Searching for ‘real Minnesota’

I cringed a bit yesterday when I read the story of Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea’s greetings to Brainerd on Monday.

Gildea told a community dinner at Central Lakes College, “I’m so happy to be in real Minnesota…outside of the Twin Cities, in other words.”

It was almost as if she saw the future halfway through her sentence: an assertion that the Twin Cities aren’t the real Minnesota.

City Pages weighed in:

In fact, every part of Minnesota is real. Except the part with, like, the State Capitol, the professional sports teams, the enormous public university, the cool music scene, the nice restaurants and bars… none of that is real. Well, it’s real, but it’s not “Minnesota,” you know?

Let’s give the justice the benefit of the doubt and step back from the brink of secession.

When the people of Grand Avenue, to use just one example, object to chain stores taking over their street, what are they afraid of if not the possibility that the real Grand Avenue will be destroyed, replaced by a street that could be Anywhere USA?

Granted, this is harder to understand for Minnesota these days because we’ve been conditioned to accept the notion that when people think of us, they think, “really big shopping mall.” But it wasn’t always that way.

Isn’t the chief complaint of city slickers toward the suburbs, which are also part of the real Twin Cities, that they’re not real? And they’ve got a point. On the way to work today, I drove past the cookie-cutter homes of my neighborhood (built by the same company that builds the same models from here to Texas) , took a right at the shopping center that features a Target, a Kohl’s and an Applebee’s, got on an interstate, and drove into to a canyon of large buildings … all of which could’ve been anywhere.

Sure, I know it’s Minnesota. And the Twin Cities obviously have a lot to offer,but it’s undeniable that cities and their suburbs are quickly looking like everywhere else. It doesn’t make us bad people, it just makes us something other than unique. If we’re growing more and more like any other place — and being overly sensitive about innocuous comments is like any other place — how real Minnesota can we be?

You don’t find this in many places…

20110629 028 Paul Bunyan Rest Stop and Information Area for Brainerd - Trip to Crow Wing SP MN

And there’s only one real beginning of the Mississippi River…


And to many people who long for something other than sameness, that’s real, or at least more “real” than other places.

When you look for real Minnesota, where do you look?

  • Jim Shapiro

    Did Gildea attend a seminar at The Palin School of Dumb Divisive Patronizing Public Speaking?

  • Bob Collins

    If people are going to be perpetually outraged about everything, the value of their outrage is substantially diluted.

    Sometimes, a trivial comment is just a trivial comment.

    A real Minnesotan would understand that. (g)

  • Kevin Watterson

    Exactly, Bob. It’s custom and usage for people to think their hometown is better than everyone else’s, especially if your hometown is in Iowa, like mine is, because then it’s true.

  • Megan

    In my peripheral vision, but only for a moment until I refocused, I thought I saw Paul Bunyon spanking…the Statue of Liberty?

    I don’t blame Grand Avenue for thier concern, I would agree with them. The Twin Cities ain’t what they used to be ten years ago. The climate is considerably faux real.

  • James

    I’ll find real Minnesota in about 3 weeks when Im sitting in my deer stand . . .

  • I’e had the opportunity to turn a few out-of-state friends into Minnesotans. Here’s a few that help to clinch it every time:

    – The St. Paul Winter Carnival

    – fishing at the cabin

    – the Christmas lights along Summit Avenue

    – a fall color tour along the St. Croix

    – hiking the North Shore

    – people-watching at the Mall of America (you can always tell the locals from the tourists)

    There’s others, I’m sure, but I can’t think of them at the moment.

    I have a thought here related to what @Megan was saying… let me see if I can articulate it properly.

    I read an article a couple of months ago that claimed that “hipsters” are really just trying to be Minnesotan. It was a Buzzfeed article that CityPages picked up, drawing parallels between our mutual affinity for “the lumberjack look,” live theater, farmer’s markets, our music scene, and the recent “everyone should bike” trend. I also have heard hipsterism described as a “fetishism for the authentic,” which is probably the most succinct and accurate description I’ve heard of what it is to be a hipster.

    That said, if loving the authentic is something rooted in our culture as Minnesotans, it’s easy for me to see how being frustrated with chain stores taking over Grand Ave and the general feeling here has been “faux real”. We’ve welcomed a falseness here in the Cities, and it doesn’t feel right. It’s not Minnesota.

  • Jim Shapiro

    I love and miss Minnesota. Almost all of it.

    While it’s fun and difficult to list all of the great stuff, here’s a bit of info perhaps pertinent to the Judge’s comment, albeit unconsciously:

    REAL MINNESOTA Brainerd: 95% Caucasian

    NOT REAL MINNESOTA Minneapolis: 65% Caucasian

    Coincidence? You tell me.

    Minneapolis was not that way when I was a kid, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t notice the difference in the demographics when I return for a month every year.

    I’m not in the least outraged at the judge’s comments Bob, for better and worse. I’m a no harm no foul kinda guy.

    Mostly intellectually curious. And trying to turn a funny phrase, sometimes more successfully than others.

  • It’s hard to pin down “real Minnesota” within a state that is so diverse. Sure, there is only 1 start to the Mississippi, and that is outside the Twin Cities.

    But concerning the Mississippi as the cornerstone to Minnesota: we are one of two states with banks on both sides of the Mississippi, and within the Twin Cities area, we see two rivers connect to it (Minnesota River in Minneapolis, and St. Croix between Cottage Grove and Hastings).

    In order to define “real Minnesota,” looking at the makeup of the landscape doesn’t cover it. It takes a hearty person to live here for life: with blazing hot summers and extremely cold winters, in order to be here, there is diversity in preferences. Personally, I love each season for what it offers.

    But even looking at many people living in the Twin Cities area, there is still a love for nature and connecting to the environment that isn’t present in many cities.

    I have to point out that @Maggie is right: the classic “hipster” is a Minnesotan: we’re always done things outdoors, gone to live theater and local music shows, bought produce at the farmer’s market or grown it in our own yards, and we are still the most bike-friendly cities in the country (though, it would be nice if the bikers followed the laws, they can get unpredictable!).

    Despite the “faux real” sections of Grand Ave, there are plenty of at-home shops in the area – and they are popping up in new places all the time (Nokomis area of Minneapolis, for one).

    But there is plenty of “real Minnesota” here in the Twin Cities: with more park space per square foot in Minneapolis and St. Paul than any other city in the country, it is definitely there. Minnehaha Park has tons of good hiking and a huge dog park. All of the lakes have bike trails and places to walk, picnic, and swim. We have better air quality and water quality than most other cities (#5 nationwide in both categories), and at the top when looking at both.

    So, I’m not sure what makes Minnesota real: if it’s the connection to nature, desire to grow personally, and the heartiness to work and live here, then I don’t see how the Twin Cities doesn’t fit the bill.

  • The Big Dog

    I thought the real Minnesota was Minnesota Nice, no matter where.

    As Bob says, “Sometimes, a trivial comment is just a trivial comment.”

  • Bismuth

    If a foreigner wanted me to give them a Real Minnesota Experience, I’d take them to a cabin in the northwoods. If they wanted a Real American Experience, I think the Cities are a perfect place. Much more cultural exchange occurs in urban areas than in small towns — part of what makes cities great, but also part of what makes them relatively interchangeable.

    However, I don’t think that’s what this is really about.

    Everyone has their own ideas about what is “real”, and it’s no great surprise that they primarily have to do with how and where a person grew up. During childhood, people learn “how things are” as a simple matter of fact, and this becomes the baseline for comparison when they encounter other realities, even if they decide these new realities are better, more popular, etc. Thus, an urban center can’t possibly be “real” Minnesota to someone who has grown up knowing small town life.

    Ironically, if Justice Gildea was blindfolded and unknowingly taken to a random small town in northern Wisconsin, she’d probably proclaim it “real Minnesota” territory.

  • Caitlin

    I look for parks within walking distance. I look for tree-lined boulevards. I look for miles and miles and miles of bike trail. I look for a lake-front oasis from city life fifteen minutes away from a Tony-award winning regional theatre. The Twin Cities are unquestionably a different facet of “Minnesotanness,” but one that is no less valid than the suburban or rural Minnesota identity. Can’t we all be Minnesotan?

  • Tom

    Jim, I really think you’re putting words into the Judge’s mouth with this stuff:

    “REAL MINNESOTA Brainerd: 95% Caucasian

    NOT REAL MINNESOTA Minneapolis: 65% Caucasian”

    I agree that she said something kinda stupid, but from what I read in the article, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that she was talking about race at all. Why did you feel that you needed to bring this up?

  • Jim Shapiro

    Tom –

    I don’t think the judge was talking about race, and I have no idea whether or not any of her behavior indicates that she’s a racist.

    I brought it up because saying one thing is REAL implies that other things are not, and that usually implies a value judgement. The logical step when distinctions are made is to determine what the real and important distinctions are.

    Yeah, I know that there’s better fishing and fewer McDonalds in Brainerd than in the TCs. My 4 year old also knows that.

    I brought up the demographic differences because this is a blog that typically attracts the comments of intelligent adults, and the “REAL AMERICA” comment originally sparked controversy when it was said by Sarah Palin, and I thought the judge’s comment begged an exploration of nuanced stuff between the lines.

    If you would prefer to talk about Muskies and Norway Pines and too many chain stores in St.Paul, I completely understand because I often feel that way too.

  • andy

    Here’s my “real Minnesota” story;

    I moved to Chicago about three years ago. In that span of time, I’ve been nearly hit by at least 4 or 5 different cars by simply walking from a store to my car in a parking lot, even though there are stop signs, which are rarely obeyed. Illinios drivers simply don’t stop (or even slow down) for pedestrians!

    This past summer I was happy to visit Minneapolis for a week. I stopped at Minnehaha Falls Park to see the falls and grab a bite at Sea Salt. I was crossing the street on foot (in a designated crosswalk) and a van was barreling towards me. I was shocked as I literally stopped in my tracks as the van sped by, barely missing me. Right away I though that in the 3 years since leaving, MN drivers have lost all senses of driving etiquette….. until I looked at the license plates on the van after it passed. ILLINIOS LICENSE PLATES!

    Just the simple act of Minnesotans stopping for pedestrians, whether in the Cities or in rural MN, makes Minnesota “real” to me.

    What does this have to do with what the judge said, meh, not much. It’s a pretty good story though. Even my IL friends laugh when I tell it, as they’re nodding while saying; “yeah, we don’t stop for pedestrians.” Sigh…..

  • Jamie

    I agree with Jim Shapiro. And, being pretty sure she was appointed by Pawlenty, I don’t think her comment was innocuous.

  • o

    “I have a thought here related to what @Megan was saying… let me see if I can articulate it properly.”

    ” We’ve welcomed a falseness here in the Cities, and it doesn’t feel right. It’s not Minnesota.”


    I think you have articulated your thought well. And that falseness is viral and apparently appealing in regard to how our TC is plagued with faux real.

  • This is NOT lucy

    “I love and miss Minnesota. Almost all of it.”

    Are you crazy, Jim?

    You live in California where you have the best of all worlds-Big water, Big Hills and best of all Big trees.

  • Joanna

    The judge’s comment was pandering to prejudice against “the big city”, nothing new in Minnesota. This Californian transplant thinks the Twin Cities are plenty real Minnesotan, because they sure as hell aren’t just like other big cities I’ve lived in. Question of perspective.

  • jon

    Real Minnesota is easy to find, simply wait three months, and look for the things that are covered in snow.

    And to address two previous comments:

    -Bicycles are no more unpredictable then motorists… bicycles are just more maneuverable.

    -Motorist might not stop for pedestrians in Chicago, on the highways slower traffic stays right there.

    We’ve all got something we can improve on (maybe that’s what makes us real… since perfection doesn’t seem to exist on this planet.)