In Minnesota, we have to look out for each other

Jumper cables connect us when it's 25 below, columnist Dan Conradt says.

Dan Conradt column sig

The furnace hadn’t stopped running for a week, but I was still cold.

It didn’t help that I could see the house next door through tiny holes in my living room wall.

I zipped a parka over the two sweaters I was already wearing and stepped outside into air so cold that it took my breath away.

The car was covered with a dusting of snow so fine that it might have been powdered sugar.

I pulled the door open and the dome light lit the inside of the car in a feeble orange.


“Come on …” in whispered with a moist little puff that quickly disappeared. It was part plea, part threat.

I slipped the key into the ignition and …

Rrrrr rrrrr rrrrr.

I counted to 10, pumped the gas pedal a couple of times and tried again.

Rrrrr rrrrr rrrrr.

The last “rrrrr” was much less vigorous than the first.

The only thing more frustrating than a car that won’t start is a car that won’t start at 3:30 in the morning when it’s 25 below.

I was debating who to alarm with an early-morning phone call when headlights appeared from out of the swirling snow. In all the time I’d lived at the house with the see-through walls, I’d never seen another vehicle at that hour of the morning.


I flashed my lights and an oversized pick-up truck rolled to a stop alongside my car. The truck’s window eased down and a voice from inside asked “Everything alright?”

“Nope, car won’t start,” I said.

“You have jumper cables?” he asked.

“No, I don’t.”

I deserved a lecture and was pleased that I didn’t get one: “I’ve got a pair here,” he said. “Pop the hood, let’s see if we can get ‘er started."

He pulled the truck nose-to-nose with my car and hopped out. Except for two eye holes in an insulated face mask, he was dressed head-to-toe in cold weather gear.

Two minutes later my car was running. I wouldn’t even be late for work.

“Can I pay you something?” I asked. I knew he’d say no, but felt compelled to ask.


“Tell you what,” he said. “Get yourself a set of jumper cables. Give someone else a jump if you can, and we’ll call it even.”

“I’ll do it,” I promised. “Thanks for the help!”

“Hey, it’s winter in Minnesota,” he said with a smile that showed in his eyes. “We gotta look out for each other.”

He climbed back into his truck and disappeared into the blowing snow.

I bought a pair of heavy-duty jumper cables after work, and two days later I used them to help start a car at the mall.

The owner offered to pay me, but I said no.

It’s winter in Minnesota, I explained. We gotta look out for each other.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.

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