Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Born and Raised in Minnesota

There’s a quote I love that goes something like this: “At some point in the journey, you realize it’s time to head back home. It doesn’t matter where you are in the journey, the Gods begin calling and you must return home.” I think there is something about that mysterious force called ‘home’ that calls to all of us.

In Minnesota, there’s a new advertisement running from a local grocery chain. They’ve sanitized their stores in the new world of Covid-19 and want us to return to shop there. Their ads remind us that they are a local brand; home grown. ‘Born and Raised in Minnesota’ they like to say.

When I first saw that ad, my first response was typical of someone who has been a ‘local’ homegrown boy here all my life. “Like who cares?” I asked myself. Turns out upon some reflection, I do care, because to a degree, this state defines me and the person I’ve become.

I’ve always seen Minnesota as a nice state, a safe state, a pleasant place to live and a great place to raise kids. Three out of the four seasons are pleasant enough. But let’s face it; the winters can tough even for a lifer such as myself.

After Sharon and I were first married, we moved to Maryland for about five years. After our son was born, I couldn’t wait to get back home and raise him in Minnesota. Sharon would have stayed in Maryland forever. Maryland is a very nice state but the summers suck (with their heat and humidity) and it’s too crowded for a density-averse person like myself. So we moved back and have been here ever since.

Our tenure in the state has been pleasant enough. We’ve raised our kids here, now watch two out of five grandchildren every chance we get. My career and extra-curricular activities grew in the state and my version of retirement takes place here six months out of the year.

But gradually my tenure in Minnesota has been challenged by my West Coast other half knocking on the door of residency. Now that I’m part-time Californian, my perspective about my home state has changed. I love California. It appeals to my restless youth, errant and wandering mind, free soul, and sometime corrupt and tranquilizing imagination. But deep down, it still isn’t Minnesota.

Now with Covid-19, the George Floyd tragedy, the burning of Minneapolis, and slow gradual maturing of my part, I can see another kind of hometown. Minnesotans seem to be very compliant when it came to following the rules of stay in place, wearing a mask in public places, and dealing with the pandemic.

The Floyd tragedy took place here but it could have happened in any city in this country. I would like to believe that our response to it was quick, appropriate and fair. This state has all the scars and blemishes as much as any other state in terms of race relations. I hope we can address them quicker than most. Minnesota is not California but it shares many of the same attributes.

I have a long and storied history with California. It’s like Leonard Cohen’s Hydra calling me back once again. Its part delusional, part opportunistic and part magical. But mostly it’s a comfortable relationship that seems to bring out the flip side of me that a lot of folks never see. It is at once my friend, advisor, irritator, and councilor. It forces me outside of my Midwestern comfort zone.

The first time I stepped foot in California, it was off a Great Northern Railroad passenger car from Minnesota. The year was 1946.  I was three and my sister two. Along with my mother, we had ended up in Carmel from the Twin Cities. My Mother, by then separated from my father, had been encouraged to come out west to become a housekeeper for a past client from St Paul’s Summit Avenue neighborhood.

When we finally arrived on the coast, broke and hungry, my mother was informed by the old woman’s son that she had gone senile and would no longer have use of my mother’s services. So much for California dreaming.

My second time in the Golden State was in 1964. Fresh out of basic training, my first assignment was at the Presidio of San Francisco. Life at the Presidio was a Camelot-like existence that ended all too soon eight months later.

The third time to bask in that warm California sun came in 2000. Our family was staying at a friend’s condo in Palm Springs. It was our first introduction to desert living. Thus began a twenty-year intermittent love affair with that diverse community and all of its surrounding amenities.

I live in two different worlds now and I’m comfortable in both. One is progressive, adventurous and sometimes a bit outrageous but always leaning forward. For half a year I wear my Southern California flip-flops as comfortably as any other seeker. But I also live in the Midwest and I’m darn proud of that too.

The Midwest is more staid and conservative than California in a common sense kind of way. For me it’s two different life styles and two points of view. Yet there’s a common thread running between the two with openness for all and acceptance of different points of view. Both offer a realistic view of the world and not a closed-minded myopic wish for what used to be. They don’t dwell on a world that, in fact, never really existed except in television sitcoms and wishful thinking. Instead, they focus on what could be and not what once was.

On the surface, there might not seem a strong connection between the two states. California just legalized marijuana. They passed meaningful gun control legislation that has been impossible to meet at the federal level. They agreed to pay more for schools, ensure medical funds for low-income residents, require more transparency from legislators, brought back bilingual education and, in Los Angeles, agreed to pay higher taxes to address the chronic homeless problem.

The accolades continue. California leads the nation in the rate of economic growth – more than twice the national average. It is home to the nation’s fastest-growing and most innovative industries – entertainment and high-tech. It incubates more startups than anywhere else in the world.

Yet California is far from perfect. A housing shortage has driven up rents and home prices into the stratosphere. While its public schools used to be best in the nation now they are among the worst. Each election cycle brings a plethora of new propositions which often times only confuse and muddy the legislative process. **

Minnesota is no slouch either when it comes to social issues. There had been drug-sentencing reform, moves toward an open primary, various child protection laws enacted and health-related issues addressed in this last session.

As much by lucky accident as foresight, I now find myself immersed in two different life styles, two different geographic locations and a wonderful diversity of friends and associates. Two different worlds and two wonderful life experiences at the same time.

I’m born and bred Minnesotan with a strong streak of California to taint my mind. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Both states have become home in more ways than one. They’re like a cradle upon which my imagination gives birth to creative, frivolous, silly and sometimes enlightened ideas, concepts and story lines. It’s the flip side of that routine called your average lifestyle. If ever there were a balance in my life, it would be called the Minnesota-California connection.

What can I say; it works for me.

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