Opening Letters


why love or hate the Twin Cities when you can do both?

Ken Szymanski, illustrated by Ryan Carpentier |

At Rock Fest a few years back, Sammy Hagar was telling the crowd about the previous night’s show in Minneapolis. As soon as he said “Minneapolis,” the crowd turned on him. “What are you booing for?” Hagar asked. “They’re practically your neighbors.” Then he laughed and said, “Well ... come to think of it, I hate my neighbors too!”

Hagar’s infinite wisdom aside, I’ve long had a deep-rooted animosity towards the Twin Cities. For me, loathing our neighboring metropolis started with sports and grew from there. The Brewers and Packers have combined for just one win in my eleven trips to the stale and generic Hubert Humphrey Metrodome. And it didn’t help that a majority of those losses were due to fluke plays, lucky bounces, and bad calls. Listening to those post-game shows while driving home on I-94 – where the gray and brown subdivision houses stand like infinite rows of tombstones – the bitter rivalry grew bitterer. Everything else about the Twin Cities just got thrown in.

So, while I’ve always loved my friends and relatives from the Cities, I despised:

  • • Paying $10-15 for parking before even entering the doors of an expensive event.
  • • Asking how to get to the nearest anything, and listening to locals break into long arguments about whether it was faster to take Snelling to 694 and hop on 35W or to detour through Dinkytown to pick up 394 and hit the triple bypass. Blah, blah, blah. No matter what, it’s 45 minutes.
  • • Prince’s popularity explosion in the mid-’80s. He reminded me too much of the Vikings, being from Minneapolis and obsessed with all things purple.
  • • Everything about the Mall of America, especially circling the parking ramp waiting for someone to leave just for the opportunity to park.
  • • Going to the Minneapolis poetry slam, where every performer was louder and angrier than the one before. It was also annoying how eloquent and polished their performances were compared to mine.
  • • Getting stuck in traffic at rush hour. Even worse – getting stuck in traffic at, say, one in the afternoon.

A childhood friend who migrated to Minneapolis used to say to me, “Dude, you gotta move to the Cities.”

My response: “No...I don’t.”

Now the tide has slightly turned. It’s not so much that I’ve changed my mind. It’s just that I realized that through my years of grousing, I’ve taken advantage of incredible shows at Northrop Auditorium, State Theater, Orpheum Theater, Roy Wilkins Auditorium, First Avenue, O’Gara’s, and the amazing new Guthrie complex. Even the Xcel Energy Center has made great strides over the weaknesses of the Target Center.

Of all the memorable events I’ve attended, I would’ve missed most of them had these venues been an extra hour or two away, especially on work nights. To put things in perspective, it’s been six years since I’ve attended a concert in Milwaukee, and I’ve yet to see a show in Madison.

So if the Twin Cities is our metro area, we can also claim some of its cultural glory. St. Paul is the birthplace of two of my favorite writers from different periods of my life: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charles M. Schulz. Both piqued my interested in the craft of creating characters. Come to think of it, The Great Gatsby and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown share similar plotlines.

Then there’s Prince, who unlike so many of his contemporaries, admirably continues to evolve and stay relevant, rather than simply slogging through yet another greatest hits tour. In addition, many lesser-known musicians have made their marks through the Minneapolis music scene. Paul Westerberg and The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Gear Daddies, The Jayhawks, Semisonic, Son Volt, Golden Smog, and Soul Asylum all personify the shaggy, underdog style of our region. Not to mention some guy named Bob Dylan who got started in the Minneapolis folk music scene.

Criag Finn of The Hold Steady is writing the latest chapter of the Twin Cities music lore. Finn grew up in Edina, and his lyrics frequently reference his hometown geography. In “Stuck Between Stations” he sings, “These Twin City kisses/they sound like clicks and hisses/they all come down and drown in the Mississippi River.” Familiarity with the icons and landmarks that Finn name-checks makes me feel like an insider compared to the rest of the country. It’s just like when I go to First Avenue for a concert and the lead singer says, “Great to be here in Minneapolis.” I cheer along with everyone else.

And while close enough to claim their good stuff as “ours” in a regional sense, we’re also far enough away to conveniently and selectively draw the line. For instance, from my perspective F. Scott Fitzgerald, Golden Smog, and 89.3 The Current are definitely ours. Garrison Keillor, traffic jams, and the Twins, on the other hand, are clearly theirs.

And even their sad sports teams have merits. I realized this a few years ago when a new owner threatened to move the Vikings to another part of the country. I panicked at the thought of losing our biggest rival, our nemesis. I love rooting against the Vikings and the big Cities, just as much as they love cheering against us.
What are heroes without villains, anyways?