Minnesota feels like it typifies the US in so many ways: a land of giants and giant spaces, where everyone dresses down and looks down. Jeans to the office? Sure! Dirty snow in huge drifts. Huge cars, huge roads.The worst hot chocolate I've ever tasted from the vending machine in the office kitchen. Kids in the hotel hallways, here for some wrestling competition, with nothing better to do than stand by the lifts staring. At every restaurant we're served huge, somewhat tasteless portions, larded with butter. So much food... US flags everywhere and bumper stickers saying "Support [or Pray for] our troops". Everyone is friendly, up to a point. Public as well as private spaces are massive and bland. Only the sunshine relieves the atmosphere. The TV adverts are all for drugs. The CNN newsreader says "Communist China".
St Paul is not a city you could walk around. Without a car you'd be nothing. Everyone drives to work. They drive between buildings on the office "campus". We drove to lunch and back. It's second nature to be driving a car: how will Americans ever give that up? The entire infrastructure is predicated upon driving.
My taxi driver has a black beret and John Lennon blue specs and is playing freeform jazz on the car stereo. He barks at me "I'm going to Lexington because it's quicker". I say "OK". He asks me if the reason I have a crease in the middle of my brow - just there, and he points in the mirror - "is because it's frustrating dealing with the Chinese". Straight faced, he says the people in Hong Kong eat rats.
The Mall of America is near the airport, but I can't quite bring myself to go there. 40 million people visited in 2006 and it's the most visited shopping mall in the world. All very good reasons for me to avoid it completely.
But sitting at the desk in my hotel room, watching the sun go down over the Mississippi, with clouds of smoke puffing in the cold, I have to admit it's beautiful.