What A Difference Two Weeks Can Make

Just over two weeks ago, we had a doozy of a blizzard here in the Twin Cities that dumped almost 18 inches of snow on top of what had yet to melt from the previous 4 months of snow. Here’s what the snowbank (which I had lovingly dubbed “Mount Gracewood”) in the cul-de-sac by my mom’s house looked like: 

This is what was left of Mount Gracewood yesterday (2 weeks later):

Good-bye, Mt. Gracewood. See you in 5 months!

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Saving Big Red

The day after Christmas I was in the Dinkytown area of Minneapolis, near the University of Minnesota to meet some friends for lunch at one of my favorite burger joints, Annie’s Parlour (best fries in town, by the way). As I was driving along 14th Ave looking for a place to park, a driver exited his parallel parking place right into the passenger side of my car, resulting in this:

As you can imagine, I was not happy. The good news is that the damage affected neither the running f the car nor the operation of the doors. Nor did the crash affect my enjoyment of my burger and fries!

Fortunately the driver, who was very apologetic, had insurance and admitted that it was his fault — he simply had not seen me. He promptly called his insurance company and we were off to the races. After his company confirmed with me their client’s version of events they helped me make an appointment with an auto body shop for an assessment.

Since this is the high season for fender-benders in Minnesota, I couldn’t get it in for a couple of weeks. I dropped her off on January 15, and then waited.

Later that week his insurance company called to tell me that their adjustor had inspected the car and declared it “totaled.” FOR A HOLE IN THE DOOR! I was stunned and not a little bit angry since the car is in great shape and the damage doesn’t affect its operation one bit! They said that the cost of repair was too high relative to the value of the car. But in my mind, they were seriously low-balling the value of a 2010 Toyota Rav4 with 127,000 miles on it.

But I didn’t want to sell them my car (which I knew they would turn around and sell for parts and make some good money). I wanted to keep the car. They offered me a cash settlement to keep the car, which means I would take the money and then pay for the repairs myself.

I went back to the auto body place and they said they could find used doors and repair the car for less than what they had quoted the insurance company. In fact, the rep told me, he had already found 2 red doors from a 2010 Rav4, so they wouldn’t even need to do any painting.

With that in mind, I negotiated an amount with the insurance company that would allow me to keep my car. It was less than the offer of them taking possession of the car, but a lot more than I could now get the car repaired for. I know there are some downsides (she’s a “marked” car), but I just couldn’t see junking her for that amount of damage.

My only goal in all of this was to save Big Red! I figure she has a couple more trips to Alaska or Newfoundland in her!

On Tuesday I picked her up from the shop; she looks fabulous!

But I’m still mad at the insurance company for trying to take my car from me!

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Regional Rivalries

We have a joke here in Minnesota: “What’s the best thing to come out of Iowa?” “Interstate 35.” Apologies to my Iowan friends, but I’m sure that you just turn the joke around anyway.

An interesting feature of life in the United States is the rivalries that exist between various regions and states. Some rivalries are sports-based, some are rooted in cultural or perceived cultural differences.

I recently ran across this fun cartoon that depicts how various states in the midwest view each other.


Regional rivalries or stereotypes exist in China as well. Beijingers generally look down on everyone, as do people from Shanghai. People from Shanghai think that Beijingers are only interested in politics and Beijingers think Shanghai people are money-grubbing. The northeast is considered by the rest of the country to be full of drunks, and everyone thinks that people in Guangdong only think about making money.

What are the regional rivalries in your area?

Image source: @BestPixMN

Who Can Turn the World on With Her Smile?

The great actress and comedienne Mary Tyler Moore died on Wednesday. She got her start on television playing Laura on The Dick Van Dyke Show, and later starred in her own show, simply named, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

When my family moved to the Twin Cities in 1973 from Pakistan, the show was already a hit. Having lived outside of the US nearly all of my life, I knew little about life and culture here. Sitting down to watch the show with my family every weekend was an important piece of my “re-enculturation.” It was especially exciting to see my new hometown featured in the opening credits. It remains one of my favorite shows to catch on DVD.

Because the show was set in Minneapolis, it has always had a special place in the hearts of Minnesotans. Here’s what the Minneapolis StarTribune notes had to say:

In the process of creating a pop-culture icon, Moore and the show sold the Twin Cities as a progressive metropolis.

To this day, tourists cruise through the Kenwood neighborhood to catch a glimpse of the Victorian house where Richards resided during the show’s early seasons. In 2002, the city of Minneapolis and TV Land teamed up to erect a statue on the Nicollet Mall, commemorating the moment in the opening credits in which Richards hurls her tam in the air after a satisfying day of shopping.

In 1999, Entertainment Weekly named the shot as the second-greatest moment in TV history, behind only John Kennedy’s assassination and funeral.

StarTribune columnist James Lileks produced a short video on the impact the show had on our city. You can see it here.

Minnesota Public Radio also did a nice story yesterday on how Mary Tyler Moore made Minneapolis a star.

And just for memories, here is a clip of a scene that is often ranked as one of the greatest TV scenes of all time, from “Chuckles the Clown’s Funeral.” (email readers, go here to see the video)

Farewell, Mary! Thanks for the laughs, and for helping me adjust to live in America!

How are the Roads?

For centuries (maybe millennia), a common way for people in China to greet each other has been to ask a simple question: “have you eaten yet?”

When I lived in China’s northeast region (“dongbei”), it seemed that every chance meeting or new conversation began with “leng bu leng?” Are you cold?

We are now in the grip of a winter in Minnesota and I’ve noticed that most conversations begin with some variation of “how are the roads?”


This afternoon they weren’t great, thanks to a powdery snowfall that made for some slippery driving.

So, remember, should you happen to meet a Minnesotan, be sure to ask, “how are the roads?”

Image credit: by Ruin Raider, via Flickr

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Friday Photo: Minneapolis

In December, we did a family outing to the museum and observation deck of the Foshay Tower, Minneapolis’ first skyscraper. Completed in 1929, and modeled after the Washington Monument, the art deco building was the tallest building in the city until 1972. Today it is a hotel. You can see the reflection of the Foshay in the neighboring glass building. If the weather is great, as it was when we visited, the observation deck offers a great view of the Twin Cities.


If you’re in Minneapolis or have plans to visit, and the weather is decent, this is definitely worth a visit.

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Why Do They Ask Me That?

A few weeks back I was talking with a businessman from Germany who was trying to navigate the complexities of life in Minnesota.


“Why,” he asked me, “do the checkout clerks in stores ask me how my day is going?”

“And when they ask, how should I respond??”

He was completely flummoxed!

I assured him that the question was not being asked out of a genuine desire to know, or in order to elicit an elaborate and detailed response; rather it was merely a greeting, a way of saying “hell0.”

I also told him that the appropriate response to such a question is some variation of “great!,” and that it would be polite for him to follow with some variation of “and you?”

The poor man just shook his head in disbelief, and I then got to introduce him to the concept of “Minnesota Nice.”

Since then I have been thinking and reading about Minnesota Nice. It often gets a bad rap as being simply a fancy term for passive aggression or conflict avoidance.

This video from TPT Rewire gives a fuller explanation:

To my mind, however, a key feature of Minnesota Nice is just being pleasant. And after living for nearly 3 decades where interactions in stores and other service venues ran the gamut from robotic to indifferent to surly, I kind of like the polite banter at the check-out counter. So what if the clerk doesn’t really care how my day is going. Is it wrong to be pleasant?

I’ll take Minnesota Nice over Surly Socialism any day!

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