After five years of living in Minneapolis and five months after trying to make a living there, I came home for a long weekend and, as usually stopped by one of my favorite coffee shops in Chicago. As good a place as any to sit and get some work done. And, like the coffee shop has almost always been historically, a place to introduce yourself to the confluences of culture over different takes on a shared experience.
And I wasn’t the only one getting work done. Somewhere two people were having a casual coffee meeting, talking about (who knows) the bottom line, a new venue for the whatever, when to do the thing that was supposed to be done but isn’t. Hopefully it all worked out. Innocuous, but I paid some attention, alone I find an awareness of what is going on in a cafe; accompanied focus on the individual becomes paramount.
Before I left this nearby meeting came to an end with the words “take care” and an ‘L’ train rumbling by. Right there with this bundle of things, people meeting, the train, the coffee, the smallest sense of the foreign in my hometown this weird thought comes to mind—“take care,” what the hell is “take care?”
Over the past few months of dealing with customers in retail environments in Minnesota I’d cultivated saying “take it easy” quite consciously at the end of transactions. When departing from fellow Minnesotans, “take it easy” is the way of things. I’d gotten pretty good at it too, moving from a forgetful choke on the phrase to a pretty smooth and naturally placed deployment.
Suddenly, another sentiment was made really plain in the phrase “take care” in Chicago. Between Chicago and Minneapolis, the two largest economic engines of the Midwest, there is a huge difference in culture that is only in part described in this subtle difference in salutation. In a big city, which Minneapolis is not, there is an increased sense of uncertainty. Catching a train, crossing a street, making a coffee date, and moving on to the next item of business are not complex but are more fraught events.
Moreover, in Chicago these are performances of everyday life which have to be carried off without error and in expedited means. Chicago, like any major city, isn’t purely an engine of intense workaday industriousness, it has it’s leisure culture like any city, but it does have a beat that is fast and focused on fairly exacting execution of more complex and layered, interwoven tasks and within similar systems. This way of life extends to Chicago’s leisure culture and stems from a history of rising from swamps and ashes; planning a grid and partitioning off people and public spaces in rigorous manner; it comes from having various and expanding and interconnected systems of transit.
After even a coffee meeting it’s sensical to “take care” in Chicago on a number of levels. It’s a kind sentiment acknowledging the pace and features of the city. “Take care” you don’t get hit by a car, or shot, on your way to wherever you’re headed after this meeting. “Take care” of the things that matter to you, don’t squander them, rather cultivate them. “Take care” that you do get to live the best life that is possible. Period.
As is typical in Chicago with it’s array of neighborhoods and what it might mean to be from any one of them, there is a oneupmanship going on here too, the speaker to get to “take care” first is more directive, more assertive because it can’t really be met with it’s own “take care” rather met with “yeah, you too.”
And this sentiment does extend into the working culture of the coffee meeting I was sitting next to. This meeting was over, but one should “take care” on that next step, whatever it may be. The job isn’t over, it’s just begun.
Nothing could be more different about the fill of this salutatory lexical opening in Minnesota with the preferred “take it easy.” This is, in essence in Minneapolis, the goal of all work, of every day. In Minneapolis, a day is completed the true goal of the work achieved when you “take it easy.”
Indeed, the end of any project undertaken in Minneapolis doesn’t end with delivery. Rather work is completed when one makes it to the lake, or up north, or out with the dog, or on the boat. Everyday, every Minneapolitan working for the weekend is quite literally working for a certain degree of leisure activity, they’re working to “take it easy.” Which belies Minneapolis’s own industriousness and Minnesota Nice culture of oneupmanship. Minneapolis has an unspoken, denied, pent up competitiveness here that can’t be admitted to out of the notion of not “taking it easy.”
But Minneapolis manages to put out huge forces of economics with a small population of almost viciously productive collective of leisure takers. And that is what the population is doing up there. The Minneapolis way is to get more, and more important work done than should be possible in a day to get to “take it easy.” The idea is that the itinerary is complete, there’s nothing left to do but “take it easy.”
To “take it easy” would completely put into denial the notion that there is a drive to race to the bottom of stasis, to reach that goal of the most easy taking the fastest. But this feeling is baked into the lexical opening filled by these salutations. “Take it easy” falls into well-wishing, almost to say, I hope you get to take it easy after this meeting. To say you’re on your way to “take it easy” is to rue the day of Minneapolis life.
Again, this comes out of a culture and history in Minneapolis of solitary industriousness. Cautious collectivism, the huddle by the fire in winter; the hardship of logging all day finally giving way to time with the family; the difficulty of having yearlong pursuits through the winter demands a carpe diem mentality that as soon as possible you’ll “take it easy.”
Now this isn’t to say that one approach is better than the other. For my own part I find myself wishing that there was more room in Chicago to “take it easy” and there really is not. Working for the weekend means working through the weekend, preparing for next week in Chicago. But that doesn’t mean that working for the weekend in Minneapolis is without labor. On the contrary.
The real point is that these are two sides of the same need to be able to say “farewell,” it’s own arcane but specific salutation, which vary based on the regional culture. Finding and understanding the zones where “take it easy” is out of place is difficult, when I say it in Chicago it doesn’t seem to hit it’s mark. The difference makes me wonder about the differences between New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, but also between Philadelphia, St. Louis, and San Fransisco, or Missoula, Denver, and Santa Fe for that matter.