I was living on the street . . . had used up all my clean undergarments . . . and did not have any money or place to wash. One day I was taking what is called a “sponge bath” in the White Castle on University and Lexington, feeling really low . . . hours passed, 2 p.m. . . . traveled down to the Loft Teen Center and filled up on penny candy, sitting on the corner of Oxford and Carroll Avenue. A grey four-door car pulled up slowly . . . right next to me . . . my head was down, very close to the street gutter entrance . . . I could smell the stench of whatever was down there. I heard a deep, smooth, radio personality voice saying, “What’s the matter, man?” I was like, “What?” I couldn’t believe it. “I need some clean draws . . . and socks!” I answered. This voice replied, “Get in.” Wow! My angel on Earth. Steve bought me a pack of clean boxers and socks. Then he allowed me to shower at his house so I could go to school . . . clean.
The kid loved basketball. He never had a basketball to speak of, but the school had plenty. The kid had a favorite. It was old, smooth, and had the feel of rough paper. It bounced as high as any of the new ones. The kid felt alive when it bounced back perfectly. The kid knew the concrete playing field—all the broken spaces and the cracking cover of the court. The kid knew how to angle and fly by the arms and legs of others. All for that beautiful sound: swoosh.
During the cold winter months of Saint Paul, there is a mecca that kids of all ages flock to with religious fervor. Mecca is Groveland, the king of neighborhood ice rinks. Drive down St. Clair Avenue anytime day or night, and witness the packed rinks of pickup hockey, toddlers pushing plastic chairs in a circle, and packs of tween girls in huddles, observing packs of tween boys.
In 1975, a team of blind baseball players in Saint Paul competed against a team from Arizona in the first World Series. Our Minnesota team was called The Saint Paul Gorillas, and they won the game 15–10. Rules of the game changed from year to year, but the game had beeping “kitten balls” and buzzing bases, as it does today.
In the fall after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, hundreds of Dakota women and children were force-marched for seven days to Fort Snelling from their reservation in western Minnesota. That winter, over fifteen hundred Dakota were detained on Pike Island below the fort. Under military patrol and with only thin blankets, the prisoners watched this wooded island fill with snow.
The door to the legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium doesn't even open for an hour, yet eighty people are waiting as my wife and I step into line. In another half hour, the line will double and then double again, until the RiverCentre staff will ask the RollerGirls to open the doors early. A line of over three hundred people messes up the flow of the public through Saint Paul's convention center and to the Xcel. The hits, the falls, the brilliance are real. The players of the Minnesota RollerGirls have resurrected a dead sport and redeem it—game by game—from the depths of 1970s late-night television hell.
I'd driven by the two-story white stucco building with the Saint Paul Curling Club (SPCC) sign on it at 470 Selby Avenue many times, wondering, "What the hell goes on there?" I must admit, I'm suspicious of anybody who considers sweeping a sport; not even broomball players go so far. But curiosity trumped my skepticism.