Nancy Wurtzel

Nancy Wurtzel
Minneapolis, Minnesota, US
May 27
Dating Dementia
Nancy Wurtzel writes Dating Dementia, a slightly-twisted blog about making big changes at midlife. Described as a blog you won't be able to forget -- no matter how hard you try -- Dating Dementia covers baby boomer challenges, aging parents, midlife angst, feminism and more. Nancy lived in Southern California for 33 years. In late 2011, she returned to her native Minnesota to help care for her Mother who had Alzheimer's disease.

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Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 30, 2011 12:22PM

Cars Are Not a Status Symbol in My Small Midwestern Town

Rate: 20 Flag

dirty car in winter Now that I officially live in rural Minnesota, I can't help but compare my former life in California with my new reality of small town living in Middle America.  For example, when I was shopping at Walmart this afternoon, I noticed that almost all of the vehicles looked alike.

You see, everyone's car is dirty here and it doesn't seem to bother the natives one hoot.  Out in  Southern California, a car is a definite status symbol and many people will spend a small fortune and an entire Saturday morning having their cars washed and "detailed."

In Minnesota, the only important "details" are that your vehicle have good tires, a working heater and enough antifreeze to enable it to transport you from place-to-place in below-freezing weather.  No one, and I mean NO ONE, gives a rats ass if their car or pickup is dirty.  In fact, some people consider it a winter 'badge of honor' and they purposely refuse to wash their vehicle all winter.  Let me tell you, by the end of February it's damn difficult to tell the make or color of many cars and trucks, and you wouldn't want to have to get close enough to push those vehicles out of a ditch should that happen -- and believe me it will happen at some point.

When you do slide into said ditch there is a certain protocol to follow.  First, the driver must pause with a surprised look upon his or her face.  Then, vigorous hitting of the steering wheel and swearing will commence.  Doesn't matter if you are man or woman, young or old.  The hitting and swearing are expected.

Next, grab your gloves and jump out of the vehicle to survey the situation. However, if you are stuck in a huge snowbank, you may have to climb out the driver's side window which will either be less impressive or a more impressive, depending upon if you get stuck in the window opening.

By this time, hopefully someone with a larger (and dirtier) vehicle will have stopped to "help out." Most of these good people will be willing to get up close and personal with your dirty car by giving you a push.  Yet, you will no doubt attract a few of what I like to call "ditch cheerleaders" -- men in their 70's who who have no intention of pushing you out, but they will most certainly stop to assess the situation and make helpful comments.

These cheerleaders will probably scratch their heads and say something like, "Yeah, I saw you were going way too fast when you hit that patch of black ice back there."  Or, "Say, bet you're real glad you didn't get your car washed since it will be full of mud by the time you get out of that ditch."

Your job is to smile, nod (all hitting and swearing is done by this point) and rummage in your trunk for a large bag of coarse gravel.  The gravel is to help your tires gain some traction and hopefully avoid having the vehicle sliding further into the ditch.

However, if you are a city girl like me, you probably won't have coarse gravel in your trunk.  I happen to prefer a store-bought bag of kitty litter, which will basically perform the same task. I have a theory that the dirtier the car, the coarser the gravel.  Hence you will find a nice bag of pristine kitty litter in my fairly-clean Camry hybrid.

That's right, my Camry will only be 'fairly clean' this winter.  Unlike California, where people pride themselves on their individuality, here everyone's job is to blend in.

I figure I'll get my car washed every three weeks or so this winter.  After all, I still have my California plates which will be a major tip-off that I'm really not a native.  People who really live here will expect me to do something stupid like try to keep my car clean.

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LOL! I am an Illinois/Wisconsin transplant to Georgia. I know exactly what you're talking about. Great pos!

I'm from small town Illinois where people aren't looking at cars that much either. But you can sure raise your status with a big pickup.
Ya, you betcha! ;-) Actually contemplated washing the car a couple days ago - decided against it, as I'm headed to the Twin Cities tomorrow and by the time I get back you'd never know I bothered. R
You may look like an outsider, but you've definitely got the local mindset figured out. Spent some time in Iowa. Don't miss the cold and dark, but I miss the people. Salt of the earth. R
Plus, we all have two or three big rock chips out of the windshield, but we don't want to replace the windshield until sanding season is over late next spring.

It's a different world. I just read in the NYTimes yesterday about outfitter chic, in which people want to look like they spend time in the harsh outdoors but don't want to be caught dead in something like Yaktrax. We love our Yaktrax, but a whole bunch of us wouldn't be caught dead in NY.
No kidding Nancy! I remember sitting at an intersection in the SF suburban yuppie-ville I lived in and saying to my friend, "Count them, there's one million dollars worth of automobiles waiting for the light!". I I was off, it wasn't by much. A few days ago I was in the Wilshire district of L.A. and lost, partially because my attention kept going to all the one, two, three and more-hundred-thousand dollar cars around me.

On the other hand, I remember going from CA back to CO to visit old friends several years ago, and even there, couldn't believe how few expensive foreign cars there were in evidence. My friend drove a BMW convertible and a big Mercedes and I was amazed to see the attention they drew from kids, wherever we went. In CA they wouldn't have gotten a second glance anywhere.
Made me laugh out loud!! Especially the "ditch cheerleaders"--sounds like my old man's been to Minnesota.
What about gas mileage...same as that in California, or not?
I was S.D. (South Dakota not San Diego) and remarked about how a friend's old Labrador was getting arthritic and gray muzzled. The native Dakotan said, "Yeah, I've got his grave dug." A friend of mine from North Carolina later was indignant. How coldhearted. I had to explain that, come winter, the ground would be too hard to dig a grave. Reality in the mid West is always close at hand.
Hmm, sounds about right.
Great post!
All true, but let me give you a tip. Kitty litter will not help with traction like gravel or sand. Kitty litter is made of clay, and will become slick as ice when wet. May I suggest a sand tube (or two) in the trunk of your Camry? It will provide some "road-hugging" weight, and be available when needed to get out of the ditch.
@ monocog: Good advice on the clay, bad on the sand tubes in a Camry, unless it's AWD, in which case it wouldn't need it anyway. Camry's are front wheel drive. More weight in the trunk would do nothing for front wheel traction.
I used my AAA membership only once. I ran into a snowdrift in rural Wisconsin and got stuck. The wind chill factor was 40 below. I moved here from balmy southeastern PA and wasn't prepared for the WI winters. Stay warm.
Oh, don't worry about whether you keep the sand in the front or back - the engine puts enough weight on the front that the sand won't make that much difference. But do get a couple sand tubes - they have them everywhere.

Unlike California, where people pride themselves on their individuality, here everyone's job is to blend in. Keep your eyes open on this one - you might change your mind.
So my Midwestern background (coupled with an Oregon tradition of beater cars) explains my 1985 Toyota. I haven't washed it in years. I've gone offroading in it, and generally beat the s* out of it. My only concern has been that it has to be in perfect mechanical order. I do stand out in Los Angeles when I'm passing through. I say that if you touch my car, you'll get AIDS. A great post.
Good for you for moving from sunny California for the land of 10,000 mosquitos per square foot in the summer! Your mom is a lucky one to have you! My husband is a Minnesota transplant, now living in California for over 23 years now, so reverse from you, more or less, and left his parents and sibs without ever looking back! Well, we do visit them a couple times a year and some even dare to visit us in crazy Cali! And if you ever got up north..north to Lake Tahoe in the winter, our cars look just like the ones in Minn, Minn! Yah You betcha!
Well told. Reminds me a bit of my years in New Hampshire. Here in Chicago, it's mix. Some people are obsessed with their cars and have heated garages. They wash their cars regularly in winter. Others just want to get from one place to another and let their cars get as grimy as the one in your picture, like rolling salt licks. There's something to be said for not having frozen windows and door locks. ;)
I agree-I lived in Wisconsin and the mud and the snow dirt was the new color for the car during the winter months.When you live out in farm land--You wash your car every once in a great while

Lee Bergeron
GREAT TIME! As a former resident of LA (still don't spell it out) I can tell you that multiple stupid actions will be expected of you: The locals will always let you go first at stop signs, will never cross the street in front of your car, charge you for any tow out of above snow drift and slow down when in front of you on one-lane roads. The good news is that you'll have plenty of offers to shovel your driveway/access.
Buy gravel, not kitty litter.

And a folding shovel.

I think it is very different in your area unlike in California. It is a big city that's why cars there are very different. In a small town like yours people there won't bother if their car tires are messed up already. Even if there are dirt in the car. Its a very different lifestyle that you have to adapt to.