The great Summer Solstice storm of 2013 started for me at the SuperAmerica on 40th & Lyndale, where I stopped at the ATM to deposit a check and get cash. I was on my way to the wedding reception of my old friends Andrea Swensson and Ben Clark, excited to be taking part in their love fest, and just as I punched in my PIN, the door of the SA blew wide open and the whole place gasped. Serious storm.
I got my cash, jumped back in my car, took in the “Flash Flood” warnings on my phone, and after a few minutes of deliberation in a parking lot that was filling up fast with nervous drivers seeking shelter from the storm, I decided to make a run for it.
I was determined to make it to The Belmore/New Skyway Lounge for the champagne toast at 8:30 p.m., but by 38th and Lyndale, I knew I was in a dangerous situation but also fully relating to the hardy (dead) souls who think they know better and can “wait out” a hurricane or “outrun” a tornado. I thought it would pass. I thought it was hype. Stupid.
Pitch-black Lyndale was nothing short of apocalyptic, with sheets of wind-sprayed rain illuminated by nothing but headlights. Cars, trucks and buses were moving in slow motion, sinking fast, or dead in their tracks. Live wires zig-zagged across alleys and cross-streets and dangled from telephone poles. Trees with roots extending deep into the neighborhood were upended, their branches reaching out and screaming to the humans for help, their pained faces crinkled like the bitter old apple-throwers from “The Wizard of Oz.”
I inched up on the edge of the driver’s seat, dug my fingernails into the steering wheel, and kept my eyes open for falling branches, garbage, wires and cars blowing through the semaphore-free intersections. I plowed through a small lake that had sucked in a couple of smaller cars in front of the Basilica of St. Mary’s near Loring Park, where the wedding party was getting pelted in their pedicabs (and, later, dried and dropped off at the reception by a local hotel), and finally landed at the reception wet but safe.
After celebrating the new lovers for a bit and checking back in at home, I lit out on the darkened streets of the zombie apocalypse to meet up with my brother and some buddies, whose bands’ gigs at Morrissey’s Irish Pub and Cause Spirits and Sound Bar had been shut down, like most of South Minneapolis, on account of no power. No such problem at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, which was doing a brisk business, or at the Driftwood Char Bar, who lost power but whose veteran barkeep Kent (no last name, please) hooked up a generator and hung a utility camping lantern from the stage lighting rig so patrons could see the band, a big and big-sounding R&B-funk unit with a full horn section, which could be heard in the still of the suddenly very still night from a couple blocks away.
The night stayed eerie until sun up, when life was slowed down to an old-timey crawl. At grocery and hardware stores, shell-shocked storm victims recounted how their homes, cars and streets had been maimed. Good Samaritan stories abounded, and an unmistakable spirit of cooperation took hold, most memorably in how strangers reacted to downed traffic lights, with a “you go, then I’ll go” civility that suggested the tribe might get along just fine without government, cops, or little green, red and yellow lights telling us what to do.
That spirit extended to Sunday’s much-welcomed Open Street festivities on Lyndale, the same street that two nights prior had been a scene of chaos, confusion and destruction. Now it was the picture of tranquility, and signs of life were everywhere.
Joggers, walkers, bicyclists, skateboarders, and other survivors (and more mayoral candidates than you could shake a State Fair stick at), tooled down the damaged thoroughfare with lucky-to-be-alive gusto. Outside the Bethlehem Lutheran Church, people clapped along joyfully to The Barbary Coast Dixieland Show Band’s jubilant version of “When The Saints Go Marching In,” while across the street two pre-teen girls ran a lemonade stand to raise money for a school in Kenya and the sign on the Yoga Sanctuary information booth asked, “If your heart was planted, what would it grow?”
Streams of pedestrians and bikers raved on from 42nd Street to Franklin. A loud dad band rocked 39th and Lyndale; rope-jumping and hula-hoops and four-square took over the parking lot of Davita Dialysis on 36th Street, and the bands played on in front of Twin/Town Guitars and Painter Park near four massive fallen trees. Folks compared storm notes and worries but, given the bullet they’d all dodged and all the beautiful life happening in front of them, didn’t linger too long on any of it.