M. Giant's
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Friday, February 07, 2003  

What's So Damn Grand About It?

Trash is back today. But where does she keep going? Perhaps I should explain.

Trash works for a company that helps people find new jobs when they get laid off. Last month, the biggest employer in a northern Minnesota town laid off almost half of its workforce. It was as if somebody dropped a neutron bomb that leveled most of the jobs and left the buildings and people still standing. Trash’s company got the contract. Now a rotating delegation of her colleagues makes the four-hour drive north to Grand Rapids every week. It’s an inconvenient distance. Driving takes half the day, but getting to the airport and flying there would save hardly any time. Besides, the memory of Senator Wellstone is too fresh for anybody to want to fly up there. Hell, the memory of Buddy Holly is too fresh for anybody to want to fly up there.

At Trash’s company, nobody else can do what she does. That’s good in the sense of appreciation and job security. It’s less good in the sense that she has to go up almost every week throughout the project. I’ve been wasting a lot of pixels complaining about the cold in Minneapolis, but at least I don’t have to spend my January and February midweeks in a town whose latitude is higher than that of 95% of residentially zoned Canada.

(I have no idea if that’s true, but it might be. Look it up if you want.)

On her very first day in Grand Rapids (latitude 47.22), the temperature was twenty-five degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. That’s thirty-two below Celsius, for all you Canadians who live further south than Grand Rapids. In other words, the temperature at which ice becomes a metal and the air itself turns blue. Going outside meant instant death, so the hotel had retained a space-suited valet to drive guests’ vehicles up and down the hallways, delivering them directly to the doors of their rooms. I suggested to Trash that maybe all these newly unemployed people might get to work on some terraforming. Then maybe the town might attract some industry besides ice-farming.

Fortunately, that was as cold as it’s gotten while she was there. Even so, after a day at negative twenty-five, it’s startling how warm negative fifteen isn’t. Just because the thick clouds of vapor you exhale clatter to the frozen ground instead of saying “fuck this” and sprinting towards Pensacola doesn’t mean that your nostrils and eyeballs and joints don’t want to know what the hell you’re doing on Europa.

“So what, it’s cold up there,” you might think. “She was in the field office or the hotel room the whole time, right?”

Sure, but indoor heating equipment is only doing its job when you don’t have to think about it. Which wasn’t the case. At the hotel, the heater in her room had two settings: “off, “and “Saturn V Rocket.” With the overzealous window unit belching a Dantean roar of superheated gases into the room, she had to turn it off if she wanted to talk on the phone, watch TV, or finish her ice cream before it caught fire. Meanwhile, at the office, the project manager was seen on at least one occasion to prop the front door open to allow comparatively warmer air to waft in. There were several calls to building management, all of which produced a man who gazed at the wall thermostat, gave it a hostile thump, and lumbered away, saying, “that should do it.”

“That should do it,” agreed one of Trash’s coworkers, but the percussive maintenance program clearly has its limitations. The company is considering relocating its base of operations to someplace warmer, like an igloo.

Aside from the cold, the town is known for two things: the paper mill that pinkslipped three hundred people last month, and for being the birthplace and childhood home of Judy Garland. No wonder she always sounded so depressed. And no wonder Trash is always so happy to get home.

Of course, that might not be the only reason [sly wink].

posted by M. Giant 3:21 PM 0 comments


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