i was trying to shorten this anecdote into a manageable thread for twitter but i couldn’t, so now it’s here. YOU’RE WELCOME.
so there are missiles in north dakota – this is p common knowledge, there’s even an abandoned site called the north dakota pyramid that was literally operational for like three days that you can visit – about 150 of them, minutemen i guess, and they’re just… scattered around this big relatively empty state. fine.
well, there’s a silo p near the highway from williston (where i live) to minot (where target lives) that crystal and i have passed prooooobs about 100 times in the five years we’ve lived here. we talk about it maybe 1 out of every 4/5 times we pass it, mostly bc one of our coworkers had a flat tire near there once and a military vehicle appeared out of nowhere, changed her tire, and escorted her until she was well on her way again, which is, obviously, both kind of understandable and creepy as fuck.
ANYWAY, we drove by last week on our way to get our fog light fixed from when crystal hit a raccoon the last time we drove back home on that highway and i noticed that there were a couple of military vehicles at the silo-ish area and i didn’t think anything about it because there is occasionally one or two there, doing whatever they do to ensure that a freakin’ MISSILE SILO is functioning optimally, i assume.
but then on the way home, i looked again because when i’ve seen vehicles there before, they’re usually only there on one half of the trip, but this time they were still there. like a lot of them. like a half dozen military vehicles at the underground MISSILE SILO next to the highway. and i took mental note of it, but went on with our drive because i have the memory of a goldfish and the tiny attention span of the millennial that old people write op-eds about.
it took me a couple days, but like, there were military vehicles at the side-of-the-highway underground missile silo in middle-of-nowhere bumfuck north dakota because our piece of shit president is a FUCKING WAR MONGER and if he decides to launch NUCLEAR WEAPONS there is a very good chance they’re going to be launched from a missile silo very near me.
it’s one thing to know there are 150 nuclear weapons in the ground near enough to your home. it’s another thing to suddenly realize they might actually be launched, used against other living people across the world.
i am, to say the least, unsettled.
also, just for funzies, minot air force base that is in charge of those nuclear missiles AND bombers that drop the more traditional weapons of mass destruction is one of the worst maintained with the worst morale in the country! drug abuse! domestic violence! missile scandals!
living in a country at the whim of a violent man-baby is just the best!
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.
Epping, North Dakota is a really, really small town 20 miles north east of where we are here in Williston. It was founded in 1905 along the Great Northern Railway.
When I say “small town,” I really, really mean small. Like, unbelievably small. Small like it has a total area of 0.38 square miles. Small like it had a population of exactly 100 in the 2010 census. Small like for the entire twenty minutes we were driving around the whopping three blocks that make up the city, we saw one other human being.
The Buffalo Trails Museum was closed just like every other business we saw. They’d just had their annual Buffalo Trail Day event which includes a pancake dance and church services and an ice cream social. We figure they must have been recovering.
There isn’t much here except a grain elevator and oil storage. This is where most of the oil pumped in and around Williston goes to meet the train and head for processing because despite the massive amount of oil coming out of the Bakken formation, it’s all got to be shipped to refineries elsewhere.
People in North Dakota are very serious about their Scandinavian heritage. I didn’t know the US was so into their viking-ass history until I got here. Seriously. Wait ’til you see the pictures of Minot.
Epping is weird as hell. The weekend we were there it looked abandoned. It didn’t just look like, you know, people were inside or out of town, it looked like the remains of a city after war.
Western North Dakota is really just like that though, a series of wheat and oil fields dotted with places like Epping, places like Zahl, places like Van Hook. It’s hard to believe there’s somewhere in the United States today with so few humans in it.
North Dakota is the third least populous state in the US and the fourth least in population density. There are more populated areas, even areas that are growing so rapidly that there aren’t enough homes — I know, I live in one — but there are less than ten people for every square mile of North Dakota territory. And trust me, when you live here — even in a place that seems crammed with people — you know it.
I live in North Dakota now! It’s weird!
I’ve been here for about a month and a half and it’s starting to feel like “home” even though I’m having a hard time calling it that?! Like, every time we’re out somewhere I say, “Are we heading back to the house now?” or whatever and if I talk about L.A. I say “home” — so that’s a thing.
But regardless of what I call it, the house is very comfortable and we have furniture and stuff put away and we’ve been unpacked for almost a month and just bought the last piece of furniture we needed for our living room, so that’s wonderful. We still need to buy a bed/frame and boxspring, but that’ll happen eventually and until then I guess we’ll continue to survive with a mattress on the floor like some sad college sophomore that lives with eleven other guys. 27 is too old to get up from THE FLOOR every morning! The noises my joints make! YOU WOULD FIND THEM ALARMING.
North Dakota is weird and Williston is very small (comparatively) and there are SO MANY grasshoppers/katydids/cricket creatures EVERYWHERE which are the kind of bug I am the most afraid of so that’s been great. Also, our neighbors are pretty rude?! So that North Dakota nice thing seems like a lie. Although everyone kind of waves at each other when we pass on dirt roads, so… I don’t even know where to go with it. The lesson, I think, is that there are some nice people and some shitheads everywhere, no matter what. People are terrible! Shocker.
Other Things: no one has backyard fences, construction sites are just littered with totally theftable shit at all hours whether people are there or not and there is never security, oil drilling in the Bakken produces a LARGE byproduct of natural gas, but there’s only so much that can be harvested/contained so all the oil sites have these things called flares which are either large holes in the ground or giant potbelly stove looking things that are just ON FIRE all the time, there are dirt roads that you just have to drive on to get to places sometimes, almost no one is from here and the people who are don’t seem all that enthused about the people who aren’t, food is EXPENSIVE, there are almost no chains whatsoever for anything including food and consumer goods, Hardee’s is NOT like Carl’s Jr. no matter what anyone tells you, Pita Palace is the bomb, milk tastes better here just like it did in Kansas City, most stretches of the “freeway” (it’s… not… a… freeway…) are only 2-4 lanes total, we pick up our mail from one of the local radio stations, Frank’s/3 Amigos is also The Bomb, there is only one theater in town and it’s not a chain, Canada is REALLY close, and nobody can drive worth a shit.
WHEW let me tell you it’s been a weird month. » more: welcome to nodak
There are a lot of complicated feelings in moving somewhere, even if you’re not moving far away, even if you’ve only lived somewhere for a little while or you never really liked the place anyway or you’ve been trying to escape since you were born.
my grandparents had these done for our families by some friend or other and i’ve always kind of loved ours
The house I’m moving out of — the place — is my home and my hometown. It’s the house my parents brought me home to after I was born and it’s got 27 years and almost five months of history for me. I learned to walk here and to talk and to read and write. I’ve made a lot of terrible decisions in these walls and a lot of good ones. The bedroom I’m typing this in right now has been mine since my sister moved out at 18. I was nine. It’s seen all my milestones.
I’ve cried and laughed a lot. I’ve spent days in this room, unable to leave, because I was too sad or angry or anxious. I’ve shared a bed with my friends and my fiancée and some people I hadn’t know that long and once there were literally 18 people crammed on it in pursuit of a picture.
I wrote my first novel in this room. I’ve written every piece of my own writing I’ve considered tolerable in this room. I have learned the most important things I know in this room. I fell in love in this room. And I shared it with the love of my life. I got engaged in this room. I’ve broken things in anger in this room and screamed in joy and fought and yelled with so many of the most important people in my life. I’ve thought about suicide in this room. I’ve come beyond wishing I was dead in this room. I spent three entire months watching Daria: Is It Fall Yet? on loop in this room because I was too depressed to do anything else. I can still effortlessly recite it word for word. I have had slumber parties in here and drunken sleepovers. I’ve stayed up for 72 hours in here and slept for 24. Where I painted and let my friends paint all over my walls, regardless of skill or intent or design.
This house is where I broke both my arms, where I’ve gotten hundreds of bruises and scratches. Where I figured out the person that I was and learned to love and appreciate her. It’s the house where I always thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do and be and had it turned on its head a dozen times over. Where I figured out that I don’t ever have to know what I want to be when I grow up, that it’s okay to just keep trying things that make me happy and interested.
This is the house where I had parties that lived in legend even though no one ever drank or did drugs, where inside jokes formed and flourished and crushes got the least inventive nicknames. Where I had the “cool parents” and never had a bedtime and learned how to make good decisions because I was given the freedom to make the stupid ones. Where I smoked my first cigarette and had my first kiss… and a bunch of other firsts that I won’t mention because this is a post I know my dad will read aloud to my mom and that’s too awkward even for me.
This is the house where I nourished the three friendships that have kept me alive for the last 10+ (and 19, this September) years, where I sometimes tried to destroy them. Where I turned the newest, fastest friendship I’d ever had into a my first real, important, lasting romantic relationship. (Don’t worry, I’ve spent plenty of time trying to wreck that one too.)
This house is where high school happened.
Including those 18 people and the aforementioned artwork (courtesy of the very talented Bryce and his signature ASB writing and Miriam’s lovely portraits).
This house is where friendship happened.
Where a majority of our TEN annual Christmas parties have happened, including number one, five, and ten.
Where drunkenness happened.
And where I was a baby and a child and an adolescent and an adult. Where I was part of the best family I could’ve ever asked for.
I am going to miss this house, this place where I put my heart for the last 27 years. I’ve lived in other places, but they’ve never been what this house has been to me, what this city has been to me, what this whole place is. I spent my formative years wishing I was anywhere else on Earth and now I’m going to spend the next few wishing I could get back. And that seems fitting somehow. But I know it’ll never be this house again and I know that the people who live in it next will destroy some of the things I have learned to love most about it — the creaking floors and the dated kitchen, the green bathtub, and the 1952 original windows that are a bitch and a half to open — but they’ll make their own memories in it and I think that makes it okay.
It’s in my nature to want to destroy what I can’t have though, so I’ll probably spend the next three weeks fighting every urge in my body to just start smashing things, to upperdeck the toilets, and steal the house down to the studs. But I’ll resist and try to remember it as well as I can instead because it’ll always be the first place I think of when I hear “home,” the first place I ever lived and probably always the longest. It’ll always be, in some significant way, home.