As a teenager I drove grain trucks, pickup trucks, and Massey Ferguson tractors for farmers in the Red River Valley. I hauled oats, corn, and soybeans and drove alongside combines as wheat poured into truck beds. I plowed fields and threw straw bales. While not an idyllic life by any means, it was a life of sunshine and even golder harvest moons.
In 1970, on a whim, I set off for Saint Paul with ninety dollars in my pocket, two pairs of jeans, and a couple tee shirts. A relative helped me find an attic room on Laurel Avenue. I got my first “every-two-weeks-paycheck” job working for American Family Insurance on University Avenue by the building that reads “Minneapolis-Saint Paul.” I don’t think I lasted the summer.
The 21 bus took me down Selby every evening on my way home from work. I was a country girl used to walking, so sometimes I walked. No one warned me otherwise. Selby-Dale was a hotbed of illicit activity in 1970. It was also an era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Selby Avenue is where it all happened.
Girls hung out on the corners. I would greet them, have a chat. I didn’t know they were “working” until one night an undercover cop pulled up and my new friend went running. Her wig flew off and tens and twenties fluttered to the ground in the twilight glow. While the cop stooped to pick up the bills, I too took off running. I wasn’t sure why I was running, but it seemed like the smart thing to do.
Hippies hung around Selby and Western. With long hair and embroidered bell bottoms, they sold pot, smoked pot, or had pot parties in the cheap apartments of that area. There were young runaway girls from the girl’s reform school in Sauk Center. Some were running from harsher lives than mine in suburbs like Edina
and White Bear Lake. I once walked into a party on Western Avenue where a kids’ swimming pool was filled with naked hippies bodypainting each other in the glow of black lights. I didn’t join in.
Like I said, I don’t think I lasted the summer with the insurance company. There was a pimp I met when eating my daily tuna sandwich, the one meal I could afford by that time. I was sitting in a back booth at the deli on Selby listening to the jukebox while Otis Redding sang about sitting on the dock of the bay. Charlie Pride was trying to get to San Antonio, and I was reading the help want-ads. This pimp had my best interests at heart. He told me about the Saint Paul American Indian Center, and that maybe I should go there and see if they could help me find another job.
At the Indian Center, I met advocate Paul Shultz. He found me a job at Burlington Northern Railroad in downtown Saint Paul. He also got me rent money so I could move into a real one-bedroom apartment on Western Avenue, right behind the Angus Hotel, which is now Blair Flats. The hotel at that time was rent by the hour, or week, or moment—all depending on what you wanted. I discovered a tunnel in my building basement that went into the beer cooler of the hotel’s bar. Paul Shultz also arranged for Mrs. White Rabbit to teach me how to make frybread tuna sandwiches so I could stop hanging out at the deli after work. A noble plan.