North Dakota Journal, Part I

‘Sit down and eat’ — Kroll’s Diner, Fargo, N.D.


A few weeks ago, I went out to North Dakota, to look into the oil boom. Do you know about that? The boom, I mean — not my trip. North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country: 3.1 percent. Some people wonder who the unemployed are: There are “Help Wanted” signs everywhere.

Anyway, I have a piece on North Dakota in the current issue — the current issue of National Review. “Booming North Dakota,” it’s called: “What it’s like, what it means.” I hope you will enjoy this piece.

I have other things to say, as I so often do — and I thought I’d scribble you a little travel journal, here online. Kind of as an accompaniment to the magazine piece.

As I’ve mentioned in Impromptus before, North Dakota is the least visited state in the Union. Long has been. There are no real tourist attractions in North Dakota — people in this state often point out that Mount Rushmore is in South Dakota, not in North Dakota.

One man tells me, about North Dakota’s being the least visited state: “Some of us like it that way.”

But journalists have been coming from all over the world, to report on the boom. North Dakota is one of the most interesting and exciting stories in America: People from the other 49 states have picked up and moved to North Dakota, in order to work. Everyone has a story — an individual story. And those stories can be very moving.

Before coming to North Dakota myself, I read quite a bit of journalism, about this boom. The boom has been a bonanza for journalists, as well as for workers, landowners, entrepreneurs, and others. Some of the best journalism I have ever read has come out of this boom.

It’s kind of hard to screw up — what a story!

People have compared what’s happening in North Dakota to the Gold Rush. “It’s a modern-day Gold Rush!” they say. Before, I thought this was maybe a little exaggerated. And it probably is. But not by much, not by much.

Someone here quotes Eric Sevareid, the late TV newsman. Sevareid was from North Dakota. He called his native state “a large, rectangular blank spot in the nation’s mind.”

I arrive at the Fargo airport, and see a boat in the luggage area. It has been put there by a company, as an advertisement. The company’s slogan: “We sell fun.”


My taxi driver has an unusual accent: The accent is Fargo — but it’s also foreign. Turns out he is a Bosnian, who has been here 15 years. He speaks of his home region: “Religion is not the problem. Individuals who spread extremism are the problem.”

Someone tells me later that many people from the Balkans were brought here, thanks to the efforts of Lutheran Social Services.

The weather is unseasonably mild — warm, even. A lady tells me, “My birthday is St. Patrick’s Day. I have lived here all my life. This is the first year when there wasn’t snow on my birthday.”

She married a boy from Buffalo (as she puts it). “He said he knew about the cold. I said, ‘No — you know about snow. You don’t know about 30-below and a 50-mile-an-hour breeze.’”