Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Bridge

One of my coworkers had a party at his house yesterday evening. I rode there with two other coworkers. We took the river road on the east side of the Mississippi, north of the bridge that fell. The flats near the U of M have a parking lot; and it was full of TV vans with huge antennae. The last time I saw anything like this was in Ely, after the Wellstone plane went down.

I don't much like national media attention. They came down like vultures after the Wellstones and their party died; and then they lied about the Wellstone memorial. It would be nice if they went away and let us get on with taking care of survivors and the families of the dead and dealing with the huge problem of clearing away debris.

Of course, if no one showed, we'd be thinking, "No one ever pays attention to people in the Midwest." And the publicity is good, if it means people will finally start paying attention to infrastructure, which is bad throughout the country.

But taken all in all, I'd prefer to not see my home state on the front page of the New York Times, unless it's for innovative social programming or maybe a really great play at the Guthrie.

I think of two stories about Minnesotans and grief. One is by Howard Mohr and fictional, as far as I know; but it could be true. There is nothing unlikely about it.

This tornado hits a farm outstate, and one of the stations in the Twin Cities sends out a TV crew. The farm is entirely gone, except for the silo, which has a tractor sitting on top of it. The reporter is describing the extent of the damage, getting more and more emotional, while the farmer stands there quietly. Finally the reporter turns to the farmer to get his response to this terrible situation; and the farmer says, "We'd offer you coffee, but we can't find the coffee maker."

The other story isn't a story, it's the letter Louise Erdrich wrote to the Star Tribune after her husband Michael Dorris committed suicide. Suicide is always terrible, but this was especially bad. Dorris died in the middle of some not at all nice publicity about his treatment of his and Erdrich's children.

As far as I know, the truth of the stories was never established. But they were public; and Dorris died in the middle of an ugly situation.

As I remember the letter, Louise Erdrich said she and her family would like be left alone to deal with their grief; and she also thanked her neighbors -- this is the part of the letter I remember clearly -- for leaving hot dishes (casseroles to you outside the Upper Midwest) on her front porch without comment.

A silent hot dish is always appropriate. In this case, a hot dish in the form of 250 million dollars from the federal government would be taken with gratitude. Jim Oberstar, the DFL congressman from northern Minnesota is working for that; and he has the Democrats backing him. Clearing out the river will be expensive; and it is -- after all -- the nation's river, draining the entire huge center of the country.

The Army Corps of Engineers said it's lucky the river is running at 15% of normal. (We have drought conditions at the moment.) If it had been running normally, water would be backing up. And we sure as heck have to have the river running freely before spring.

I am sure, since our coffeemakers have not been blown away, that our officials are offering coffee to our visitors.


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