Magazine September 30, 2019, Issue

What’s the Matter with Fargo?

(Andy King/Reuters)

I drove up to Fargo the other day, and I can see the eyes of the right-thinking people narrow: You . . . drove? The Arctic is ice-free for the first time ever in the history of the universe, and you drove?

Yes. Sorry! Took Highway Ten the breadth of the state of Minnesota, threading through small communities that must rely on cars because Koch-funded Republicans have cruelly refused to pay for rail systems that connect the hamlets and towns. Decades of pro-auto propaganda long ago convinced the rural people to abandon their horses for cars; I imagine the country was thick with unwanted, unattended ol’ dobbins, roaming around, pitifully thin. Sorry, old friend, but Henry Ford hypnotized me into abandoning my sustainable ways. Good luck.

The highway goes through farm country. The crops looked great, but they’re probably genetically modified. I was dismayed to see a few crop dusters using an internal-combustion engine to power their planes; surely they could use gliders, or maybe just put people up on stilts? But then I realized that they were dumping poison on the crops and shook my head again. Thanks for the cancer sauce, Goering! 

Now and then I passed a few tractors on the road, and it goes without saying that these poor people have no choice but to use carbon fuels to power their tractors. To be honest I have a problem with draught horses, though; the animals have not consented to the use of their labor. Maybe use sails? I’m not a farmer but it seems like it could work. It would cut down on oil use and they could wean themselves off fracking before Elizabeth Warren stops it. 

When I got to Fargo my heart softened a little, because they are building lots of dense apartment buildings. Yay, density! Alas, they’re still putting up single-family homes. I know, I know — seriously? With, like, yards and everything? Yes. Zoning still permits single-family homes, and by “family” they actually mean the two-spouse/kids/dog cohabitation in a free-standing dwelling. I know, I know — it’s like going back to the 20th century, where everyone had to look like a Normal Rockwell painting. Flags on poles, dads mowing the lawn, kids playing on the baseball fields — what is this, a Klan recruitment video?

I drove to my father’s house, which I have inherited, because the laws have not yet thwarted systemic multigenerational wealth-accumulation. It’s on a cul-de-sac — gag, I know — and it has a double garage, which just encourages people to buy a car they don’t need. I went out to the back porch and looked out over the grassy expanse between the houses. Trees, flowers, shrubbery — I suppose it was good, because green spaces are sacred, but it was privately owned and manicured, so, like, whatever carbon offset it provided was offset itself by a moral cost? 

All these private homes with their own little sets of rules, like private fiefdoms. It’s so medieval, except for the part where all the serfs have their own castles, but you know what I mean. 

It comes down to this: People in this North Dakota town are permitted to believe that we don’t have to change everything about the way they live. Society’s permission bestows privilege, and this privilege hampers progress. If you want to know what we’re up against, just imagine the pushback you’d get if someone suggested a mandatory buyback of all these houses to build dense-living blocks. They don’t even know it’s stolen land in the first place.

The next day I had to go to a funeral, and I guess the people who arranged it thought it would be totally okay to make everyone go to an actual church that had no signs or cloths or indications it was inclusive. Hate can be so bold out here.

Oh! Oh, one other thing. At midnight the previous day I went to this grocery store, ridiculously huge as you might imagine, America is just so predictable, and I got stuff for my stay. Some fruit from wherever, some coffee from Brazil, a decent baguette, pastries, a kitchen tool, a newspaper from New York (they had an unsold copy of the Times at the end of the day, which tells you EVERYTHING), and a Blu-Ray at the Redbox of this indie film I’ve been wanting to see. The clerk, young guy, was friendly and asked me “Paper or plastic?” as if it was just a matter of personal preference. And I’m like, the Amazon is burning? Hello? But when in Rome, I guess. I said “Paper.” 

Looking back at that moment, I think it summed up the full horror: This nice brainwashed kid asking me whether I wanted deforestation or oceanic pollution and assuming I was okay with either. It says it all. Everything up there “works,” and people “get along,” and they all seem so damned content. 

It’s enough to make you cry. 

And I did, once I was in my car. But I dried my tears quickly, because this was just the sort of place where someone might rap their knuckles on the window and ask if you were okay, and I don’t need your savior narrative, mister. I need you to change. I need all of you to change. 

We have to figure out how to change all of this. 

Except for the part where you get a good baguette at a grocery store at 11:58 in Fargo. But that’s the least important thing, and after the revolution I’m sure whoever does that will make sure it keeps happening. 

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