My old friend Chuck and I were finally able to catch up recently with a Friday lunch squeezed into the end of a busy work week.
He biked to my office in Open Book on Washington Avenue and we strolled over to the nearby restaurant, Spill the Wine. As we walked, I told him how excited I was by my recent first encounter with the green “Nice Ride” bikes. Two days before, I had rented one by the Guthrie, biked over to Public Radio International’s new headquarters in the Warehouse District, deposited it before my meeting, and then did the whole thing in reverse to get back to Open Book.
I spent $5 and got a little exercise but better than that, I experienced exactly no aggravation looking for a parking spot. Now that I’ve figured out the system, I’ll get a yearly pass for $60. Chuck said that he has also used the “Nice Ride” bikes as a way to get across Downtown quickly.
As we entered the restaurant, I felt energized as I always do when I learn of an innovation that makes our city systems work better. These bikes are clearly a case of a public/private partnership for a new transportation option that will improve Minneapolis.
In the restaurant, Chuck and I were shown to a window seat facing Washington Avenue. As we passed two women seated next to our table I eyed their lunches and silently decided that I would have the same meal as one of them.
Chuck and I ordered and jumped into an animated conversation about our summers. Just after our meals arrived, a man to my left leapt up alarmed and pointed out the window. My eyes followed his gesture and I instantly jumped up too and shouted, “Oh my God!” A man was lying in the middle of busy Washington Avenue. Cars were swerving to avoid him. I turned to the women at the next table and instinctually shouted in a panic, “Do you see that?!”
The woman laughed nervously, “Isn’t it strange? He has been there for 10 minutes.”
“What! Have you called emergency?”
“No,” she said, taking a final bite of her salad.
I lunged for my cell and dialed 911 in unison with several other diners. At that moment a Minneapolis city utility truck pulled up behind the man to protect him from on-coming traffic. The driver approached the man on the street as my call went through. The operator assured me that someone had already called and an ambulance was on the way.
“We think he had a heart attack,” she reported. As I hung up, sirens started blaring and I could see flashing lights a few blocks away.
Relieved that the man was getting help, Chuck and I sat down at the very moment that torrential rain started pouring from the sky and streams of women in pink rounded the corner onto Washington Avenue from 11th Street.
I quickly realized that the women were part of the three-day Susan G. Komen for the Cure walk for breast cancer research. In an instant they were drenched but they hardly altered their pace except to glance over at the man now being loaded into an ambulance idling by the corner.
Hundreds of woman passed by in the downpour and I marveled at their dedication to give three days to join a movement and help raise money. No doubt some of them suffered from cancer and others were impacted by cancer killing their friends, mothers, and sisters. I hoped that doing something for the common good made them feel less victimized.
When Chuck and I left the restaurant, I restrained from giving the complacent women the evil eye. But truly, how could they just sit there eating, watching a man who was possibly dying in the street?
Plenty of professional systems are in place to enable us to participate in improving our community — the “Nice Ride” bikes, the emergency response system, and nonprofits such as the Susan G. Komen Foundation are just a few examples. But not one of these formal networks can create meaningful change if individual citizens casually gaze on the scene, wondering over a nice lunch, how it will all turn out.
Jocelyn Hale is executive director of the Loft Literary Center.