Back to Minnesota
I relocated from California to Minnesota in the second week of January, which ranks amongst the most misguided moves in human history, right up there with the Donner party deciding to go from Missouri to California in 1846 and the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz moving to Utah in 1979.
Granted, the Donners didn’t have access to weather apps in the 19th century (“Sure, we might run into a bit of snow”), and maybe the owners of the basketball team in New Orleans thought there was a burgeoning jazz scene in Salt Lake City (“Let’s keep the name – it’s not like LA is known for its lakes”).
But how do I explain my move? I suppose I could blame it on geographic dyslexia, but there’s more to it than that. You might need some background…
I grew up in California, and when I had a chance to move back a few years ago, I took it. Yeah, it was Northern California, and I grew up in the L.A. sprawl, but it was still California, which meant I would be around like-minded freaks, progressive politics, and legal weed. Then, everything started burning.
I mean, seriously, the entire state was on fire. Combined with extreme drought conditions, this meant that for weeks at a time, the air was so filled with ash that you could taste it. I’ve put up with a lot of negatives in all my Bohemian moves, but I draw the line at chewable air. Breathing is kind of a big deal to me.
Here’s a snapshot from October of 2021, provided by the good folks at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, showing how much of the state had turned into an apocalyptic hellscape:
So I became, to use a frightening new term, a climate change refugee. I had to admit that sounded better than the way my friends described all my previous moves.
But where to go? I knew it had to be a ‘blue’ state, because I didn’t want to live someplace where I would wake up angry every morning. I couldn’t even go to a blue island in a red state (no Austin, or Nashville), because until I figure out a way to monetize this writing thing, I’m relying on government benefits, and conservative states aren’t as inclined to hand those out to pot-smoking bisexual liberals like myself.
I thought for a long time about moving to Burlington, Vermont, until I realized that I didn’t know anyone in Burlington, Vermont, and if I’m gonna be snowed in for four months out of the year, it might as well be near some people I know, so that I can bitch to someone.
I also thought about New York, but I’ve tried moving there three times already, and each time, New York slapped me down like a damned dog. I considered going back to Chicago, where I’d lived twice before, but I didn’t have a place to live there, and I’m pretty sure I’m too old to crash on couches and too broken down to navigate Chicagoland by train, looking for a neighborhood where I won’t get shot.
So why not Minnesota? Now, since Minnesota had been my default place to go when the wheels fell off (and they fell off a lot during what I fondly call my ‘hot mess’ years), I had to get over the fact that Minnesota represented, to some extent, failure. But it’s like that old saying goes–“Fourth time’s the charm,” right?
Birthplace of Bob Dylan, Prince, and the Andrews Sisters (there’s a mashup I’d like to hear), and home of such quixotic politicians as Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, you could do worse than to plant your flag in the land of tundra and frozen lakes.
Besides, I’ve always said that I can handle extreme cold better than extreme heat. The reality is, if you put on enough layers, there comes a point where you stop being cold. The opposite isn’t true…you can only take so much clothing off, and if you’re still hot, you’re just screwed.
I think the most annoying thing about the weather here in the winter isn’t the cold so much as the deception. Take the concept of ‘wind chill,’ for example. If the thermometer says 20 degrees but the ‘real feel’ is 10 degrees below 0, then let’s just call it 10 below, shall we?
We’re not kidding each other with ‘wind chill,’ any more then a true Minnesotan is fooled by the Sun. It might look like it’s giving out warmth, but we know that for part of the year, the Sun is a big fat liar.
I never really understood why people settled this part of the country in the first place. Maybe the first pioneers got here in the middle of June, and they saw the lakes shimmering, and the river flowing, and decided to set up camp here.
You would think that somewhere during the first winter here, though, when their livestock started dying and the villagers started getting frostbite, they all would have pulled up stakes and said, “You know what? Let’s keep heading west. This place sucks.”
Obviously, the real reason I chose Minnesota it’s known as a hotbed of Jewish life. OK, not exactly, but there is a surprisingly vibrant Jewish presence here. It is, after all, where I converted to Judaism some 20 years ago.
The most compelling reason I came back to Minnesota was that my friends, Fred and Leslie, (actual Jewish people!) offered a place to stay. Inside. For my California friends, “inside” is quite a bit warmer then “outside” here.
Fred and Leslie live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota called ‘Mendota Heights,’ and Mendota Heights is much different than the “Heights” referred to by Lin-Manuel Miranda in the movie. Fewer Dominicans, and from what I’ve seen, far less dancing.
It’s known in the local parlance as an “inner ring” suburb, meaning it’s very close to actual civilization, and houses that don’t look identical. Also, as mentioned before, it’s inside.
Being a very urban guy, it’s a bit of culture shock to find myself in the suburbs. I’ve met exactly two neighbors, both of whom were pleasant, although I’m sure they were a bit skeptical of me, and my Californian vibe.
I can only imagine their dinner table conversation after meeting me—“So…I guess Fred and Leslie have a Californian staying with them now. He probably uses the word vibe, and eats avocado toast.”
For now, the suburbs are just fine by me. Did I plan on living this close to a street called ‘Yankee Doodle Road?’ I did not. But it could be worse . . .
There is a major street in this area with the unfortunate name of ‘Cretin’ Avenue. Are you telling me that nobody on the city council realized, when the street was named, that ‘cretin’ is a synonym for imbecile? I’m not trying to make waves here–just saying that’s a bad look.
Speaking of bad looks and naming things, this part of the country really likes to lean into its Catholic past. Look, I’m not saying that individual Catholics are bad—there’s St. Francis of Assisi. And my friend Drew. I’m sure there are others.
I’m just saying that organizationally, the Catholic Church has had some PR issues, what with allegations of child abuse, theft of iniquities, forced conversion, and the like, and maybe naming a bunch of stuff after Catholics isn’t the best idea, optics-wise.
Just across the Mississippi River is the city of Minneapolis, in Hennepin County. Father Hennepin was a Catholic priest. One of the biggest events in the Twin Cities is the Basilica Block Party Heck—Mendota Heights is a suburb of Saint Paul!
To really bring home the cognitive dissonance here, the Jewish Community Center in Saint Paul is located on Saint Paul Avenue! Then again, one of the most active Jewish communities in Texas is in Corpus Christi, which literally means ‘the body of Christ,’ so what do I know?
I think on of the first things I will do, as I embrace life in Minnesota, is to circulate a petition to change the name of Minnesota’s capitol to Paul. Just . . . ‘Paul.’ Sure, it might be confusing at first, but think of the tax dollars that could be saved just on signage and official stationery, by dropping five letters!
Anyway, I’ll probably come up with more ideas to improve the area, so if you want to give me any feedback, feel free to look me up—I can be found just outside of Paul, Minnesota.