V&R Stories: Our Home – Birdtown

Just to avoid confusion: The name of this blogsite is Victory & Reseda. It is an actual intersection in Reseda, California – in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. To be technical, it is a part of the City of Los Angeles.

There is no such intersection anywhere in the place where I live. Just north of me is Victory Memorial Parkway – a part of the Grand Rounds managed by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board. It is otherwise called Memorial Parkway or Victory Parkway. There is no Reseda Boulevard anywhere in the state of Minnesota. Not even a Reseda Road, Street, Avenue, Terrace, etc.

Now that I got this off my chest, I do want to focus on another place entirely – the place I currently call home.

Robbinsdale, Minnesota.

We have another name for this small inner-ring suburb of Minneapolis: Birdtown.

What makes this town such a special place? Why would I call it home – even after six years?

Robbinsdale reminds me of Reseda – with some very glaring differences. As Reseda is a part of Los Angeles, Robbinsdale is an independent incorporated city employing its own public safety departments. We have our own governance and provide our own municipal services, though we are a part of Hennepin County. As with Reseda, Robbinsdale is a diverse community on ethnic, cultural and socio-economic levels.

First, I must tell a little bit of Birdtown's backstory. Robbinsdale was founded in 1893. Named after a businessman named Robbins, the first 90 acres of land was the footing for a town that would stretch to 5001.1 square miles as of today. History tells the story of the establishment of the high school that closed down in 1982. At one time, it was the only high school for the northwestern part of Hennepin County until before the start of World War II.

This town is 14,302 people strong. Our history spawned some of professional wrestling's great names: "Ravishing" Rick Rude, Nikita Korloff, "Mean" Gene Okerlund, Verne Gagne, his son Greg Gagne, "Mr. Perfect," Tom Zenk and Dean Peters. We had our share of hockey pros from this town – currently Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets. It is a proud community with a deep past.

Today's Birdtown has a lot going for it. Our restaurant scene has one of the biggest culinary attractions in the Twin Cities – Travail Kitchen and Amusements. It has been on the hot list for diners and foodies alike, especially since they now moved into their new space. This is followed by the equally adventurous Pig Ate My Pizza, the classic Italian style of Nonna Rossa – both just a few doors down from Travail – Mai Thai and its classic car meets on Wednesday nights, St. Petersburg and its vodka bar, along a few other spots too numerous to mention. My favorite is Nonna Rossa – Francesco does an amazing job with the menu without fail.

Robbinsdale may not be a shopping mecca, but we do have a great butcher shop in the heart of town. Hackenmueller's Meats is a classic spot where you can customize your shopping to some of the best cuts of meats around. Some of us would rather pay more there than flip through the nearby Cub Foods or Byerly's.

We are mostly driven by a small business economy. We range from storefronts on West Broadway to home offices citywide. Each of us are proud to work and live in Birdtown. This is what drives us.

When I began to ramp up my automotive writing work, I had some concerns about bringing new vehicles onto the property. My neighborhood is pretty close to North Minneapolis and some of the roughest blocks in that part of town. A month after I moved into my place, a neighbor was murdered resulting from a home invasion. It did not help matters of working through the perceptions of the greater "Northside."

You can be isolated in your own neighborhood – or home – but you have to trust the community and its available resources. This was my big lesson regarding living in Robbinsdale. I have been blessed with safety and security when I evaluate the vehicles I work with for my outlets. I just had to trust the community to ensure their inclusion. We are indeed blessed with the city's own police force, fire department and a solid government at City Hall.

It also helps to live in a place where there is a car culture. I mentioned Mai Thai, along Highway 81. Larry Aus is the co-owner along with his wife. When they opened up, he offered discounts to fellow members of the Minnesota Street Rod Association. Last summer, he began to welcome cars on Wednesday evenings for a little meet at the restaurant. I stopped by a few times to see that it has potential for growth and showing off the vehicular diversity of this town and beyond.

The city's annual Whiz Bang Days featured a car show out at Lakeview Terrace Park. There has also been other car meets either related to Whiz Bang Days or other occasions within town. I have yet to attend – but it would be great to do what is possible to support these efforts within town.

There are other enthusiasts in town. A friend of my roommate is a member of Wheels of Italy and lives across town from us. A neighbor down the block works on mainly General Motors race-ready machinery. I met a few others who live in Birdtown with some really cool cars.

How does this in-town car culture help in this work? It eases a lot of pressure on delivering this work. It also inspires this work. You never feel alone knowing that somewhere within the city limits something will pop up that could stir the thought process.

Being in this car culture also has its side streets. While co-hosting the Twitter chat, Motorama LIVE, Mayor Regan Murphy asked my opinion on which vehicle he should get. I believe we settled for a Honda Pilot – something Honda's USA social media team picked up on. I have yet to follow up with him on that topic.

Robbinsdale's location also helps in creating alternatives to the automobile. Part of it is from its most prominent employer – North Memorial Hospital. Metro Transit and the Metropolitan Council connects this Level I Trauma Center and comprehensive health care facility with two bus routes and varying connection points within the metro area. Additionally three bus lines also connect Birdtown at the downtown transit hub, including an express line to downtown Minneapolis.

We also have taken advantage of car sharing by utilizing car2go. This is the flexible service by Daimler AG using smart fortwos. Some of us use this service – even if it meant parking in the “home area” on the Minneapolis side of the city limits and walking a few blocks to out homes.

We Birdtowners are a resilient lot. We face everything as our bigger city cousins do. We are a mix culturally and economically, and yet we are truly a community.

Since 2008, it has been a privilege to be a resident here in Birdtown. Looks like I'll be here a bit more longer…

If I were to sum up where I see myself in Robbinsdale after six years of living here, the rapper Rakim probably said it best: "It's not where you from, it's where you're at." Considering what this work has yielded since moving here, I believe that statement is apt. This city – Birdtown – is where I'm at – and I'm pretty proud to live and work here. This place inspires me to do this work. When I'm away at an auto show, media drive or some other travel opportunity, this place is always good to come home to.

And, this is where I call home.

All photos by Randy Stern

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