If you're looking for a new place to take up roots, there's one general rule of thumb you can follow to give yourself the best shot at happiness, contentment and serenity, and it doesn't take that much research. You can almost decide from your couch.
Forget about school systems and clean air when cramming for a place to live. Never mind crime rates. If you're serious about looking for a place to live and don't have any darts and a large map handy, all you have to do is sit down with a stack of end-of-the-world movies. If a city is included in any of them, stay away.
New York is a perfect example. Check out any doomsday flick and the Big Apple will be a target. And then it will be wiped out, or come close to it. You'll see CGI footage of the Statue of Liberty getting destroyed and skyscrapers falling like a stack of Jenga blocks.
California is another example because, like New York, it has landmarks familiar to all of us. Any earthquake movie is bound to wipe the city of San Francisco off the map and take the Golden Gate with it.
What have you learned so far? Right, stay away from the coasts. That includes the Gulf Coast, too, which is still recovering from Katrina.
Choosing where to live is hard, but at least we've narrowed it down a little.
But I have a better idea: Why not just stay in Minnesota? The closest we got to a Hollywood blockbuster was "The Mighty Ducks," a movie that's more about hockey than winter, but one that underscores the fact that our climate shapes who we are - hockey is part of our culture, just like snow and ice. And if a few blizzards is all we have to put up with, we'll take it. Yes, by the time January rolls around, half the population of this icebox we call a state will be mumbling something to the effect of, "This is the last bleepedy-bleep winter I'm bleeping spending here" but for most of us, that's just talk born of anger and frostbite. Most of us will never set foot in Arizona, let alone move there.
I'll take blizzards over hurricanes any day. Maybe there is more to whine about - the cold, the ice, the snow, the windchill - but blizzards don't have anywhere near the destructive muscle of hurricanes. We might get stuck at work or at a friend's house once in a while, but at least after a blizzard we have a home to come home to - blizzards cover homes with ice dams; hurricanes eat homes for breakfast. We clean up with a shovel and an ice scraper after a blizzard; hurricane victims clean up with bulldozers and chainsaws. Then they go to funerals.
Even one of the worst blizzards of our time - the "Halloween Blizzard" of 1991 - is now just a mere benchmark. The day we start naming snowstorms, then you can move, although "Blizzard Bob" lacks the theatrical punch of "Hurricane Katrina." Hurricanes get named because they have the potential to be history-making - Andrew, Irene, Gloria, Katrina, etc. Sandy, you could argue, topped them all simply because of her timing and was a key ingredient in this week's superstorm that had some kind of effect (strong winds, torrential rain or massive snowfall) on more than 20 states.
My cousin Kathy, a Minnesota native - she's more Swedish than lefse and brown sugar - has been a New Yorker for 22 years. She's lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for the last eight years and runs coffee shops there and in Manhattan with her husband JD. They came out of the superstorm feeling extremely lucky, she told me this week. Kathy and her family did the hunker down thing, joining the masses in her neighborhood in gathering food prior to the storm and said by Sunday the stores around her had run out of bread.
"(Tuesday morning) we drove around the neighborhood and saw how lucky we were," Kathy said in an email. "Multiple trees were uprooted, windows and garage gates blown off, construction sites were a mess. One block from our house a car was crushed by a very large tree. Many buildings were completely flooded including a studio space that I use only a few blocks away."
I suspect you really have to love New York to live there for 22 years, and Kathy does, but she also misses Minnesota weather - even our winters. After a hurricane, people get in a boat to get down the street; after a snowstorm, people get on sleds and snowmobiles to have fun. And since you can't sled down a New York street, her kids have yet to be part of those good sledding experiences that are offered up after a snowstorm.
The way experts are talking, superstorms like Sandy will become more commonplace in the future and those Hollywood scripts will be played out in real life more frequently. There's no denying storms are getting worse; the extremes have even affected us in the Upper Midwest (see drought of 2012). Still, that's a far cry from what coastal states or those in "tornado alley" put up with on an annual basis.
If we here in Minnesota can take anything away from the likes of Sandy and Katrina, it's perspective. Although lives can be and are lost in tornadoes, and even blizzards, we don't have those epic "killer" storms that take us out of our comfort zone and rob us of our peace of mind and sanity. When we hear a blizzard is coming we stock up on food staples and movies, we don't have to board up our businesses and decorate our yards with sandbags.
In short, we're lucky. Cold, but lucky.