I crossed the Mississippi River into Minnesota, not quite as mighty as when I spanned it at Davenport, but still a good-size river. Its headwaters were about 200 miles north near Grand Rapids where a series of lakes and streams started it all. Quite amazing! I circumvented Minneapolis/St. Paul by way of Loop 494. I had already seen their version of a metromess. The one thing I remembered about Minniehaha were the “skywalks” bridging most of the downtown office buildings. It was their counterpart to Dallas’ downtown tunnel system – the former kept people out of the cold; the latter kept people out of the heat. Both schemes had the same undesirable results: pedestrian street traffic was all but eliminated. So another chapter in city planning had gone awry.
It was getting late in the afternoon, and I wanted to get as close to North Dakota as possible. To tell the truth, I was finally getting jaded with two-lane highways. I scotched the idea of taking U.S. 12 and reluctantly opted for I-94. I headed northwest and noticed an inordinate stream of traffic going in the opposite direction.
It was the end of the Fourth of July weekend, so I figured it was the en masse exodus of city dwellers from upstate “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” I stopped at a rest area not far from North Dakota to spend the night. I noticed a maintenance man with a push broom in the parking lot. Back down the highway I saw the same in front of a convenience store. This had to be the cleanest state in the Union. I figured it had to be because of the predominant Scandinavian influence, a culture known for being fastidious. It was a stark contrast to the Southwest U.S. of A., where car carcasses and dilapidated mobile homes scarred the landscape.
Well, the next morning I had to fend for myself with a fare of bananas and milk. It was not exactly what I had been used to, but I was sated enough to get me down the road. Again, there was the same guy pushing his broom! Cleanliness was next to being a Minnesotan. As I neared the state line, I noticed an exit sign reading: “U.S. 75”. Well, I’ll be darned! I had just crossed a 1,091- mile extension of North Central Expressway! I stopped for petrol in Fargo where gas had dipped to 65 cents a gallon. They must have been having an old-fashioned gas war, something I hadn’t seen since the 1950s.
A city of about 60,000 people, Fargo exuded an air of stability and, of course, cleanliness. It had a vibrant downtown, and could well have been the setting for Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street. I did read the novel, and it actually took place in a town in Minnesota. I stopped by the train depot designed by H. H. Richardson in his familiar Romanesque Style of openings surrounded by heavy stone arches with a sloping tile roof and deep overhangs. That was his trademark concept for the Great Northern Railroad, which commissioned him to design stations from St. Paul to Seattle in the late 1800s. For a final touch of classicism, on the platform there was a tall freestanding, cast iron, two face clock with Roman numerals – a replica of the ones I remembered seeing in London’s great railway stations.
There was absolutely no other way to get to Bismarck other than I-94. I headed due west on an interminable stretch of concrete, broken only by views of vast seas of rolling wheat fields. It was a trip to the bountiful. I was driving on about the 48th parallel just after the summer solstice, which meant that I felt like I was in seemingly endless daylight. I noticed the sun was following a significant arc as it began to set. I thought if I were in Alaska right then, there would be no sunset.
I pulled into Bismarck and recalled John Heath suggesting I go by the Heart View Center where he had spent six months in alcoholic rehab ten years ago. Just out of curiosity, I decided to visit the sanitarium where my dear friend had had his life turned around. I ventured into the center under the guise of “considering” voluntary admittance for rehab. I just wanted to get a feel for the place.
In a windowless room, a counselor asked me a few random questions, which I blithely answered. I was having fun with these people. I went back to the reception area and ran into the head honcho by the name of John Moore. I said to him, “Your name sounds familiar. I just saw an old friend in Geneseo who recommended I stop by here and check out the facility. His name is John Heath.” His eyes widened as he said, “Of course I remember John. I was his counselor here ten years ago.” What a coincidence! I thanked him for the time his staff had given me and parted with a, “I’ll take all this under consideration.”