There is probably no more beleaguered building in all of Minnesota than the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. If there’s one thing both sides of the stadium debate can agree on, it’s how hideous the place is for baseball. Nevertheless, in its twenty-four years, Minneapolis’ “Rec Room” has become surrounded by a nebula of strange little shops, odd industrial enterprises, and food vendors on game days. It is precisely these places that make the Metrodome area so promising to the meanderer.
A casual walk through the area—the Dome peeking through gaps between buildings, like a mad scientist’s cloud floating through the city—reveals a pleasant mix of old industry, inner-city churches, the greenery of Elliot Park, government buildings and, to the north, the now-artsy Washington Avenue strip. You get places like the Justice Center, where a couple was recently wed by an ex-soap-star-turned-Ventura-
This section of the city is a reminder of the days when the game of bat and ball was considered blue-collar, attracting beer drinkers instead of cocktail sippers. It is also a pleasure for the greasy-spoon connoisseur. Hubert’s, the famed meeting spot for football and baseball fans, has a fine menu, offering what is perhaps the city’s best BLT. And for eighty-one days during spring and summer (and into fall, if the Twins are lucky) you can lay claim to a wax-paper tray of cheese curds or a corndog dripping with ketchup on the plaza outside the stadium, aka Kirby Puckett Place. Vendors hawk their wares, straining their voices over the pre-recorded train whistle that signals the light-rail train, and you can admire the man whisking cauldrons of hot kettle corn like a modern-day Vulcan. There are children everywhere, goofballs with their scorecards, vendors hawking those scorecards, and crazy scalpers buzzing around like bees in a dumpster.
Crackpots abound on game days. The Metrodome attracts all manner of street musicians, for example. Just the other day, a guy was scraping a bow across his violin, turning “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” into a spine-tingling affair. There are fireworks. Police officers loaf about with assault rifles in plain view. These are to keep terrorists at bay, for “guys with weapons of mass destruction and stuff,” as one officer put it.
You can also stop into the musty Dome Souvenirs Plus, owned by Ray Crump, a man who’s also running a museum out back. The Original Baseball Hall of Fame Museum of Minnesota is made of equal parts Twins memorabilia and celebrity photos. Of these, there’s a plethora of country-western singers, from Tom T. Hall to Porter Wagoner, and even a disturbing picture of Ray and his wife with a topless Hank Williams Jr., who lounges not-so-seductively on a cheap motel bed. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has pledged that, should the football team get its new supercomplex in the burbs, he will redevelop the area.
But for what purpose? The Dome seems to be the area’s sole raison d’être—aside from, maybe, the few who still punch time clocks over at Valspar Paints. Nevertheless, it’s inevitable that the Metrodome will go the way of Met Stadium or the old Armory, just three blocks west. When it does, the vendors, street musicians, and Ray Crump and his wall of heroes, will probably dry up and blow away, like empty peanut shells.
This article originally appeared in The Rake magazine.