Sasha Aslanian is a reporter for MPR News.
Bob Collins' News Cut blog lit up recently over an East Coast transplant throwing in the towel on life in Minnesota and moving home. We don't know the real story behind that departure, but it unleashed a frank discussion about the insularity of native Minnesotans and how difficult it is for newcomers to break in.
It's an old story. I'll bet 15 years ago, reporter Chris Roberts (Michigan native) did a piece about a support group for newcomers to the Twin Cities.
From reading Bob's commenters, not much has changed:
"The first year is excruciatingly painful, since cues that work everywhere else (tentative plans to grab a coffee) not only never pan out, but are insincere to begin with," wrote "C," who moved here four years ago.
I'm one of those native Minnesotans who's slippery about making plans. My best friend Becky is someone I met in first grade. My life is full of people like me who never moved away.
In the late '90s, a new woman started working in Underwriting at MPR. Amanda was a few years younger, but worldly: a Kansan who grew up in the south of France. She'd moved here from Madison with her husband and was ready to dive into her new life in the Twin Cities.
"We should get together!" she'd say. I'd smile and agree and not make a move.
"Saturday night dinner at our house!" she'd announce, completely missing my Minnesota signals of non-engagement .
We traded off hosting dinner parties (I do have some social graces) and before long I had introduced Amanda to all my high school friends, who became her friends, and she joined our long-running book group and my knitting club of women journalists.
"How does she have so much energy?" Becky asked. "Does she plug herself into the wall at night?"
Amanda needed no sleep, and was an inexhaustible extrovert. She'd drive to IKEA in Chicago, loading up everyone's requests. She'd organize a museum gala when I didn't know rich people came in our age bracket. Everywhere she went, she'd gather up friends and periodically hold parties to introduce everybody.
Amanda had no family in town, so when she and her husband Andrew had their first baby boy I brought groceries to their apartment and got to hold tiny Henry.
The next year, I had my first baby, and Amanda was at the hospital with advice on breastfeeding and offering her multitude of nursing pillows.
One by one, our circle birthed a brood of kids and swapped stories, baby items and makeshift dinner parties with kids on our hips.
The kids got bigger, life started to get easier, and I felt I'd been through a war with Amanda.
And then she moved away.
Her husband got his dream job at Apple, so intrepid Amanda packed up their three little boys, put her house on the market and launched the family toward Silicon Valley.
I ache when I drive past her old block. It's a stretch of St. Paul I'll probably drive by every week for the rest of my life.
"There's a hole in my heart for you," I tell her when we talk on the phone.
I actually caught myself auditioning people to fill the now-vacated Amanda slot in my life. I miss her force of personality, her over-the-top generosity, her pragmatic joie-de-vivre.
Amanda broke down the doors to my life, burst in and got the party started.
She was the friend I didn't know I needed. Every Minnesotan needs a friend like that.
So, out-of-towners, we're glad you're here. We just need you to teach us that.