…In his classic travel book Blue Highways: A Journey Into America, William Least Heat Moon noted something similar after traveling through the area in the late 1970s. “When I walked the North towns,” he wrote, “people, wondering who the outsider was, would look at me; but as soon as I nodded, they looked down, up, left, right, or turned around as if summoned by an invisible caller.… The effect on me was that I felt more alone than I ever had in the desert. I wished for the South where any topic is worth at least a brief exchange. And so I went across the central North, seeing many people, but not often learning where our lives crossed common ground.”
Recently, I was talking to a friend from Tennessee. I asked him, if you walked into a bar full of strangers down there, would it be easy to find someone to talk to? He seemed to think it was a silly question and said, “Of course!” Another friend, from Oregon, told me about a conversation he struck up with a stranger in a bar—who turned out to be from Texas. “Yep,” the Texan said, “Minnesotans are the nicest people in the world. They’ll give you directions anywhere except their house.”
This Minnesota Ice is the flip side to Minnesota Nice. When photographer Alec Soth was asked for two words to describe Minnesotans, the ones he chose seemed almost to be opposites: friendly and remote.