From California Hippie to Minnesota Hipster

Casey HeinischIt’s odd how much life can change over the course of a year.

At this time last year I was living in Humboldt County, Northern California, in an area known as the Redwood Empire.  I could see the ocean from my front porch, the temperature was almost always between 50 and 70 degrees, and I worked on an organic farm.

Cut to a year later and I am shoveling my jeep out of a snow bank, cursing this damned Minnesota winter and its 20 below zero wind chill. What happened? Who makes the decision to leave California to come to Minnesota?

Well, after high school, I decided to forgo the traditional route of entering college right away, opting instead for the road less traveled. After living in multiple places around the country I ended up on the Northern California coast. It was a place where people went to get away from the world: runaways, artists, musicians, wandering hippies, travelers, and everything in between.

Life was idyllic in a lot of ways, the air was clean, the scenery was gorgeous, and the pace was slow and laid back — but it was also extremely isolated and closed off. The town I lived in had a population of about 30,000 people, and if you wanted to go to a city your only options were San Francisco, six hours to the south, and Portland, ten hours to the north — on one of the three roads in or out of town.    Locals refer to this as “living behind the Redwood Curtain”.

You begin to go crazy — seeing the same people every day, going to the same coffee shop every day, shopping at the same grocery store every week, seeing all the same faces in the bars.  Life tends to get very stagnant. The only real business in Humboldt county is the marijuana industry, both legal and illegal.

That, in itself, doesn’t mean much, but it definitely shapes the type of people that live in the area.  Dreadlocks, drum circles, and diggery-do’s are on every empty patch of grass. Hippies everywhere.

With the majority of people earning a living working in some aspect of the marijuana industry, this leaves the citizens with a lot of free time and expendable money.

It didn’t matter what time of the day it was or even what day it was, the downtown was bustling with people eating, shopping, drinking coffee, or just hanging out. However it also meant that tons of transient hippie kids would be begging for food, money, work, or weed, usually all four.

For every good thing about Humboldt County there seemed to be an equal bad thing. People had seemed so cool, so different, so subversive at first — It felt as if I had woke up to find myself in a Hunter S. Thompson novel. But after being with them for a few months I began to see that the real people underneath the façade of carefree, peace and love attitudes, were really suspicious, nervous and outright paranoid.

I began to get disillusioned with the realities of the area. There were no opportunities in terms of a career, or even a decent living — if I didn’t want to be locked into the medical marijuana industry for the rest of the foreseeable future.

I woke up one morning and really looked at my life, and those around me, and decided that I didn’t want to have to bury my money in the yard and I didn’t want to spend the night in the woods avoiding the helicopters that are circling the mountainside. I wanted to be able to trust someone. To always have your guard up is very tiring.

I decided it was time to come home to the Midwest and get my life back to where I was at least looking in the direction I wanted to be going. I chose to move to Minneapolis because I had family here, and it was a major city with things to do and people to see. It held the possibility of a real future.

It takes a special type of person to make a true Humboldt County resident. I just didn’t have the right stuff, I guess.  I loaded everything I owned into a couple of big travelers backpacks and boarded the Amtrak to begin my sojourn east.

I was expecting some transcendental experience to take place on the train, I was going to meet interesting people and see the country in a way most Americans never do. What I got was five days of restless and uncomfortable sleep, microwave sandwiches, and incessantly crying babies. Needless to say, this is one of those experiences where the idea is a lot more attractive than the reality.

I moved in with my brother in his Uptown apartment. It’s a vibrant neighborhood, very arts-oriented, with live music playing all over the place. Compared to where I was, it’s a cultural mecca.

It was total sensory overload at first. Then I started to notice that everyone rides the same bike — just in different shades of the same fluorescent color, the same people show up at the same bars, and I see the same faces in the same grocery store. Gone were the dreadlocks and dirty tie-dye Grateful Dead t-shirts, here were the skinny jeans, faded rock band t-shirts, and ironic tattoos of moustaches or PBR cans.

I had succeeded in trading Hippies for Hipsters.

It is incredible how similar these two groups of people are, even though both proclaim to be nothing like the other.  I realize that no matter where you are, people are essentially the same. We are all trying to make do with what we have, while trying to be an individual at the same time. I had expected to find a completely different way of life here, and in some ways it is, but mostly it’s the same. People still talk about the same things, make the same jokes, want the same things. A new town isn’t going to make me feel any differently, it’s what I am doing with my life that will. If I can feel good about my actions I will be happier.

Once I realized that I wasn’t going to find a completely different way of life here in The Cities, I decided to just buckle down and get my life back on track. I checked out a couple schools and ended up choosing MCTC, because of its location, price, and my brother was a student there. It has been a great experience for me.

I get asked all the time “Why would you move to Minnesota from California?” A lot of people have their own romantic notions of living in other places, and California seems to be one of those states of which people have great expectations.

Truth is, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. In fact, sometimes it is crispy, brown, and dead. There are times when I wish I was still in California — almost every time I step outside this winter — but as a whole I am glad to be where I am.

Minneapolis is a great place to be.