Last night we spent some time in Minneapolis and the suburb of Minnetonka. We met up with good friends and a favorite uncle.
This morning we drove to Fargo for breakfast with our friend Ray. We then went over to his office and met a couple of his associates. I had met some of them before, but Bartowsky was new to the scene. Good people. And that's North Dakota in a single sentence; good people.
North Dakota always feels like home.
I showed Bartowsky where he was born in Fargo. I keep reminding him that he is the exception and not the rule. Which means simply that he never needs to be afraid because he was born with his chord around his neck and blue from the effort. In short, he was dead. The nurses at what was then Dakota Hopital revived him. He is a miracle. One who crossed over from the other side. I just have to drill that into his melon. He can do anything. He doesn't need to be afraid. Ever. He cheated death and won.
After Fargo, we headed towards Bismarck. But before we did, we had to drive by our old (and little) house in West Fargo. A 700 square foot footprint with a dark basement and a half story tucked under the roof. We were poor. But we were happy.
In Bismarck we stopped at a place called, "Crack Magic." We found the place after doing a Google search on the highway. We picked it because of the name. We wondered if they could repair a rock chip in our windshield. The guy said he could. We rolled into his shop and he fixed not one, but three rock chips. All the while we were chatting away with the nice proprietor about his previous life working for the state DOT, his family, our road trip, etc. Good people personified. Afterwards, on the way out of town, I snapped a picture of the amazing North Dakota sky. Bartowsky was amazed.
We then headed to the town of Dickinson where yours truly grew up. It has changed a lot in the years since I lived there. I showed Bartowsky the old house which is looking worse for wear. Countless nights in a basement bedroom listening to rock and heavy metal as I planned my escape. I showed him the mall. Bored hours drifting around the handful of shops. The high school. Four years of breathing oxygen and taking up space. The main drag where we would cruise endlessly looking for our futures. Or at least some answers to so many (too many) mysteries. I showed him his grandfather's places of employment. The battle with his partners over his economic certainty that the oil boom would end. He was right.
And I talked endlessly about way too many memories. Or so it seemed to me. What I didn't say is that amidst all the recalling of angst and being that lippy little smart Alec that every class must suffer through, which I was, I was thinking of things I couldn't put into words. All the memories of his grandfather and the places we inhabited, or went to on a regular basis, flooded my mind. I could not get beyond surface statements about how his Grandfather, a kid from Pittsburgh's bedroom community of Monaca, loved North Dakota. It was bittersweet. Painful. And almost tearful. Like I said, too many memories. Every turn in the road. Every corner holding an image. A remembrance of the good man at intersections and forgotten streets. And then I took Bartowsky to the place that my father and I visited hundreds of times and that we loved the most. I took him to the Badlands.
Theodore Roosevelt had a ranch in North Dakota. It is roughly only thirty miles or so from Dickinson. Teddy R said that he couldn't have been (wouldn't have been) president without having the experience and time in North Dakota. A New York State boy also fell in love with this wild and untamed place. My father would take his car and his kid, turn up the music on the radio, and fly down old Highway Ten towards Medora -the small town within Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We would eventually get on I-94 and spend an afternoon or evening in Medora, returning at dusk or in early darkness to our home on 8th Avenue West in Dickinson.
Bartowsky and I stopped at the scenic overlook near the interstate. I shared with him that his grandfather would always stop at the overlook no matter what. It blew Bartowsky's mind, just like the ever-present wind blew his naturally curly hair all over the place. I caught a shot of him laughing at the wind. The Wind. The. Wind. It has a personality. Bartowsky is a character, as well. He smiles like his grandfather.
We checked into the Rough Riders Hotel. As a kid I didn't know that the Rough Riders was from a completely different phase in Teddy Roosevelt's life. It had nothing to do with North Dakota. His ranch did, but not the name. However, the name fits this traditionally cowboy centric land. I did know that I always wanted to stay at the little hotel on the corner. The Rough Riders Hotel. Of course that would never happen as a kid, especially when one's house was thirty miles away. So...
Bartowsky made the reservation. We checked in. We decided food was a good idea and went to the restaurant within the hotel. The restaurant is staffed by young people from around the world. Our host was from South Africa. The water person was from Poland. Our waiter was Argentinian. The young lady at the front desk was from far-off Dickinson. The United Nations meets Southwest North Dakota. Awesome!
The food was excellent. No kidding. Just fantastic. Bartowsky ordered a lobster bisque to start followed by bison tenderloin. Oh, and ginger ale. I had the bison Osso Bucco preceded by a beet salad. I washed it all down (a nod to the waiter) with a nice Malbec. Bartowsky was dumbstruck with the quality of the meal. And through it all, I wondered what my father would think as I caught a glimpse of holding his hand as a small child right outside of the hotel. Looking at the hotel. Looking at my dad. Questions.
I found myself wishing that he was with us. The idea of him sharing his incredible stories with his grandson made me stare at Bartowsky's food -lost in thought and controlling the threat of tears. I then thought about staying at the hotel that my dad and I had walked by a hundred times. The hotel we walked by when I held his hand as a small child.
And then I smiled.