Zombies, transportation, and racism: A night with a camera and the light rail

Zombies, transportation, and racism: A night with a camera and the light rail

Late into the evening on October 12, I took two documentary filmmakers, from either coast, to the local Zombie Pub Crawl. The filmmakers were in town to do preliminary research on the Twin Cities and the theme of “access and opportunity” as it pertains to transportation issues. I figured, at the very least, it would be fun for them to film hundreds of young adults passionately acting like zombies as they roamed Cedar Ave. in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

In reflecting back upon the evening I find myself caught up in a volatile mixture of emotions. In pride, I marched the filmmakers through Minneapolis to reveal the public’s desire for better transportation. Along the way, though, I was jolted out of love for my city as young adults smattered with sweet-smelling fake blood revealed the true racism that remains in this city.

LTR >> Cedar-Riverside

In Minneapolis one of the best times to ride the light rail is during public events where driving is a rather costly idea. It is one of the few times where people in this city who are usually glued to their vehicles will hop onto the trains and timidly jam themselves up against strangers. The Zombie Pub Crawl is no exception.

We hopped on the light rail downtown, a few stops from the Crawl. The train was mostly empty and I had plenty of time and space to assist a man in showing him how to get to the airport. As we approached the Metrodome (where our NFL team plays) I turned to the filmmakers to point out the stadium, but was suddenly confronted with zombies. They pounded on the train doors and filed in screaming BRAINS! I nervously held onto my bike as it swayed in the vertical bike rack and watched as my compatriot was slowly pushed up against the window, drunken zombies surrounding him. Meanwhile, the other filmmaker had gotten it all on camera: empty to painfully full. We only had one stop to go.

Not brains for dinner

Finding something to eat was our first priority upon venturing onto Cedar Ave. It proved to be a slight challenge because there were two food establishments available, one filled with zombies and the other a rather empty Somali cafe. The café had done an impressive job keeping the zombies out—perhaps it was the unfamiliar food or the dirty looks the Somali men lay upon the hungry mobs. I hesitated going in because after 4 years here I am still not fully educated about the gender norms in Somali culture. I had actually declined going to the Somali mall earlier in the day for this very reason. But going into the café with two men made me feel less hesitant (one of the few times I will ever say that), yet like the submissive woman I am not, I let them enter first. We all ate great food and the cook was nice enough to prepare me a special vegetarian meal of keke—a tortilla-based, sweet noodle tossed with tomatoes, squash, greens, and beans.

Hi zipperface, can we interview you?

After the meal, we stood on Cedar Ave. and I watched the filmmakers stop people for interviews. For most of the time, I stood behind the filmmakers and watched and listened to the interviews. I followed the lead as one of them attempted crowd control but trying to tell inebriated zombies to stay out of the shot was rather pointless.

The interviews were rather short and most people were asked one question: What do you hope for in the future of the Twin Cities? Amazingly, most people brought up transportation. They hoped for the day coming soon where we will be able to take the train from St. Paul to Minneapolis. They hoped for car-free streets. They brought the conversation back to the present and gushed about the already stellar transportation system that we have. I asked my friend if they had told people about a possible focus on transportation. Nope, he said, didn’t say a word about transit.

This street, it’s so dangerous!

As the night wore on, the temperature kept dropping. It was the coldest night of the season, so none of us were prepared for the chill. I looked on anxiously to the zombies knowing that many of their nights were not going to end well. Shivering waiting for the train that runs only once an hour after midnight, forgetting where they parked, and numerous other unmentionable consequences of binge drinking. My attention shifted to an interview going on. A white male Viking of sorts with unimpressive zombie make-up stood in front of the camera. I am not sure what question prompted this answer but as he spoke, it took all of my strength to stay behind the camera as an onlooker. After explaining he was a student at Augsburg he said, “No, I only come over here for the pub crawl. This area is very dangerous. I never come here.” After Viking man walked away I turned to the filmmaker who interviewed him and said, “That college he goes to, Augsburg? It is two blocks away.”

Two blocks. It is truly a sea change. These young American boys are so afraid of Cedar Ave. that they only come here once a year—when they truly are the ones we should be afraid of.

This is what largely makes up Cedar Ave.: Somali businesses, a hot dog place, a knitting store, a community performance space, a punk rock bar, and high rises filled with Somali refugees. I incidentally spend a lot of time with Somali men at the coffee shop that my brother works at. And my peer group is represented by the rest of the businesses. So speaking from experience, neither of these cultures is dangerous. I shouldn’t even have to say that. But especially of the Somali community, that without a doubt is the reason why Viking man thought the street was “dangerous.” A bunch of African men chain smoking, yelling about something political, and selling soda to the neighborhood. As a woman I unfortunately have to be very aware of my surroundings and, as women know, you develop a sense of an area quickly. My sense? It is one of the few streets I feel safe walking down at night because they is so much activity, so many people just hanging outside observing life. Oh and Somali men? The strong majority do not drink. You know who I am scared of? Drunk white guys fumbling down the street as I try to get to my bicycle.

At any rate, Somali men are not dangerous. The Viking man’s comment was purely racial. And classed. It is slightly possible that he knows about Al-Shabaab and its pretty weak connection to the Somali population here (as in, the community tries desperately to stop them from recruiting young men around here). But again, major international terrorist organizations usually do not attack the small liberal arts college in a Midwestern city.

But don’t worry Viking man, the feeling is mutual. There are many businesses on Cedar Ave. that actively keep Augsburg students (or people that look like them) out. For example, one summer night I sat at Palmer’s Bar–an establishment known for its lively and wildly drunken working-class clientele. I watched the bouncer immediately refuse entry to two white, young college men. They were not wasted, or at least not as rough as the people surrounding me. What mattered was who they were and what they stood for. I have a feeling this is not the first time a young white man has expressed racist opinions about Cedar Ave.

Through many hours of discussion with the filmmakers, racial and economic disparity in the Twin Cities came up. I was really pushing the point that this city is really comfortable to live in if you fall into a privileged demographic. If you don’t, it seems like the struggles outweigh the benefits this city has to offer. Unfortunately, I think Viking man made my point all too clear.

This idea, that Minneapolis is only great for a select demographic, is an underlying theme in my research on bicycle advocacy. Of course it makes sense that this idea maps on to other aspects of urban mobility—including being a pedestrian on a fake-blood soaked street. There is something to say that the very people who spray fake blood and smash windows accuse the actual residents of this area of inflicting similar damage…

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4 thoughts on “Zombies, transportation, and racism: A night with a camera and the light rail

  1. Augsburg actually prides itself on its diverse student population (and achieves more than umn, from what I know). It’s disheartening that the students are afraid to walk two blocks. I think the frequent security alerts at umn foster the same kind of fears of our neighbors.

    • Working at a small lib arts school myself, I was surprised to hear his thoughts too. I have been thoroughly impressed with how direct my school talks about racism and privilege.

    • I know, Bill! It is odd. I was blown away. But I swear it happened. That said, I rarely see bros hanging at Palmer’s and I do not think its coincidental.

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