Day 15: Fargo, ND to Bismarck, ND

Sunday, September 13

On Saturday night I texted the hosts that I’d probably leave around 10 a.m. the next day and said I hoped I’d get to see them before I left. At the time I meant it. But on Sunday morning I was dressed and ready to go before 9, suddenly itchy to get out of Fargo. A strange rash had appeared on the front of my legs near my ankles, I assumed caused by the combination of dirty sheets and trip stress.

I stole downstairs in my bare feet to photograph the art, then headed back to collect my things. I still thought I’d be able to sneak out. But the house has two staircases, and when I got back down, the guy, J, was in the kitchen making coffee. (I feel like not revealing his full name will let me write more honestly about the experience.) I told him I was about to take off and he asked me if I wanted some coffee. I said sure.

I asked him many questions about Fargo, mentioning that it seemed to be in an upswing. He was pleased to hear it; the upswing is a result of his work. He and his wife are directly involved in building the community, bringing in businesses, advising on new construction, and generally being visionaries for the city. They’re the reason the city has Uber service. They started the farmer’s market, and it’s become a big success. They’re doing good work.

They’re also the definition of hipster. The Wikipedia entry for hipster is not bad, actually, and pretty much nails them:

The hipster subculture typically consists of white millennials living in urban areas. The subculture has been described as a “mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior” and is broadly associated with indie and alternative music, a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility (including vintage and thrift store-bought clothes), generally progressive political views, organic and artisanal foods, and alternative lifestyles. Hipsters are typically described as affluent or middle class young Bohemians who reside in gentrifying neighborhoods.

When I was sitting waiting for the coffee, I noticed that they had the same bread machine book as we do and mentioned it. J told me what they’re really into right now is infusion—extracting flavors from plants and vegetables by storing them in a solvent for a period of time. He showed me the book they just got and pointed out some infusions underway on the bar cart.


Meanwhile, J’s wife came downstairs in bell bottoms and put on a record that their friends gave them and that they’re totally obsessed with right now.

I feel like I’m being condescending, and I don’t mean to be. These are good people. The problem is me: I have a mixed relationship with all of these signifiers from a culture in which I participate both naturally and warily. It strikes me as potentially problematic that a hipster couple has so much pull in this city, but why does it? Isn’t it pretty much working out fine for Brooklyn? I’ll continue to ponder.

The drive to Bismarck was flat and ugly, too many light green fields, too much sun. But sometimes there would be swampy areas with small lakes, and the lakes were an unusual deep teal color. I liked those lakes.

I pulled into a McDonald’s for a rest stop and decided to get more coffee. The two cashiers were well under 16 years old. Mine was maybe 11 or 12. I looked around to see if any adults were part of the operation and saw a stocky woman in a headset who I guessed was their mother. My kid was a natural at the friendly but impersonal customer interaction, but he had some trouble counting change. He’s got time.

My primary goal of the day was to do laundry. I checked in to the Holiday Inn, located on a depressing strip of chain hotels and restaurants in Bismarck, then headed back out with my bundle of clothes.


This is a laundromat in Bismarck.


Watchin’ the clothes go round

At first I worked on a crossword while I waited. Then this text message from Mom came in:

Soooo, it seems that you ran a red light in Toledo. We just arrived home and  opened the citation – $120 fine. Photos are included. Since the car is in Dad’s name, he received the fine. I just thought I would let you know that you got caught, so be careful.

I went back and forth with her a bit, feeling it was necessary to make her understand that I hadn’t done anything unusual. In this particular case I was making a left turn, probably the most common red-running scenario. But I’ve been extra cautious about yellow lights ever since.


Clean laundry on a hotel bed

I decided it was time for my weekly burger. I found a place called JL Beers and drove there. I sat at the bar. The bartender wasn’t friendly, at least not in my direction. I ordered a beer and a burger. I assumed the burger would come with fries, but it did not.


For the better, probably.

Female servers tend to be especially kind, almost protective, toward other women dining alone. At JL Beers, a nice waitress kept checking in with me to make sure I was doing okay. At one point she gave me a couple of postcards and told me to fill them out and they’d mail them. There was bad German on the front of the postcards, so I decided to fill in the backs with bad German and send one to Steve and one to Chris and Antje, the people in my life who would understand. (Note from the future: Jetzt habe ich wirklich eine blase am fuss!)


Bismarck, as seen through the window at the end of the hotel hallway

Hotel Art of the Day

15-artElapsed Time I
Jennifer Shaw
Probably oil, 35″ x 23″
Holiday Inn, Bismarck

Hotel Art Score

8/10. When I entered the room and saw this, I said, “Ooooh.” This, to me, is top-notch hotel art. It’s colorful and meaningless, nice to rest your eyes on. It’s not trying too hard. It emanates good vibes but doesn’t have a pointed message. But maybe I’m partial to it because it looks like a colored-in version of doodles I make when I’m on the phone, or used to make when I used to talk on the phone. Who talks on the phone anymore?

Art Art Score

5/10. Is this art? I’m leaning toward no. I’m not really getting anything out of it other than that it’s a relatively edgy doodle design. But it’s got a good balance of color, and honestly, I wouldn’t mind having it in my office. I would look at it and it would reset my brain.