Cold Reality


The woman from the Minneapolis Visitors Bureau was more anxious than usual. The cool winds of autumn were blowing, and she was running out of time.

"Minneapolis sells itself in the summer," she said. "But at the Visitors Bureau our job is to sell the city not just as a place to visit but to stay. We want people to relocate here. For that to happen we have to get them to make peace with the cold seasons."

Each year, the woman explained, the employees at the Visitors Bureau relax through the summer months knowing the hard sell can be put on hold. As late September arrives, however, the mood in the office changes.

"There's a circling of the wagons," she said. "We have our pitch down pat. We have our statistics. We may sound like we're pouring it on a little thick, but when it comes to selling this city, no one in this office is short on ammunition. We fire with both barrels."

John and Sue Hanratty met both barrels last week when inquiring about the city's amenities. John was thinking of leaving a position in St. Louis and taking a job at a downtown Minneapolis ad agency.

"I'd never come across anything like it," he said. "It's a breathless assault that's never-ending."

John said all he did was "ask what the average temperatures are come December, January, and February," and it unleashed the floodgates.

"She went into a stem-winder that I should have videotaped," he said. "She painted a picture of a city you wouldn't trade for Paris, Rome, and London combined."

"Minneapolis has been named one of America's smartest cities by the online magazine the Daily Beast," the woman began. "Outside magazine ranked it as one of America's top 10 best cities. MSN Travel calls it one of America's 'coolest' cities and Forbes calls it one of the nation's safest cities. An Oregon-based company, called Sperling's BestPlaces, has Minneapolis as the number-one happiest place to raise a family in the United States. And it's also been named one of America's most wired cities."

She paused to take a quick breath, then continued.

"On top of that, the British magazine Monocle named Minneapolis one of the most livable cities on the planet. Only two U.S. cities made the top 20. Studies have shown us to be one of the least wasteful cities in America, one of the greenest, one of the best cities for walking, biking, or taking transit to work, and one of the best cities for working mothers. We've been found to be one of the fittest cities in the nation. We lead in recruiting small business and in volunteering. Central Connecticut State University conducted a study and found Minneapolis to be the most literate city in America. It's also ideal for all ages. Fit Pregnancy magazine has it as one of the top two cities in America for having your baby, and it's also been cited as an ideal city for senior citizens."

John and his wife stared at each other as if they'd been thrown in the midst of live street theater. They looked back at the woman who was beaming, perspiring, and handing over a stack of brightly colored brochures.

"These are for you," she said. "I want to encourage you to take a peek at the second one in the pile. It has us listed as the second most 'fun' city in America. Ritz Crackers placed us there in their 'FUNomenal Places Study.' We just missed beating Seattle for the number-one spot. They looked at our participation in social activities such as block parties, barbecues, and outdoor events, as well as our access to parks, entertainment venues, dog parks, gyms, and theaters. We pretty much tied for the number-one spot, actually. Seattle fudged some of their stats we think. Take a look, it's all in that Ritz brochure."

John and Sue walked out of the Visitors Bureau dizzy and giggling. They encountered a brisk early autumn breeze on the sidewalk, and it reminded John that he hadn't received an answer to his query about average winter temps.

He told Sue to wait for a moment and he doubled back through the glass doors, where he found the woman standing ramrod straight, arms crossed, no longer smiling.

"By January, the average temp is 14 degrees Fahrenheit," she said in a stern monotone. "We are the coldest major city in the United States.

Please return the brochures if you don't plan to read them."

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