By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
To investigate how the mall is used, I participated in some pretty blatant racial profiling (in effect, looking through the eyes of mall security): I watched black people hang out. I didn't empiricize my data by including black executives who work downtown; I concentrated on teenage mall rats, 20- and 30-somethings waiting to get into the clubs, and homeless guys. The bus strike has changed things a bit, but even before, Block E operated much differently than other black hangouts like City Center, Brookdale, or even the Mall of America. Maya, a 19-year-old standing around at Block E, sums up how this mall differs from the others: "Well, this isn't a place where you actually shop," she points out. "It's more of a hang--a chill, laid-back environment." Sometimes hanging gets misinterpreted as "loitering" by the fuzz, so I ask Kevin, an 18-year-old in a Timberwolves jersey, if he gets hassled by Block E's security staff or Minneapolis cops. "Well, this place isn't without prejudice--if you're black, the police will tell you to move along, you know what I'm saying, and then I'll see white people just hanging out here without getting bothered. But compared to the security at City Center, these people are much cooler." Angelo, a homeless man in an orange parka, agrees that Block E security is "the most lenient in the city," explaining, "as long as you don't sleep on the benches, they'll leave you alone." Daunte, a 26-year-old wearing a Sean Jean overcoat, tells me this isn't the place to see the premiere of, say, Barbershop II, either. "The movie theater doesn't consistently show the big black movies, so there's not a lot of buzz when they do," he says. "And to be honest, it's expensive to hang out here during the day. There isn't a Foot Locker or a food court to hang out at."
Block E moves like it's sprained--awkwardly, stiffening after a short spurt. During the day, from 11:45 until about 1:30, for about an hour and a half, the skyway level, with its neon headache and salmon-and-green painted concrete floors with tinny, Ace of Base oldies being pumped in by hidden speakers, looks and feels like Har Mar Mall circa 1985. It's new looking, but it feels dated already. There's a line at Panchero's full of techie types with cell phones attached to the belts holding up their khakis; the Applebee's indoor patio is teeming with business people and girls' basketball tournament fans noshing on rib tips; the security staff perks up, actually paying attention to the mall rats sitting on the green benches lining the cavity that used to be Snyder Drug. Every few minutes, when somebody throws some money into the tip jar, the Cold Stone Creamery employees burst into humiliating song. But around two o'clock, the skyway level slows way down.
During this afternoon dead zone, Applebee's fills with between-shifts Block E employees. It's a friendly, family-style place where they can have a smoke break at the bar. Outside Applebee's, I run into Nate Ford, a standup comedian who works as a GameWorks "card host"--a kind of casino pit boss for the bowling alley and the arcade games. "The only reason we miss Snyder," he says, "is because now we have to walk down the skyway to get gum or cigarettes." He's just off the typical daytime shift, when GameWorks is filled with kids and the parents who throw pizza parties for them. I promise to check it out later.
The only place where anybody seems to be hanging out between five o'clock and the time Escape opens is Borders. I run into Lisa and Tim, who live in the Churchill Apartments, a luxury high-rise a few blocks away. They're waiting to see Dawn of the Dead at the Crown theater. Lisa, a banker who works downtown, is sitting in an overstuffed leather chair and reading Jane magazine. When I ask how often she comes to Block E, she says she goes to see the occasional movie, but that's about it. "We're happy Block E is here, though--there's something other than bars open downtown now." After a few moments she confides, "And we're happy about the bus strike." Why? "Well, there are fewer kids from south Minneapolis running around." When Lisa and Tim get up and leave, Driye, a Somali living in the public housing on Fourth and Hennepin, sits down in the overstuffed chair with a book. When I ask him what he thinks about Block E, he tells me that he hangs out at Borders because the downtown library has reduced its hours. "I never buy a book," Driye admits with a smile, "I just buy a cup of tea and read."
GameWorks at night is a downtown mall entertainment utopia (or dystopia, if you grew up Rem Koolhaas)--it might be a glimpse into Minneapolis's future, when we all get over it and start hanging out with each other. It's packed with a diverse mix of black, brown, and white; people of all ages, from the city and from the suburbs. Amid the exploding cartoon zombies and the big screen televisions and the video horseracing, soccer, and surfing, a cross section of Minneapolis, Eagan, and Maple Grove are all having a good time. Our differences are drowned out by all the whirring and blinking and beeping and drinking. I talk to people on double dates. "This is our first time at Block E," shouts Luke, jubilantly, over the slap and rattle of an air hockey game, "and it reminds me of the Mall of America." His date capitalizes on his distraction by scoring a goal. "Ha!" Luke shouts. He doesn't seem to mind.