Although I have flown in and out of the airport in Minneapolis a few times over the years, I haven’t ever visited Minnesota with a purpose. This recent trip to visit my old friends Chris and Carol would be my first true Midwestern experience aside from all those years Carol ruined my hearing with the way she pronounced concrete: “kyahhn-kreet.”
From time to time last winter she would send me pictures of her front yard or commute to work to assure me that she was still alive, that she and her family were surviving negative 40 degree temperatures and walloping snowstorms. No way I could endure that, no way, especially given that their summer has been unseasonably cool. Add to that the fact that they are in the middle of remodeling their house. So it’s cold and she has no floors and she can’t find anything and everyone around her has turned “don’t” and “you” into one word.
Basically it’s Hawaii with a little more flavor.
I grew up in the South, so while running errands with her to find last minute things for the drive to the lake in Wisconsin the very first thing I noticed is how cashiers smile and talk and commiserate. It’s not that people in Utah are mean or rude, quite the contrary. People here are raised to serve and help and show up with a green bean casserole when your fish dies. But when it comes to public displays of friendliness, people here are way more conservative. WHAT IF THIS PERSON THINKS I AM HITTING ON THEM OH NO I WILL HAVE TO TELL MY BISHOP.
I had lengthy conversations with the cashier at every store we visited, conversations about the origins of my children’s names, ancestry, vacations, pets, you name it. While checking out at Costco I mentioned to Carol that we forgot to get bug spray when suddenly the cashier gripped the counter.
“Where are you headed?” she asked with grave concern.
“The Northwoods of Wisconsin,” answered Carol.
“Forget everything you thought you knew about mosquitos,” the cashier said, and then her eyes got huge as she reached up to her hairline to find a recent bug bite. As she fiddled around the curls on the left side of her head she warned, “Don’t even think about Skin So Soft or anything other than DEET. The bugs are horrifying this year. They will pick you up and carry you off. TAKE MY WORD.”
The bug bite must have cleared up because she couldn’t locate it, but I thanked her for her advice. As we walked our cart toward the door I realized that this cashier, this stranger was just about to show me her mosquito bite. Not that doing so is akin to flashing me her boobs, but my god, how helpful! Instead of keeping it hidden like I would, instead of trying to camouflage it like I would, she was going to use it like a slide on a powerpoint presentation. BEHOLD: THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF HOW BAD THE MOSQUITOS ARE THIS YEAR.
I wanted to run back and hug her and say, “Thank you for not being afraid that I might think you are hitting on me. I think I love you.”
Salt Lake does not have mosquitos like that, no. We also don’t have cockroaches or ticks or chiggers or fleas, and while it snows quite a bit in the winter the temperature does not ever reach negative 42 degrees Fahrenheit. But we also don’t have public friendliness. Minnesota Nice is its own tourist attraction.