awesome

I got in one fight and this was once I got into the bourgeoisie class of Junior High – Eighth Grade.

Fuckin’ Sevies…

In accordance with the true norm of adolescence, pointing out any obvious flaw in anyone, I was making fun of this new annoying little kid, once again fuckin’ sevies gahhhd, because he had a clef lip which affected his nose structure causing it to be indented.  He was constantly invading our circles during passing time and trying to insult us.  He was obviously unsuccessful, we were the shit. Despite my avoidance of confrontation, I decided to capitalize on an opportunity to tell a hilarious joke at someones expense.

It was lunch.  We were awesome Eighth graders so we all sat together and made the lunch room quiver.  After thoroughly making sure Cory, annoying sevie, was not near, I folded my nose down, crossed my eyes, and asked the group, “Who am I?”  He was apparently lurking right behind me, like many kids did, because, we were the shit.  Oh man.  Faces lit up at my table and he tapped me on the shoulder with a look of malice and what the fuck did you just say on his face.  This was a Monday.  I had gym with him next.

In gym, he made it very clear, he was going to kick my ass.  He was probably about 5 feet tall, pushing 110 pounds.  Albeit, I was no beast either, I was probably 5’4″ around 135 pounds.  We set a date, Friday.  After school.  Literally, we were to meet after school at the flagpole on Friday.  We set the date on Monday.

All week, I was a nervous wreck.  Confrontation had just been thrust into my young life and it was all my fault.  I went through so many different scenarios

What if I just apologize?  Pussy…

What if I actually hurt him? Cops… MY PARENTS…. 

What if I just run away?  Pussy…

Tell a teacher?  Teachers hate students…..

I WAS SO CONFLICTED.  Although, there was only one obvious choice.  Get it over with.  Fights are dumb, but if I must recant for my insult by defending my honor, I shall.

The valor scenario had prevailed.  The week dragged on, like, you know that scene in Garden State, when Za(c?)k Braff takes ecstasy at that party and the world is moving along beside him, but he, metaphorically of course, doesn’t move?  It was kind of like that, but the metaphor is that the week was happening, but I was not reacting to anything, because I was debilitated with anxiety and nerves.

At any rate, the fight had to be had.  People were talking.  Everyone was excited.  The fight day came and the school day was over.  I stood outside awaiting the arrival of my adversary, practicing drop kicks, having people massage my shoulders as if I was a prize fighter, getting motivational speeches, and generally just loitering like we did everyday after school.  Funny, isn’t it, how much we loathed Ramsey, but we decided it to be a great pass time to hang out there for hours after school was out.  Anyways, Cory, the little sevie, was in detention.  2:45 comes and he rolls out with his posse.

Oh shit.  It is really going down.

People circled up around us as he got closer.

He threw a punch and, as the rules of engagement were paramount to this fight, I obliged with returning fire.  A total of 5 blows were dealt.  And it was over.  He ran away.  It lasted maybe 10 seconds.  I ran to HQ – Risi Minni’s the Pizza Place down the block where one person would buy a piece of pizza and the rest of us, usually 15 of us, would pour parmesan on the table to write our names.   Someone told me that UCs – undercover cops – were looking for me.  They said they were looking for a kid in a blue jacket.  IN A FLASH, I reversed my awesome puffy reversible jacket to Yellow.  I was off scott free and won the fight.  I was the champion of the day!  Valor wins!

See Caroline and I drunk, and arguing about which is cooler, Katherine Heigl’s E-Cig or the fat suit which inspired Mrs. Doubtfire, but spurred Eddie Murphy’s late career nose dive, at the Library Bar on Thursdays.  


Visual Wall

Keep your eyes on the road.  It is the way we stay safe drivers.  This type of anecdote is regular among the back seat drivers who are always WAAYY better at driving than you are.  There are some unintended unsafe byproducts of this idea of keeping your eyes on the road.  It is a little something I like to call the visual wall.

Imagine a long hallway.  This hallway is straight, with doors interspersed evenly down the hallway as far as you can see.  In between some of these doorways are intersections with other long hallways.  Kind of a creepy place I know, so lets through some people in this hallway too.  They are all walking at a brisk pace and going into doors and into the intersecting hallways.  Now you are walking.  Not to be the lazy bones in this scene, you keep up with the pace of the other walkers.  You are headed to a door you know is along this hallway, but you are not quite sure how far down it is.  You are walking.  SOMEONE darts RIGHT in front of you from a doorway and into a doorway across the hall.  Phew!  Almost ran into them.  That would have been awkward.

This is the visual wall.  While in a car, you see the people moving quickly with you and towards you.  The surprises come when things dart in contrary directions to the to and from flow.

The visual wall is bounded by parked cars or the curb.  The wall only becomes more pronounced when speeds are increased.

Back to the hallway.  You have reached your door.  You stop and look down the hallway from the door.  You realize that there are pictures, lights, windows, and drinking fountains which you did not see because of the need to recognize people darting from door to door and the people coming towards you and traveling with you.

This is effect of the visual wall.  It is hard to notice the small things when you are so fixated on not hitting the fast moving expensive things.  This is just why signs for businesses are so large on freeways and high speed roads.  The signs are attempting to get attention from you.  The visual wall is penetrated from outside the curb by these types of things.

Pedestrians, cyclists, cars peeking out from a drive to enter traffic, and all types of things are just beyond the visual wall.  Once they peak from just outside the curb, an alert is sent up.  HERE I COME!

I am not completely sure how the visual wall really affects the safety of the road.  I hope to figure that out.

Stay Tuned.

CURBS: senior paper, is just picking up speed.

Considering Curbs

This is one of many test runs I have created for the basis of my Senior Paper for my successful completion of the Urban Studies B.S. in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.  Enjoy the many alliterative curb related titles. 

Roads in the United States all have one key similarity, and this similarity is the basis for which many concepts about road safety, community cohesion and livability, transportation, and all related realms for how we think are cities should look.  The curb is the most mundane and purely functional piece of roadwork that exists throughout our entire latticework of roads.  It is the conduit for rain water, snow melt, human spit, garbage, dirt, sand, grime, and all types of refuse which the public wants in the gutter immediately before it gets on something worth anything.  Curbs, and all related installations, bound the road so well that the refuse we never want to see is gone so quickly that the design is now set into stone.  Despite all of the curb’s rigid standards and functionalities, there are so many things that curbs control which are not immediately understood upon a glance.

The Curb Construct: Community and Conversation

For communities to thrive there certain elements that can inhibit or entertain the prospect of a vibrant place and of these things there are many things which we can assume already exist – people interested in interaction, an established system of movement, and the existence of buildings which facilitate public and private operations.  In communities with streets which are narrow, people can freely cross the street to engage a neighbor in a conversation, and as such these street can be seen as an asset to the community, because the street negotiates the movement of traffic on the street, while not inhibiting small intra-neighborhood movements.  In a stark comparison, communities with wide streets may limit the movement of people across the street on a pedestrian level, but this community can have the same level of engagement and social fulfillment for the members of this community.  This concept is easily comprehended, because the communities previously described have design standards which may have drawn a person to that community for reasons which match their values.  Although, there are a number of ways in which the decisions about how far apart curbs are, and who can travel within those curbs, greatly affects the make-up of a place.

Community cohesion is not dictated by the distance between curbs, but community cohesion and social engagement can be greatly affected by the series of decisions which determine how far apart curbs are to be placed.  To provide a context to this proposition, a look into decisions made by transportation planners in the past can greatly inform how curb distance affects neighborhood and street safety, community sociability, and neighborhood recognition.  Interstate 94 cut through a number of neighborhoods in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and showcases the worst for how the distance of curbs affects the previous criteria.  Saint Paul’s Rondo neighborhood in Saint Paul, which has now been repurposed into a number of other neighborhood’s fringes, was dissected by Interstate 94 and curbs which span an entire city block or more.  For Interstates, curbs are less of a straight line or a definitive functional structure as they are for city streets, but the visual wall is much more pronounced.  A previously cohesive street system, which allowed for residents to walk across the street or down to the block to visit a friend, was erased for the sake of the macro-system grid.  This new Rondo Street curb alignment constructed walls and eight lanes of non-passable traffic, which is a Federal crime to attempt to cross, and essentially erased the community as it was known.  The communities which now exist in lieu of the Rondo neighborhood are now bounded by what was once the center of the now defunct neighborhood.  Further, the previous center located residents near Rondo Street or Central Avenue, aptly named because it was the centrally located street in Saint Paul, are now the rusted fringe of two forcibly created halves.

Interstate 94 in Saint Paul is an extremely example, but it allows a very tangible insight to how streets, and more concisely the distance of curbs, can affect the cohesion of a neighborhood.  Taking that example and transmitting it to a smaller scale can provide the same type of realizations about how curbs can affect the safety, enjoyment, and livability of a place.

Curbing the Suburban Collector Curb

The creation of Interstate 94 was an incredible move in the timeline of transportation planning in the region, but there are areas in the Twin Cities which were designed with this type of transportation included as an integral piece of the design.  Suburban subdivision development touts community, and homogeneity of interests and values.  This is the allure of the subdivision, a community created for the creation of a new community of people who like community.  Right?  In contest to this idea is the suburban collector road.  Subdivisions are parceled inside of the suburban super-system of collector roads which are identical to the urban grid system, but on a much larger scale.  The suburban collector road is the ultimate community killer and it has the same effect as Interstate 94 in Saint Paul.  The collector road, at 100 feet to sometimes 200 feet wide, assumes that once a person leaves the subdivision they are driving 50 miles per hour and going someplace quickly.  Further, the collector road separates the communities by a much greater distance, because once the distance between curbs goes beyond 50 feet, a road is almost impassable without a car.  The collector roads assumes that one person in Community A will not meet or want to visit person in Community B without having to driving there, despite the actual distance to be one that if the person in Community A lived in the city, the distance would be easily traversed on foot.  The collector road literally indicates that if you do not drive on this road, you will be in danger when trying to pass across it.  The curbs, which indicate the end of the vehicular platform, are sadly dislocated and too far from each other to probably communicate a happy crossing for anything beside the automobile.  In this case, the curb by design limits how people will engage with each other.  There is no sob story about a community lost in the Suburbs as there is with Rondo in Saint Paul, just a sad story of community dislocated from each other by the distance of safe space for people, delineated by the curb.

Robbie King is an undergrad in the Urban Studies B.S. program in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities graduating this Fall 2011. 


The Semester Ahead

As apart of my Senior Paper process I am beginning this week, I will be bringing to you, the UW follower, videos, anecdotes and possible excerpts from, informing, or just interesting to my senior paper.  These updates will be happening all semester.  The tentative question I wish to pursue for my Senior Thesis is……..

How do curbs inform how people use our streets?

A few videos which have inspired my thinking:

Ok, so these are all from Streetfilms, but they make a great basis for starting to look critically at our streets.  I will be using the area around me to look at this question, as I have just moved to Uptown, and there are some great contrasting examples for my research.  Specific questions include: “How safe does it feel to cross the street mid-street on Lyndale compared to Harriet?” – “How does parking affect an intersections efficiency?”

What questions do you have about our streets?  Send me any and all questions regarding why our streets are the way they are and I will see if I can use those questions to drive to my work.  I will be answering my own questions on a regular basis here on UW and it would be great to answer some of yours as well.

Well, lets get this semester started!  Stay tuned this week for the annual Back to School post which will be in a “This American Life” format… only in text.  Just imagine Ira Glass’ tone as you read it.  


Traffic and Usership Ideology

At the root of my interests is traffic.  I am fascinated by the ways traffic flows and the chaotic nature in which each travel day brings.  There are many times, as I now have taken a firm stance on what I believe to be idealistic transit, when I find myself filling the very stereotypes that I talk about here on UW.  I do not drive very much any more, but when I do, I find myself either driving like a nascar maniac or a grandma, depending on how much my traffic-centric mind pulls on which ideology I wish to buy into that day; either exploiting the system by kicking everyones ass at driving fast or setting an example for temperate traffic by driving just below the speed limit.  These are subtle nuisances in my driving habits, but I am the first one to notice them, because I am my own guinea pig in my own traffic tests.  I further internalize the driving habits of others to find out how they perceive the roads they drive on.  Some taxi drivers find it most advantageous to drive super fast with a hand on the horn, because they know/think that they are the best most experienced drivers out here – or they know the meter ticks the same way, but they can make money faster by getting to the destination faster.  Other more humble drivers I have met find that American roads provide so much space and are so well organized, in comparison to places they had driven before, that they respect the space they have with easy speeds and a slightly less anxious hand on the horn.

For traffic this means everything.  Traffic is not created by how many cars are on the roads, it is created by how the users interact with the road.  This is generally true in a humanely scaled city such as Minneapolis/Saint Paul where, contrary to most every person know, there is no parking shortage anywhere nor is their a serious traffic problem.  As it is today, not everyone can relate to glory stories of riding transit or how a certain bike trip was faster than a car trip to a destination, but everyone can relate to stories of ill-use of our road system.  Left lane chillers, slow mergers, less than eager left turners/right turners, overly cautious anybodies, etc., all contribute to a system which is contingent on how a multitude of different users which have different ideas for how it best works for them.

Really, in the super perfect super duper modern city, cars would be equipped with computers which communicate with each other, and the system wholly, to create peak road capacity at optimum flow at the highest speeds possible.  In other words, the way to create perfect high efficiency road traffic is to take out the human element of ideology and independent usership, and replace it with a unified and centralized system of super smart cars which will ultimately create the robot apocalypse.

Really, in reality, this will never, ever, happen.  At the basic level, the words “unified” or “centralized” would instantly kill the movement.  The futuristic super duper modern PR team will get right on that.

Of course, there has to be more realistic solutions to the problems with traffic, that has to do less with tackling individual road ideologies and more to do with moving people, in the most efficient way possible, and at their leisure and in the way they feel most comfortable.  Improved traffic has to be accomplished with this ideal at the center, because this is something Americans take as a basic function of our way of life.  We do things in comfort and at our own pace.

I hope to instill some sort of positive notion of modern/future traffic planners, because although the talking points are changing, the word sacrifice is overused, and people are literally slowly dying in their cars, the ways in which people of traffic and transit expertise want to move people in the future is not a picture of an uncomfortably packed train or bus.  I get just as angry and slowly depressed after a long and noisy 16 route ride as anyone would, transit advocate or not, contrary to a belief that I may take a weird pleasure in that experience.

The future of traffic, transit, and travel in general, is a bright one I am sure, because if I can haphazardly fall into a hobby, and eventual career, that is centered on just watching traffic happen and interpreting as I watch, there must be millions of brighter minds than mind thinking up better solutions than me.  The American interstate system and arterials is the largest single piece of infrastructure the world has ever seen and the more we use it in the way we do, the more our huge, and currently still widely beneficial, system will deteriorate.  Although, don’t worry, it is probably not your fault, it that woman talking on her cell phone in the left lane doing 48 on I-94.


Here are some cool things I have found in the past two weeks in regards to transit, traffic, cycling, etc…

First, here is a video of officials pushing passengers onto a train.  The location is disputed in the comments, some say it is Japan and the video says it is in China.  Anyone know Mandarin or Japanese?  Anyways, this is not what I want for our transit system in the US!

Check out our bike infrastructure on BikeFilms!  Ok, I will admit these videos from streetfilms are a little corny, but hey, they are showcasing the coolest single piece of bike/walk infrastructure we have!


Finally, if you have time, check out Blueprint America from PBS.  This episode was kind of the inspiration for this entry.


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