Saturday, February 18, 2006

Why do I continue to put up with this life-squelching frigid hellhole of a state?

If you’re in Minnesota, you might have noticed that it is very, very cold outside. So cold I thought my three block walk to the corner store would kill me. It felt like the liquid in my eyeballs was freezing. My sting stung; after awhile it seemed that the very next twenty mile-per-hour thirty-degrees-below-zero gust of wind would crack it apart and send the flakes of it dancing down the street. Once I got there, the place was filled with guys who were waiting for the bus. The owner usually doesn’t let them stand in there, but he must have felt that he couldn’t kick them out. “Colder than a motherfucker,” one of them said to me as I squeezed down the aisle.

“Yeah. It’s cold,” I said.

“Got-damn cold,” another guy added. “Ain’t fit for nobody.”

“That’s right. Motherfucker is cold,” said the first guy.

I nodded and went to collect the stuff I needed. I took it to the counter and gave it to the quiet Arab guy who ran the place, the guy who seldom says a word to me. Yesterday, though, he was voluble. “Cold,” he said and I said it back to him. He took my money and gave me my change. “Stay warm,” he said then and I told him it was impossible. I took my bag and snaked my way through all the people loitering around in their heavy coats and ski-hoods, pausing by the door for a second to pull my scarf up and savor my last warm breath before the journey home.

With my eyes like brittle glass and my forehead feeling like the air was a belt sander pressed against it, I hurried to my place. Along the way, I thought of several places I’d rather be. In no particular order, here they are:

1) Tuscaloosa, Alabama

My grandparents live down there, and every time I’ve visited them the weather has been quite pleasant. Sultry, even. I’m sort of an odd Minnesotan in that I really enjoy sticky, oppressive, sweat-all-up-in-your-buttcrack heat. I enjoy the South also–not the way they always get to pick our president, but the music, the food, the scenery, and the authentic friendliness of most everyone I’ve met down there. None of that “Minnesota nice” to be found in Alabama, that sick kind of quasi-niceness we wield so that strangers will get away from us quicker. Alabamans, by and large, are truly nice. They’ll ask you a question and be interested in how you answer it. They’ll have a conversation with you even if they don’t have to. That’s the kind of languid, easy-going behavior that you can expect from a place where you can stand outdoors without worrying about your fingers and toes falling off.

However, they do have an entire museum dedicated to a college football coach. And a billboard on the edge of town that declares “THE UN IS COMING TO TAKE YOUR GUNS AWAY!!!!”
I’m not so fond of that stuff...

2) Miami Beach, Florida

In Miami Beach, even the people who put your sandwiches together at Subway look like Venezuelan supermodels. This is off-putting at first, but you quickly get used to it. You also get used to everything being clean, gleaming, and geared to the super-rich. After a few days, it gets so that it doesn’t all seem shallow, fake, and ridiculous–it just seems like paradise. Sure, it’s a vain place and a superficial place and an absurdly body-conscious place, but there’s a reason for that. You see, you can have a body in Miami Beach, you can pamper it and flaunt it. In Minneapolis, you’ve got no choice: you have to hide it under sixty-four layers of clothes or else the elements will paint it bright blue and scatter it to the winds.

3) Muscat, Oman

Truth be told, I don’t know anything about Muscat. Think of everyone you know. Have any of them been to Muscat? It must be a unique place to visit. I bet they have at least one good hotel and, seeing as it sits on the southern Arabian Peninsula, it must be good and hot over there right now. Really, that’s all I need. Plus, I could come back to Minnesota in the summertime and people would ask me, “What was Muscat like?” and I could just smile mysteriously and say something like, “What happens in Muscat stays in Muscat” or “Muscat? Muscat is magical!” or “I’m afraid I can’t talk to you until my CIA handler properly debriefs me...”

4) Tegucigalpa, Honduras

My out-of-date travel guide says this: “...residents still gather under the shade of trees in the plaza to chat and meet friends. The people’s genuine interest in visitors and their security makes Tegus one of the safer cities in Central America”. Obviously, this is subtle travel-guide speak for “buy a plane ticket, Kevin, and leave that frosty Scandinavian nightmare behind...come to Tegucigalpa and let our friendliness and relative safety enchant you!” Honduras is also a major banana exporter. Bananas are one of my favorite fruits. Honduras and I are obviously meant to be together, don’t you think? I’m not embarrassed to speak of the sacred bond I share with Honduras.

5) Bruxelles, Belgium

I realize that Belgium isn’t particularly warm. Still, when I passed through it this summer, it struck me as the sort of place where you can still go down a shadowy street to meet a man in a bowler hat, who will–after the necessary bona fides are established–hand off to you certain documents that freelance operatives in the Eastern Bloc have gone to some risk to obtain. And I’d be lying if I said that this sort of thing didn’t appeal to me.