The trip home up Highway 10 West, con't. Now we stop in Wadena. Oh, my, yes. A downtown over which the Wal-Mart Necromongers have passed, apparently.

We’ll get to the Cozy in a moment. Consider first this unbelievable rarity: a 1960s Ben Franklin, looking as though the chain was still a retail powerhouse with clothes and popcorn and a record section and parakeets in the back:

You have to wonder how many kids today get the connection between Ben and a key.

Up the block, a survivor from the age of classic neon. Simple and pure:

Across the street, the modern world and then some. Internet access and tattoos:

Back to the Cozy. What a beaut.

Having that typeface appear in your small town was like a visit from the Hindenburg, or Ginger Rogers - why, this was what letters looked like in swank nightclubs in Manhattan! Beautiful women with platinum-colored dresses got hammered in places that had letters like these on the menu!

There's absolutely no reason for the details below; the theater would have done fine without them. But there they are, twin little barrels bleeding off the excess joy generated inside the Cozy.

A history of the theater can be found here -, of course. Don't miss the popcorn machine picture on the "history" page. This isn't some ersatz insincere "nostalgia" diorama; it's the real thing, intact and alive.

After Wadena I was in a mood to cruise; I wanted to get to Fargo and shoot pictures downtown before I lost the light. The main point of this trip, after all, was assembling the photos I need for the overhauled Fargo site, which is weary and small and very 1999, and doesn’t reflect the remarkable changes that have revitalized the  downtown in the last few years. So I drove. I drove fast. As is my wont. Good music, light traffic, flat straight road, just enough slower cars to pass to make you feel like you’re performing some long elaborate dance routine: that’s a kind of heaven you have to grow up in the Midwest to know. I blew past New York Mills, slowed for the crawl through Detroit Lakes, scowled at the big billboards touting the Brave New Overpass they’re about to build; it smells of a top-down boondoggle imposed by the Descendants of Moses (Robert Moses, not . . . you know, Moses Moses),  men who would prefer the highways to consist of small streamlined slotcars driven by robots, instead of messy humans periodically gripped by the desire to take an exit and explore on their own instead of following the road to the designated Exploratorium. I imagined a Bruce-McCall-style gargantuan project that drains the life out of the city’s downtown; I foresaw construction delays that would stretch ten years. I passed through downtown at the usual sluggish pace, and was grateful.

The last patch was the hardest. Literally. Highway Ten is sheer uninterrupted washboard from DL to Fargo. Badup badup badup badup badup badup badup badup badup badup  for forty miles. There was construction, dammit. But they were repairing the road: huzzah. Nevertheless, construction, dammit. Channeled down to one lane. Twenty miles in the chute. I was inbound to Fargo on a Friday, which meant I had the easy side; the westbound lane heading to the lakes, to freedom, to sun, to the fishy-stink water and beer halls and sand in your pants and all the other hallmarks of our most holy July – that lane was solid, that lane was slow. That lane clogged up and stopped. Note to self: find another way out of town Sunday.

But what? There were but two: the soulless interstate, and Ten. Was there another way?

Ask Dad. He’d know.

I got into Fargo around four. I drove straight downtown and parked outside of the bookstore where I used to buy old comic books, which used to be across from the Quality bakery (best glazed donuts, ever) and was still across from the old Ford assembly plant by the train station from which my dad went to war, which was later turned into a restaurant where I had tandoori chicken when I came home in the 90s, when Mom was sick.

And that’s what flooded my head when I parked. Enough to make you hesitate to leave the vehicle. But I did. And that’s tomorrow.