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About a month ago, I wrote an editorial on why I’d never move to North Dakota.In a nutshell, I argued that no matter how many “Best XYZ” lists the state landed on, North Dakota’s limited industries (oil), lack of diversity and smalltown vibe wasn’t for me.
It might have been my blunt honesty that startled readers, but the post whipped up such a firestorm in the state that bloggers and newspapers published impassioned rebuttals and my inbox was flooded with hate mail.
How could I, they asked, possibly discount a place I had never visited?
That all changed last weekend, when I accepted an invitation from Fargo’s Convention & Visitors Bureau to check out the city for myself.
I pointed out a few reasons: For example, the state's booming job market (read: oil fields) isn't exactly in my area of expertise. And with its largest city holding fewer than 200,000 residents, I knew I would miss the diversity and anonymity that comes along with life in a city of 8 million.
Then, out of the blue, the Tourism Bureau in Fargo reached out with a surprising offer: An all-expenses paid trip to see the state for myself...SOLD.
The local news was all over my visit from the start. They wanted to film my arrival at the local airport and follow me around at points during the trip. It was a little bizarre.
They really pulled out all the stops. I expected the Holiday Inn. I got the high-end Hotel Donaldson, a relic of the early 20th century that was renovated by one of the town's wealthiest couples.
The welcome bag was a nice touch. Inside was a North Dakota State University T-shirt ; some of the town's coveted Chippers (chocolate covered potato chips); and, of course, a ton of tourist pamphlets.
It's the kind of place where someone sneaks into your room each night to leave chocolate truffles on your nightstand.
They were willing to drive me around, but at my request, they hooked me up with a rental from a local bicycle shop instead.
I set out for a self-guided tour my first evening in town. At 5 p.m. on a Friday night, there wasn't much going on.
Just a few blocks outside of the downtown area, this skate park was crawling with teens from the neighbourhood.
At 10 years old, Josh was probably the youngest kid out there, but he was eager to show me the ropes when I told him why I was in town.
Especially this guy, who everyone just knows as Mud Bone. He's studying art online and in his spare time he likes to tattoo his own arms.
I could have watched them all night, but I was late for dinner in town. Here's where we went: Super trendy Mezzaluna.
I had a couple of great dates, including Nicole Holden (far left), the visitors bureau rep responsible for bringing me out there. If everyone in Fargo were as cool as this lady, I might reconsider my stance.
We started with cocktails (kinda pricey at $9, but still half as much as some places in Manhattan), then worked our way through a decadent cheese platter.
I ate the chorizo-wrapped chicken. It was stuffed with cheese and accompanied by some very fancy tater tots.
That's where I sampled some of the local spirits. Ice Hole (schnapps) comes in all flavours, but we went with mint. I highly recommend it if you've run out of Listerine.
He headlined a hip-hop and graffiti show that featured a two-piece orchestra, beat boxers and local DJs.
Then it was time for some more local flavour. We headed to nearby Aquarium to see the White Iron Band.
My tab for the evening: $15 covered two cocktails, two shots and one beer (No, they weren't all for me.)
Next morning, I ordered room service at the HoDo. I've had better omlettes at the Waffle House, but I probably chugged four cups of their coffee. (This was one tab I picked up myself).
Then I met up with popular Fargo radio personality Christopher Gabriel (WDAY 970 AM). He gave me a tour of his studio.
And he drove me down the town's historic 8th street district, where homeowners can't make renovations unless they get municipal approval.
Maybe one day I'll crave the kind of place where everyone knows my name and there's a familiar face around every corner.
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