On the eve of the momentous day that marks exactly one year since we arrived in North Dakota, let me explain you a thing, friends.
North Dakota is very small.
Physically, this isn’t true. It’s 19th in the country with almost 71,000 square miles. That’s, on a technical level, like, pretty big. I mean, it’s not Alaska or anything, but it’s big. But population wise? It’s a whole other story.
Okay, so this involved a lot of convoluted math and ratios that I’m not TOTALLY sure I didn’t absolutely screw up, but I did it a couple times and I feel pretty solid about the whole deal?* Regardless of its actual accuracy, I think it’s an accurate representation of how genuinely tiny this place is. And it doesn’t even really capture it because even though there are 16,000 people here† there aren’t more people nearby. There are almost 50,000 people in my hometown, but the adjacent suburbs have even larger populations — like 50,000 and 100,000 and 149,000 — and then eventually just turn into Los Angeles. Here, we have to drive two hours to reach a city with a greater population than ours and that’s a whopping 40,000 residents. Minot is the fourth largest city in North Dakota.
Most of the space between what passes as a city here looks a lot like this:
Hell, even the area just beyond our neighborhood¤ starts to look like that.
Anyway, what this means is that North Dakota is devoid of things to do. I recognize, accept, and openly admit that I am spoiled to here and back for activities. I grew up in LA; I spent 2009-2012 going to Disneyland at least twice a month; I grew up a half a mile from the largest movie theater in Los Angeles County. I did not want for things to do. We drive those two hours to Minot to go to the movies here‡ and if we’re not seeing something opening week, we’re seeing it in a dumpy closet theater from hell.
There’s nowhere to eat here. Nowhere particularly good at least and there is very, very little variety. There’re steak places and “bar and grill” places, a good fast-ish non-chain burger place, and one decent Chinese place (What up, Rice and Spice!) but even after a year of being here, most of the food options feel like a punishment. And it’s all crazy expensive. Everything is here. The cost of living is bananas and the grocery stores’ idea of fresh chicken is defrosted chicken. It blows. A lot.
But even without Disneyland and without Thai food (It’s been more than a year since I had Thai food. Or good Mexican. Or decent pizza.) and with little to do here but dick around on the internet and look at clouds. day to day life seems not so bad.
People make do with very little all over the world all the time. And I don’t say that in a “Oh perspective will fix things” kind of way but in a “Humans are amazing” way. And they do more than just make do, they live full, happy lives. And maybe I’m not happy here and can’t wait to get back to California, but I’m okay and for now, okay is, well, it’s okay.
*: The first two times I did it, I did not account for the translation to a square, so I at least feel okay about this even though I had to do it four more times after I did start accounting for the square. Sorry if it’s wrong. Sorry I’m not sorrier. Sorry I am terrible at math. Sorry it’s what kept me from going into astronomy. Sorry you have to tolerate my second choice.#
†: This is in theory actually closer to 25,000 currently because of the oil boom, but there are no current, accurate figures on the internet as far as I can tell.
¤: When we tell people where we live — a new development on top of what is considered a “hill” here which is actually, like, a twenty foot rise in elevation just outside of the city limits — they often go, “Oh, you live in The Hills” as though it’s Hills, Beverly or some shit. 9021NODAK.
‡: Williston does, very technically, have a theater. Unfortunately it has not been updated in some time and thus has no moveable armrests. I am not going to jam my fat ass into a seat and be miserable for two hours of the only experience I treat as reverently as faithful people treat church. I’d rather drive two hours. Plus there’s a Target there.