“If you don’t like the weather….”
By Adam Granger
Well. We’ve had quite the winter, haven’t we?
The snow piled up so high that we could only see each other from the waist up: A guy could have gone outside without pants on and no one would have known. The glycerine ice and frigid temperatures filled our ERs with broken ankles and frostbite cases, and we made the national news with our wind chills. It seems fitting, then, to ruminate on weather in this early spring issue of the Bugle. (Please note that this won’t be about climate change; that’s at least another column.)
I grew up hearing the hometown locals declare, “We’ve got a saying around here: If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” They always said this with a wry, avuncular pride, as though Norman, Okla., was the only place that such an assertion could credibly be made. It wasn’t until I traveled the world that I realized everyone everywhere makes the same claim. I don’t speak Danish, or Welsh, or Czech, but I know I’ve heard it said in those languages, because I recognized the tone of wry, avuncular pride. And, of course, one hears it said here as well. I mean, heck, Minnesota’s got sun, rain, snow, sleet and tornadoes. Our weather ranges from tedious to dramatic, from equatorial to polar, from beautiful to dangerous. No tsunamis yet, but we’re working on getting those sea levels up. (Oops: I wasn’t going to mention climate change).
When I moved to the Twin Cities in early 1975, my first job was working in the box office of at the Guthrie Theater. On days when weather threatened to make attendance of that night’s performance difficult, theatergoers would sometimes telephone and ask to exchange their tickets for another date. We were instructed to say—diplomatically and politely, of course—that the Guthrie Theater had never canceled a performance for any reason, including the weather, that patrons were responsible for deciding whether they thought they could make it to the theater or not, and that if they couldn’t, they had to forfeit their tickets. No one ever complained. There was, in those days, an understanding that we lived in a region where weather could ground things, and that we, as residents of that region, would be expected to absorb some cost and inconvenience from time to time as a result.
When, a couple of years after my tenure at the Guthrie, I was playing guitar on A Prairie Home Companion, we would often do our live broadcasts from the old Science Museum, across the street from what is now the Fitzgerald Theater. In the summertime, we had the option of using the Museum’s theater or doing outdoor broadcasts in its garden area. A couple of hours before air time, we’d make the inside-or-outside decision based on a highly approximate recipe: a call to the National Weather Service, gut feeling (whatever that meant) and a healthy dollop of sky-gazing—seriously. Despite the alchemical nature of this process, we got it wrong only once, when a squall forced a 20- minute suspension of the broadcast, while we all—audience members included—humped gear and instruments from the outside to the inside, set everything back up and resumed the show.
Heading out on the road in the wintertime in those days carried with it a presumptive risk potential. My first wife is from Rhinelander, Wis.; my second and final wife is from Red Lake County, Minn.; and I’m from Oklahoma. Lots of Thanksgiving and Christmas trips were made to those places, and if you add in a lifetime of traveling to gigs as a musician, I’ve had more than my share of winter driving drama: sliding into ditches, collisions and near-collisions, strandings and the like. And I’m one of the lucky ones: a survivor. Back then, there would be several little articles in the paper (“little” because in that time they weren’t major news) about some poor soul whose vehicle was found buried in a snow bank on some section road somewhere. We accepted this as part of living here: We certainly were sorry for the victims and their loved ones but, like polio or duck and cover, it was a part of life—the way it was.
One of the benefits of living a long life (besides living a long life) is that one gets, literally, to witness evolution. In 2019, I can, by simply looking at my phone, know more about what’s going to fall out of the sky than did the experts we called back in 1979. It’s miraculous and it’s lifesaving, but best of all it allows us to say, with more authority than ever, “We’ve got a saying around here. . .”
Adam Granger has written for National Lampoon magazine, A Prairie Home Companion and Recycled Greeting Cards. He lives with his wife and his cat in St. Anthony Park, and makes his living as a guitar player.