North Dakota Journal, Part II


Outside a building in Bismarck, I see a sign I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: “Smoke-Free Entrance, 50 Feet.” No smoking within 50 feet of the building. That is really a sign of our times, when we ban indoor smoking (forcing smokers outdoors).

The building, I believe, is a nursing home.

Ron Ness is president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. He grew up in Tolna, a tiny town in the eastern part of the state. His father ran the grain elevator. Ron knows something about bad times, something about emptying out. He saw his town lose its school, its café, and its grocery store.

He himself walked just 500 yards to high school. After him, kids were bused 45 miles each way.

The vast pot of oil that sits in the northwestern part of the state is called the Bakken — the Bakken formation. The name rhymes with “rockin’.” In fact, there’s a bumper sticker: “Rockin’ the Bakken.”

Another one says, “If it weren’t for the Bakken, we’d be walkin’.” A third says, “Bringin’ home the Bakken.” (Well, that one may be a little weak.)

Gary Emineth is both a politico and a businessman — an entrepreneur. Man’s in the burrito business. For the Bakken, he had a special burrito made: big and meal-like. He has done more business in 13 stores in the Bakken than in 450 stores elsewhere.

I’m told that the Cenex in Stanley — this is a convenience store — does $1 million a year in business. Stanley is just a small town, mind you: under 1,500 people. At least, that was true as of the last census. Now, I’m not really sure.

Apparently, there are kids from 39 states in the high school. Teachers are holding class in the lunchroom, the auditorium, and the garage. They’re about to get a $7 million expansion.

That Cenex? I’m told that it sells more Piccadilly Pizza than any other store in the country.

Care for some more fun facts, indicative of the boom? In Williston, the McDonald’s had to shut down in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon. They had run out of food.

You get a signing bonus, for working at that McDonald’s — $1,000, I’m told. Pay begins at $18 an hour (again, I’m told). Blue-chip health insurance.

At the Williston Walmart, they don’t really bother stocking the shelves. Who wants to work as a stockboy when you can make a bundle in the oil patch? Also, the goods would not stay on the shelves long.

The store just sets the pallets in the aisles, and customers grab the goods and go right to the register.

The Walmart in Minot, I hear, is thinking about closing down: Hard to get people to work there. Truckers in the oil patch make between $80,000 and $120,000 a year, with generous benefits.

Someone says to me, “Do you mind if I tell you something blue?” Naturally, I’m all ears. “From what I hear,” he says, “the strippers are making more per night in Williston than they do in Las Vegas.”

Well, I’ll be. See you tomorrow, for Part III? It’ll be our finale.



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