I think this is the first trip to Fargo undertaken for no particular reason. For years, it was Going Home, out of duty. Holidays, visits. For many years I had a state of dread or resignation or endurance, simply because I had to be someone else when I went home. Not a drastic change, not a mummery performance from start to finish, but you know how it is. Your parents see you a certain way, and for good reason. I try my best not to do that with Daughter - oh, the way you’re wearing you hair now is not something I would have anticipated when you were seven! But you can’t help it. As I thought the other day while walking Birch around the block, parenthood is like Flowers for Algernon, except the book ends in the middle, and it’s still not a happy story.
What provoked it? No one died. No funerals. But the summer had passed without a trip up Highway Ten, and I had this pang. This longing to see the Treasure City pirate, the firetower, the fields, the green world in the bright sun, the little towns and old signs. Had anything changed in a year? No doubt. Would I notice? Hope so. Would it make me feel connected again, or distant in that way when you revisit things and the accumulation of time feels like an ocean of cotton between you and the bygone times?
Most important, would there be road construction?
I hate road construction. When it goes down to one lane, I get the agita. Not so much if I’m on the right, and there’s a shoulder, but when there’s no exit and no escape I get the constricted sternum that goes back too many damned decades to the panic attacks and agoraphobia. Oh I get by, but still. Well, let’s check the MNDoT page.
Ah: a variety of projects, all planned for 2023-2025. Necessary incremental improvements to a box bridge under a road for a creek, or a widening of the road at Becker, a regraded road connecting 10 to 19, and so on. But everything for 2022 is done, on schedule. So it’s a fast blast up, away at 9, out of the metro by ten, St. Cloud by eleven, Fargo by 3?
Almost. At three I was at the graveyard. But first we back up.
I’m here because I did not want the summer to end without heading up 10. Even though it’s technically over, it’s warm, and sunny, and the trees are still green.
With a few exceptions. On the way up I saw a few that were getting ahead of the plot. There’s always a few who seem as if it’s trouble being green. All those expectations. Nice to just relax and get a little wan at the end of the day.
Good drive up, except for a hellish patch of Highway Ten construction I forgot about. I’ll have a different route home. Don’t know what. Paused first at the St. Cloud rest stop, because after you’ve shouldered your way through the exurbs and hit the open road it’s nice to finally be . . . here.
Back on the road, then Royalton. Good news, everyone!
Of course I had to stop at Treasure City.
I wanted to see the condition of the concrete deer out back in the “play area.” I didn’t go inside, because it’s the same dusty junk and I have much video of it. Can’t imagine it’s changed. Don’t know if they’ve sold anything but the .08% of the popular merchandise that keeps the place afloat.
The deer has not been fixed.
They are crying for attention:
I’ve never seen kids back here gamboling around. They want to be inside pawing at the Stuff. The “zoo” lends the place an air of forgotten roadside America, which it isn’t, really; families still stop here. I brought Natalie here twice, at least, the last time when we went up to visit my Dad for her last trip. That was one of the best. Anyway, I texted her that I was here, and she asked if any of the deer had been seriously abraded by time. Why yes. Behind a chain link fence, a headless deer.
With red paint around the stump of its neck.
BRING THE KIDS FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
Back on the road, voice texting with Natalie and Astrid and listening to old radio.
This will never not seem funny.
Stopped at Verndale, of course, to visit the WW1 memorial and sit in the park. They have a new water tower.
It’s a town of about 40 people, isn’t it? How do they have a new water tower?
Four hundred and forty-seven souls, down from 600 in 2010. Wonder what happened.
The convenience store is closed, but the grocery store, which had closed for a while, is open. I think. It’s fatal for a small town to lose those.
As I returned to my car I saw something gold in the gutter.
It’s a Verndale Pirate. A token of some civic event. It’ll never leave my car. As long as there is the golden token, the road beckons.
Silly, I know.
Then to Staples, the town with which I have a complicated history. I mean, I have no history at all, really, except for things that happened. The time I was walking around taking pictures, and some mom with her kid braced me, said I was from the Cities, wasn’t I, and someone was going to buy the Batcher store, weren’t they.
She refused to believe me and was oddly aggressive about it. I do remember that I was wearing a black duster and sunglasses, and probably didn’t look like I was from these parts.
Then I wrote something about Highway Ten for the paper, and was less than complimentary about the street life of the main drag. This drew huffy letters. I’m sorry, but it’s sad and dead. The old Lefty’s bar needs paint, and needed it ten years ago. Google street view, then:
The green and red are almost gone now. I've been waching it get more and more weathered as the years pass.
The theater marquee is empty, and has been since Christian Bale was Batman. One of the corner stores that looked like this . . .
. . . has suffered a “stucco upgrade” and it looks worse; it's like the serial-killer-mask if a building could be a serial killer.
As for the big Batcher building, empty for decades, well, it used to have an antique store, but now it’s just against everything.
And back on the road. Straight shot now, no stopping. The texts stopped, as Natalie went to class, and Astrid - in England - to bed. After I ran out of old radio, or rather the desire to listen to it, I turned on the radio, heard the opening notes of a ZZ Top song, rolled down the window and turned it up loud, and punched it.
It’s not a trip if you haven’t hit 80 at some point.
Just for a bit, just to do it. Then you slow, because it’s not worth it. I got pulled over by Marge from “Fargo” on this stretch a few years ago, and I deserved every bit of the ticket.
At Moorhead I declined to plow through town, and took a north route to skirt Fargo. Past suburban homes from the 70s and 80s, part of a Northern expansion that never took root. Everything moved south and west. Crossed the highway, over the bridge. The little church appeared in the distance, and in a minute I heard the sound you forget when you live in the city. The scrunch of gravel beneath your wheels.
Here I was, and all of a sudden I did not want to be here.
But that’s tomorrow.
Zukor and DeMille? This will be big! BIG I tell you!
We start at a race track, where two police detectives brace the Falcon, because they want his help finding a crook. Makes sense. Completely plausible. Anyway, we're not here for the movie, but the details.
Hey, it’s Della again.
She did a lot of movies, but mostly programmers and smaller roles, I think. TV would be her home.
And now, some inadvertent documentary. Long-time Bleatniks and/or students of LA architecture and restaurant history will know this right away:
The beautiful Margie Stewart was the first and only Official Army Poster girl during WWII and many millions of pin up photos were distributed to soldiers across the globe. In fact, Eleanor Roosevelt actually tried, but failed to get the posters stopped, and many a soldier was pleased that she did fail.
Chili Williams was born Marian Sorenson on December 18, 1921 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When she was a teenager she moved to New York City to become a model. Agent Harry Conover signed her and decided to change her name. In 1943 a photo of Chili wearing a polka-dot bikini appeared in Life magazine. Over the next few months she received more than 350,000 fan letters. She quickly became one of the soldiers favorite pin-up girls and was nicknamed "The Polk-Dot Girl". Chili landed a movie contract and got small parts in movies like Having Wonderful Crime and Copacabana. Meanwhile her romances with Rory Calhoun and Jack Carson kept her in the gossip columns. She found herself at the center of a scandal when she worked with photographer Earl Moran. His wife claimed she walked in on Earl and a nude Chili in his studio.
Anyway. The Falcon has a spunky sidekick, a female-type cab driver, and she’s a total cliche. It's all a cliche, being a rote programmer.
But if the mood's right, it's fun. See how long it takes you before you spot the fellow who defined the tough-guy accent for decades.