"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

On being Minnesotan during trials of winter

We face winter each year like it's an adversary we can always outlast. It's grim, perhaps never more so than now in mid-January of 2011. We know that Minnesota instills a certain kind of resilience.
I have even heard "Minnesota nice" attributed to the trials of winter. It's essential to be nice to people in the warmer months because you might need them in winter. We carry this trait with us even when we visit Las Vegas.
I didn't care for the violent storyline in the movie "Fargo" but if you put aside that, it presented our winter and our people with accuracy. I'm not sure any other movie has ever shown anyone vigorously scraping the windshield of his car.
I recently wrote that this scene could have also shown the Macy character kicking off "car clumps" (those ugly clumps of snow and dirt, sometimes hard but sometimes not, that collect just behind your tires).
I now have another suggested scene: the "non-stop" when entering a highway. Good examples are right here in Morris: 1) by the Pizza Hut Restaurant, 2) just down the hill from Heartland Motors, and 3) coming out of the old Coborn's parking lot (to the north).
In these locations and most likely others, there is an incline as you approach the highway. You had better get a good running start if you want to make it. The tires can start spinning hopelessly otherwise.
The look on the face of someone at the wheel with tires spinning perhaps epitomizes the feeling of adversity we have in winter.
Would it help if the City of Morris went out of its way applying more gravel in these places? I'm quite sure local law enforcement doesn't approve of stop signs being ignored.
Will the day arrive in Minnesota when we're all required by law to own a four-wheel drive, heavy duty vehicle? I'd rather see the appropriate agencies be a little more vigilant working to make all roadways easily passable.
But in the current political environment, local government whines about not having the financial resources it purportedly needs. Local government needs to emphasize the essentials. Let's get a little more gravel out there, guys.
I miss the days when Morris had a school in the heart of the community, immediately surrounded by residential neighborhoods, because I think it was comforting for dealing with winter. There was more of a feeling of "we're all in this together."
Isn't this the feeling, really, that gets us through winter in most hardy fashion?
The old school is still there. It might as well be the Titanic at the bottom of the ocean. Except that we have to look at it all the time. Not only is it depressing because of its blighted, crumbling condition, it's depressing because we can think back to when it was brimming with the activities of young people.
For crying out loud, what will it take to get this building (or collection of buildings a la erector set) torn down?
Wasn't there a re-use committee? Were those people wearing clown suits or what? I suppose they were gifted at bureaucratic rhetoric. Maybe they could get a plaque for that.
And what of that "green neighborhood" that was supposed to sprout on the old school property? I think that proposal actually has a plaque (award). Probably accepted by someone wearing a suit and tie, and trumpeted with a press release, enthusiastically parroted by the local corporate media.
I can only evaluate that property based on how it looks now, and it looks like a disaster - the Titanic above water. And it's a stone's throw from our U of M-Morris campus.
UMM continues in its mid-winter break as I write this. In fact, UMM went through a period of total shut-down as a cost-savings measure (all offices closed etc.).
I recently said to one of my UMM acquaintances in regard to that: "Be careful what you wish for."
In other words, don't get too enthusiastic about this logic that we can save money by just closing. It can become a slippery slope.
The economic travails of state government across the U.S. might lead to draconian measures.
I know one thing: if I ever again see flocks of picketing employees around the edges of the UMM campus, I won't smile and wave to them. I'd say "get off your butts, or at least don't bother me."
The last time this spectacle happened, I suspected that most of the people who smiled, waved or gave a thumbs-up actually had private feelings that were totally the opposite: "Get back to work, you knaves, like everybody else."
University officials will step up to a microphone and say they have nothing against unions, that organizing and collective bargaining are part of the American experience, but at night they lie awake gnashing their teeth with irritation over having to deal with this.
I have been stranded twice in my life due to blizzards getting too intense. I had to check into the motel in Starbuck when trying to get back from the printing plant in Lowry (Quinco Press). Actually it was totally foolhardy to even go to Quinco in the first place. Back then I was so committed to my work. A lot of good that did me. The newspaper eventually became acquired by a conglomerate run by pencil-pushers and the rest is history.
If you still wish to buy that paper, congratulations on having so much disposable income. Because you're sure disposing of it.
The blizzard that landed me in Starbuck was not only intense, it was very cold. I put on goggles for walking to the Water's Edge to get something to eat. I remember having outerwear with me that might have been suitable for climbing Mount Everest. It was needed.
A feeling of camaraderie really builds among people who gather at a place like the Water's Edge during an intense storm. We celebrate coping. We befriend strangers much more easily than usual.
"We're in this together."
The other time I got stranded in a blizzard, it was in Westport. A family took me into their home. I was in college at the time (St. Cloud State) and driving my '67 Oldsmobile Toronado, a car that I sure wish I still had. That maroon-colored gem (with white top) could be displayed in parades. ("Owner: Brian Williams.")
Most of us here in Morris breeze past Westport all our lives, en route to Sauk Centre, without knowing what's there. I can claim that I do.
It was a nice family that offered bottles of beer to help the time pass. They had relatives visiting too. This was the time of the generation gap, so when the Smothers Brothers were introduced as guests on the Tonight Show, a man angrily got up to switch channels. The Smothers Brothers were a cultural lightning rod.
It was a pleasant experience for me but I should have stayed home.
The first people out on the highway after the all-clear is given have the same sense of camaraderie as those people at the Water's Edge. As we drive along in somewhat tentative fashion, snow and ice crunching under the tires, we wave with more enthusiasm than we otherwise might.
It's more than the "Minnesota finger wave," described with such precision by Howard Mohr. Oh, no, this isn't an obscene gesture, rather it's the obligatory type of wave us reserved Minnesotans often show as we drive, lifting a finger from our grip on the steering wheel to acknowledge someone coming from the other direction.
Apparently this is a regional trait.
You can read more in Mohr's "How to Speak Minnesotan."
In reflecting more on Minnesota winter imagery, I'm reminded of an old Dick Guindon cartoon. Us boomers will well-remember artist Guindon whose quirky humor appeared in the Minneapolis newspaper. He used charcoal. He once portrayed a group of bundled-up Minnesota schoolkids out walking to school together. They were all walking backwards. Haven't we all done this? The stinging cold can be hard on the face so if we're walking into the wind, we adjust. Us Minnesotans always adjust.
We know spring will come, the days will get longer, "snirt" will surround us (snow/dirt mixture) and we'll hear the annual horror stores about what might happen in Fargo with flooding.
Eventually we'll resume normal life post-winter as if nothing had happened. It can make one proud to be a Minnesotan. Or make one want to live in Missouri. As I get older, the latter option looks more attractive.
Happy MLK Day.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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