Tell someone you’re spending a week in Fargo, and a blank stare is likely to be chaperoned by a single word.
I had no idea what to expect on this, my first trip to Fargo, North Dakota. Well, I thought I knew what to expect — which turned out to be completely wrong.
What I knew about Fargo was pretty much limited to the wonderful 1996 movie of the same name, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, a.k.a. the Coen Brothers. Oddly enough, practically none of Fargo was actually filmed here, nor anywhere nearby. In fact, just about every scene was shot a few hundred miles away, in Brainerd (Minnesota) and the suburbs around Minneapolis. The Coen Brothers know this territory well, since they were born and raised in St. Louis Park, just outside the Twin Cities.
When I asked a local resident why they decided to call the movie “Fargo,” he told me, “because it sounds a helluva’ lot better than Brainerd.”
As it turns out, Fargo is about as cool a place as I’ve been in quite some time. I’m staying right smack in the middle of downtown, which you can see is thriving metropolis.
Actually, I’m being cruel at Fargo’s expense. When I said this is a cool place, I really meant it. And by cool, I’m not just talking about the sub-zero temperatures.
In fact, Fargo is nicer, cleaner, and far more cosmopolitan than I was expecting. The homeless people say “thank you.” I even met two Atheists and someone who actually claims he voted for President Obama. Naturally, this meeting of the twisted minds took place in a bar, located on Broadway — the street you see prominently in the photos above. They even hosted an ESPN College Game Day right here in downtown Fargo on the day before I arrived — pretty amazing when considering those full-scale productions usually pull up on campuses like Alabama, Michigan, USC, and so forth.
Fargo is the proud home of North Dakota State University, one of the few college sports teams I’ve never lost money on since I don’t recall ever betting on one of their games. The official team mascot is the Bison, which I understand is a giant animal that looks kinda’ like a buffalo.
Sacred as the bison symbol is on campus, several local restaurants serve bison steak and burgers on their menus. With apologies to my liberal friends, I could get plenty used to dining on fresh bison meat every night. Or maybe it’s buffalo. I wouldn’t know the difference. I figure a bison must be a male buffalo, or something like that. I’m too lazy to look it up.
Fargo also has about as great a selection of micro brews as I’ve ever seen for a city of its size. All the bars here serve beers I’ve never heard of, that are mostly delicious. So far, my personal award of excellence goes to JL Beers here in downtown Fargo. The selection is limited to just a few options — cold beer (about 30 varieties on tap), bison burgers, and fresh cut fries. A diet killer for sure — but heaven on earth.
Fargo is an interesting place. First, it’s located right on the North Dakota-Minnesota state line. I could walk from my hotel three blocks across the Red River and be in Minnesota, a town called Moorehead. It’s name is certainly a temptation, but I’m guessing the local scene wouldn’t be as advertised.
The Red River floods here quite a bit. Many residents have lost their homes when the water rises. One wouldn’t think of this area as a flood zone. But nearby Minnesota is named “the land of 10,000 lakes” for a reason.
But what sold me on Fargo isn’t the city. It’s the people.
These are proud people — good people who have built their lives in an area with no real natural beauty nor advantages of geography. They settled upon the plains and formed communities, ultimately bonding together in a kindred spirit of struggle and ultimately of triumph for having created something special from nothing. There’s a unique bond which exists in places like this that isn’t readily apparent in other cities — such as Las Vegas where I live, or the metropolises on both coasts.
We who tend to think of ourselves as enlightened have a tendency to make fun of places like Fargo. It’s often called “fly over territory” by all the jet-setting commuters sitting in first-class who often have bigger bank accounts and far more personal problems than the kinds of people who reside in Fargo. On the surface, we may think it’s us who has something to teach them when alas, it is they who can teach us a lot more. Like, about the more important things in life.
Like how to brew great beer and make a tasty bison burger.