Hi, I’m Steve Ricks. Today on Visits to America Up the Back Door, I’m compelled to mention by the Department of Homeland Security that this show is not a how-to guide for Mexicans or members of ISIL. With that out of the way, we can begin our exciting exploration of Minnesota.
Won’t you join me?
Minnesota has captured the global imagination with its funny accents, life-threatening cold, and heroic work ethic. You could say Minnesota is hot — not literally, of course! More like how top-knots on young chubby men who chain their wallets to their pants are hot or bacon cupcakes. But beyond the steely piercing-blue stare of Minnesotans lurks a land filled with motor cars, flying contraptions, and the largest ball of twine in the world!
Today we’re making our way up the freshwater froth of the Mighty Mississippi, known to the native tribes who once operated the parking ramps here as the long, crooked lake that floats our trash into the Gulf of Mexico.
I’m aboard the Erik the Red, the flagship of the Viking Princess Cruiseline. It’s an exact replica of a viking long boat cruise ship from nearly a thousand years ago. Those same ancient vikings who splashed in the heated Olympic-sized pool and enjoyed limitless shrimp fest on Thursday nights from 6:00 until 6:15 were the first Europeans to discover the already-inhabited area known today as Minnesota.
The Viking Princess Cruiseline began running the Ya, You Betchya tour in response to the world’s growing love affair of the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes, Down from Eleven Thousand Since the Last High School Reunion, Don’tchya Know.
For a seven-day tour of “gosh-darn genuine Lake Wobegon and parts adjacent Fargo”, the tour is a steal at any price. It’s currently being stolen by Japanese tourists and Californian hipsters for the bargain-basement price of $8,000 — if you help row.
The vikings who first uncovered native beaver and tall stands of virgin woodsmen called the wild region Minnesota, an ancient viking word meaning small, effervescent soft drink.
Much like my contemporary traveling companions, the first viking visitors refused to let the cold and unfavorable currency exchange rates deter them from witnessing the largest pre-historic predator uncovered by retail paleontologists, the Mall of America!
Whereas the first explorers once encountered terrifying Hollywood actors roaming the world’s largest enclosed pine forest, today’s tourist can feel safe knowing that Christmas never ends at the Jingle All the Way museum where you can be chased down by a real-life Arnold Schwarzennegger impersonator impersonating a real-life shopping mall Santa Claus!
Hollywood movies are just one insight into the real lives of bachelor Norwegian farmers of the Midwest. For most outsiders, the most trusted news source for updates on Minnesota culture is A Prairie Home Companion. Check it out sometime. I just love the way Garrison Keillor tells it like it is in his unvarnished radio documentary series. It’s the world’s longest-running patronization, and it’s a reliable guide for the first-time visitor, replete with phrases you’ll need to know in order to interact with the locals. Phrases like What the heck? and Aw geez that’s good. Peppering phrases like these into your verbal repertoire will help you blend in.
You could say the show’s popularity is universal! University of Minnesota researchers are beaming Prairie Home Companion into outer space in hopes of lulling hostile alien races into a false sense of smug superiority.
And speaking of space, did you know that Minnesota is known as the North Star state? That’s because Polaris, the North Star, is a popular line of snowmobiles made right here in an underwater factory beneath Lake Minnetonka by troll dolls. When high school prom rolls around, local youth put on their fanciest mittens for a brisk ride on the lake on these snow machines, careful not to run down their drunken aged relatives who have been relegated to end-of-life care facilities on the ice known as fish houses.
And speaking of ways to travel the wind-swept tundra, getting around the North Star state has never been easier! Minnesota is the first state to allow Uber to run public transportation. Now you can drive yourself and thirty strangers to the destination shouted out the loudest and the most times. You may not get to where you wanted to go, but at least it was easy to use your smart phone to pay for it!
And remember, strangers are only friends who other people ostracized, probably for good reason.
Of course, no trip to Minnesota would be complete without experiencing the authentic haute cuisine of 1100 A.D. still prevalent today at even the most quaint family-owned salt licks.
Grab a baggie full of walleye minnows from a street vendor. The wriggling mouth treat is still known as Sioux-shi in honor of the native tribe who first tricked Europeans into buying all the land and resources in the area for a song: The Song of Hiawatha! Those shifty red devils!
Try the hot dish on a stick, said to be the staple ingredient at the original Thanksgiving dinner, nearly a millennium ago, when the vikings and the natives gathered in relative harmony at the very first Minnesota State Fair. Of course, back then the fair rides and games were more primitive. Instead of the roller coaster they rode each other, and instead of the water pistol race, the ancients played an invigorating round of Catch the Axe until they lost.
Speaking of food, many visitors are surprised to learn that all food in Minnesota is frozen. Of course that has a lot to do with the weather. And no tour of Minnesota would be complete without weather. Minnesota has plenty of it! In fact, the weather never stops! The weather happens so frequently that people set their cordless watches to it. Whether you love weather, or whether you hate it, there’s no way to weather-proof your trip to Minnesota!
Minnesota’s fascination with weather has resulted in big business. Meteorologists are the state’s largest export. They believe the weather will improve at some point, although they couldn’t say with any degree of certainty, and they’re carrying that message to the far corners of the earth. Non-believers, the weather deniers, are considered persona non gratin in Minnesota and are refused cheese. They also are forced to the back of the queue where you pay for your groceries, called the “check-out line” by locals.
If you ever find yourself in the eight-items-or- fewer express check-out line at a market in Minnesota, settle in! The locals ahead of you don’t know how to count, and they’ll insist that a can of cream of mushroom soup and a can of tomato soup counts as only one item, because it’s all soup.
Just remember, you’re on Minnesota time now!
Although the expression Minnesota Nice evokes thoughts of a warm and generous people embodying the tenets of social progressivism, Minnesota Nice is actually a bastardization of the phrase Minnesotan Ice-Cold-Hearted Sons of Bitches. You’re more likely to get a sock on the kisser than directions to the nearest Uber bus stop.
When you meet people in Minnesota, do not look the locals directly in the eye. Think of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, and then think again: “Here’s not looking at you, Minnesota kid.”
Also remember a hug to a Minnesotan is the equivalent of a knife attack. Shaking hands is still an acceptable greeting as long as the act is performed in silence with a Lutheran minister in attendance.
I’m often asked, “Is it safe to travel to Minnesota?” Statistically speaking, no. In fact, travelers in Minnesota looking to rent a car will not find an insurance policy available at the rental counter. Or a car. Rental agencies do offer optional crisis counselors at the airport, because a trip to Minnesota is considered a cry for help. You may as well strap on a belt of dynamite and wave your hands around in front of an Israeli checkpoint. But to be clear, the Department of Homeland Security strongly discourages this type of behavior.
Besides the people, the weather, and the entertainment, Minnesota is a wonderful place to visit. Just try to get there before all the good snowmobiles run out of gas, miles away from any source of heat, in the dark cold night while a pack of starving wolves circle closer, closer, drawn to your shivering miserable last few moments by the scent of tater-tot hotdish stains on your parka.
Thanks for joining me today! And as they say in Minnesota “good bye.”