On Minneapolis' Bridge Collapse

The Day the Bridge Came Down

By Kent Manthie

On the morning of Tuesday July 3, 2007 I sat down to watch some TV; I flipped by CNN while searching for something to watch and what I saw there really captured my attention. It was some live coverage of what was obvious from first glance a disaster of some type. I saw a reporter yakking into a microphone on front of a camera blabbing about something or other, basically a scene of an aftermath of chaos, as what it was: a collapsed bridge in Minneapolis turned out to have happened the previous evening.

What happened was shown plainly – captured collapsing in real time by one of myriad MN DOT cameras set up all over the highways to monitor traffic (conspiracy buffs, of course, would argue that the cameras are for other, more nefarious purposes, but they’re not) and I’m sure most of the country, if not the world, has seen that few seconds of video over and over again.

Well, I have a personal connection to that particular stretch of highway, 35W, since I used it over and over to get back and forth throughout Minneapolis and surrounding communities. In fact, I must have driven over that bridge thousands of times, many of those times I crossed that bridge in order to get off at the next exit – the University Ave/4th Street Exit (yes the 4th Street in Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street”) in order to get to the “West Bank” (of the Mississippi River). The “West Bank” was the hip, East Village (NYC) atmosphere: you could be who you were and didn’t have to be a poseur like you would if you went to party in the overpriced Downtown area, where you would get shafted for $10 Martinis served by asshole Bartenders named Jimmy or Jake who, only out for what they could do for themselves (good service to paying customers be damned!) and panhandled for drinks by slutty girls dressed like whores.

Beyond the “West Bank” area (also known as the Cedar/Riverside area as the Cedar/Riverside Crossroads formed the nexus of the West Bank) the other hipster locale to which the late great Mississippi Bridge took Minneapolitans was “Dinkytown”, the area east of the famed “West Bank” – Dinkytown is a quirky, bohemian enclave that is the home to many intellectualist, independent bookstores that cater to all sorts of thinking people’s literature and poetry. There also abounds coffeeshops, tchotchke places and multi-priced housing for all those University Students who preferred not to live on fascist dormitories. When I lived there over 10 years ago I used to frequent as often as possible, the great, dive bars and small clubs where the coolest of the cool Minneapolis indie scene would play – until, at least, they were hip enough to appear at First Avenue or their smaller indie annex, “7th Street Entry”. There were such great little dive bars to see cool bands; bars like the legendary “400 Bar” (400 Cedar Avenue), the Viking, the Purple Onion Coffee House, and the Cedar Cultural Center. There were also hip dive bars – an oxymoron, I know – like Blondie’s, Palmer’s and one or two other one’s who’s names escape me, it’s been so long! There was also this really, really cool all-night coffeeshop that served vegan food. They had some really good nachos there, I recall, with some sort of interesting substance over some of those purple-colored tortilla chips. At that time – early ‘90s, like ‘91-‘92, – Jolt Cola was out of circulation for the most part, having come and gone and not quite come back into vogue yet and this place was the only place in town that I knew of to get some. When I first discovered the place, at about 2:30 am, after coming home from some wild party where a friend’s band was playing, the place was called “The Urban Peasant” but they went through several name changes before the city finally made them stop staying open all night because they’d gotten complaints about all night rowdy drunks and stuff hanging out there and soon they had to start closing at 2 or 3 am. Eventually they folded altogether, the fate of at least half of all restaurants. But it was a cool place while it lasted. There was also a really cool coffeeshop that had folksy bands playing in an intimate space, called the “Riverside Café”, located on the corner of Cedar and Riverside Avenues.

While the heart of Downtown Minneapolis is dotted with upscale, disco-yuppie nightclubs – except for one awesome club: First Avenue/7th Street Entry, which was the club at which Prince & The Revolution plays in the 1984 film “Purple Rain”. But besides that First Avenue has played host to innumerable indie greats like the legendary Husker Du, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, James Brown, Todd Rundgren, Sebadoh, Dead Kennedys and the list goes on and on. But anyway, outside of First Avenue, to get to the really hip spots to see underground bands and hang out with a cool crowd, the West Bank is the place to be (or at least it was when I was last there in 1995). One of the best places in the West Bank is a tiny little bar with a really small stage called the 400 Bar – because it is located at 400 Cedar Avenue; it has been the bar to see great indie locals play – bands like the legendary Run Westy Run, Uncle Bigbad and this band of dudes who went to my high school. But I remember one night in 1995, I believe it was, just after they came out with their blue-colored eponymous debut album, Weezer made a surprise appearance there – I mean, hell, they were getting heavy rotation on modern rock radio by then and had gotten pretty famous with the kids so it was a gas to see ‘em play to wall to wall fans in this tiny bar no bigger than your average neighborhood corner bar. It was a publicity stunt of course but it was a delight to see them in such an intimate setting.

So, for now, it looks like there’s going to be some heavy-duty detouring going on for the next 2+ years, while they rebuild that heavily-used bridge. But there’s more than one way to get across that river and I’ll bet that Cedar Avenue will turn into a major headache – a heavily-used thoroughfare for cars to get to the West Bank who can no longer cross the bridge.

I know the way the river goes, it mostly separates Minneapolis from St. Paul, but the bridge that collapsed crossed the Mississippi at a place where Minneapolis is still on the eastern side of the river, that being the way the geography is and how the cities are drawn up.

To add insult add to injury the White House, two days after the tragedy, in their inimitable selfish style of governance, stated, in order to preempt the flood of requests from the myriad localities affected by the bridge collapse they came out with a statement that basically said that the state of MN should be responsible to pay for rebuilding the bridge since there was this little report that came out in 2005 that basically read that this particular bridge was weakening and needed repairing. OOPS! Well, so it looks like at least a bulk of the cost is going to be the responsibility of the municipalities and the State (of MN) but in the end it turns out that just to show they’re not all bad and evil at the White House these days, there will be some federal funds forthcoming. It is a very big priority, you see, to rebuild and reinforce this oft-used Mississippi crossing, the closing of will, no doubt, have economic impact.

Besides the blame game, though, expect a big fight and much wrangling over the costs and the responsibility for paying for this new bridge – in fact, I could see it delaying the rebuilding process itself, which currently is guessed to be about two years.

So far, unfortunately, we know that 5 people have been confirmed dead and I believe there are still about 9 people missing. Wow – at least it wasn’t winter or that water would’ve been another lethality to overcome for the survivors, although it gets mighty cold in Minneapolis in the winter and the lakes all freeze over, the Big River keeps on flowing, albeit with chunks of ice churning and turning.

On the day following the collapse, even the U.S. Congress gave recognition of the tragedy. Minneapolis’s U.S. Congressional representative, the newly elected replacement of the outgoing legendary Martin Olav Sabo, Rep. Keith Ellison took a moment out of the big fight that had been brewing between parties over whether or not to extend food stamp benefits to “illegal aliens” – guess who was opposed to that (duh). Anyway, Rep. Ellison got unanimous consent to speak out of turn for one minute and in that 60 seconds he eloquently spoke about the tragedy itself and how they, the congress send out their condolences and so on and so on. The minute culminated with Ellison’s gesture of proffering the notion of a “moment of silence” for the 5 dead victims, the missing and the injured so all members stood there, quiet as churchmice for about 30 seconds and then they went back to partisan rancor as usual. – KM

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