Hillside Stories

Three months of walking Duluth will come to an end today. Looking at the city-wide map I’ve been marking in I’d guess that amounts to 40% of the city. By the time you count similar travels through 20 previous election campaigns there are very few corners of Duluth I haven’t seen.

Although I’m not knocking on many doors I have fascinating little chats with people every day while finding surprising connections. Yesterday was no exception. I began at the top of Lake Avenue passing out flyers in a spot I’d covered door-to-door 41 years ago when I first ran against Mike Jaros. Although the steps were covered with ice and snow my legs, thirteen years shy of becoming the legs of an eighty-year-old, did surprisingly well left foot be damned.

In one of the gems built since those ancient days with a spectacular view I paused take it all in. The homeowner saw me and invited in “to warm up.” He looked a little familiar. Like the other stories here today I’ll be vague so that few will be able to tell who he was but when he introduced himself I knew immediately what my connection with him was.

He had found an antique picture of my home on 21st Avenue east and sent me a link to it on the Internet. Like today, after the 4th street fix up, there were no trees along the route a hundred years ago. Today our house is about 102. Back then trolley tracks ran down the street.

My host’s last name is the same as someone the District has been working with and about whom I’ve expressed some concerns. I wondered, when I received the picture, if it was meant as something of a peace offering. None of that was discussed while I was in the home looking out at Lake Superior through panoramic windows. Instead it was noted that I might have bumped into the family while picking up my grandsons from school. I don’t expect a vote from that home but I left with a lot of unspoken questions. I was also a little warmer.

Before the afternoon was over I would pass out literature to every house between Messaba Avenue and Sixth Avenue East from 10 Street down the hill to 7th street. Some homes are far more modest. I passed up a couple with notices tacked to the door about not being fit for human habitation and also many immaculate middle brow homes. In another house I was invited in again to warm up by two teachers who told me I’d already dropped off a leaflet at their front door half an hour earlier. (That wasn’t a surprise because some of the streets on the hillside are like a maze. Because I can only carry about 120 leaflets with me I have to return to my car for restocking. When I set out again I can’t always remember the maze or where I’ve been with perfect fidelity)

The couple were preparing soup in the kitchen where we would kibbutz for about twenty minutes. They had connections to Marshall School and had been following Loren Martell’s campaign having known and very much liked his wife when she taught with them. Over the past two years they took off to travel the world. Upon their return they set up a space for local kids to play in and we spoke of the difficulties children west of busy Sixth Avenue faced trying to cross over the thoroughfare to get to Myers-Wilkens Elementary. They noted that other schools had an easier time getting past such traffic issues. Before I arrived they had seen my video about the campaign on the Internet. (I presume it was the speech I attempted to give at the DFL convention.) Today they have connections with the Harbor City School and Many Rivers Montessori. In twenty minutes of warming up we could only just skim a lot of territory. Once again I left warmed up but this time I was a tad more certain of a vote.

Near the end of my leafleting I saw a fellow in shorts smoking in the doorway of his porch. I hailed him and he knew me from having been his teacher in 1984 at Washington Junior High. As I usually do I joked that I was glad to see he survived my class. To my surprise he said he remembered me very well and easily forgave me for not recalling him. (two other students from those years now work in our School Administration)

This fellow explained that I had once made him stay after school for detention which he resented greatly at the time. He added however that I talked with him for fifteen minutes about geography, presumably my love for the subject, and then asked him what he liked to do. That led to a thirty minute discussion about Dungeons and Dragons. He recalled that conversation fondly and remembered it long afterwards. Such a cheap investment on my part; 45 minutes of paying attention to an irksome kid.

He told me his name which meant nothing to me but then he said something that led me to say…Did you……………….. Why, Yes, he told me he did………….. “You’re that kid!,” I replied a grin no doubt spreading across my face at sudden recognition. I told him I was amazed that a kid with such a chip on his shoulder had grown to become such a charming fellow.

That kid” had gone on to butt heads with the world and did things that put him at serious disadvantages but he asked if I’d like to see what turned him around at age 46. Of course I did, so he asked his daughter to come out and say hello to his old teacher. She was a cutie and we gave each other high fives. He told me he’d driven her past my house when I had snow sculptures populating the lawn and that he told her the guy who made them was his old teacher. Something about that 45 minutes stuck with him. He told me he was unemployed and I told him that I always described myself as a “house husband.” He laughed and said he was too. I told him about the recent lawnsign vandalism and how it had guaranteed me the house husband vote and we chortled over that.

I somehow doubt that this fellow has made voting a priority in his life but I have no doubt that if he cast a vote tomorrow, I’d get it.

Dana, Art, Kurt and I have all done a great deal of door knocking this summer and fall. I think that of the other candidates we are running against only one of them has done that disagreeable work despite claims from all four to the contrary. There is nothing more illuminating than meeting the neighbors you hope to represent up close and personal. Sometimes they make you smile and sometimes they give you hope.