“Robbie’s never been to the Midwest before? He has to take a minnow shot with us!”
If you ever hear those words directed at you, run. I was cornered and not wanting to seem like an uptight guy from Hollywood that was too cool for anyone or anything, I responded with feigned confidence, “line ‘em up!”
And just like that, two farmer boys looking every bit the part and I shoved a shot glass filled with Jack Daniels and a live minnow fish into our mouths. After feeling it wiggling its way down my body, I decided to slam a few more shots of Jack to dull my notion of what I had just done.
That’s just one tidbit of the experience I had in Brooten, Minnesota—population 622—for my girlfriend’s cousin’s wedding this weekend. Having never lived outside of Los Angeles or Orange County in my life, this was quite a different journey.
Seeing such a different way of life makes you think so I’d like to spend this column comparing lifestyle possibilities between Santa Monica living and small town Midwest living. Let’s weigh them up, shall we?
Traffic – This one probably hurts Santa Monica the most. It’s no secret that traffic on the Westside can be pretty brutal—I’ve spent 40 minutes just trying to get on the other side of the 405 going through Wilshire during rush hour. This is probably the biggest deterrent from big city living.
Brooten, Minnesota, doesn’t have a single traffic light, merely stop signs. Rush hour is a foreign word to these people and neighboring “bigger” city Glenwood has one stop sign, which makes giving directions a lot easier. “Then you make a left at the light.” “Which light?” “THE light. We only have one.”
Traffic isn’t just an inconvenience; it really affects your emotions and mental state. I have a tough time spending 45 minutes just to make the eight mile trek to the Hollywood Improv to perform stand-up comedy, because I’m uptight and worried I won’t make it on time, yelling in my car for people to get out of the way (my windows are up, it’s harmless.)
I’m so high-strung and tense, almost like I just got out of a fight, and then I have to quickly calm down and get ready to be funny onstage in front of a couple hundred strangers.
It takes an emotional toll. Maybe that’s why Midwesterners are so nice and laidback.
Social Possibilities – Here’s our counterattack to our traffic blow. Santa Monica has endless options for nightlife, even daylife (is that a thing? You get what I mean.) I can spend my Saturdays in Santa Monica biking a mile over to the , pick up a sandwich along the way, relax in the sun, play volleyball, head over to for some cheap beers with friends and plan our night. We have to plan our night because we have so many options. We could eat dinner at any of the dozens, probably hundreds of bars and restaurants along Main Street, Wilshire and Montana Avenue. It’s actually a tough process to thin out our options and make a decision because there is so much going on.
If I lived in Brooten, Minnesota, let me tell you what I’d be doing. I’d wake up at dawn to go feed the cows, which is no easy task. It takes these farmers a long time to do it and I’m sure they know what they’re doing so it isn’t just them being slow.
I’d walk around this big open farm for a while, kicking rocks or curing boredom some other way. If I wanted to go see my friends, I better hope they’re my next door neighbors because even a “next door” neighbor is about two miles away.
Brooten has two bars, both as small as here on 11th and Wilshire at best. And with the population at a mere 622, I’m guessing I’d see nothing but familiar faces night after night.
Would I pack up my bags and move to Brooten just for cheap rent, more space, no traffic and cheap drinks? Absolutely not. I don’t have it in me.
But I had an amazing time meeting new people, people I don’t see out here, and getting a taste of their way of life. I love being thrown into situations and places where I don’t belong and learning as much as I can while trying to fit in as best I can.
I know I’m Californian through and through, though, because even after a week on a cow farm, my first stop after pulling out of LAX last night was to In’N’Out.