It was Friday, December 14, 1985.
After my interview at KSTP earlier in the week, I’d decided I could stand a long weekend. It’d been almost two months of constant interviewing, scrimping, trying to figure out ways to parlay my fairly limited job experience (a couple of years at three radio stations, along with stints as a stagehand, remedial English tutor, bellhop/banquet setup, roofing and siding, landscaping, and…er, my paper route, basically) and, when all else failed, waiting. The kind of waiting you do when you’re hoping for something, but not really expecting it.
A look in the papers showed there was plenty of work for security guards and waiters; I gave myself three more weeks, until after New Years.
And I figured I’d take a long weekend. I might not get another for a while.
Yesterday – December 13, a Thursday – I drove back to North Dakota. Now, a couple of friends and I – friends of mine from college who’d hailed from the Cities but went to college in North Dakota – had a bit of a competition; who could make it from the cities to Jamestown in the fewest road hours? We had a consistent speed course marked out; one end was the 694/River bridge, and the other was the easternmost of Jamestown’s three exits on I94. Jeff Sisk had the current record, 4 hours and 30 minutes for the 335 mile course.
I left a message for Rob Pendelton at KSTP (he’d told me to call Thursday), and then set out in my old Malibu – with 175,000 miles on it, and an outer door panel flapping in the wind from salt damage – around 1 or 2PM, after allowing myself the rare luxury of sleeping in until ninish (I may have been an unemployed bum, but I was a bum with a ton of self-discipline; I was up and on the phone by 8AM every single weekday during those two months)…
…and I punched it. I kept it around 75 in Minnesota, keeping a keen eye out for cops (of whom I saw none), making it from The Bridge to the Red River in a shade over three hours. Then, once I got through Fargo’s traffic and go-slow zone, it was out onto the open prairie.
Back then, North Dakotans had a custom; if it was daylight and they passed a cop or a trooper in daylight, they’d flip on their lights and keep them on for a few miles, to warn oncoming traffic. If it was broad daylight and you saw lights? Dial it back (I don’t know if this still happens, because I pretty much drive close to the speed limit these days, and the limit has gone up from 55 to 70 on the open freeway, which is just fine by me). Once I got past the West Fargo exits headed west, the lights were out. I punched it up to 85. 23 year olds are immortal, of course; thinking back, the thought of pushing that rotting old jalopy with its rattly bearings and flapping door panels and iffy tires past 40 makes me blanche. But I kept it over 80 all the way to Jamestown, except for a stretch near Casselton, when the oncoming lights came on; I passed the trooper doing a perfect 55, two miles later.
It was a cold day out – probably a bit below zero. The air had the beginnings of that crystalline quality it gets when it’s very cold – once you got to the Red River Valley with its pool-table topography, you could see forever. The clouds were high and piled on top of each other, just like the day I’d moved to the Cities, almost two months earlier. And as I nosed out onto the prairie, the sun was just starting to dip below the horizon. I was treated to one of nature’s most glorious spectacles – a sunset on a cold day. Yellow, then pinkish-orange, then a glorious red as the light dipped below the long, gently undulating horizon to the west.
Finally – sixish, I think, around dinner time – I made it back to Jamestown. I spent the evening at some friends’ dorm room up at the college – Rich Larson and Scott Massine, I think – and hung out with a few of the people I’d known who still remembered me from the year before.
“So you’re still down in the Cities!”, Scott said. “Wow. My mom said you’d have given up and moved back by now!”
Looking back, that was one of the things that always pissed me off about the place. “You might move elsewhere, but you’ll be back. It’s a big, ugly world out there, it’ll eat you alive. Just like [fill in name of high school basketball star who’d gone to Fargo or Denver or Minneapolis or Boston or Des Moines, and moved back after a year or five]; he just decided the big city was too crazy for him. ” The unstated coda: “And so will you!”
I fulminated on that one for a while. Slights like that made a lot more difference to me back then.
The next morning, at my Mom and Dad’s place, I had breakfast, relaxed a bit – and, almost as an afterthought, made a call to the Cities, to KSTP-AM, to follow up from yesterday’s call.
“Yes, Mitch – we were wondering if you’d like to start next Tuesday?”
I figured I would, yes, thanks.
So maybe I wouldn’t come crawling back to Jamestown just yet. “In your face“, I thought as a silent message to Scott’s mom.