Saturday, February 18, 2006

A tale of two cities

I live in Indianapolis, but have been spending a fair amount of time in Minneapolis. While there is an obvious similarity in names, there are lots of subtle differences between the two cities -- despite the fact that they both purport to be nice, sedate, family-friendly Midwestern cities. Here's some of what I've found.

Nice... and nicer. Both Indianapolis and Minneapolis pride themselves on being friendly cities where everyone is super nice. Only one of those cities lives up to the niceness hype, however, and it's not the one in Indiana. I've lived in central Indiana all my life, and the people there tend to be as rude and insular in a way that blends the worst of big city and small town cultures. Minneapolitans, however, take the niceness thing personally; the concept of "Minneapolis nice" is real, the people here going out of their way to be friendly and polite and genuinely helpful. Score a big one for our northern neighbors, at the expense of those snarky Hoosiers. (Not all Hoosiers are nasty and grumpy, of course, but a lot are -- and my apologies to those truly nice people in the Hoosier state.)

Passive-aggressive. It's probably part of the niceness equation, but Hoosiers are much more aggressive drivers than their northern brethren, who tend to take polite driving to its illogical extreme. Hoosiers are pushy, rude, and extremely lead-footed drivers, constantly cutting one another off in traffic and being somewhat reckless about it. Minneapolitans, in contrast, always let the other driver cut in front of them, hesitate to merge at speed on the interstate (that would be too pushy), and actually cause accidents by stopping to help stranded drivers by the side of the road. Speed is also a factor; Hoosiers tend to drive 15-20 miles over the stated speed limit, while Minneapolitans drive at or under what the signs say. Put another way, a typical Hoosier driver would eat a typical Minneapolis driver for lunch.

Speed freaks. Speaking of speed, let's spend a moment discussing the Greatest Spectacle in Racing -- which is practically unheard of in Minnesota. I'm talking about the Indianapolis 500, and Indy car racing in general. It's safe to say that few people in Minneapolis have ever heard of A.J. Foyt or Johnny Rutherford (Mario Andretti, maybe...); everyone in Indy knows their favorite racers. Sorry Minneapolis; Indy is the home of world-class automobile racing, and all the hockey players in the great white north can't cover the Speedway's five hundred glorious miles.

Hockeyball? Indiana is basketball country (remember the movie Hoosiers?); Minnesota is hockey country. I don't know a puck from a hat trick, but I do know a three-pointer from a three-second violation. 'Nuff said.

Health and beauty. Minneapolis is an amazingly healthy city. In spite of spending more months of the year than I like to think of under near-arctic conditions, Minneapolitans like to get outside and partake of all forms of exercise, from winter sports to summer walks around their ten thousand lakes. (And they have tons of wonderful parks in which to do this.) Indiana, on the other hand, ranks as one of the most unhealthy states in the nation. Hoosiers are, to generalize, fat, out of shape, cigarette smoking, doughnut eating porkers. The people of the Twin Cities are much healthier, in all ways -- slimmer, trimmer, fitter, and less likely to die of lung cancer. Smoking appears to be mandatory in Hoosierland; Minneapolis is pretty much a smoke-free city. As a bonus, Minneapolis is filled with fair-skinned, blonde-haired women; Indy isn't. Guess which burb I like best in this regard...

White... and whiter. Neither Indianapolis or Minneapolis are what you'd call ethnically diverse cities. That said, Indianapolis has a sizeable African-American community, a growing number of Hispanics, and a surprising number of Asian immigrants. Minneapolis has... well, a lot of fair-skinned, blonde-haired, white people. Yes, there are some blacks up north, and a decent number of Asians, but the great white north is just that -- primarily white.

Left and right. Minneapolis is a blue state, primarily Democratic and fairly liberal. Indianapolis is George Bush country, a red state where Democrats aren't just the minority, they're pretty much missing in action. (Believe it or not, many local races don't even have a Democrat on the ballot.) I'm a liberal. I hate living in Indiana. Minneapolis is a much more friendly environment for old-school lefties like me.

Weather... or not. In Indianapolis, the TV weathermen report a winter near-miss like this: "Good news! The winter storm hit north of the city, so we only got a dusting of snow." In Minneapolis, a similar situation is reported like this: "Bad news! The winter storm hit south of the metro area, so we only got a dusting of snow." That's right, the Minneapolitans like their snow -- which means that they're really hating this winter. January was the warmest month in recorded history, and there's barely any snow cover on the ground. Not the normal sub-zero, several feet of snow piled on the ground type of weather they've grown to know and love. Which has the locals complaining, of course. Indy has had a similar uber-warm, near-snowless winter season, and no one is complaining about 50-degree days in February. A marked cultural difference.

Weather, part deux. One last thing about the weather. In normal years (and this year is anything but), Minneapolis is damned cold in the winter time. Indiana, not so much. Minneapolis also gets a shitload of snow, none of which ever melts, which results in streetside piles of Everestian heights. In Indiana, what snow we get (and we do get some) melts within a week or so, so there aren't those imposing snowpiles that last until the spring thaw. The only good thing about Minneapolis winters is that the sun actually shines; you might get 12 inches of snow one day, but it's nice and sunny the next. An Indiana winter is an exercise in bleakness; it's not unusual to go several weeks without the sun ever peeking through the depressing gray clouds. So, yeah, Minneapolis might have testicle-chilling cold, but at least you won't get seasonal affective disorder from too many cloudy days.

Bottom line, I like both places, but I'm starting to like Minneapolis more -- in spite of the weather and the slow drivers. Minneapolis is all that Indianapolis promises to be, but seldom is; Indianapolis is an aging rust-belt city that's not very friendly to singles, strangers, or anyone remotely artistic or high-tech. Minneapolis is a thriving metropolis with lots to offer in the way of both intellectual and physical pursuits; the locals are also more welcoming to individuals of all stripes. Sorry, Indy, but Minneapolis has what it takes -- Indianapolis doesn't.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a transplanted Hoosier who grew up in Indy, I agree with much -- but not all -- of your observations.

I believe "Minnesota Nice" is a myth -- the people of the North Star State are no nicer -- or more rude -- than any other area.

I strongly prefer Minneapolis over Indianapolis, but I recognize the huge strides Indy has made since the 60s and 70s.
* Unigov
* The revitalizion of downtown
* Using amateur sports -- not professional sports -- to help attract visitors
* The (partial) smoking ban!

I am a Minnesotan now, but I tip my hat to my old hometown for what they have accomplished -- I have seen other cities in decay (I just got back from Reno, a case in point), Indy is still getting better.