Sunday, March 1, 2009

Remember McPunks?

Ah, the good old days. In this case, for some of us, anyway, that means the 1980s. The decade of tight zipper-legged jeans, leg warmers, big hair, and Thriller. In Uptown it was the decade of the McPunks.

The McPunks were the mostly teenage punks with mohawks and piercings who used the Uptown McDonald's as their primary hangout. McDonald's had a different building back then, with a small patio separating the restaurant from Hennepin. At the time they were a highly visible, as well as controversial, part of the Uptown street scene. Some people thought they were scary: bad kids who meant trouble, and who undoubtedly would run amok in the neighborhood as soon as they got bored with nursing a Coke or cold fries on the patio. Others didn't have a problem with the McPunks themselves, but worried that they would scare away more conventional customers. Still others just saw them as kids with a different style who didn't hurt anyone, and in some ways might even help the neighborhood avoid becoming too tarnished with the gentrification brush. Calhoun Square was still brand new after all, and the neighborhood was starting to regain its position as a regional draw, and a bunch of teenagers with spikes on their head and safety pins in their noses might not fly with visitors of Edina. On the other hand, conventional visitors from the 'burbs didn't agree with all of the locals, many of whom were still bitter about the new urban mall in their midst.

The reality, of course, was that many of the McPunks were themselves from Edina. Or, if not Edina, then at least southwest Minneapolis. While there were some examples of vandalism and other crimes possibly attributed to some of the McPunks, for the most part they were good kids who simply chose to express themselves through the radical hairstyles and clothing of the time.

What does this mean, if anything, for those of us in Uptown today? I think a lot of people look back to the 1980s as the last decade in which Uptown had any claim to "weirdness," the last hoorah before national chains moved in in the 1990s and rents and housing prices began to escalate at even faster rates. The McPunks were a symbol that Uptown was an eccentric place and somehow different from other city (or suburban) neighborhoods. They were also a sign of the tensions of the neighborhood; did Uptown want to be weird? And where did the balance tip between weird-exotic and weird-scary? It wasn't an easy question, and was in some ways the neighborhood's clash-of-cultures of its time.

I'm pretty conventional in a lot of ways. My hair's its natural color, and I'm too cheap and lazy to get a cut that would involve too much maintenance, let alone put in the kind of time that must have been necessary to maintain one of those elaborate spiked 'dos. But even as a kid I was never bothered by the McPunks. They were just part of the landscape, just like the old people at McDonald's - who also hung around for hours, nursing a coffee or doing crossword puzzles - and the rest of the Uptown regulars. And while I'm not not a McDonald's regular myself, I do miss that old patio and its place in Uptown's cultural history.

12 comments:

  1. I not only remember the McPunks, I actually wrote a short story for a creative writing class about the McPunks back in about 1983. I agree that they were not trouble kids, just disaffected teenagers who dressed and groomed to get attention (while always claiming they just wanted to be left alone). I miss those days -- Uptown is nowadays just an outdoor Southdale (including the empty stores).

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  2. Outdoor Southdale? Empty storefronts, sure, but there aren't any more national retailers in Uptown now than there were throughout the 1990s at least.

    And where's the Lake & Girard Taco Bell love?

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  3. Why is Taco Bell deserving of any special love? I don't know if I ever set foot in that Taco Bell, but were there punks there, too? I thought they mostly congregated at the McD's.

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  4. There were definitely lots of punks at the Taco Bell in the mid 90's.

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  5. The McPunks were an '80s thing. I'd argue that most Uptown punks in the '90s were part of a different era, and not directly comparable to the McPunks. At the very least any Taco Bell punk scene didn't have the larger cultural impact that the Uptown McDonald's did. Maybe someone one there disagrees - Anders, do you have some Taco Bell love to share?

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  6. According to my memory, uptown mcdonalds was punked out, but we never called it McPunks. We called the downtown mcdonalds MCPUNKS. Uptown mcdonalds was just, "uptown mcdonalds" and downtown mcdonalds was "McPunks".

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  7. Uptown McDonalds has a motley collection of people. There's Johnny who stays with a carpenter named Brad. Johnny is unable to handle a steady job. But he is a good sort. He'll always greet you. And he'll ask for money. Then there are the oldsters who show up from around 7 to 9 am. I used to socialize with these folks but there's a racist guy who puts down Jews. So I only go to this McDs to get a breakfast and then I eat it at Lake of the Isles. There's much more to say about the Uptown McDs. Later.

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  8. Thanks so very much for letting me post! God Bless You All!

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  9. some newspaper articles on the Uptown Punks

    http://www.geocities.com/sunsetstrip/balcony/7248/press.html

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  10. Riding the 21A up from Bloomington and 35th, was always a ride I loved. Miss those days, or daze perhaps is a better term... Beer under the railroad tracks, smoking Camels at 2 AM at Lake of the Isles.. All the stupid stuff that felt quite important at the time.... There was good and bad with that scene, sadly the soul has long ago been removed from Uptown and DT... I used the play guitar on the corners to get my McD $$... Damn, I need a Big Mac PRONTO...

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  11. For Years, just for fun, I have been meaning to see if anything existed reguarding the 80's and Uptown or Downtown. I finally looked up and saw your blog years after the fact, even your blog. For those who lived it, your blog was so dead on. We might have even known each other it was such a small community lol. Thanks for the memories! Lisa

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