Photo: M. Woodruff/Business Insider
About a month ago, I went out on a limb with the editorial, Why I’d Never Move To North Dakota.I argued that no matter how many “Best XYZ” lists the state landed on, it still wouldn’t be enough to convince me to ditch New York and move there––dirt cheap rent or not.
Within hours, I had whipped up a firestorm in the state so fierce my eyebrows are still singed.
Then something unexpected happened. Nicole Holden, marketing director for Fargo’s Visitors and Convention Bureau, reached out with an offer I couldn’t refuse: An all-expense paid trip to see the state for myself.
I was sold.
It was bizarre from the start.
Like anytime I fly from New York and land in a new state, the change in scenery is instantly jarring. To add to my unease, the local press had covered my pending arrival as if I were a visiting diplomat. Radio talk shows invited me on their programs before I even set foot in the state, and I knew eyes would be following me wherever I went.
When Nicole greeted me at the airport, my suspicions were confirmed.
“Our Fox station just called to see if they could film you getting off the plane,” she said. “I told them no.”
She and I were going to get along just fine.
The bureau was putting me up in a hotel in town, but I had expected something along the lines of the Holiday Inn Express. Instead, we pulled up beside the plush Hotel Donaldson, a 17-room relic of the early 20th century that was recently renovated by the town’s wealthiest couple.
It’s the kind of place with a rooftop bar, hot tub, and people who sneak in your room at night to fluff your pillows and leave chocolates on your nightstand.
With a couple of hours to kill before meeting up for dinner with Nicole that night, I ventured outside to do the wide-eyed tourist thing––wander around aimlessly till I found something worth photographing.
I was smack in the middle of downtown, but I felt as if I’d landed on a set from the “Walking Dead” ––cars and bikes lining the streets but not a human in sight. Like most small towns, I figured Fargo would show its true colours at night.
Then it got pretty cool.
Since Nicole was around my age, I couldn’t have asked for a better guide of the city’s 20-something social scene.
At dinner, we sipped $9 cocktails (twice as much in Manhattan) at trendy Mezzaluna and tried the local brews at a nearby pub. The next day, we went tailgating and sat in the rowdy student section at an ND State football game.
Beyond the planned itinerary, the weird press attention, and getting constantly grilled by locals on whether or not I was hiring movers, I found myself sincerely having a good time.
The city is well-known for its great indie rock music scene, but even I was dubious when a few locals told me about a DJ spinning at a nearby art museum.
Then we arrived. I felt like I’d walked into a scene straight out of hipster central: Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
There was a makeshift bar set up in the back corner of the room, but most of the crowd was huddled around a small stage at the opposite end of the loft. Acts were flanked by two DJs and a stack of speakers twice my height. The headliner was New York artist DJ Spooky, who played a set that featured a two-piece orchestra from the local symphony.
“Who says Fargo don’t have funk?” Spooky asked the crowd, and I felt a few furtive glances turn my way.
After the show, we walked a few blocks to local favourite The Aquarium, where the White Iron Band—specializing in “foot-stompin, forget-what-troubles-ya music”—kept the house on their feet nearly 30 minutes after the bar closed at 2 a.m.
It was my last night, so I walked slowly back to my hotel. On the way, a familiar face greeted me. It was Nate, one of the locals who tagged along with me earlier to the museum.
“Hey,” he said. “Have you tried that taco truck?”
It was a couple of blocks down the street and no, I hadn’t. Huddled under fluorescent lights of the truck, munching on pork tacos as good as any I’ve ever had in NYC, and listening to Nate trade jokes in broken Spanish with the workers, I could have been in any big city in the world.
Then 3 a.m. rolled around, the streets were quiet enough to hear a pin drop, and I walked the block and a half back to my hotel. The next day I would have to tell radio hosts whether or not I had changed my mind about their beloved state, and at that point I had no answer.
Did they change my mind?
The answer, in truth, was yes and no. Yes, Fargo had surprised me in a lot of ways, with its small town charm counteracted by a youthful, vibrant nightlife and edgy music scene. And maybe one day I’ll crave the kind of place where a familiar face is waiting around every corner and most people know my name.
When I landed back in New York Sunday night, queuing up at the half-mile line for taxis and knowing that no one knew or cared who I was at all, I couldn’t help but feel relieved. I was one of 8 million again.
For now at least, I know I’m right where I belong.
What the trip did accomplish was reminding me of one certain fact: That we live in one of the largest, most diverse countries on the planet, and whether we like to admit it or not, most Americans haven’t even seen half of it. I count myself among them, but at least I can say Fargo has convinced me this is something I should and will change very soon.
I’m looking at you, South Dakota.
Don’t Miss: Photos from my 48-hour trip to Fargo >