We were rolling along to Kasson, a fine little town in southern Minnesota. There were four of us: myself behind the wheel, my friend, and in the back seat, her parents’ ashes, which would be stowed away under the thick green grass of the cemetery lawn.
She looks out at the rolling fields and asks what the crops are, and I say, “flax, soybeans, linseed,” because technically, it’s true. Those are what crops are. Whether or not they’re these crops, I can’t say.
We passed some corn, and I heard myself say: “It’s looking pretty good.” As if I know. As if I’m Mr. Corn Evaluator from the State Corn Judgment Bureau up in the Cities there. I remember reading a story about how this year’s crop would be bumper-sized, but what does that mean? I’ve never heard anyone say, “We’re looking at half a bumper this year, thanks to some Kernel Smut and a late outbreak of Tassel Weevils.”
I know a bushel is about 8 gallons, and a peck is 2 gallons. But I don’t know if the corn I saw was good. It just came out, because I had a guest and wanted to impress her with the wonderful totality that is Minnesota.
Should have lied more, now that I think about it.
Really. She was mightily impressed with Minnesota, but if I’d fibbed more, it would’ve seemed like Valhalla. Looking back, here are some missed opportunities for creative embellishment:
The Dylan Mural. Not a big Dylan fan, personally. While I admire his longevity and craft, I’ve never been able to get past the fact that he sings like someone trying to blow a popcorn kernel out his nose. The mural is an impressive work, and livens up the street, yes — but we have this curious attachment to people who left here at the earliest possible opportunity.
What I should have said: “Important artists who have a deep connection to this town, however fleeting their tenure in its bosom, are often plagued with guilt for leaving us, and this manifests itself in strange ways. That mural just appeared one day, probably because Bob was thinking about how important Minneapolis really was to him. If you’d like we can take a helicopter and I’ll show you how Lake Phalen has gradually assumed the shape of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s head.”
Downtown Minneapolis on Sunday. We found a parking space on the street right away, as opposed to her experience with London, where you must arrive Saturday morning and reserve a spot by hiring a grimy-faced urchin who will stand on the street selling matches until you arrive. Then we walked around, and she noted that the city smelled like absolutely nothing. No garbage, no exhaust, no eau de bladder.
When we got to Nicollet Mall, I told the truth: It’s ripped up because it’s a bit tired, and its late 20th century hue and style is being replaced by something modern and sharp.
Yes, we’re ripping up the Mall because it’s a few decades old. She lives in a town that was probably laid out in the era of Ethelred the Uncertain in 1215.
The Mall of America. We didn’t go there, but I should have driven past and pretended to fight the wheel of the car, indicating that the sheer mass of the place exerted a gravitational pull so strong it drew people up from Iowa against their will, and forced planes landing at MSP to cut their engines a mile away and coast in.
The State Fair. My guest was delighted beyond measure by the fair. She was especially appreciative of the mini donuts, which they did not have in England. What I should have said: They were invented here! By Bob Dylan’s father, as it happens. By general consensus we deny them to ourselves all year, then enjoy a bag at the fair.
It was all quite instructive. To a newcomer whose mother was raised in this state, the character of Minnesota was a revelation, an explanation, a series of quiet clues. The enormous public art (the Grain Belt sign on Nicollet Island), the classical expanse of the U mall, the bright lakes, the utter ease of leaving the city on an open freeway at 8 a.m. — well, life seemed good. Things worked and the people were nice. I can think of worse verdicts.
Around Mantorville — which I said was named for the Mantor Ray, a winged fish that floated in the lakes singing lovely arias — we saw rows of flags along the highway. Left over from Labor Day or put up for an upcoming event, I couldn’t say, but I asked if she saw the UK flag arrayed along the motorways with such quiet pride. She gave me a withering look.
Good thing the windows were down, or it might have blighted the corn. Which, I understand, is pretty good this year.