From The Washington Post:
Last week, I sat in a dunk tank at the American Legion in Red Lake Falls, Minn., as part of a fundraiser for the town pool. Being in a dunk tank is one of the few occasions a grown-up can shout mean things at elementary-school kids in public without fear of censure, and I took full advantage as kids stepped up and lobbed softballs in my direction.
I didn’t realize it in the chaos of the moment, but there was an element of poetic justice to the whole affair: That evening marked one year, to the day, since I had penned an article offhandedly naming Red Lake County America’s “worst place to live.” With that story, I unwittingly put into motion a chain of events that would lead to me visiting the place, moving my family there, and finally, that day at 6:30 p.m. under a big blue Midwestern sky, getting dropped into a tub of lukewarm water over and over by some of the finest arms at J.A. Hughes Elementary School.
Red Lake County had earned its “worst place” moniker by coming in dead last among America’s 3,000+ counties in a federal ”natural amenities” index. The index, like countless other oddball government datasets I’ve written about over the years, assigns a score to counties based on physical characteristics — hills, valleys, bodies of water — that most people would agree make a place pleasant to live in.
As it turned out, Red Lake County doesn’t have any actual lakes (there’s no falls in Red Lake Falls, either). It’s largely flat, summers are hot, and winters are brutally cold. You crunch all those numbers together on a spreadsheet and it may not be a surprise that …