Monday, June 15, 2009 By Aaron Brown
Minnesota: Still different or same dif? A big, big question
By Aaron J. Brown
Both Newsweek and Time made hay from a recent controversial quote by Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour. In justifying a story about the perils of obesity in the fashion mag, Wintour said, “I’d just been on a trip to Minnesota, where I can only kindly describe most of the people I saw as little houses.”
I reacted to this quote the way a lot of Minnesotans probably would. I guffawed in anger. Then I went over to the mirror, looked away, sucked in my gut and looked back. “Well, what kind of house was she talking about, anyway? Maybe she meant small phone booths … like you used to see at airports.”
OK, so maybe Minnesotans aren’t as thin as the fashionable folks wandering the respectable streets of Manhattan or Paris. I am still left wondering which part of Minnesota was she looking at? There’s a big difference peering into the windows of an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant and an all-you-can-exercise gym. And all this got me thinking about what it means to be a Minnesotan. I am a Minnesotan, but I am also an Iron Ranger. I’m proud to be an American, but there are parts of America I view more like a foreign country – OK to visit but, geez, to live there? Uff-da. So what is it that makes up our identity?
I always think this way when I go on one of my rare excursions to the Twin Cities like I did last week. Ninety-nine percent of the time I am physically located on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. However, much of that time is spent writing and doing work on the Internet, communicating with people on the Range but just as often with people from all over the country and sometimes the other side of the world. Because of this lifestyle, I feel heighted awareness of the outside world coupled with physical isolation from that world.
I drive the same section of 169 every day. Not much changes most of the time and yet the blinking warnings from my computer news updates accurately predicted the idling of Keewatin Taconite. This I notice on each drive, as the billows of steam from KeeTac remain furloughed. Yes, this grim reality remains. The Iron Range is separate, different from the rest.
Many of my fellow Rangers don’t have this problem because widespread Internet use has still only penetrated into about half the population here. This is a comfortable problem – no news is good news – but this fact also troubles me as we enter a new century that relies on new media.
Oh, but there’s already so much seriousness in the world. Here are some lighter observations from my Twin Cities trip presented in Q/A format:
How many beers does it take two co-workers sitting in front of us at the Twins game to start sweating a stinky 3.2 solution and bragging about who's better at whatever vague corporate thing they do? ANSWER: Five Bud Light Limes apiece (at $6.75 a pop!)
Where is Asia's Finest Restaurant? ANSWER: Until now I'd have said probably in Asia, but it's actually in a strip mall in White Bear Lake. That's right, it's real name is "Asia's Finest Restaurant." That's a specificity fail wrapped in a location fail.
Do they allow rummage sales on ritzy Summit Avenue in St. Paul? ANSWER: Apparently yes, but only if the goods are placed on by-God doilies. Our biggest regret on the trip was not stopping to see the prices. I wonder if the Pawlentys will have a sale of the mansion furniture as part of next year's budget solution?
Is Cities 97 still a good station to listen to? ANSWER: It's OK, but they now take their name very seriously. Most of what we heard on Cities 97 was also played in 1997. This was one of the first times we've ever gone FROM the Range TO the Cities and thought that we were going back in time. Clothes shopping yielded a similar sensation.
As time marches on, the differences between Rangers and Twin Cities residents fades ever so slightly. Our populations mingle and sometimes even mate. We are all united in one common feature. That fancy Vogue lady thinks we are all very, very fat.
Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Contact him or read more at MinnesotaBrown.com. His book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range” is out now.