Vote human, stay human

Photo by Jim Walsh

Though it pains me to repeat it, it’s worth documenting in the black and white of our lovable local newspaper the fact that Donald Trump recently called the media “the enemy of the people,” just like Joseph Stalin and many power-mad clowns before him.

Welp, as your lovable local newspaper columnist/enemy of the people in these times of fake presidents, battling bots and all-powerful algorithms, I’m here to say that, in advance of Tuesday’s primary election (VOTE Aug. 14!), I am throwing my considerable media-slash-enemy-of-the-people endorsement weight behind some of the finest people you could ever hope to know, not to mention very human candidates who understand very human problems: Ilhan Omar for congresswoman; Erin Murphy and Erin Maye-Quade for governor and lieutenant governor; Keith Ellison for attorney general; and Angela Conleyfor county commissioner.

All of whom, every last one of them, are voices of the people at a time when we desperately need original, smart, fresh, committed voices of the people that have not been co-opted or robotized and will speak truth to power and hold Trump et al’s feet to the fire. In fact, the most important quality all of the above share might be that they’re more neighbors than candidates — human beings, not cogs or bought tools, but real people with real-life experience and a passion for doing good.

Humanity. People. Call me old fashioned, but that’s what I value most these days, at a time when the current combo matrix platter of relentless construction, non-stop citywide development and corporate politics is bearing down on this sensitive citizen’s soul like nothing and as never before. Talking human connection and trust here, dear reader, which I value even more than I did the last time we met here.

I’ve been experimenting. As a result of the frayed and suspicious times, I’ve been deliberately asking complete strangers for driving, biking and walking directions (“Doesn’t your GPS work?” Sigh.) all the while doing my damnedest to be genuine and look my fellow peeps directly in the eye. It’s an obvious attempt to connect, stranger-to-stranger, because I’ve never lived through a time of so much skepticism and distrust, what with all the new realities and daily doses of creeps and bullies we’re being fed.

So in direct retaliation to all the soul-suckery, and as a direct reclaiming of my own humanity, I’ve been making a point of making in-the-flesh contact with the species. I won’t lie: It’s extremely awkward most of the time, awkward as hell in fact, and not for the faint of heart. People are on edge out there, and some are looking for a fight, but more often than not my little chirp to the universe pays off in a warm exchange that can feel like a rope out of this quicksand.

I started doing my stranger-no-danger dance in earnest last week after visiting the Apple Store in Uptown, where, as I waited on my daughter’s genius bar appointment, I ruminated on the willful sterility of the place, the same address as the long-demolished Uptown Bar & Grill (3018 Hennepin Ave.), which once hosted legendary bands and made something like a scene happen. At the very same time, the New York City Target store was getting grief for stealing the CBGB’s logo, which is when I started connecting the dots between bulldozed human landmarks, automation and lost human connection.

Soon after my boring Apple outing, I hit a hot new restaurant in town, where I ordered food via iPad and a beer via serve-yourself taps and ate my cheese burger while staring at the TV screens above me, where the analytics-whipped Minnesota Twins, having cut the human heart out of the team in moves straight out of any corporate company playbook, were limping their way to another loss. I was immediately reminded of the location’s former tenant, my friend and former Kings Wine Bar owner Samantha Loesch, who adamantly refused to put TV screens in her restaurant, and also of my buddy Pete, who hilariously referred to one generic bar or another we’d find ourselves ditching out of as “the airport lounge.”

Now here we are, moving right along in these airport lounge times and, while it may be fast and convenient with a cool community table in the center and yummy milkshakes and a couple of friendly employees, I felt a lot like I was in “WALL-E,” not a pub.

If I have the choice, I like walking into a bar and seeing a bartender, not another machine I’m supposed to stick a card into, and viva la differenceand all that, but I dig places and cities with soul. I can name dozens of great bartenders in this town, and part of the draw of their establishments is the idea that when I land there I’ll be sure to find a friendly face. So over the last few days, with the cumulative Apple-robo-beer experience setting me off, I went on a tour of neighborhood joints that feature real bartenders, servers, people.

I went back to the Driftwood Char Bar last Tuesday night to hear live local music from my brother Terry’s St. Dominic’s Trio band and to hang with friends, family and neighbors. Beforehand, I visited my friend Matthew Kazama’s wonderful Ramen Kazama restaurant, where the joint was humming with employees talking to customers and one another, friendly people in an unfriendly time, human beings interacting with other human beings with real human behavior and human feeling and human emotion.

I followed that up with trips to the best-kept secret in town, C & G’s BBQ, where the owner and I made small talk about the menu and weather and joked about the new self-serve joint a few blocks away, and to Xin Wong, where the clerks and cooks know me by face if not name, and to C&K Food and Fuel, where owner Martin Onuh and I always engage in a five-minute rant about the local sports scene that regularly leaves me with a smile on my face. The next night I found myself at Harriet’s Inn, where the airport lounge vibe is subverted by a staff clad in shirts that quote William Butler Yeats (“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet”), and where my server chatted me up about what I was writing in my notebook and a book his grandmother wrote.

The following Sunday night, my brother and I landed at Tilia, where my friend and owner Steven Brown was behind the bar, and where he, upon learning it was my brother’s birthday, helped toast my brother the way bar owners have done since the beginning of time. I could go on — about the various sundry strangers, gas station attendants, baristas, the butcher at the Uptown Lund’s, all of whom gave me crumbs of faith — but suffice it to say that the results of my reach-out week has definitely borne fruit and confirms that people are starved for friendliness, a smile and something like an intelligent connection, no matter how brief.

Small stuff and small interactions, maybe, but the sum effect of it all is human and healing and reminds how loudly the heart of this small town-big city beats. Which is why, next Tuesday, amidst all the bulldozing and rubble and robot armies, this enemy of the people is voting for people and humans with all my human heart.


Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected]