Last year, we noticed that we had been to 42 of the 50 states, and decided that within the next couple of years it would be fun to knock out the eight remaining. First on the list: North Dakota. Bonus: The route from Minneapolis — into which airport we flew — and Fargo required but a small detour to achieve a bucket list item of 25 years’ standing.
Darwin, Minnesota is the proud home of the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota, a real thing memorialized in a song I have loved since I bought Weird Al Yankovic’s soundtrack album UHF back in 1989. If you’re unfamiliar with the song, fix that — “The Biggest Ball of Twine In Minnesota” on YouTube — and then go read the song’s Wikipedia page because somebody had a lot of fun writing it up. (“As the unnamed narrator recalls his trip to the titular attraction …”)
Buzzing with delight, we drove through rural western Minnesota to Fargo. Rural western Minnesota is picturesque farm country, which is good because there is a whole lot of it. The drive is broken up maybe three-quarters of the way to Fargo by the purportedly world-famous but heretofore unknown (to me) Rothsay, Minnesota, which celebrates its status as the “Booming Prairie Chicken Capital of Minnesota” with a magnificent statue. I love World’s Largest Anythings, really, but especially the hyperspecialized sort. I don’t expect there’s a lot of competition for the title of “World’s Largest Prairie Chicken Statue.” I suspect this one may double as the “World’s Only Monument to the Prairie Chicken.”
An hour later we were in Fargo. We had 36 hours to see the whole town, which at first seemed excessive. We stopped at a bar to review the options and fortify ourselves. First stop: Naps. (I have aged past the point where I can have two beers at lunch without napping.) Second stop, the Roger Maris Museum. Third stop, dinner. Day Two would be devoted to a pioneer village called “Bonanzaville” and driving back to Minneapolis.
The Roger Maris Museum is a small but lovingly curated display in an enormous indoor shopping mall. The story of Maris’ pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record will leave you hating Ford Frick and the stodginess of many alleged baseball fans in equal measure. The most moving quote by Maris, from a press conference after the 1961 season, is prominent: “As a ballplayer, I would be delighted to do it again. As an individual, I doubt if I could possibly go through it again.” This poor kid.
Dinner … I confess I anticipated Fargo as the kind of city where the local Olive Garden proudly trumpets winning the local paper’s Best Italian Restaurant award five years’ running. I was wrong. Fargo’s culture has a whiff of Detroit about it, in that everyone who is left is there because they love the place and is determined to make something of it. I had a couple of spectacular cocktails and an excellent sandwich and called it a night.
The next morning we headed off to Bonanzaville, with a brief detour to see a livestock supply store. There I learned that the newest thing in fighting horn flies is to shoot one’s cattle with paintballs filled with insect repellent, which made me want to be a rancher for the first time ever. (Search YouTube for “VetGun Horn Fly Control.”)
Bonanzaville is magnificent. It is billed as “a pioneer village” but is, in fact, a museum that seems to have been put together by asking the entire population of the Red River Valley if they had anything interesting in the attic. This leads to a sort of People’s History Through Junk Drawers, which is great. Several of the houses from the early 1900s are essentially my Great-Aunt Edith’s house, which is more interesting to think about now than it was when I was 6 and it was boring and creepy. There’s an interesting contrast for a city kid, too, in that the oldest house in North Dakota (on permanent exhibit there) is a one-room log shack first built around the time that Chicago homes got reliable running water. Those eras seem like they should be a hundred years apart. I am deeply jealous of those who got to switch back and forth between them.
Next up: Oklahoma. Suggestions?