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A holiday thanks to Minneapolis' friendliest faces, the ambassadors

Downtown Improvement District Ambassadors make cold streets a little warmer.

Downtown Improvement District Ambassadors make cold streets a little warmer.

Waking up can be a painful ritual. After one-eyeing the morning news and a quick shower, the coffee starts and I scramble out the door praying my daily essentials (a notebook and an anemic ham sandwich) are in tow.

My walking commute is the envy of suburban friends, but when it’s cold and wet an hour in a toasty car sounds divine. With determined misery, I trudge along the Minneapolis sidewalks trying not to get splashed by drivers aiming for puddles. Within four or five blocks, or half a cup of coffee, I’m often greeted by an unfamiliar face in familiar clothing.

Anyone who lives, works, or plays downtown knows the Downtown Improvement District ambassadors — the benevolent street walkers who help people with directions or just say hey. Our morning exchange is brief, a smile and a “How ya doin’?” and maybe some light banter about whatever cold and sleepy strangers can muster. But something about the combo of caffeine and the day’s first friendly interaction recoils my a.m. curmudgeon.

Since the blue-jacketed crew hit the streets in 2009, being nice has been in their job description, which is equal parts concierge, neighborhood crime watcher, and sidewalk cleaner. Astonishingly, their affability never feels insincere.

Funded by downtown commercial property owners, the ambassadors roam 120-plus downtown blocks fighting the evil forces of litterbugs. Thanks to you my dog ate 85 percent less sidewalk trash this year and only a third of that burrito someone spiked by our building’s door. And when the mutt stared awkwardly into your eyes while passing that burrito or God knows what, you offered a smile and restrained chuckle, preserving a shred of his dignity.

I internally groan when someone asks if I know where a nonexistent building is. Because of you, however, I can readily say “Nah, man. But that guy on the Segway does.” With patience and care you sift through a haystack of confusion as I selfishly stroll on.

You didn’t have to intervene in our cab search that brisk night outside the Dakota Jazz Club. But as you eagerly opened the door to the taxi you hailed for us, the ratty backseat and previous rider’s butt warmth never felt so welcoming.

While your work is year-round, it seems fitting to salute your army of kindness while we’re high on holiday cookies. Thanks for making downtown a cleaner, safer, and warmer place.

Especially during those cold morning walks.