A letter to the East Coast (5×8 – 11/15/11)

We’ll give you a second chance, no cake for same-sex couple in Iowa, the new normal is no fun, Tom’s walk, and how a felon in Duluth got his gun back.


Frank Sonntag, the executive director of the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, resigned yesterday, 10 months after being hired. His announcement was dripping with a not-too-veiled shot at Minnesota:

I have the utmost respect for the leadership of Artspace and I’m confident that The Cowles Center will continue to thrive. I came to Minnesota because I believed in the mission of The Cowles Center, and I still do. But after spending most of my professional life in New York, I don’t feel the Minnesota culture is one I’m well suited for. It has been a struggle, but ultimately I think this is the best decision for the organization.

As a transplanted East Coaster, I’ve seen this sort of thing many times in the nearly 20 years since I’ve been here. I’ve been that person, which is why I need to send this letter to the East Coast and our new, incoming friends.

Dear East Coast:

So, you’re leaving, then. That’s it. You showed up with your “I’m from the East Coast and I’m made of tough,” and you couldn’t make it here. We’d like you to stay and let us give you another chance and I hope you’ll think about this before you go back to your comfort zone and talk about us. We know what you’ll say; we’ve heard it before. We’re willing to give you another shot, anyway. We don’t like people to miss out on a life-changing experience.

I was you, East Coast. I showed up here 20 years ago and before I unpacked I was already wondering where I went wrong. Minnesota? Who aspires to move to Minnesota? I was a little shot in New York once in a business which considers New York the capital and everything else flyover country. I get how easy it is to wonder whatever happened to your life, that the world was spinning somewhere else and you were missing out on the fun.

It wasn’t until I watched other East Coasters come here that I began to understand where people like you and I went wrong. We come here and we spend most of our early time looking for the East Coast — our comfort zone. We tell ourselves that the North Shore is like Martha’s Vineyard with different boats. We squint on Nicollet Mall and convince ourselves we’re in New York or Boston. We want to honk when a car goes by with an East Coast license plate and resist the urge to ask them to pull over to the side of the road so we can talk about the days when we could find decent pizza. I’d bring up the whole “merge on the highways” thing, but you probably take the bus.

It takes at least a year to even begin to work through those issues and understand the cultural riches here — not necessarily your kind of cultural, but cultural nonetheless. Like the arts, new experiences challenge what we think. Though uncomfortable, we grow to understand and appreciate the performance. We might even fall in love with it. That’s how we grow. Say, maybe that’s why they call it “culture.”

If you had stuck around for at least a year, however, you’d realize that the Minnesota culture isn’t about you, and that it’s OK to experience a little bit of life that isn’t about you. It’s another way you grow and become something you’re not now, and that’s a good thing.

You don’t like the culture? Grow a little.

We newcomers strut into our jobs as if we’re saviors from a more civilized land. We look at the natives funny when they ask questions like, “do you want to come with?” We invite the passive aggressive we get and then convince ourselves that it’s a backlash against our East Coastness. It’s not; it’s a backlash against us being full of ourselves. Trust me, East Coast, years from now you’ll think about how you approached your new land and bury your head in your hands in continuing embarrassment like the time Becky Slater rejected your invitation to the 8th grade dance. It never ends, kiddo.

It’s a cold state. And the weather’s pretty chilly, too. But until you begin to understand why you think it’s cold, you can’t begin to absorb the culture and appreciate where you are.

You’ve been here under a year, so you probably never really got to meet that many Minnesotans; you probably surrounded yourself with people who you thought were like you — and were disappointed when they didn’t turn out to be just like you. Maybe you had a run-in with a work colleague or two and determined it was an entire state’s culture.

The Minnesota culture? After 20 years, I’m still not sure what that is, East Coast. Where you come from, you don’t change as much as merely assimilate — you’ve been around for almost 400 years. Here, the culture is changing and watching it change is about the most exciting thing you can imagine. Minnesota will take the best of you, it just won’t tell you.

This is a land that can challenge everything you thought you knew about people and cultures. People go to vote in greater numbers here than anywhere you’ve lived — people who will put a wrestler in the governor’s office, a Republican in one Senate seat, and a Democrat in the other and then make sport out of all of them. This culture still gets upset at stories of corruption and wrongdoing because it’s a culture with a compass that points to right from wrong.

Sure, this joint has a massive inferiority complex thanks mostly to you, which is why we drool over all the surveys that show us as the best read, healthiest, and most educated state. But once you get past that, you know what? We’re the best read, healthiest, and most educated. That’s not a culture on which the truly smart and civilized turn their backs.

Mistakenly, we still think the term “Minnesota Nice” was a compliment and, sure, there are times that people who say “have a nice day” are actually saying, “get lost,” but it’s only a problem until you begin to speak the language of passive aggressive. Still, you can’t imagine the people you can meet in this culture who ooze goodness once you shed your issues.

But you probably never got out of the Twin Cities in your short stay here, so the reality is you never got to know the full range of the culture you’re defining and rejecting. If you had, you’d be like most East Coasters who think of Minnesota as home; you’d vow to spend the rest of your days soaking it in from one distinctive town to the next in every direction you can travel, silently kicking yourself for not moving here sooner. There comes a watershed moment when you start referring to yourself as “a Minnesotan.”

If you’re leaving, best of luck. This is a fishing state and sometimes we have to throw back those that are too puny, knowing we’re one fish closer to a “keeper.” So sorry you weren’t one of them.

Have a nice day,

News Cut


In Des Moines, a baker is refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

“I didn’t do the cake because of my convictions for their lifestyle. It is my right as a business owner. It is my right, and it’s not to discriminate against them. It’s not so much to do with them, it’s to do with me and my walk with God and what I will answer (to) him for,” Victoria Childress said.



Today’s required reading is Annie Baxter’s story describing what is probably the new normal: lose a job, wait for a job, get a job, lose a job. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Al and Michelle Ford, from her account, did all the right things. They were educated, saved their money, owned their home, and didn’t accumulate credit card debt. And yet, there they are with resumes showing they can’t keep a job and hiring managers wondering if there’s something wrong with them.

“I guess in this economy the way I feel is not a matter of if you’re going to lose a job, but when,” Michelle Ford told Baxter.

Overnight, the Occupy Wall Street protests ended — at least in the current form — when the police raided the protesters’ encampment. Other cities are using the same playbook. But the issues of economic “fairness” remain. APM’s Marketplace is presenting commentary all week on this question: If the 1 percent had less, would the 99 percent be better off?

It’s a little misguided in its construction because the protests wasn’t about the math so much as the method.


Tom Selley has completed a 28-mile walk to honor veterans. It took him four days. He’s 87.

He said he made the trip because of the reception he received from the kids of Abercrombie, ND.


Felons aren’t supposed to have guns. The New York Times reports that they’re getting them legally, with little or no review. How is it happening? The Times has produced a video using the case of a man in Duluth and a judge in Two Harbors.


Players have rejected the NBA’s latest contract offer, raising the prospect that there will be no pro basketball games this year. Today’s Question: Does it matter if there is no NBA season this year?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: There’s more medical information available to the public than ever before, but that only seems to have made medical decisions more difficult. Two doctors argue in a new book that the path to the medically correct decision often begins within the mind of each patient.

Second hour: Jazz singer Al Jarreau has been in the music for 40 years, but music was not always a major force in his life. He joins Midmorning to discuss his music and career, and explain when he decided that he would make singing his life.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: NPR reporter Julie Rovner explains what the Supreme Court will consider when it takes up the national health care reform case.

Second hour: Harvard professor Theda Skocpol and former gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, speaking at the U of M Humphrey School about the Tea Party and Republican conservatism.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Finding help for victims of sexual abuse.

Second hour: Author Daniel Blake Smith on the trail of tears.