It snowed. And it is snowing. This is not unusual, and falls squarely within the Cruelest Month Parameters of April. It is lovely, and lends a peaceable hush to the world etc etc, and I am not as torqued as some. Winter lovers seem particularly annoyed, like someone with whom you’ve had a vacation fling shows up for a night and stays a week and shows no signs of leaving, and you notice all the things they do that annoy you. For most people, seven inches of snow on April 3 is like seeing this person clip their toenails while watching TV, not noting where the particles go. Okay we have to talk.
The picture above was from last week’s trip, and it’s a shot of Highway Ten by Detroit Lakes. Not one of these pictures matches the content of the travelogue below, by the way. It’s just . . . art! For art’s sake.
So. Back to last week.
Arrived in Fargo early before Dad would get home, so I went downtown to Atomic Coffee and had a cup. Wandered over to the boutique in the lobby of the old Fargoan hotel, and marveled again at the lobby mural, intact after all these years, cleaned of the decades of cigarette smoke from the old men who sat in the lobby as a break from sitting up in their rooms.
NDSU: "The lobby and lounge featured modernistic murals by Twin city artist Carl Olson. An advertisement in the 1932 Fargo city directory stated 'Enjoy the best! at the Fargoan. Modern scientific equipment and management make it possible for you to enjoy the best in Fargo at the Fargoan - Bath - Showers - Tele. and the sleepingest beds in every room.'"
Downtown is remarkable - I mean, look at this. Perpendicular signage.
In the distance, the blue sign of the Empire Bar, so named for the train that rumbled through across the street, and stopped at the Great Northern Depot. Which is still there. Which still greets the Empire Builder when it arrives.
Here's the context: swing to the right.
It’s the antithesis of every Main Street I run on Thursdays.
There’s a new big block en route in an empty lot, the site of the Five Spot. Vacant since 1976. It burned; my dad was there, keeping the firetrucks tanks full.
The signage for the old block. The 5 Spot's marquee was animated: that fellow was working a cocktail shaker.
Here's the building to come:
Not the best building, alas, but it’s typical - the modern additions to Fargo’s architectural stock range from “small interesting hotels” to “wince-inducing churches” to “ghastly horrible gothic nightmare hospitals,” but we’ll get to that. The tower does come down to the ground - it's not disconnected from the street, but that side out to face the park - unless they want to develop the part later. In which case it should be on the corner.
Old signage? There's still some left downtown. Steve's:
Right across the street, a decommissioned gas station.
American Cultural History Challege: what brand of gas did they sell?
On Main, there’s Rick’s:
That boot has been there as long as I can remember. The Buckaroo Revival and barrel door, ditto. A long-time Bleatnik - who may or may not be reading this today - worked there once. Shout out, DHP! The website says it's been there since 1979 . . . and no, that's not right. That can't be right.
After a drive, I went home - it’s not home, it’s Dad’s place, really. He moved there in 2004 with his new wife, and everything’s pretty much frozen in 2004. It’s a fine duplex, and everything’s in excellent condition. No tottering piles of junk; nothing’s dusty - well, not too dusty. The fridge is well-stocked and the cupboards aren’t crammed with spices from 1992. When his wife died, his kids took her things, the stuff that mattered - the closets aren’t full of junk, there aren’t plastic bins bulging with memorabilia. It’s not spare but it’s not encumbered.
You would never guess that the occupant of the house was 92, is what I’m saying.
That’s wonderful everyone always says, and yes it is; he’s in remarkable health. But on the other hand all his friends are gone. On the other hand he has his morning mall walking friends, but that’s done by nine AM. But he can go to work, to the station, and be useful - but there’s only so much he can do. Now and then he gets to drive a load of fuel somewhere - he has all his licenses, and is perfectly capable of driving a semi 400 miles, unloading the fuel by wrangling heavy hoses, then driving home.
Let me put it this way. I came back after a 9:30 trip to Starbucks to use the internet, and he was asleep in his chair. The TV room and the kitchen area, that’s where he lives. The TV was playing Polka Spotlight: elderly people moving around a room with cavalier disregard for the beat.
I was quiet, but he woke and came out to the kitchen, and we fixed ourselves some cocktails. He started talking about the idea he got to help the independent truckers. See, the big outfits, they get a discount at the big truck plazas, but the independents don’t. So he figured if he dropped the price of diesel to give them the same deal the fleets got, they’d come to the station, maybe buy something at the convenience store, spread the word.
Well. Spread the word they did. Now they’re draining the underground diesel tanks every day, and the truckers are grateful. I asked where the diesel tanks were - are you using the old tanks where the old islands were?
Without hesitation he rattled off the location and capacity of every tank below and above ground, and off-property. He’s 92 and he knows exactly how much refined products they have on hand, and where it is.
Something else I learned: they refuel the east-bound trains that transport goods from the West coast ports. The traffic was significantly less the last two years, 2014-16. It’s bounced way back up the last year.
It does, indeed, trickle down: when demand slows, it ripples outward through the infrastructure no one thinks about. The trains, the people who service the trains, the drivers who drive the transports to fill the trains, and so on.
Another anecdote about small business: my brother-in-law, who runs the business now, came to work in the godawful early AM to find the area around the pumps clumped with mud. Tons of ugly mud. So he shoveled it out, and wondered who the heck came through in the middle of the night.
When they ran the security tapes they came across a 3 AM tableau: some yahoos had been out mudding with their pickups - heading to unsurfaced roads, or minimum-maintenance roads, and doing donuts and heading into ditches to get the maximum mud on their trucks. This is a thing that they do. It’s bad for the farmers who rely on min-main roads to get around, because these idiots rut everything up, and then it freezes.
They’d come to the station so they could take a picture under the bright lights at 3 AM, because the canopy’s lit to let the highway traveller know they can fuel. They took their pictures and then they used the free windshield wiper fluid to clean off their vehicles. Kicked off the mud. Left. Didn’t buy a gallon of gas.
This is why I always go inside when I fill up at a small town gas station. Use the bathroom? Buy some coffee. Use the wiper fluid? Buy some jerky. The government makes more on that gallon of gas than the guy who sells it. Give him a hand.
Tomorrow: war stories.
It’s 1955. Are you ready for Buick?
Shimmering steel and solid sinew - it seems alive, and has more personality than the people. The man and woman - you and yours - are only partially shown, so you can put yourself in their shoes. The valet is turned away so his menial face doesn’t claim ownership.
Ah, but there are other faces:
Looking back at it, or us?
That . . . that is some deep tread.
And they’re noiseless! Which tells you that people had been grumbling to themselves for years about noisy winter tires, or - just maybe - no one had given it much thought until the ads informed them their current tires were just SO DAMNED LOUD.
“What should we use for the cherries ad, color-wise?”
“Orange, of course.”
The rest of the page was white, so I didn’t color correct. Maybe it’s the scan. Maybe it’s the ink; couldn’t get it as red as it should be.
Anyway, what matters is the chocolate, which is REAL. People simply would not accept fake chocolate.
I don't know if there is such a thing. Besides carob. But they were happy, intelligent people; they had no truck with carob.
This detail from an otherwise unremarkable car ad shows two things: the almost manic happiness the car will give its owner, and . . .
. . . the unbelievable sense of weight and heft the cars possessed.
There wasn’t any reason bumpers had to be chrome, was there? They just were, after a certain point, because it was a style point everyone expected. It had a robot-face charm, too - it was easy to imagine the faces of our future servants to look like our automotive servants.
But of course they had high-heeled rain boots.
No one really thought there wasn’t a difference between a walrus and a reindeer.
I’m thinking Lucky bought a crapload of these from the same people who sold them to everyone else.
Gleem! The preferred toothpaste for moms who insist that their kids wear the same pink tambourine as they do.
Wikipedia: “Gleem was a brand of toothpaste made by the Procter & Gamble company. It was discontinued in 2014. Procter & Gamble now markets the Gleem formulation under the brand name Crest Fresh and White.”
Also: “The League Against Obnoxious TV Commercials included a Gleem toothpaste commercial in its list of the terrible 10 in May 1963.”
Doesn’t that make you curious?
It's not that bad. Believe me, we'd see worse.
There you go! Scoop awaits.
Do you look forward to Scoop yet? If not, do you think you'll ever look forward to Scoop? Because believe me: in the end, it's going to be worth it.