There Goes the Neighborhood

Tony Nelson

There's nothing pedestrian about the bike messengers of Minneapolis, least of all their names. Crazy Amy, Pistol Pete, Fritz, Zooey, Cricket. The list goes on. For the past seven years, they and dozens of other bikers and their friends have made a family in the lofts that sit above the corner of 10th Street and Nicollet Mall.

To the messengers, the studios have been a haven. After delivering legal documents, film canisters, and all the other stuff that keeps commerce lurching along, the bikers would trudge up the stairs to their hub-away-from-home. There, they would have a cup of coffee, watch TV, read, listen to music, or microwave a burrito. After work, they'd have a beer, make art, plan bike races, write songs, or crash on the couch before hitting the road again.

No more. The farewell party lasted three days. There was an art show, featuring messenger/painter/sculptor Amy Campbell's work. A rockabilly band played. Someone shot off bottle rockets and low-grade fireworks over the mall, to the consternation of some neighbors.

The marathon celebration came only a month after tenants of the building learned that everyone was being evicted, that the lofts are to be torn down. In their place: the Nicollet, the much-ballyhooed 53-story condo development, which will sit across the street from another conspicuous new addition to the downtown skyline, the Target tower.

The corner used to have some charm. The old record store Let It Be--which attracted a steady stream of music lovers, working DJs, out-of-town musicians, and paraphernalia hunters--now sits vacant, like a ruined ship at a fancy marina. If you spent much time on the corner, the bike riders were a familiar sight. In the summer and spring, you could see them killing time perched on the windowsills with their sinewy biker arms and incongruous cigarettes.

That's what Cricket was doing Friday evening as the sun went down. Ben tapped the keg. Crazy Amy played DJ. "This has been the center of the universe for the messengers in Minneapolis," said Cricket, gazing out at the happy-hour crush at the Local and the Dakota Bar and Grill on the street below. "Pretty much a gathering spot; a place to crash if you don't want to crash your bike after the bar. I've spent an hour or two a day here for the past seven years, so the last couple days I've been thinking about all the things I've done here, all the times I've spent here, the people I've met, the bikes I've fixed."

"This is one of my favorite places in Minneapolis, ever," said Crazy Amy. "I spent thousands of hours here with my friends, and they'd always fix my bike if I brought it here. They share ideas and help each other out. You could come here no matter when, and you knew there would be some people you'd know here."

No one's complaining, really. Bike messengers are nothing if not tough and adaptable. There are some barbed observations about the gentrification of the city and "condos springing up in this city like toadstools" (Ben). But everyone in the building has been on a month-to-month lease since the start. They harbored few illusions. The jig could be up any time and they all knew it.

Still, the history goes back a ways. In the late '90s, the studio was home to the 40-member Minneapolis Bike Messenger Association. Bikers would pay 20 dollars a month for use of the place. Eventually, the landlady evicted everyone because the parties got too wild, but sure enough, the bikers returned and the congregation continued.

Campbell has been in the main loft for three years. It smells of wet ashtrays, bike grease, oil paint, and burnt microwave popcorn. "It's like a lifestyle," she said, as her neighbors packed art supplies, bike tools, and dishes. "If all your friends ride bikes, you can all go ride bikes together. You ride your bike for a living, you ride your bike to get around, you ride your bike for fun. I'm a princess, man: I paid $400 a month for a studio with huge ceilings and windows on Nicollet Mall. You can't beat that, and that's why I've been here so long.

"Becoming a messenger changed my life drastically. I quit my job at the Metrodome, went to the university, and started doing my art. I met so many talented kids. It changed me. I'd be really stressed out about school or this project or that, but my mentality was like, if I was tired and I had one more delivery to do or one more drop to do, I would just tell myself, 'You can do it, girl. Just pretend it's one more drop. One more delivery. You can make it, you'll get to class or whatever on time.' Like now when I see a yellow light, I'll just hustle up and try to make it."

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