Can you BELIEVE that survey that said something bad about us? No, the other one. Popular Mechanics ran the numbers and said our most popular car is the Taurus. That’s bull. I don’t know anyone who has one, therefore the cold, empirical data assembled with an eye toward verifiable assertions is NONSENSE.
Also, there was that Washington Post story that says Minnesota is ugly, based on some USDA statistics assembled by some bloodless drone in 1999 and burped up by a guy who had to write something on the blog. Minnesotans responded the piece with a torrent of incredulity, leading the author to wonder if we had thin skins just because his evaluation said that Red Wing County was less desirable than Death Valley.
Why did some people react with such chauvinistic alarm? Because we were compared unfavorably to a place where visitors’ experience consists of “driving quickly past carrion birds stripping the desiccated flesh from roadkill”? Maybe. There are two possibilities.
1. We actually live here, and hence have a glancing knowledge of what we’re talking about. People in Washington, D.C., live in a bubble of titanium painted black on the inside, and regard the rest of the country as a featureless expanse of wheat and hicks who chew on straw while leaning against the fence saying things like golly, corn’s tall. We are a farm team that sends the best and brightest to the glamorous capital, where they sit in cubicles and move their fingers up and down on keyboards until they retire to northern Virginia and worry about their prostate.
2. We have a massive inferiority complex because, well, c’mon. Look at the neighborhood. Wisconsin. Couple of Dakotas. Canada’s up there like a drafty attic. If we were special, would we be here? We don’t have mountains, which are Majestic and give you a sense of the astonishingly slow passage of time, although a couple of Guthrie shows can accomplish that. We don’t have sparkling beaches with palm trees and clear blue water and stingrays; we have lakes that smell like the answer to the question “What if we fed fish Taco Bell for a year?”
I’m going to with #1.
We don’t expect anyone to say Minnesota is the bestest place on Earth ever and you’re a meanie pants if you don’t agree. It’s being cast down into the slough of mediocrity that offends. It’s the idea that we’re dull because we’re flat, and unlikeable because winter’s embrace lasts so long it starts to feel like the hug of an aunt who smells like cigarettes and has bristles on her chin.
Let’s look at the study itself. The survey is based on a 1999 USDA index, which was assembled because someone had nothing better to do. Really: a “natural amenities index” suggests that someone in a comfy northern Virginia bedroom community woke at 3 a.m. drenched in sweat because he realized the government had been collecting information on natural amenities, but it was UNINDEXED. Staff meeting the next morning, 8 a.m. sharp: I want every county in America ranked by certain standards.
Great, boss. What standards?
How many people have blue cars! Prevalence of birch trees. Whether Applebee’s still has that jalapeño popper entree, I love those things. Admittance to the emergency room for infected splinters. Oh, and mountains.
(nervous looks around the table)
And this will tell us … what?
Say it. Jalapeño popper. It’s fun to say. Isn’t it? ISN’T IT? Do you want to live in a country where information about popper availability is INSUFFICIENTLY INDEXED? What do they PAY us for?
Anyway, here are the actual USDA standards.
“Mild, sunny winters.” We got that. Goes by the hopeful, happy name of “April.”
“Temperate summers.” Well, this last week alone we’ve gone from hot soup to clammy gazpacho; average it out, and it’s temperate.
“Low humidity.” Uh huh. Ever been to New York in August? It’s like doing water aerobics in a vat of Vaseline.
“Topographic variation.” Busted. We are flat. This is why, any day now, Medtronic will relocate to Kathmandu.
“Access to a body of water.” In my defense of Minnesota, let me note that we are not without such access. There’s a lake here and there.
Now, in the interest of being fair (disclosure: I have no interest in being fair), the author of the Post piece notes that the index ignores such minor things as “plants, animals or the human environment.” One thing I’ve noticed in my travels around this world is that the human environment plays a role in a place’s desirability, and it is not insignificant. For example: “harsh winters, brilliant summers, autumns whose tragic glory mirror the arc of life itself, literate population that obeys the laws and feels an intuitive communal bond” are preferable to “inspiring mountains, vast implacable ocean, atavistic death-cult natives who call Friday ‘slit-throat festival.’ ” It’s a trade-off.
Nevertheless, we’re dealing with government data here. Can’t argue with that. Since the study was done in 1999, that means it’ll probably be done again at some point, or the budget for Subjective Topographical Evaluations gets cut, i.e. its annual increase is reduced by 30 percent. So let’s embark on a massive public works program to improve our image! Like, replace Red Wing County with mountains. Because that place is ugly.
KIDDING. Man, Minnesotans are thin-skinned.