Monday, December 6, 2010


Downtown Fargo (where the movie by the same name premiered several years ago) has been subjected to frantic upscaling for quite awhile now. When I first moved here in 1986, there was still a Greyhound station on NP Avenue. Since then, Greyhound is gone; another bus company has come in, but you catch that one near Walmart in the retail and franchise district.

Used to be, across from the Greyhound were the dirty bookstore, a former army surplus store, an evangelical mission, the Cole Hotel (one of three downtown residential hotels), two bars, and an odd little store. The store was long and narrow, and opened late at night when buses came in. Long tables held dusty old toasters, clocks, electric motors, and other detritus. An old man--anciently old--sat in a sagging chair at a desk. Nearby was a cooler from which he sold sandwiches and cartons of milk. The old man's head and neck were sunk between his collarbones, vulture-like. In front of him was a large glass tumbler, half full--his doctor, he said, advised him to drink a glass of scotch every night for his heart. He diligently filled the glass every evening. He slept in the back of the store.

The odd little store was torn out, probably when the old man died. It was a brick building abutting the neighboring building; the lot was paved and you can still make out the line where one building once joined the other.

The bars are memorialized in Louise Erdrich's novel, Love Medicine. Both had elaborate neon signs. The Round-Up featured a cowgirl twirling a lasso; the Pink Flamingo featured just that. The signs were sold when those buildings went; a North Dakota farmer apparently installed the Pink Flamingo neon on his farmstead. The The Cole was emptied out. The mission disappeared. The Greyhound station has recently become the new municipal court building. Not far away, the condos and boutiques and galleries and banks crowd Broadway. The dirty bookstore has stayed put.

A few weeks ago, before we had heavy snows, I'd seen one homeless guy pulling a cart of sorts, packed heavily with belongings. He had just a rope to pull the cart, and the wheels didn't seem to always behave--the contraption had a tendency to fishtail. I caught sight of him a few more times over the next several days. Since we got the snow, I'd changed from the varying alley routes I'd been taking to walk to work to the main streets, and noticed the man's cart parked just off the sidewalk on Broadway. I thought he might have parked it when it got too difficult to maneuver in the snow. It's still there, hasn't been touched, the snow has piled up around it. It's parked close to a hair and nail salon--until recently, women would sip glasses of wine while they were indulging in their mani-pedi's (a turn of phrase I only recently realized has become a phrase--or is it a word?). But there are liquor license rules and the authorities put an end to that.

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