Few things make better, inoffensive television than miniature cities made of cookies.
The Norway House in Minneapolis has an annual display of handcrafted gingerbread houses -- mansions, mosques, even the Great Wall of China, all rendered in sweets – which was well underway when a field reporter from the Jason Show stopped by and interviewed volunteer Heather Vick.
They paused by a peculiar gingerbread structure, all candy red and white with a jaunty slanted roof, and marveled at its likeness: a taxi station just across the street. Vick had made it herself, down to each lovingly crafted detail.
“Where did you get your inspiration?” the reporter asked.
Vick, looking bashful and a little giddy, gestured to the window. “Well, you know,” she said. “It’s my view out of my office window every day, all day, so.”
“Have they [the taxi station employees] been over to see this?” the reporter asked, gesturing.
Vick laughed a little nervously. “No, they haven’t, and I’m…” she lowered her voice. “...I’m a little worried about going over there by myself.”
Norway House, an educational center for traditional Norwegian culture in Minneapolis, exists in the Phillips neighborhood. It’s one of the city’s most diverse areas, and includes a sizeable Somali population. And like many neighborhoods with a lot of black and brown people, it has a reputation in certain circles as a “scary” place for white people, full of crime and drugs.
Vick says she regretted the remark as soon as she said it. She’d been “joking around,” and it had just slipped out. Soon afterward, she did what she says she’d been meaning to do all along: She crossed the street.
Last Friday, she and another volunteer walked into the non-gingerbread version of her gingerbread station: Red and White Taxi. There, she met Lahoucine Boujnikh, who has run the place for 10 years and has never set foot in the Norway House.
She told him about her gingerbread rendering of his station, and he smiled and laughed. He thinks the building used to be a Route 66 gas station, which would explain its peculiar design; its vintage charm and exaggerated, retro-futuristic angles. Based on the picture she showed him, he thought Vick had done a good job sculpting it.
And in that moment, any remaining nervousness Vick felt was gone. Boujnikh was friendly and personable. She invited him to come by and see the house himself.
Boujnikh accepted. He’d bring his wife by soon, he promised.
It was a warm, cathartic moment, but it wasn’t the end of their conversation. A few days later, Vick came back to Red and White. She saw Boujnikh again, and this time, she showed him the interview on the Jason Show. The one where she admitted to being nervous about coming over.
He waved it off.
“It’s good,” he says. But: “She shouldn’t feel nervous. She should feel comfortable here.”
Red and White is “okay,” he says. “It’s a place,” with “good things and bad things,” just like any other building not made of cookies. “Ninety percent” of the people who come by are great.
“I look around here at the Somali population in this neighborhood,” says Vick, “[and] there’s a large Somali population around Sweden and Norway, too." The Norway House belongs just as much to them as it does to her, she says.
The two took a picture together, and Vick promised Boujnikh could have a photo of the house to hang up in Red and White once the exhibit was over.