Fellowship Class

Tarrytown United Methodist Church

October 19, 1997 (from Oct. 5, 1980)

Minnesota Nice

Phillipians 4: 8-9.  Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest,  whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.  Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you.

Minnesota nice.

Have you ever heard that term?

The New York Times had a story about it yesterday.

Minnesota nice is a phrase applied to Minnesota people.  It describes their typical reaction to the world.  They are nice people, and they respond in nice ways.

LaVonne and I were up there for a convention a couple of years ago.  We wanted to go to a French restaurant for dinner.  It was not far from the hotel and I thought it would be pleasant to walk over there, but I thought I had better ask the concierge.

I told him where we wanted to go and asked:

“Is it safe for us to walk, or should we take a cab?”

He laughed.  “Of course it’s safe to walk.  This is Minneapolis.”

Minnesota nice.

Well, we walked, and we were safe.  After having visited other cities around the country -- New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis was a refreshing change.  We didn’t see anyone getting mugged.  We didn’t see any winos lying in the gutters.  We didn’t see any teen-age hoodlums running up an#d down the streets.

The town was just pleasant and quiet and safe.

Minnesota nice.

We came back from the restaurant after 10 in the evening.  “It will be different now,” I thought.  “We’ll see police cars prowling the streets.  We’ll see a different kind of crowd.”

But no.  Everything was just the same.

We saw old couples sauntering along the streets looking in the store windows.

We saw single women standing alone at bus stops.  We saw young lovers sitting in the downtown parks by the fountains, enjoying the cool of the evening.

Minnesota nice.  It was remarkable.

The Times says this is changing now.

As other states cut back on their welfare roles, some new people are moving to Minnesota, hoping tok enjoy continuing benefits. And as they do neighborhoods and attitudes are changing.

It used to be that when officials wanted to put in  a half-way house in town for sex offenders, the neighbors would say -- “Well now. We’ll have to invite some of those young fellas over for dinner.”

Minnesota nice.

No more.

As crack houses proliferate, crime rates increase, and prisons bulge at the seams, attitudes are changing.  Minnesota nice is disappearing.

Like everyone else, Minnesota people are looking for ways to keep people from moving in from other states to take advantage of their traditional generosity and willingness to help.

Well, it’s only to be expected, I suppose. But in a way it’s a shame that Minnesota nice has to go.

I can remember what it was like up there in the old days.

Once when I was a teenager, we had a January thaw.  One Sunday afternoon $ it actually got up above freezing, and I thought it would be a grand idea to take Beverly Burman for a drive in the country. It was grand until we got on one of those old country roads that the snow removal crews had missed.  The road was pure sheet ice -- with about half an inch of water on top.

The car went slipping this way and that, and in spite of my best attempts to stay in the middle of the road, we went into a ditch and couldn’t get out.

The sun was getting near the horizon, and I didn’t hesitate.  I just went to the nearest farmhouse and knocked on the door.  A grumpy old man in overalls peered out at me.

“My car’s in the ditch,” I said, “Do you have a phone I could use to call a wrecker to get me out?”

He looked me up and down.

“I’ll get you out,” he said.  “Just wait by the ca!r.”

I walked back out to the road where the beautiful Beverly Burman was shivering in the front seat and having second thoughts about the whole Sunday afternoon excursion.  In a few minutes, I heard the popping sound of a tractor coming down the road.

The old man looked the situation over and handed me a chain to hook around the bumper of my ‘35 Dodge. 

“The two of you had better get out of the car,” he said.  “Can’t tell what it’s going to do.”

As we stood shivering in the sunset, he cranked that car rich out of the ditch.

“Thank you very much,” I said, getting out my wallet to offer him some money.

“Don’t want that,” he said.  “Glad to do it.  Now you’d better get her home before her Daddy finds out where you took her joy-ridin.”

We crept down the icy road at 5 miles an hour until‚ we reached the pavement, then hurried home.

Hopes of keeping our experience a secret were in vain, however.  As in most small Iowa towns, everyone already knew what had happened, including my folks, of course, and including Beverly Burman’s father.

We had to endure a great deal of useless advice about the wisdom of going for a drive in the country in January.

But, looking back, the wonderful thing is how safe we really were on our adventure.  The wonderful thing is how willing people were to help one another back then.  The wonderful thing is how confident I was that, walking up to the crumbling old farmhouse, I knew that I would find a  human being living there, someone who would help,  and not an ax murderer who specialized in axing teen-age boys.

Times were different.  People thought differently about things.  Minnesota nice was not just limited to Minnesota.  People were pretty much that way all over the country.

Whatever happened to Minnesota nice?