July 22, 2017
Macalester-Groveland, Summit Hill, Downtown, Lexington-Hamline (Union Park)
The very unconventional home at 1523 Sargent Avenue prompted my first pause, shortly after jumping on the bike. There are so many shapes, colors, angles and materials to take in.
Pleasant Avenue became home to new townhomes in 2017 dubbed Pleasant Ridge. The seven townhome development was built on the edge of Downtown on land that was primarily covered in trees. Pleasant Ridge Townhomes not coincidentally line the west side of Pleasant Avenue (from 341 to 365 Pleasant), just north of Ramsey Street.
Just to the north at 311 Pleasant are the unusual Irvine Hill Condominiums. The original section of the building opened in 1928 as Children’s Hospital of St. Paul. Fifteen doctors were on staff at what was a modern hospital focused on the unique needs of children. Children’s Hospital remained at 311 Pleasant for 51 years – until 1979 – when it moved into a new complex with United Hospital just east to Smith Avenue, where it remains today.
The large sign for The Quinlan Home and the fading blacktop driveway are visible from Pleasant Avenue. Not until I rode up the steeply sloped driveway did the Quinlan Home come into view. The grey, cinder block building sits above Pleasant Avenue, blocked from view by trees. The Quinlan Home reminded me of a budget motel from the ‘60s, which may be because it was built in 1963, according to Ramsey County tax records.
There isn’t much online about the Quinlan Home. Several websites describe it is a licensed Boarding Care Home, which, according to the state Department of Health, is a care facility for people who need personal or custodial care.
As I sat on my bike looking at the Quinlan Home and grounds, a gentleman walked over and started a conversation. Joe Nixon, a very friendly and fit middle aged man wearing a blue shirt and shorts, told me he had been living in the Quinlan Home for about a month. “I called and said, ‘You mind if I come over there and go on a tour of the place?’ And she (Stacy, the Quinlan manager) was like, ‘Yup, you can come in today if you want and I’ll take you on a tour. ’ She took me on a tour and I fell in love with it right away.”
After a month at Quinlan, Joe remained pleased – with his room, the food, other residents and the staff. “There’s a lot of activities. They take you different places like a Twins game, Wal-Mart, the movies. Maids come in and clean your room for you, make your bed, clean your bathroom and do your laundry. The staff does a lot for you. They go above and beyond.”
Joe explained that his familiarity with the neighborhood went back years. “I grew up here, right on Laurel, not far from all these big houses. As a kid I used to come over to this area all the time. We used to ride our bikes down the Ramsey Hill with no brakes. We had no brakes! You know how kids are – daredevils.”
After talking for several minutes, Joe became remarkably open about his life, describing time he’d spent more recently in the area. “I used to be homeless around here. I used to see this place all the time. We had a little camp in those woods over there. I used to see guys comin’ from here and I used to say, ‘Damn, I wish I was livin’ in there.’ Ironically, here I am.”
I was curious as to how Joe escaped homelessness. “I just got out of it by working with different people; social workers, case workers. That’s how I got out of it. ‘Cause you know, it’s rough. Bein’ homeless is rough. You do a lot of walkin’ man. I used to walk I don’t know how many miles a day.”
Joe mentioned that injuries to his neck and one hand made it problematic to work. He explained that he was getting physical therapy for both injuries and seeing a psychiatrist and psychologist.
Later in the conversation Joe reflected on his life, telling me, “I’ve got a lot of regrets, man, ‘cause there’s a lot of things I could have done with my life. I took that wrong road and led to disaster. Prison time and drugs and alcohol and cigarettes and criminal activities. Those are things I regret getting involved in. I look back on it and realize that victimizing other people is not a cool thing.”
Joe offered some optimism as well. “I’m trying to stay positive ‘cause I used to do a lot of crazy stuff. Now I try to keep positive people around me at all times. I haven’t had any drugs or drinking in 12 years and I quite smoking 11 years ago.
Our conversation eventually turned to less serious topics like bike riding and the impending visit of Joe’s brother. We shook hands, wished each other the best, and I rode off.
Lex-Ham (Lexington-Hamline or Union Park)
In a topographical quirk, the five homes from 1480 to 1500 Carroll Avenue are between 10 and 20 feet above street level. The rapid elevation change resulted in some compelling landscaping challenges.
Three blocks west but still on Carroll Avenue, another classic American car. This pause was to eyeball a nice 1955 Pontiac Chieftain coupe.
With fewer than three miles to go until home, that effectively put a wrap on this ride. To view the map of this trek click here.
Thank you for this gem of a post, Wolfie. I always enjoy “accompanying” you on your rides, but this one was an extra-special treat thanks to your meeting with Joe Nixon. Wonderful.
Heide, I thank you for coming with on the rides. Joe was interesting and introspective. I am always surprised when a stranger opens up like Joe did. I hope he is well.