Why I volunteered for Super Bowl week

Twenty-five years ago today, I showed up at Minnesota Public Radio for my first job interview.

I knew nothing, really, about Minnesota other than Hubert Humphrey, Gene McCarthy, Walter Mondale, Garrison Keillor, and a meatpacker strike that killed a classmate who was covering it for ABC News.

I wasn’t sure if the fact that I was in flyover country was a sign that my once-promising career was going up or going down. It’s an East Coast thing.

After another trip and a long-wait for a simple answer (it’s a Minnesota thing), MPR hired me and I left my family for a month of living out of the Roseville Motel 6 and getting to know the editorial process of what was then just a radio station.

This is a tough place for newcomers. I used to say “Minnesota is cold and the weather is chilly, too.”

But you can warm to a place over 25 years and at some point it became my state, quirks and all.

Minnesota has been good to me and my family and as I watch the naked hatred sweep across the nation and dismantle its goodness acre by acre, I feel an enormous pride in what’s left of the Minnesota Miracle. It’s still what makes the state a unique patch of ground — the inherent decency a force field that may still repel the threat.

That’s why I signed up to volunteer during Super Bowl week next winter, a week in which the rich will fly in and go to the head of the line, that the NFL will make a bundle on thanks to a still-secret deal between local officials and the league, and that the stadium shakedown of taxpayers will reap its ultimate reward for the Vikings’ owners, their politician enablers, and the NFL.

The volunteers will get no pay; they’ll get a parka and a bag of swag, and that’s fine with me. If I get my way, I’ll stand at an airport or on a cold sidewalk and say “hello” to strangers, and ask them if I can help them and say, “welcome to my state.” Pretty much the same thing I did when I volunteered in my off-hours at the Minnesota State Fair for a local radio station.

In other words, I want to be very unMinnesotan for a week. I want to be welcoming to strangers just because I can be. We all can be even if we have to fake it.

Billionaire partners in thriving corporation seek free labor for annual party,” City Pages’ headline said this week.

“Crew 52” is asking for registrants to commit to “three or more shifts,” four to six hours each, in a “rewarding, yet demanding role.” Qualified volunters should be “outgoing and knowledgeable about Minnesota,” “willing to be flexible and help in all areas,” and like doing favors for rich people.

About that “all areas” part: Not quite all areas. “PLEASE NOTE,” reads a giant qualifier atop the volunteer plea: “We will not require any volunteer support inside U.S. Bank Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday.”

Well, duh. If you let these volunteers into the stadium on game day, they wouldn’t have to buy a ticket, which will probably go for something like $5,000, average. You can’t go giving things out to people. Who do these peasants think they are? The NFL?

That’s one way to look at it, obviously.

Here’s another: I want people to think we’re a nice place with friendly people. I want them to go home thinking this niceness and helping others is something worth passing along, that maybe this Minnesota thing can spread.

I wouldn’t be doing it for the Vikings or the NFL. I’d be doing it for my home, for a state that’s been good to me and my family for 25 years.

Sure, the visitors will ask what visitors to Minnesota always ask us, “How can you people live here?”

“How can I not?” I’ll tell them.

I’ll tell them my story, how to get to where they want to go, wish them a pleasant stay and send them away with a final thought.

“Go, Patriots!”

Some things even 25 years in Minnesota can’t change.