Jim Boyd is a retired Star Tribune editor who now lives in Grand Marais. He is a source in MPR News' Public Insight Network.
A friend from the Cities, someone who visits Cook County often, called to talk about the shooting Thursday afternoon at the Cook County Courthouse in Grand Marais. It shocked him.
"I always think of Grand Marais," he said, "as this bucolic place where time stands still. Where people leave their keys in their cars and their homes unlocked, where everyone is safe and friendly, the idyllic and iconic Minnesota tourism town. So is that all illusion?"
It is and it isn't, I replied. As a transplant from the Cities, I truly value what my friend calls Cook County's "bucolic" nature. I do leave my keys in the car frequently. Most often, our home remains unlocked unless we are to be gone for more than two days. Our garage always is unlocked; indeed I do not know where the key is. Much as I love the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis, our previous home, those behaviors would have been an invitation to disaster.
I frequently visit the courthouse where the shooting occurred. County Attorney Tim Scannell, injured in the shooting, is an exceedingly nice guy I know well enough to call "Tim" and get "Jim" in return. So is Sheriff Mark Falk. Of the five county commissioners, two are friends and two are nodding acquaintances. Last week we played trivia with the county auditor at Sven & Ole's.
On Wednesday and Thursday, I helped organize customer service training for the employees of county resorts and restaurants. The theme was, "It takes a village to enchant a tourist," and the emphasis was on knowing where to send people who ask where they might snowshoe or cross-country ski, on being patient with dawdling tourist drivers, that sort of thing. In essence, the training focused on reinforcing the county's natural, joyfully bucolic nature.
Recently I went into Java Moose in Grand Marais for coffee. It's the place to meet and talk with folks, and the owner's daughter hailed me: "Jim, your bride called: The folks you are looking for are over by the Trading Post." When my jaw dropped — I had no idea she knew my name — she said, with a grin, "Isn't it great to live in a village?"
Yes, it is. On Wednesday afternoon, my wife, Jetty, attended the trial that led to the shooting as a representative of the Cook County Violence Prevention Center. When she came home, she expressed dismay that she had been able to just walk into the courtroom and take a seat. No inspection of her purse, nothing. This was 24 hours before the shooting.
That's the way things are at the courthouse, I explained, and isn't it great?
Now that's probably gone, though I'm not well enough informed on the shooting to tell whether metal detectors and attendants would have made a difference. No matter: We're likely to get them now. Perhaps prudence requires it, but I regret the loss of freedom and with it the diversion of truly scarce county resources. We hadn't enough money to go around as it was. This will mean some things we really wanted to do now won't get done.
Outside of those changes, Cook County will likely retain the bucolicity my friend so enjoys. I don't envision locking my car. Certainly our home will remain unlocked. The Java Moose will still be the place where you can strike up a conversation with just about anyone.
But my friend was perceptive in his question: The bucolic charm of Cook County and Grand Marais isn't actually an illusion, but it's not the full story, either. Visitors seldom hear the full story; they're not here long enough; they don't get to know people here well enough. That's true of any tourist destination.
Cook County is not a movie set. It is a real place inhabited by real people who come with all sorts of problems and issues. People struggle. There are drug problems and alcoholism, sex crimes and domestic assault. I'm told by folks who have been here a lot longer than me that a serious, longstanding problem involves older men "dating" high-school girls, frequently using access to alcohol and autos as inducements. That appears to have been the issue at the center of this tragedy. Some old-timers complain bitterly that it is an issue too long swept under the rug. Not any longer, perhaps.
Do not fret: Grand Marais and Cook County will retain their ability to charm, to welcome with genuine warmth visitors seeking a respite from too-hectic schedules elsewhere. That is all real and will remain so. Beneath it, however, we will go on living our complicated, sometimes difficult lives, grateful that we at least get to live them in this beautiful place. And grateful for the chance to share the beauty with others.