Love in pop-up urban crimescapes

cache_2837931004BY GARY HOOVER

For years I’ve done long meditation walks in Minneapolis.  The stretch of Lake Street from Grand Avenue on the West all the way to Hiawatha Avenue on the East and surrounding streets and alleys is an urban space where people who many see as hopeless “losers”—pimps, prostitutes, johns, addicts and dealers—do business round the clock. I see them when I walk on Lake Street at night.
I walk these places at night on purpose. The intersection of Lake Street and 12th Avenue has shadowed spaces during the daytime, but at night the intersection is thousands of shades of darkness punctuated by streetlights, reflections of green, red and amber, and headlights of cars.
I am a 56-year-old-white man with a ponytail. I often notice that I am the only white man walking here at this time. I wonder if I sometimes bewilder people I encounter on my night walks. There are black men walking here, and some Native men, and other men of color, but there are no other white men walking here. I see women of color as well, and also a few white women. But I seldom see white men walk here. Why is that? I feel that some strange currents that most people would just as soon not consider draw certain people to walk these sidewalks.
I do see white men—as well as men of color—driving cars and trucks along these streets. I see taxis stop and pick up women—sometimes one, sometimes two or three— sometimes laughing, sometimes furtive, who talk of “parties” and “dates.”
One cold February night about 2 a.m. I stepped out into the center of the intersection of Lake Street and 12th Avenue. There was little traffic. This night seemed so quiet for a few moments. I stood in the middle of the intersection and did four silent meditations. First I faced North, the East, South, and West. I bowed my head, clearing my mind of thought and words as best as I could, and letting the joys and sorrows of this place flow through me, I simply held this place in my heart.
After facing West, I walked to the southwest corner of the intersection. I could see headlights approaching less than two blocks away on Lake Street. I turned my head and could see headlights approaching also from the East, but still a few blocks away. I saw a woman huddling in the shadows on the west side of 12th Avenue and a man standing between us. He was about 10 feet in front of her. As I stepped back onto the sidewalk, he walked up to me and said, “Hey man, what are you doing here?” I said, “I do not know. Maybe just walking and praying and meditating or something.” His reply was a growl low in his throat and a quick two steps back. The woman disappeared into   shadow.
I continued walking eastward along the south side of Lake Street. I heard sounds behind me. A car door shut. I turned to see the woman sitting in the front passenger seat of a car that turned and quickly disappeared westward down Lake Street. But the woman looked right into my eyes as I looked at her. I felt as though she looked at me with contempt and also with the look someone might give who has been betrayed. I wondered if I would ever see her again, or ever talk to her.  I was afraid that I would never know her story, or how the currents of life had brought her here, now, to this. I kept walking.
I walk intentionally. I am open to talking with anyone I meet on my walks. I walked and talked with a prostitute who was about my age one night in March. We walked and talked for about half an hour. She described some of her     life to me: born in NE Minneapolis, some vague allusions to family troubles, and a list of prescription drugs she was on. It was cool. She kept wanting to turn into alleys on the north side of Lake Street. We’d walk down an alley and she’d say “Damn! This isn’t the right one!” I had asked her if she was “working” early on in the conversation and I’d made it clear that I was broke (I was) and also not looking to pay for sex. I guess she walked with me because there was a lull in business.
We walked down an alley and she looked at an old bus that maybe once was a Metro Mobility bus. She looked at me, then at the door of the bus. I said: “I am broke. I’m sorry If I had some money I would give it to you but not for sex. Sometimes a hug is good just because we need it, though. We stood in the alley and hugged. I was wearing my leather jacket open, and she slipped under it and we just held each other for a minute. She was tiny and far, far too thin and shaking. She said something like “It is good just to hug sometimes.” After a minute we resumed walking. She had a cell phone. It rang. She said “Everything is fine … I know! … I’m doing that! No, I’m fine … OK … ” and she hung up.
We walked back to Lake Street. We stopped. She turned and walked away. She did not look back. I saw the man I thought was her pimp looking at us. He followed me as she walked the other way. He carried a shoulder bag that he patted as he walked up to me. “Hey man, what’choo out here looking for?” he asked, patting the bag. I wondered if there were some prescription drugs for sale in there. I was tired. “Nothing!” I felt bad. I had closed myself off from him. “No, what do you need, man?” he asked. I replied again: “Nothing!” I could not bring myself to explain to him why I was there.
Consider this: the new frontier or wilderness for our species is wherever and whenever hatred is most manifest and love is most needed. Our most brutal violence is often sexual and racial and rooted in ancient prejudices and fears we’d rather not know that we carry within ourselves. We plunder like hungry ghosts, unable to taste, smell, or really touch. We exalt violence—selling more guns, not fewer, each day. We make more toxins, not less, each day. We extract our wealth from the present poor and voiceless and from the future—an increasingly violent, toxic place that our bewildered children will inherit, but which we’d rather not know about.

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