Sour Grapes

January 31, 2011 by cynick | Posted in humans , saint-paul

An annual pleasure of mine is armchair-observation of the St. Paul Winter Carnival Medallion Hunt that is put on by the Pioneer Press.

To the uninitiated: the newspaper, under circumstances nobody to date has witnessed (that I know of, anyway), conceals a small plastic puck somewhere on public property, almost always a park in St. Paul, and then clues are printed daily in the newspaper over the course of the Carnival.

It doesn’t matter how much snow piles up, or how cold it gets: Somebody always finds the thing – after all, there’s up to ten grand in it for the finder – but also, and perhaps more importantly, the finder enters the very exclusive club of the people who have found it.

It saddens me to declare that the hunt has become rather dumbed down as the years have gone on; I seem to recall that when I was a kid, the clues were much more about St. Paul history, geography, streets, and historic “characters”, rather than today’s sets of clues that are full of very fresh pop references, lyrics from music that Baby Boomers listen to, veiled shout-outs to people that work at the newspaper, and even self-references to clues from previous years.

I never truly have the time to sit down and try to decipher the clues; and in fact, even when I were a young lad, I couldn’t have looked for it because I had a job slinging the newspaper. Conflict of interest, you know.

I’m interested in the human story of the outcome, always being gratified when it is found by some person or group that has put in much effort over the years, but always came up short. More often than not, there is a sense that the finders truly deserve their prize.

It’s enough of an interesting and unique story that a documentary film crew from New York filmed several of the hunts in the early 2000s, and profiled some of the most interesting characters that go out with their shovels, year after year. The resulting film, No Time For Cold Feet, is packed with wonderful lore and stories of the hunt over its nearly sixty year history, as well as lots of footage of people digging for gold – including a classic melee in the Como Park woods on the night of a last clue.

I was privileged to see the premiere screening of the film in Minnesota, and, as it turned out, the audience was stacked with people that are in the movie – they were easy to spot by their markedly louder hootin’ and hollering at seeing themselves on the big screen.

For some people, the hunt is a way of life. They schedule vacations around it, study old clues year ’round, and many fly in from different places around the world.

Subsequently, there is an enjoyable sub-aspect to the hunt: Complaints from people who weren’t lucky enough to hit the jackpot. I expected there would be a good whine selection when I heard this year’s outcome: it was found after only seven clues! Thousands of people, robbed of five days of bliss.

And, believe it or not, when the story of the discovery was published on the Internet, the comments did not leave me disappointed. (Comments full of sour grapes, you say? What a novel concept!) (Quick aside: the article – and ha, now I see the print version as well! – contains one of my favorite gaffes: “..pouring over a map of the St. Paul parks”. Pouring.. what? Coffee? Milk? That’s the problem with using only a spellchecker: it couldn’t possibly know that the author meant to use “poring” instead.)

A common complaint was that “there is no way the thing could have been found after seven clues”, but someone replied that they had sent their daughter to about fifty feet from where it was. Some satisfaction must have been attained just by getting her that close.

In the article about the discovery, a member of the victorious team states that they saw a lone man digging by one of the trees mentioned by the clues, but she “didn’t have the heart to tell him”. A commenter wrote his outrage in caps: “SEEMS TO ME SHE HAD NO HEART!!”

I disagree. I think anyone who is that gung-ho to be out there at 3am, digging away, deserves to live the dream as long as possible. With luck, he hadn’t paid attention to the women, and went home not long after, and will never know.

A less whimsical statement is that it would probably be unwarranted for a couple of women to announce to a strange man in a lonely gully at 3am that they had just found something that’s worth ten thousand dollars.

Another whine was that, since the park was closed, the finders should be cited for being in the park after dark. This fellow said it wasn’t fair, because the police had chased him away, but not the people who found it. Note to this sad victim of the self-esteem movement: You didn’t want it enough! If you really want it, what you do is, you say, “Yes, Officer. Sorry, Officer”, and then double back once the cops are gone, and resume digging.

I suppose he would like to see the winners stripped of their prize.

_ Your Honor, my client demands an Instant Remedy whereby the medallion is returned to its Original Placement in the park so that he can Search for it during Legal Park Hours._

He forgets this one fact: The paper always releases the next day’s clue at 12am. It used to be the case that teams would have someone wait down at the newspaper headquarters, get the clue, and then phone it in to the rest of the team who were waiting at whatever park for the information, where they would immediately apply it and start digging. (That is another in a long line of traditions that the Internet has wrecked: the “phone relay” is no longer needed as a hunter’s device) By the last day, there can be thousands of people out digging in the middle of the night. Try telling them to leave!

Then there were several complaints about safety. Apparently, to get to the hiding place, one had to go down an ancient staircase that had been completely snowed in and iced over. Of the many revelations that have come out over the years, as far as I know there have never been specific statements about how and when the treasure is buried, but one assumes it was buried long before last December’s blizzard. Should they have moved it somewhere else? Would that have been “fair”?

Yes, let’s make it completely safe, so that everyone has an equal chance of finding the medallion. In fact, let’s put out many medallions – like an Easter Egg hunt! – all worth about $5. Then everyone can be a winner!

That sounds like an awful lot of fun, doesn’t it, kids?