Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Back to My Future

Marty McBride did it in 1985, a trip backwards into the future. Recently for Father’s Day, my daughter took me on that same trip back into the future. I saw things as they had become, not as they used to be, when I was growing up. It was a world changing around me even as my own world kept getting smaller and smaller.

‘The way they used to be’ was the world I came from. It was where I grew up and a world where I’ve been held hostage by my vapid memories for all these years. It was a future which I’ve only glimpsed at in quick head turns at social media press clippings.

University Avenue, where used car lots once proliferated the landscape, has been sliced and diced by light rail, high and low income apartments, and craft breweries. Now there are gourmet restaurants serving food I can’t even pronounce and a brand new temple to soccer which wasn’t even around when I was passing through there. When I was growing up, sandlot baseball was about as close to sports as I ever got. I never played a single game even though the lot wasn’t that far away.

This new temple to the skilled game of kick ball has replaced the bus barns which replaced the streetcar barns decades earlier. There are more slots for bike parking than stalls for cars and the light rail is only steps away. My, how things have changed.

Soccer entered our lives with our two kids playing VAA (Valley Athletic Association) soccer each summer. That was soon replaced by high school sports and our world moved on. Now the grandkids (at least the Minnesota ones) get to experience the game on a whole new professional level. Lucky them.

A century-old brewery omnipresent during my eight year bus ride downtown to grade school is now an indoor shopping mall planted next door to artist’s lofts and gallery space. A fixture on the West Seventh Street corridor has morphed into retail and residential space.

Where barrels of mash once rolled off the assembly line, now tiny shops catering to curious millennial tastes dominate the landscape. It was a challenge not to question some of the shops and restaurants there for their unique blend of ‘what is that’ and ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ But that’s just the old man in me talking now. I kept my mouth shut and enjoyed the trip into my kids' and grandkids' future. We’re not in Old Saint Paul anymore.

In my time, the Irvine Park neighborhood which abutted West Seventh Street corridor was a sad remnant of a once glorious past. The ornate mansions and upscale housing had been reduced to rooming houses, decrepit run down shacks and poor people’s palaces. Wilder Playground was our refuge when Mom was at work and the Gem Theater provided wonderful distractions from the reality at home. West Seventh Street was a commercial thoroughfare of auto shops, thrift stores, and small neighborhood grocery stores just barely hold on to solvency. But time changes all things.

An auto garage located not far from my itinerant home in Poorville is now a hip brewery. There’s a food truck planted next door where I first ventured out to explore the neighborhood on my bicycle. That is the future few saw coming from my old part of town.

It’s all become a new part of town that I won’t see much of in the future. I have moved on both physically and mentally. There are simply too many mountains to climb and rivers to cross with the time I have left. But it’s nice to know the old neighborhood has come around again.

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