The Rent Strike and the Betrayal

It was the early 70’s and Jack was a member of the New Riverside Cafe collective on the West Bank in Mpls.

There was a developer that wanted to flatten the whole 40 acres and build high rise apartments and ‘shops’ where everyone’s homes were. They also raised the rent on everyone’s house (they owned the entire neighborhood). It was an attempt to price all of the neighborhood out, and make everyone get out of the way of development.

A ‘rent strike’ was organized and it got a lot of publicity. Jack was living right on Cedar Avenue in an old brick house upstairs from the free store. There were 7 people in 6 bedrooms down a narrow hallway and the usual bathroom, kitchen and big living room. Most of them were musicians, some famous now and the apartment was just across the alley from the West Bank School of Music. Musicians were so prevalent that there were two venues on Cedar just for them and Jack. The Extempore and the New Riverside Cafe. Jack was playing folk and blues on his D28. He sang ok.

All of Jack’s roommates moved out to a reasonable home in South Mpls and Jack stayed on alone with his girlfriend from Slippery Rock. One of Jack’s friends advised him to quit working at the cafe and start with him at the Burlington Northern and work on a surfacing gang for big money. Jack took the job, got called ‘santa claus’ for his pony tail and long beard and got pretty muscular and fit shoveling gravel all day. He got a letter from the neighborhood developers increasing his rent to two weeks pay. Just to get him out of the building. The back stairway belonged in a bad movie and the rear bedrooms leaked rain water. None of the windows would open. Things like that. The cafe people were not rent striking like the neighborhood was, and Jack was in a bit of a bind. His friends said “don’t pay the rent!” “Go on strike!” and Jack decided to instead take an offer from the developers to move into a pretty nice small house they owned a few blocks away for less rent. Nice place. Now he had enough money to buy lunch for his dinners on the job from Byerlys and by this time he had a car that was only 20 years old.

Jack never went back to the collective people except to buy a bicycle and a chain saw from Durable Goods, run by one of the Cafe people. Jack followed his best friend (read motorcycle pilgrimage) and bought the little farm where he and his family still live. Jack went back to visit the West Bank and the house the developers rented to him was gone, as was a lot of the houses of his old friends. The old friends said hello and usually just walked away without conversation. Jack was a Quisling, or in English, a traitor. No matter how Jack felt it had to be done to move, he was persona non grata. He spent money as mentioned and contracted for an F style mandolin. Jack put all the money down and the mandolin was never finished.

Jack was very nervous and felt very alone up north of highway 8 on this 30 acre homestead. The VA loan helped him afford it and when he moved in, he went into the barn before going into his ‘new’ home (log foundation, a bit aged) Jack played a little fiddle in that barn and finally opened the front door and smelled an ancient oil stoves lovely odor and it took his cat a few days to get out of the moving van. It was April 1st by the way. It seemed foolish too.

It was a start, away from the rent strike and the neighborhood people that he let down. He had a good job, a car and a small farm all to himself. He still feels that friendship loss, and even to this day when he visits the Facebook page of the Riverside Cafe, he is not responded to or ‘liked’ for his posts. Still a turncoat of sorts and sometimes it weighs on him.

None of his old friends that he downed a pitcher of beer with at the 400 bar and made grilled cheese sandwiches for, have been in contact with Jack. It isn’t the thing we are supposed to do either way. Jesus tells us to forgive and love and Jack is trying to keep his promise to do so. It’s hard though, isn’t it? Jack has never heard life was going to be a breeze and filled with good things all the time. No other way to live, but it hurts to be seen as what Jack did, rather that what he has become. It’s pretty good. Jack

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