You hear it all the time when you live, or travel much in Minnesota. It's the belief that people in the state are, well, nice. Nicer than most other places. It's a subject of pride, debate, even a little embarrassment for most Minnesotans. (Nice people are modest that way.) Is it true or was it just some clever public relations catch phrase that stuck? Well I don't know where it originated, but I say it's true.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do what Dorothy never did. I took two of my dearest California friends who have never been to the Mid-West, to the place I've talked about for so long now with such fondness. I felt like Dorothy getting to take her buddies back on the farm back up the yellow-brick road to show them all the fun, crazy adventures she really did have while they thought she was just off sleeping. I took them to the "Emerald City". And I showed them there really is a place where people are almost unbelievably happy, open hearted and welcoming. It was a business trip but it turned out to be so much more because of the people and that something special Minnesota just has.
I won't lie. I was a bit nervous on the way thinking "Was it just a really magic time in my life and consequently I experienced the Twin Cities as such an amazing place?" I had pals who heard I was coming instruct: "Now have you warned them what it looks like in the dead of winter? Explain to them how dreary it can be. Do you remember how ugly the city can look this time of year?" So I did. And told them how cold it would likely be. On the plane ride there I told story after story of winter adventures there. But there was no sense of dread in my stories. I was telling them about the magic of ice skating on Lake of the Isles with the backdrop of the city and beautiful historic mansions all around. I was talking about the World Pond Hockey tournament and what a trip it was to see a lake full of rinks and people playing the equivalent of street ball on ice. And I tried to explain how much fun it can be to spend a weekend on a frozen lake with 25 of your closest friends in ice-houses fishing for walleye. They shook their heads but were open-minded and I think both eager for whatever adventure lie ahead just for a chance to experience something new.
Well we weren't there an hour before they started to notice it. "Everyone is so nice here! Even the people at the airport, they smiled at you, and made eye contact and asked what brought us to Minnesota." And even though it was pitch black, they saw the beauty in Uptown with it's little white lights and inviting little bars and restaurants. They were blown away by the beauty of the homes around Lake of the Isles. They saw how nice everyone was when we stopped for a drink at Urban Eatery. They thought it was awesome we had an endless list of places to get some great food even though we were approaching midnight. And of course they just giggled when the friendly staff at Roat Osha greeted us with a hearty "Hello, what can I get you, and have you seen our happy hour specials?" Yeah, they're so happy in Oz they have happy hours not only when the work day winds down, but when the actual day winds down.
By the time we checked into our lodging, their moods had changed (and it wasn't just the awesome martinis at Urban Eatery.) They were feeling the love and almost testing it. Could everyone really be this nice? Of course nice begets nice, so it wasn't surprising Jeff had discovered the woman at the front desk once lived in California too and they had all kinds of things in common. So far, Minnesota Nice sure seemed to be the case.
It never stopped. From the new friends I had made who were throwing us a party ("Now how do you know these people, Jeanette?" they asked. "Well I don't know them all that well, because I actually met them through Ruby Shoes Wine Club while they were visiting California. But when they heard I was coming to Minnesota, they said 'Oh we'll have to have a party at our house when you come!' And that's just what they're doing now.") to the old friends who offered places to stay, cars, meals, "whatever we needed", to colleagues and competitors in my TV world who greeted us with open arms, enthusiasm and support of what I'm doing now, to strangers we met at cheese shops, coffee shops and the rental return area for Enterprise Car Rentals, I couldn't have scripted "Minnesota Nice" any better. Add in the gang at Nye's and other quick stops downtown, and it was just pretty special. It warmed my heart so much because I realized it wasn't my imagination. It really DID happen. It really is a magical place. And I felt so incredibly grateful the tornado of my life dropped me in that special spot almost 10 years ago now.
I'm so grateful my journey took me back home to where I live now...among old friends from childhood, and family and the part of the world that feels familiar and right to me at this point in my life. But I felt a melancholy as we headed back to the airport in Minneapolis to head home. Minnesota is a part of me too and now I know it always will be. I made too many friends, have too many memories, and lived such a special chapter of my story there. I will always come back to check in and remember it fondly. And I have a hunch I won't be coming back alone next time either.
As we landed in Phoenix and grabbed a quick bite to eat before we boarded our plane back to San Luis Obispo, the woman behind the counter at McDonalds was...well less than nice. She grunted to us to please tell her what we wanted. When we paid and got our change, she didn't even look at us, just said "Next Please." and looked behind us. My friends kind of shrugged their shoulders, looked at each other and said "I guess we're not in Minnesota anymore."
Minnesota Nice? You betcha! Own it and wear it with pride my friends. It's something to really be proud of.
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