When I’m at the airport I like to check out the destinations of the planes leaving from the various gates as I approach the one slated for my departure. This past weekend, as I walked past computer screens touting places like Phoenix, Miami and Las Vegas, I couldn’t help but wonder how a different roll of the family dice could have landed me somewhere other than the line headed to Minneapolis.
Had my sister married a Cajun, I might have been headed toward bayou country and a trip to Bourbon Street. Had she met a Floridian we might have had reservations for Disney World. If her betrothed had hailed from California, Hollywood could have been the destination. As it turned out, my brother-in-law is a hearty Minnesotan with a name -- Blumhoefer -- almost as long as the state's winter.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. It's just that usually when you are going on vacation people seem happy for you, even excited on occasion. But tell your co-workers your headed to the Great North in January and the response is much different. "Sorry to hear that. What's the temperature going to be?" Or, "Oh, really. Stay warm."
It was a balmy 30 degrees when we landed. Short-sleeve weather, I thought to myself, making a joke that would prove truer than I knew. The following day was colder but I couldn't complain much, though it wasn't like we spent a lot of time in the great outdoors. Just in and out of the car and house with nary a frostbitten finger. Bring on the frozen tundra, I thought.
On the second day we got snow and the following day as well. It was a constant but soft snow, one of those that looks pretty but doesn't cause much harm, at least in a city where they actually have snow plows. For those of us not used to snowfalls, it was exciting and mesmerizing. To my 6-year-old nephew, who didn't even bother to look at the window when we exclaimed that it was snowing, it was just another day living in Minnesota. His expression at our excitement seemed to say: "What are you going to tell me next, that you're breathing?"
Watching the snow was great, but it was just a build up to the big test. A journey to St. Paul (motto: "You can't have twin cities without us") for an afternoon outside would decide just how hearty we were. Here in the metro area we are proud of our fall festivals, but it comes as no surprise that the great people of Minnesota have theirs in the winter. Then again, it's not like their other seasons are long enough to host many events.
We headed to the famous St. Paul Winter Carnival in downtown Rice Park, where the theme of ice was more than fitting. On a day when the high hovered around 12 degrees, the many ice sculptures dotting the park were never in jeopardy. Which was a good thing, because the ice was plentiful.
The festival featured ice carvings, including one of a polar bear bowling with penguins as the pins. There was an ice lion, an ice locomotive and a winged horse made of ice. There was a what looked like a brick wall made of ice, an ice throne, and even the bar where beverages were sold was carved completely out of ice. Everything, it seemed, was made of ice, including my feet by the time we decided to leave.
Like any festival, this one made for good people watching. At first I thought maybe the Minnesotans weren't really heartier than me, that maybe they just had better jackets and boots (I know they had better hats, most wearing the kind with the long ear flaps. I really need to get one of those). But as we took in the sights, enjoying our fried cheese curds along the way, it became clear that at least some of these folks were in a different, much heartier class.
Like the guy wearing a pair of flip-flop-type shower shoes. With no socks. Or the guy with the lumberjack hat and jacket proudly wearing shorts. As a person accused of pushing the season as far as wearing shorts, I could only tip my hat to him. Or I would have if I didn't think my ears would freeze.
The cold, hard truth is that the weather wasn't too bad. And that the folks from the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" ("More than that," my brother-in-law will tell you) are a fun and hospitable bunch. From my experience they'll show you a good enough time that you'll forget how cold it is.
Even if your feet keep trying to remind you.
Todd Cline can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays.