2 min read

Day 5: Bars and Churches

Day 5: Bars and Churches
North Dakota prairie

Jamestown, ND (Population: 15,216)/Stutsman County (2020 Election Results: +43 Trump)

Miles Driven: 624.89 (1,688.72 total)/Top Speed: 85.7 mph/Cups of Coffee: 3 (12 total)/Lowest Gas Price: $4.57 (new low!)/Number of States Visited: 5

Lodging: Gladstone Inn and Suites/Rating: 3 out of 5 turnbuckles. I had high hopes for this place when I saw the cavernous setup with the rooms facing an indoor pool where you feel like you're swimming in a warehouse, but then I got to my room and the Internet didn't work and I had to slap the light to stop making noise.

Growing up in Greenville, Rhode Island, I loved this series of kids' books in the library, one for each state, focusing on its history, people, culture, etc. And the entry that got me was North Dakota. Because you never met anyone from North Dakota. On road trips, it was the license plate that kept you from clinching the game of spotting all 50 (OK, maybe Hawaii). And for someone obsessed with the obscure and the underdog, it was perfect.

And so crossing the state line from Montana today was a little extra special.

Sixteen years ago, two of my best friends, Jesse and Adam Brouillard and I spent three memorable nights in Fargo, and so the goal was to get back there today. But I came up a little short, fatigued from my longest day of driving yet and losing an hour to the Central Time Zone.

I pulled into the Gladstone Inn in Jamestown, likely doubling the town's Asian/Pacific Islander population in the process, and stood at the front desk waiting for the clerk to get off the phone. He was probably in his fifties or sixties, with a buzz cut, glasses, and a grey goatee.

"I'm sorry sir, we're all out of suites for the night," he said.

"No sir. Sir...:" His facial expression never changed, still as prairie water right before sunset.

"Well, sir, you can't have that room because there are people in them. Like, they're physically in the room," he said after a long stretch of listening.

I leaned against the counter, reconsidering my choice in non-chain motel. A young, short woman with sleeve tattoos and her hair pulled back in a ponytail walked past me and smiled.

When the call finally ended, he immediately turned to me to offer an explanation: "I don't think that guy's going to show. He was drunk." He said it as matter-of-factly as "here's your room key."

"You are one very diplomatic customer service agent," I said.

"North Dakota nice," he replied, his face finally breaking with a hint of emotion.

After checking in I walked outside to get my bags and saw the woman who had walked past sitting on the bench smoking a cigarette.

"Do you live here?" I asked. Although some of the towns I've seen along the way are hauntingly sparse, Jamestown's downtown seems thriving.

"I do."

"This place is really nice, lots of commerce, things going on."

She seemed confused, perhaps wondering if I was being sarcastic.

"What brings people here?" I asked.

She paused to consider, taking a drag on her cigarette. "We have the world's largest buffalo! Statue, there are signs all around town," she replied.

"Anything else?"

"Bars and churches," she replied, excusing herself. The smoke break was over, and thirsty patrons were waiting inside.