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Northern virtue

A shivering woman in front of me in line at the coffee shop last week simply wanted a cup of hot water.

"I need something to warm my hands!" she shuddered to the clerk. "It is freezing outside!"

Yes, it has been tough week here in Tucson, Arizona. Daytime temperatures plunged into the 50s last week when the woman in a parka and wool cap ducked into the coffee shop for a warm-up.

I felt like barking, "You think this is cold? I am from northern Minnesota, and it was 11 below there this morning!"

But I have tried that, only to be met with a blank stare.

First, natives of the desert Southwest don't understand what 11 below means. Second, they assume that anybody who subjects themselves to such temperatures must be nuts.

Transplanted Midwesterners are no better. After living down here for a few decades, they view those who still live up north with bemused pity, the same pity we once had for old neighbors who never got electricity or indoor plumbing.

I mean, yes, we feel sorry for you poor people, but it is your own fault. You could get out of there and live somewhere decent, you know!

It is no use to defend life in the Upper Midwest to either group. If they didn't get it before, they won't get it now.

My favorite group of people down here: native Californians who moved east to the quaint town of Tucson, population only 1 million, to get away from the hassle of Los Angeles.

Native Californians are completely clueless -- so clueless that they're kind of cute. For many of them, Tucson is the farthest east they have ever been. Talk to the Californians about life in the small-town Upper Midwest and you might just as well be speaking Martian. They not only don't understand. They simply can't imagine.

The only possible frame of reference for clueless Californians would be Garrison Keillor. But even those familiar with his show assume he is just pulling their leg.

Twenty years ago, if I had met all these people, I would have gotten on my soapbox and started preaching the virtues of small-town Minnesota life.

No crime. Nice people. Interesting characters. The cold? It just keeps the riff-raff out and builds character in those who remain.

But I have learned to just keep my mouth shut.

For one thing, why bother convincing others that northern Minnesota is paradise? Do we really want more people moving there?

Yes. We do want people to move there, but for all the wrong reasons.

No, we don't want new people from down south to come help our economy. They talk funny and aren't Lutheran, for one thing.

To tell you the truth, we don't care if young couples come with children for our schools, either. New kids from the south have funny names, can't dribble a basketball and cause nothing but trouble.

In fact, we northerners have no real desire to befriend strange new neighbors from other parts of the country. It's just too much work.

What we really want, we ruthless northern Minnesotans, is to see people from warmer climes move north only to go stark raving bonkers during their first winter and retreat in defeat back to where they came from!

That's our goal. We want to prove how tough we are. We want to demonstrate our moral superiority. We want to show our mettle.

We want the wimps from warmer climates to kneel down at our feet and say, "How do you amazing people do it? How do you survive? How can you stand it?" and then get out of Dodge.

For if there is one article of faith we northerners share, it is that those people down south may have it warmer, but when it comes to strength of character, the good folks from the frozen north come out on top.

I used to agree.

But as I walked down a Tucson street this afternoon basking in the sunshine, listening to the birds, watching people visit on their porches with the subzero temperatures back home in the back of my mind, I wondered to myself:

Why did some of those old-timers never get indoor plumbing? What was their point, living without electricity?

They must have been nuts.