Sunday, March 14, 2010


Editor's note: Pictures coming soon!

I’m sitting at my kitchen table, eating jellybeans, and my friend Paul Kjelland is the first to arrive. Paul is a photographer, and I’ve used my incredible charm capabilities to connive him into collaborating with me on many projects over the last few years. Its great working with Paul, he’s calm, smart, and has a very creative eye.

I think something we have in common is that we both really enjoy getting into the middle of the action and working on things “street level.” And Paul isn’t a stranger to Real Life Superheroes. He’s shot photos of them before here in Milwaukee, as well Minneapolis and Rochester.
Krulos- what’s going on?” He says in greeting, and then starts examining the control panel on his camera.

The Watchman shows up next, and takes a seat at the table. I give him a photocopy of the handmade map I’ve drawn of the Center Street area.

Before I go into this story further, I'd like to point out that our plan for the evening is not to run through the alley in a flurry of BAM, POW and OOFs, punching criminals vigilante style. The goal is not crime fighting but crime surveillance. We're hoping that our presence may deter crime, or that we might spot crime in progress that can be phoned into the police.

Watchman informs us he has found an Oracle for the evening- Metadata, from the east coast.

Right now is probably a good time to explain what an “Oracle” (1) is. A good starting point is probably the comic book character of the same name. In the Batman universe, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, Barbara Gordon, first gained popularity as Batgirl. In the storyline A Killing Joke (penned by Alan Moore) Barbara Gordon is shot in the spine and paralyzed by the Joker.

Subsequent DC writers used this story to invent a new persona for Barbara Gordon: Oracle. Now in a wheelchair, she became tech support for Batman, and later other heroes. With high tech computer gear, she was able to find information and maps, read classified files, hack into computers, and act as a communications coordinator.
“Real life Oracles” do much of the same, minus the hacking and comic book dramatics.
When I joined Watchman and his Great Lakes Heroes Guild teammates Razorhawk, Celtic Viking, and Geist on a patrol of downtown Minneapolis, they had Guild member and Oracle Doc Spectral standing by. I later did an e-mail interview with Doc, asking to explain the Oracle business.

“An Oracle is like a long distance spotter.” Doc Spectral told me. “When Geist, or sometimes another RLSH feels like they may need an extra something on the field, someone to keep Google handy for info on the fly, or just to know where they were last, in case something happens. Usually they supply me with an emergency contact number in the area, the local PD or a confidante. Fortunately, I haven't needed to use these yet.” Doc Spectral says. Doc gave a specific example of being able to translate some graffiti for Geist before he painted over it. Doc enjoys his work as Oracle.
“The RLSH's are mostly a group of really good people who dare to do something different to make a difference in the world. I'm just stoked to have some small part in it.” Doc said in the e-mail.

The Watchman and I sit at the kitchen table and talk with Metadata as she looks at crime maps of the Center Street area online and tell us where and when the most recent crimes have occurred. She also is acting as a checkpoint- Watchman places calls to her at certain assigned times and that way she knows we’re safe and trouble free.

After talking with Metadata, Blackbird arrives, dark and mysterious as always. He has a new mask he’s fashioned, which looks more comfortable and easier to adjust. It was Blackbird’s idea to find a rooftop to have someone stationed on, doing surveillance.

We didn’t find a rooftop, but were able to gain access to the second floor of a tall building on Center Street,a bird's nest with a good view east and north. The plan is that Blackbird and Paul, armed with binoculars, will watch the streets while Watchman and I patrol the side streets and alleys on foot, walking around the neighborhood in more or less a circle, with Blackbird’s position being the center of the circle. We have walkie- talkies to keep contact between the two teams and with “Team Cthulhu” who are mobile in a car.

First, the name. That’s actually the name of the car. Groschopf named it after the weird-ass squid God found in the stories of horror author H.P. Lovecraft.
Don’t worry; Groschopf isn’t into worshipping the squid Gods with the Cult of Cthulhu (2). At least not that I know of.

Groschopf has been doing the same things RLSHs have been doing for a long time. He’s the complete opposite of the Kitty Genovese scenario- when he hears a loud noise, he runs out into the street to see if he can locate the source. I’ve seen him do it. When he drives somewhere, he takes the long way, cruising the alleys to see if anything is going down. I was with him one winter when he encountered someone who had just been mugged. He jumped in Cthulhu to see if he could find the guy and report his location.

I also know in the past he’s confronted someone in a domestic abuse situation and chased a purse snatcher down the street. He’s trained in martial arts and Cthulhu is kind of a homemade crime fighting mobile- equipped with a police scanner, emergency lights, and a driver who knows how to hang a U-turn at an insane speed.

Joining him tonight are his friend Red, a security guard, and W, a former Marine. The plan is the three of them will drive around in a slightly larger loop, keeping in contact with us. That way, if we have trouble on foot, we’ll have a car full of back up very close by.

So there you have it- by air(kind of), by foot, by car, and by someone at home ready to access information, all honing in on the southeast part of Riverwest.


We start in on it. The rough trail we’re following takes us through the alleyways running parallel to Center Street, past the vandalized energy efficient homes, past the bars of nearby Clarke Street, circling around the bird’s nest. Team Cthulhu passes us several times, sometimes without us seeing them.

After the first half hour, Watchman checks in with Metadata. We pass people in the street. Not tons, but there are people leaving the bars here and there. One woman recognizes Watchman from a FOX 6 News report, and snaps a photo of him with her cell phone. Later, a guy hanging out by his house eating a piece of cake recognizes the masked crusader from a write up I did on him for the Riverwest Currents.
Other people seem mystified and give us confused looks.

A little bit after 11:30, Paul needs to lock up the bird’s nest and go meet up with some other folks, so Blackbird joins us on street level. We continue on, walking a similar path of alleyways and side streets. It’s pretty quiet. We decide to lock into a stationary position for awhile, in the dark basketball courts across the street from Riverhorse. We observe a couple of suspicious vehicles. There seems to be a lot of movement of people between the two cars, including transporting something out of a trunk.

Team Cthulhu cruises by them a couple times. It’s hard to tell- are these people suspicious, or are they just hanging around on a Saturday night talking? Would calling it in be helpful or a nuisance to the police? The cars drive off and we decide to take a short walk away from Center Street up to Burleigh Street, also an area with perennial problems.

On our way, we run into Rabbi outside of the Foundation bar. Rabbi wanders from bar to bar, trying to sell flowers to romantic feeling bar patrons. I figure he's a good person to talk to briefly since he spends a lot of time walking around the streets of Riverwest.

"What's with the get ups?" He asks, when he sees Watchman and Blackbird. After explaining who they are, we ask if he's seen anything going on in the streets. He shakes his head, but tells us North avenue, on the nearby east side is out of control with drunk college kids and that he had to help one who could hardly stand into a restaurant to get a glass of water.

We walk up to Burleigh and find the streets there to be pretty empty, so we head back to Center Street. There we meet up with Team Cthulhu, shake hands and part ways.
On our way back to my house, a jeep full of excited young women pulls up, very curious as to whom we are. Although somewhat disappointed we don’t know where the S and M party is, they are equally excited to see that we are out trying to make the street a safer place. The ladies shake hands with the heroes and tell them they are awesome and they are glad they’re out there. One of the ladies even claims she is going to dress as Wonder Woman and join them.

Crime is random thing. It’s not like a comic book, where you can expect to see some scar faced thugs around every corner. My understanding is that a lot of RLSH patrols are like this. We walked and drove around and encountered nothing. But we were out there, with our eyes and ears open on several levels.

I think the premise for the set up was good. A couple of stationary people doing surveillance of an area with teams of people on foot and in cars circling the same area, all within close enough distance that they could be quick back up. I think that’s a lot safer approach.

The bird’s nest was an interesting idea. The set up in the building limited the surveillance, though, to two directions. Also being indoors limited the sense of hearing. In the future, it might be more effective to find building owners willing to allow roof top access, with the pitch being “free security.”

Once Blackbird was down from the bird’s nest, we kind of struggled with trying to decide whether it was more effective to stay stationary in one area and observe or walk and do a patrol.

I don’t know about the other guys, but I felt a lot safer out there seeing Team Cthulhu cruise by periodically and only being a walkie-talkie button away.

The Watchman wants to try to do a series of patrols in the same area, seeing if sticking in one area rather than random patrols will be effective. In other words- will a consistent presence of RLSHs patrolling a small area make a difference?

Watchman would like to discuss this with the citizens of Riverwest, and I’ll be glad to act as liaison. What do you Riverwesterners think? Is Watchman fighting the good fight? Will you support his cause? Will you dress as Wonder Woman (or male equivalent) and join him? Would you wear your normal clothes and join him? I would love to hear any and all opinions.

1. Like almost every title in this scene, some people don’t like the term “Oracle”- to them it implies mysticism and claims of psychic powers, so they use the term “Operator” instead. To prevent people getting lost with terminology juggling, I am sticking to “Oracle.”

2. The cult is well known for annoying everyone with their constant chanting of: "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn", which translates as "In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming."


  1. I completely support RLSHs in Riverwest. I think that the more people watching and being aware and making a presence on the streets can influence crime-doers to move on. I know I feel much safer walking around the neighborhood when I see police patrolling and would feel the same about RLSHs.

  2. Remeber people doing riverwest safety walks about seven years ago. Makes great sense, especially if you have a dog. Glad to see someone is taking over...