How long do you think it takes for a city to get you with its charms? When I lived in Manhattan, it happened the moment I walked out of my apartment and realized that Bleecker Street, Washington Square, and two-dollar falafel sandwiches were just around the corner. I was so excited. It was so easy to live at large.
When I lived in Chicago, it took longer to feel that connection. My job was located in the deep burbs (equally as inhospitable as the “deep south”) and I spent way too much time in my car. It wasn’t until I got to know a particular urbanist, Joseph DuciBella, that I was let in on the secrets of the city and started to feel truly at home.
If we created a simple list of charms, the Twin Cities wouldn’t easily stack up to the rest of my geographical resume. But still. After three years of living in St. Paul, I feel an almost surreal sense of having been here a long time. When I went to Manhattan, it was about a degree. When I went to Chicago, it was about a relationship. This town has been all about me. And that, of course, is an education unto itself. I feel like cultivator, layering people, stories, and experiences together in a way that makes sense to me. It helps that I have a cool job and great friends, and also that I am single. A few bars, neighborhoods, and restaurants have quickly become classic, and both cities feel like a foundation on which we all can do most anything we please. I often see people I know, and the baristas serve me without asking what I’d like. In MSP, everything always overlaps. I feel like I’m starting to live at large again, but this time in a totally personalized sort of way.
To make a city love you, you must first fall in love with something it offers. I started with those things that seemed special about MSP: coffee shops, co-ops, and Magers & Quinn. I’ve discovered some of my favorite books at Magers & Quinn as though they were shelved there specifically for me, and as an editor, I’ve attended a number of my author’s readings.
Last week, I went to Magers & Quinn to see Steve Lerach read from his new book Fried: Surviving Two Centuries in Restaurants. I also brought a date, which is another way to make a city love you. See a lot of people. My date asked the best questions during the Q&A, and after the reading, he introduced me to three or four of his friends who happened to be in the crowd. There was the quirky academic he used to work with at the Black Forest Inn, and they told some hilarious server stories. There was also the cool duo who co-host the Wednesday Spoken Word show at KFAI (where my date is a DJ).
The whole night became a reflection of the book we went to hear about. Part of why Steve Lerach is credentialed to write Fried is that he has lived and cooked in Minneapolis for thirty years. Thirty years! He told us how his book started out as a master’s thesis on the history of restaurants as far back as the French revolution. But the more he dug into the past, the more he saw parallels to the people he has worked with throughout his career, and this cast of cooks and sous chefs took over the focus of his writing. Eventually, his story became their story instead. Their story demanded to be told.
And that’s another way to make a city love you. Let the story of its people become your story, too, whether you have lived there for three or for thirty years.