Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Minnesota Thanksgiving Tradition

It’s Thanksgiving week in Minnesota, and in small town public works departments all over the state, maintenance guys are digging out the town Holiday decorations and heading for Main Street.

Dented sheet metal snowmen wearing top hats and mufflers. Big plastic snowflakes. Dusty green plastic garlands. Rusty candy canes. Snargles of Holiday lights. Eight-foot plywood stars for water towers.

Decorations etched in our childhood memories. Decorations that lost their luster forty years ago. Decorations that would probably be replaced if times—and the town budget—were better.

But the times, like the decorations, are what they are. Two guys will put everything on a pick-up, take the cherry picker, a handful of tools, and some traffic cones, and spend the day bolting it all to light poles from one end of town to the other.

It’s familiar work for the street garage old timers. They know every snowflake, snowman, and candy cane the way most Minnesotans know their family Christmas tree ornaments. They know which decoration goes on what pole. They know every bolt and clamp, too—right down to the bottom bracket on that one snowman that goes on the pole outside the municipal liquor store—the bracket that “Swede,” the shop foreman, rigged with a radiator hose clamp after that big wind came through on Christmas night in 1987.

One guy will get up in the cherry picker, and bolt. The other will stand below, and warn pedestrians to steer clear. Everyone else in town will mutter that hanging the Holiday decorations is a one man job.

Undaunted, the two guys will work light pole to light pole, up one side of Main Street and down the other. They’ll finish near sunset, and as that early winter dusk settles in, they’ll plug everything in or flip a switch on a timer, and the Holidays will return to Main Street again.

It won’t be like lighting the tree at Rockefeller Center or the White House. No big ceremony. But the two guys will stand there for a moment and take it in.

“Not too shabby,” one of them will say.

“Yeah, the other guy will say, “Close enough for government work.”