12 July 2004
A river runs through it
Fargo, North Dakota 2628.0 miles
A Red river at that, and while those of us who occupy the southern tier of the Plains insist that our river is the truly Red one see, that Oklahoma clay is good for something! the Red River of the North isn't some somnolent stream that winds its way between North Dakota and Minnesota because it doesn't have anything better to do. And while it seemed calm enough today, it wasn't so long ago that the city of Grand Forks had it up to here with the Red River.
I remembered the news coverage back in '97, but I had to see for myself: when the river crested at 54 feet flood stage is a mere 26 feet did it destroy the heart, the soul, of the city?
No way, Don José. Seven years after the fact, Grand Forks is glorious and, well, grand; I made just enough wrong turns through town to see quite a bit of the place, and it's clean, green, and (I hope) prepared for the next Flood of the Century. And as I passed over a bridge into Minnesota, I glanced down into that still, silent water and thought, "Sneaky bastard."
Upstream in Fargo (the Red flows north, ending up in Lake Winnipeg), things weren't quite so bad. But the biggest little city in North Dakota was already in the process of reinventing itself. As James Lileks once said:
[A] funny thing happened to Fargo during the 1980s and '90s the area started booming and never found a reason to stop. As the rest of North Dakota emptied out, people came to Fargo for the clean-fingernails jobs: insurance, hospitals, banking.
And to support them, a lot of fingernails were, and are, getting seriously soiled doing major construction. I have yet to see more than a small fraction of the city so far, but I had Lileks' article in mind as I crossed through town, and he's not at all kidding about the boom: there is so much activity in so many places you could almost sell this town as the home version of Faust. (Add your own blast of demented, tormented heat.)
Does this make Lileks the Midwestern Mephistopheles? Probably not. But note: friends and neighbors in the Okay City plan weekends in Branson, excursions to Vegas, trips to Padre. I spend half a week in North Freaking Dakota. And frankly, I think I'm getting the better end of the deal.