Daughter biked to school the other day. “Text me when you get there,” I said. She didn’t. Texted later: “Sorry, forgot.” I figured as much, but still had a few minutes of imagining a twisted bike in the street. “Text me when you start for home” I said later. Got a text 19 minutes later: had taken a wrong turn, but “now I’m back on track.” I figured she was forced to text that by an abductor, just to buy some time.

“Still lost?” I texted a few minutes later.

“I’m in the driveway,” came the text.

I know, I know: too much worrying. The streets are filled with kids walking and running and biking and playing, and the idea that every day a dark car prowls the streets looking for an easy mark is ridiculous, except it’s not, except it is, except it’s not. I’m trying to remember when I began to roam free in Fargo, on those wonderful summer nights of exploration. Junior high, I’m sure. I went to the woods down by the sewage plant, and yes that sounds awful. Or offal. But A) they treated the sewage and made it all better, and B) whatever stench escaped was nothing compared to the Sugar Beet plant aroma, which always made kids want to throw up. I don’t know if that’s because it was a nauseating smell, or because we remembered touring the place in grade school and a kid blew lunch halfway through. Probably both. I tend to think the kid was Paul F., who had one of the most notable acts of public-school lorfing in the history of McKinley: he was just walking down the hallway, chatting away, dum de dum de dum, and he suddenly just erupeted, to coin a word. There was also Kathy P, who threw up in her desk and hoped no one would notice, but somehow I blame Paul for the Sugar Beet episode.

Anyway, the woods smelled like the river, not the sewage plant, or the Sugar Beet plant. It wasn’t a good-smelling river. Murky and sour, like a slow-moving slurry of dead fish and frog farts. But a fella could be alone down there.

On the other hand, a fella’s pretty alone down here, and uh Texas Chainsaw Massacre and House on the Left, so I took to touring the campus of the nearby North Dakota State University. It was the closest repository of classical architecture, had a real tall building (eight stories) and some modern structures as well. I used to drive through it and dream of college, which meant one thing: summer dusk amongst the Noble Haunts of the Life of the Mind with columns and carvings and pediments, Holst’s “Venus” drifting from a window somewhere. Wonderful times.

But that was safe Fargo. Quiet, decent, crime-free Fargo. Except for the crime, but that was over there in the hard part of town. (Ten blocks south, across the tracks.)

 

   

 

Saw this tweet today:

Well. Yes, I suppose I am; I’ve seen this coming for a while, and only hoped the new project would be good. It’s good. What I’ll miss is something that’s already gone: the paper as a peerless, bustling civic institution. Today I went down into the morgue again to look for clips, and found another box full of things that need salvation. It’s not as if any new digs will have storage closets for uncategorized piles of institutional memorabilia, and if they go to a historical society no one will ever see them again. Some of the stuff is mysterious; no labels, no notes, just people smiling at the camera. A letter from Hubert Humphrey; a letter from the publisher which goes on at great length about the tapestries proposed for the boardroom. A folder called “Construction” which shows the corner of the building where I sit now, and the tell-tale signs of a gas-pump island. (It was for the newspaper’s fleet.)

Let me give you a few examples.

The cover for a booklet assuring parents that their sons would be better citizens all around if they were paper boys:

 

 

It's war work!

 

 

In the future, newspapers would be delivered . . . the modern way:

 

 

A delightful little pamphlet that features a newspaper fairy touting the ways a newspaper can enliven your morning, make you laugh, give you news to talk about over the morning wheaties:

 

 

I'll be running that one at the Strib blog next week. Doubtful there will be a website at the newspaper’s site about these things, alas. Maybe I’ll get permission to do a history site and host it here. Sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with the paper, really, but it’s a piece of history absolutely no one else has. Here’s a tiny picture someone snapped from the window of the building, looking at the area being cleared for the new wing:

 

 

Do you know what you’re seeing? Basements. Basements never seen by the light of day since they were built, oh, in the early part of the century. I can cross-reference with some ancient slides of the site . . .

 

 

Anyway. That basement. Who occupied those stores? What families had their livelihoods bound up in the stores, who worked there for a summer between college stints, who had an office upstairs (or a bedroom; don’t know) - it’s all gone, of course, and photographs are the only way of noting that this was here then. And now the building that was built on their graves is going to be leveled and paved over and returned to grass, albeit a manicured park, and all the history of the building on the site - the rumbling presses, the inky-handed men and ladies in the Home Ec kitchen, the secretaries sunning on the roof, the serious tweedy men who threaded a piece of paper in the platen and wrote something earnest about Korea, the technician who made sure the broadcast studio was hooked up to the network, the banks of ladies fielding the two-million phone calls per year, the drivers who backed up and loaded up and headed out at dawn -

All gone, of course, like everything goes. That’s not what makes you sad, although the reminders of the paper at its height are bittersweet. What makes one sigh is the thought that it will be forgotten.

So, it won’t.

----

One more thing: Back to the construction photo. It's a tiny picture, as I said - and up in the corner, this.

 

 

You can tell what that is, right? I have a basic rule - if I can't find it in ten minutes on the web or my own collection, then we move along. And I have a lot of Coca-Cola ads. If you can find that ad, you're a true pro.

New Motels! Enjoy; see you around.

 

 
   
 

 
   
 
 
   
 
 
     
 
 
   
     
 
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