Fargo, Holiday Inn. The night before Thanksgiving; poolside. It’s ten to eleven, and the pool is closed, but there are still some revelers clacking around the air hockey pucks, no doubt to the annoyance of the hundred-plus people in the dark rooms around the pool. I am drinking a Maker’s Mark – on the house to all Priory Club members, don’t you know. I joined the Holiday Inn’s club specifically to extract benefits when I return home. I could stay at my dad’s house, where the benefits would be nearly identical; free local calls, extended checkout, kids eat free  - but Dad lacks the giant pirate-themed pool in the middle of his house, and Gnat has come to associate trips back to Fargo with the joys of swimming in a giant room festooned with the iconography of brigandry. We have a room in the Tower, the seven-story wing of the Holiday Inn:

 Tomorrow we shall eat breakfast in the Holiday Inn, swim some more, then eat in the vast grand hall where the lax and the old and the cuilinarily impaired meet on festival days. There are several seatings. Each seats thousands. Each is sold out weeks in advance. I tell people I’m going to have Thanksgiving in the Holiday Inn in Fargo, and they recoil: no! Get outta here! But at the same time there’s a recognition that this must be amusing on some intellectual level, that I will be enjoying it ironically. And I suppose they’re right; I do enjoy the sight of Middle America, Upper Midwest variety, queuing for the boon. Unlike dinners at home, there is no possible chance of running out of food, and if you go back for eighths or ninths, the meat will still be white and fresh and moist and warm. Infinite buns, freedom from the binary pie-choice (you can have pecan AND pumpkin), hot pots of coffee set down on your table every ten minutes, stuffing provided in portions that would split a Hefty leaf ‘n’ lawn bag,  and something else, something that has come to mean Holiday Feast in Fargo: the great indistinct din of five hundred people packed in a ballroom, conversing around a mouthful of roasted bird.

Unless you’re in one of the satellite overflow ballrooms, in which case the noise is diminished. Somewhat.

This Holiday Inn, as I’ve noted over the last two years, is becoming my new home in Fargo. Fine with me. Dad’s home with his new wife (Usurper! Cozening Doxy! Just kidding: Doris is one fine, fine lady, and I still find it delightful that Dad married a New Yorker – and I mean a New Yorker; a half century on the plains couldn’t eliminate the accent) is familiar enough by now, but it’s not where I grew up, and the number of items rescued from the old home are few. It’s a new set for the last act. But I’ve come here three times this year, and the last time was the high school reunion, an event whose satisfying resonances blessed this place in a curious way. So naturally I joined the Priority Club.

And naturally the fellow who took my Priority Club reservation screwed it up. When I checked in there was no reservation. Oh, I had a room tomorrow, but not tonight.

“Please tell me you have a room,” I said to the desk clerk.

She did. Whew. Gnat would have been disconsolate. When we pulled up she sang “Holiday Inn! My favorite motel!” I felt the same way as a kid (duh), and was pleased to see she had the same love of the great sign and the motel experience. But what kid doesn’t love it? The room service menu, the phone that summons hamburgers, the wrapped soap, the great feeling of adventure with


mom and dad. Okay, I just got kicked out of the pool area. A security guard the size of Dolph Lundgren came by and said that they were closing this area down. He said I was free to use the lobby; he pointed to my computer and said “using wi-fi? There’s an awesome signal in the lobby.” I thanked him, packed up and headed to the bar. You know what? You can smoke in the bar. By some odd turn of events I had a small evil cigar in my laptop case, and now I’m enjoying the most unusual of civil pleasures; sitting in a snug with a drink and a puff.

Anyway. The drive up was long. Damn, it was long. It’s always longer on Highway Ten, but I don’t mind; soared on the straightaways, plodded through the tiny towns, chased the trains and won. Chased the sun and lost.

(Note: the awesome wi-fi does not extend to the bar. Hah!)

It just seemed longer, for no reason I could fathom. Probably because we got a late start. I’m an up-and-out guy, but this time we shot for noon, which meant 12:30, and since we had to drop Jasper off at a distant locale it added an hour to the trip. He was very unhappy. Very. All the bustle in the morning + suitcases added up to great distress, and he whined all the way to Nana’s house. But once we got there he leaped out of the car, peed on His Bush, and ran to the door, barking for admittance. I let him in and locked the door and off we went. Stopped at Wendy’s in St. Cloud, wondering, as usual, why anyone eats at McDonald’s when there’s a Wendy’s across the street. There was a placard for a 1/2 pounder with cheese and jalepenos. I asked the clerk if they had a 1/4 pounder with jalepenos. Yes, she said. I got, and apparently paid for, a 1/2 pounder. They hear only the important words, I guess. No incidents on the road except for a horrible moment when I stopped for gas – I cut the engine, which cut the power, which cut the juice to Gnat’s cheap little DVD player. Since I’d forgotten to bring the remote, this means she couldn’t advance to the scene when the power returned. I solved the problem by getting out the laptop, and she watched the rest of Rolie Polie Olie’s first movie in peace, for the 9,384th time.

And now, suddenly, it’s hit me: the toll of the road. Driving drives me down, and I usually take a nap after a trip. Not this time. Gah: ton of bricks just landed on my head, and suddenly the room seems like it’s very far away. Must pack up. Must head down the long, long corridor and trust myself to hit the right elevator button (we’re room 526, on the fourth floor. Go figure.) I’m done. Tomorrow: the great noisy parade of food. I’ll take up the narrative, such as it is, when I’m back home.

The next day

I made it back up and slept on the sofa bed, where the carefully positioned iron bar bit into my back all night long. As I had forgotten to bring anything close to sleeping garb, I slept in my clothes. That’s fine. Saves time in the morning. Around 2 AM I was awakened by my cell phone, which hadn’t been able to connect to the network all day but chose this moment to tell me the battery was running down. Shut it down, returned to bed. First I had to find the bed, of course; this was done by bumping into random objects until I found the window, then I turned north. Woke with the distinct belief I had not slept a moment all night.

Had breakfast, and it was acceptable; the pancakes were the size of deep-space listening dishes, but the eggs were dry an overscrambled. After enough scrambling, it’s just chaff. The sausages had a stiff skin that fought the fork, and seemed like unfriendly little things. The coffee was lukewarm. Thus stoked, I went out to take a few pictures downtown. The day was overcast, and I didn’t get much; I also had forgotten what I needed. Back to the hotel to watch Gnat and her cousins swim, and chat with sis & brother-in-law and Dad and Doris. The heat and ambient roar of the swimming area put me to sleep, and I wondered how the devil I would make  it through the meal, let alone the four-hour drive home – so I went back to the room, made double-strength coffee, and was restored. Off to Thanksgiving Dinner!

It’s possible I’ve had worse, and blocked the memory.

You know what I like? Turkey. Slabs of turkey. Moist slabs of white turkey, big as Paul Bunyon’s  hand. To my surprise, they turkey bin in the buffet line was filled with chum: a soupy mass of darkish turkey nodules so greasy they squirted away when you applied the tongs. I heaped up a cup and covered the corpse with a  thick quilt of gravy, and yea, I was sorely disappointed.

My brother-in-law came over and said they had better turkey in the other line. Sure enough, he had a slab. You got a slab! How’d you get a slab? He showed me the bin in the other line, and I nodded and started towards the end.

“You can cut in,”  said the fellow in line, noting my plate and its sad contents. “Go right ahead.”

Since there were others queued, I took one slab. That was my grand Thanksgiving dinner: classic North Dakota albino salad, Mexican corn – fresh? Why, it was can-kissed for flavor – one slab of turkey and a bruised slurry of cast-off meat bonded by the power of gravy.

The pumpkin pie was good, though.

Afterwards we chatted and fought over the bill and eventually made it to the door. We hit the road at 3:24. Four hours of driving stretched ahead, half of it in the dark.

I would have gone straight through, but my wife wanted a soda. Demanding wench! So after three hours, I assented. But run, woman! People I passed are passing us now! Traffic, as expected, was better than the interstate, which was no doubt the usual fool’s river, with cars doing 85 MPH with six inches between their bumpers. In the dark.  We made it home in four hours, as planned, and got out of the car with gratitude.

“We’re back!” Gnat shouted from the driveway. “We’re back from North Dakota!”

Inside; turn on the heat; stow the gear; relax. Then we realized something typical, but always surprising: we were all hungry.

With not an atom of leftovers between us.

Thanks for the visit; see you Monday. And as they say on the Fargo billboards when there’s nothing else going on: