One of our jobs here at Minnesota Monthly is simply to remind readers that they live in a very cool part of the world.
That notion shows up most conspicuously in the cover stories we do, whether its enumerating reasons to love the Twin Cities or picking our favorite stuff to do along the North Shore. Yet the idea extends to almost every part of the magazine. In the last few years alone, after all, we’ve written about moose-sighting expeditions, kayaking trips, sailing adventures, cave exploration, tango dancing, houseboating, figure skating, scuba diving, wine tours, and, of course, eating in exotic locales—like the Tender Maid Sandwich Shop in Austin.
Such experiences tend to make our writers a tough crowd to impress, which, come to think of it, seems about right for Minnesota. When you live in a place blessed by nature and heaving with culture—when you can just as easily choose a day of rock climbing or a night of Rachmaninoff—it’s easy to forget that not everybody has it so good. (Trust me on this. I’ve lived in Cleveland.) It also makes it harder to remember that, sometimes, at least, the most fascinating adventures are the ones that are right under your nose, or right outside your back door.
I was reminded of this eternal truth while going through several of the stories in this month’s issue. The first, part of the cover package, is senior writer Tim Gihring’s piece about traveling down the Mississippi River. Like a lot of Minnesotans, Gihring had long taken America’s most iconic waterway for granted. “Despite living within a couple of miles of the Mississippi for all of my adult life, I’ve never swum in the river, never fished it, never picnicked beside it,” he writes. “I know less about it than I do about Lake Superior—or almost any other body of water in my vicinity.”
So, like Huck Finn in a Honda, Gihring set out to explore the places, people, and culture of the upper Mississippi, finding a changed and changing landscape, one that reveals much about the region’s past and present.
The other story that got me thinking about everyday adventures—not to mention about how we live today—is writer Andy Bennett’s piece on the state fair.
Last summer, Bennett, a Duluth-based writer, went to the fair with the idea of completing a singular, and singularly difficult, challenge: to eat every deep-fried food item available there—in one day. As Bennett explains in the story: “In our cubicle-filled worlds, there really is no primal thrill greater than eating something that you know isn’t good for you. It’s a quiet act of rebellion. A tiny revolt. And I was about to go all Che Guevara on the Minnesota State Fair.”
I won’t spoil the piece by telling you whether Bennett, or, rather, his stomach, had the fortitude to complete his stated goal. What I can tell you is that Bennett came back with an incredibly entertaining and surprisingly insightful story about food, commerce, consumption, culture, relationships, and a guy in a purple mesh tank top.
And if a story like that doesn’t remind you that, for all its headaches and hardships, you live in a very cool part of the universe, nothing ever will.