"Sorry about the cold weather," said the desk clerk at the hotel in L.A. It was 66. I noted that I came from a place where it was so cold that penguins shattered when they burped. In California, it was 80 degrees warmer than back home.
The entire weekend I got the same look when I said I was from Minneapolis: pity and surprise. They were very sorry for you, and startled that you weren't peering out from a mask made of reindeer hide, clutching a gnarled stick, demanding to know what magic words they had used to make the Sun God come out and be gracious.
A few Californians were curious about Minneapolis, knowing nothing whatsoever about it. You're tempted to make things up: Oh, it's a lot like St. Petersburg, what with the canals and palaces, but they're not listening and don't care. What does get their attention, though, is when you mention St. Paul, and they might perk up; some ancient school-age State Capitol knowledge flickers to life, and they ask what it's like.
You could say "It's where the Old World sensibilities met the Mississippi and decided it was too wide to swim across, so it feels more settled and quiet — unlike its glittering azure twin, which thrums with life." But that's not fair.
St. Paul is the most romantic city in the nation.
According to an online survey.
I know what you're thinking: President Obama should grant Justin Bieber a full pardon, according to an online survey. Minneapolis is the best city to lose an online survey, according to an online survey.
In another recent online survey, L.A. was named one of the nation's best cities for pedestrians. True, in the sense that you usually have the sidewalk all to yourself, but if you try to cross at an intersection where 20 lanes of traffic are converging, you will not only wait for half an hour, but a motorist will pull up and give you a backpack, a dog and a sign that says PASSING THROUGH GOD BLESS, since obviously you set off for work unprepared.
But this is legit. Even the people who ran it were surprised, given the rather lackluster attributes they gave St. Paul.
Said a survey spokesperson: People love St. Paul "for its diverse romantic offerings, like leisurely paddle-wheeler rides along the Mississippi, beer tastings, ice skating" and "a thriving performance arts scene."
If "beer tastings" is the second item in a list of romantic getaways, you may have a different idea of what constitutes a heart-quickening interlude. I assume they mean that one person doesn't sit in the Super 8 waiting for the other to come back with a six-pack and a bag of Old Dutch, although that's technically a beer tasting.
Come to think of it, the term "beer tasting" is a bit snooty — in my day we called it drinking.
But you can't say "people love St. Paul's diverse romantic opportunities, such as opening cans of alcohol-infused water and draining the contents."
As for ice skating, that merry winter pastime might appear in a getting-to-know-you montage in a romantic comedy, but unless you're practiced at the art, having your feet fly out from underneath you and feeling your coccyx slam against the roof of your mouth doesn't put you in the mood.
You end up back in the hotel room with a swollen tailbone. You'd better put something cold on that. Here's a can of beer.
Paddle-wheel boats? One St. Paul ride goes to Minneapolis, you know. This is like giving Oakland, Calif., the "Most Romantic Tropical Getaway" award because the airport has planes that leave for Hawaii. Why, the entire list ...
Hold on, St. Paul's on the line. Hello?
"CAN'T ST. PAUL HAVE SOMETHING? CAN'T WE HAVE ONE NICE THING?"
Please: Don't get me wrong. St. Paul has elements of grandeur and history that surpass those of Minneapolis. I curse the forces of history that resulted in two cities instead of one; it's odd to show a visitor around, drive down the highway, and they see another core of tall buildings. Well, that's the backup in case Minneapolis crashes doesn't quite explain it. But romantic?
Depends on your definition, of course.
Try this for Valentine's Day. Hey, what say we get a room in a hotel with a view of the State Capitol and the St. Paul Cathedral, and contemplate the age-old tension between church and state? I know what you're thinking, Hon: I'll start talking about how I-94 represents the generally assumed constitutional barrier between the two, but that interpretation of the 1st Amendment —
— Hey, hey! I love it when you get frisky, but save something for the beer tasting, OK?