We stood in line to board the red-eye flight out of Las Vegas, my mom and I fresh off of a whirl-wind trip to shop for pretty clothes and shoes and jewelry to stock her store in Boomtown. We had our bags thrown over our shoulders and our boarding passes out, anticipating the deconstruction of our outfits that would soon ensue as we threw it all in plastic bins to walk through the metal detector, only to have to put it all back on again.
When you’re in lines like this surrounded by people of all shapes and sizes and walks of life, taking off shoes and watches and unloading laptops and toothpaste tubes, I can’t help but make up stories about the characters in my head.
Mom, Dad and baby heading out to see grandparents.
An older couple leaving their Las Vegas winter home.
Three middle aged and desperately tired women heading back to the midwest after a wild girls’ weekend in Sin City.
Most of the time my assumptions are unfounded, just a guess based on superficial cues, like the “I heart Las Vegas” souvenir shirt or the child wearing one of those monkey backpacks with a leash, running wild behind his overbearing mother.
But then sometimes the story plays out before me in a conversation I can’t help but overhear.
Two young women, maybe early twenties, cute and trim and friends, dressed in sweatpants with their hair pulled up in loose, but well-tended ponytails, light jackets flopped over their arms, lift overstuffed carry-on suitcases up on the conveyer belt and turn to answer the question coming from the couple behind them…
“You heading home?”
A tall man, like 6 foot 3, in his mid-thirties, immaculately dressed in slick jeans and sneakers, his dark hair pulled back in perfect and long dreadlocks, has his arm around a petite young blond in a tight red knit dress as she unzips her studded high heel boots and places them in one of those bins…
“No,” replies one of the girls. “I’m heading to see my boyfriend in North Dakota. Williston. He works in the oilfield up there.”
“Oh, right!” says the dreadlocked man turning to the blond. “We’ve been there.”
“Is it nice?”
I turned to my mom to make sure she was listening. Williston is our neighboring town and I needed an extra set of eavesdropping ears to hear the string of assumptions, observations and impressions that would follow about our booming community from the mouths of a few mis-matched Las Vegas residents.
It was an earful.
“It’s cold as hell. Like, it burns your face and skin a few seconds after you step out the door.”
“We ate at that Mexican place, what’s it called…oh, I can’t remember, but you’ll find it. It’s one of the only places to eat in the state.”
“Oh, and then there’s that Barbecue place…”
“Yeah, you’ll see it. Two restaurants. One says “Mexican.” One says “BBQ.:
“Oh, well, we don’t go out much when we get there. Usually only go to the two strip clubs. There’s two, right beside each other…”
“You better wrap your arms around that boyfriend of yours when you get there and tell him you really love him, you know, to have traveled all the way up there, to a godforsaken place like this…for him…”
Two sweatpants-clad women laugh.
My mom sighs.
Red Dress walks through medal detector
I say at least they’re right about the cold.
But here’s the thing, our community is in the spotlight right now, for good reasons and bad reasons and because there is a story around every corner, one that can be easily sensationalized or one that is sensational enough on it’s own.
And we’re in the thick of it. We may have escaped to Vegas for a few days, but a world full of rumors, truck traffic, booming populations, help-wanted signs, $15 per-hour McDonalds jobs and young men working away from home waiting for their girlfriends to pay them a visit from a warmer climate was waiting for us when we got home.
If those two young women would have asked me if it was nice up in North Dakota, they would have received an entirely different answer.
I would have at least given them a few more tips on restaurants, and maybe advised on buying a beanie, I mean, wouldn’t the boyfriend have thought to mention the windchill?
Anyway, I imagine those two young women have been here and back again and now hold on to their own impressions of my chilly home state, impressions they will bring back to share with their friends in Nevada.
I’ll tell you though, having grown up in this place when it was quiet, when it was scoria roads and “everyone knows everyone” and the only thing anyone ever knew of this place was that it was cold, and that people here have a funny accent, and that yeah, we’re nice,
North Dakota nice,
I’ll admit now reading about us in the papers, about how we’ve changed, about how some of this oil booming business isn’t so nice, isn’t so pretty, isn’t necessarily understood, it makes me cringe. It’s like overhearing a a stranger say mean things about my little sister.
“You don’t really know her! You don’t know why she is the way she is! You don’t know the challenges, how big her heart is, how hard she’s trying! You don’t understand!”
But just as I observe and make assumptions about those travelers based only on the information I’m given, so go the perceptions of my home, coming from a visitors’ own frozen lips or from the lips of those willing to share their own judgements and experiences.
So I suppose that’s why, when I get the chance, in my North Dakota accent, I talk about it. To whoever’s asking, I’m happy to explain my world the way I knew it and the way I know it now.
Not that I know everything. I’m quick to note that living in a camper in sub-zero temperatures hundreds of miles away from home is a little different than living in a new house in a familiar place. It isn’t all pretty and it isn’t all nice, but some of it is. Some of it is damn exciting. Some of it, like a sunset over the badlands and a hike through the tall grass, and the fact that my husband and I can make enough of a living to stay and work in a place we love, a place we stand up for, is as beautiful and thrilling as it ever was…
That’s what I know of this place anyway…. That’s what I would have told them…
Coming Home: Northern accent perfect for telling story of my town
by Jessie Veeder