I once again had the opportunity to set out for work, and this time to fabulous North Dakota. I was genuinely excited about this opportunity for numerous reasons: a chance to see somewhere new that I certainly wouldn’t have hit otherwise, going solo would leave evenings my own to plan, and most importantly, it was a speaking opportunity that would provide me a great opportunity for growth. I spoke the week before as well at a one-off event in Oconomowoc, WI which served as a good warm up for this spot at the Tessman Turf Academy.
I arrived on Monday to a small Bismarck airport, AmEx in hand, and there was not a single cab waiting to take me to the nearby capital. I went to the help desk and they were able to provide some numbers of taxi companies, of which two didn’t want to come to the airport, and none accepted plastic. I guess I was unaware that this was going to be a trip to the developing world. I got some cash, a cab, and was soon checking into my hotel.
Having no obligations that evening, I wanted to make use of it somehow and opted for the newly refurbished Heritage Center. The cap from the hotel was going to take longer than walking, so I decided to grab some exercise and fight through the fierce Dakota winds. One thing I noticed along the way that every restaurant, store, and potential employer was hiring. ND’s unemployment rate sits somewhere below 3% and has been the lowest in the country since 2008. It would seem that anyone wanting a job need only to sign up at the company of their choosing, at a twice the minimum wage.
The museum was described to me as the ‘Smithsonian of the North’, and the 52 million dollars that they spent really went a long way. Even better was that entry was free. This museum had all the sorts of exhibits I appreciate when I travel; the range went from prehistoric to modern times. The first room showed what a balmy, dinosaur utopia the Dakotas once were. Much of the area was covered by an inland sea. Here is the main entrance, along with some large stones fashioned by the glaciers that long ago covered this area.
The exhibits took me through the influx of settlers – the region’s folksy accent can be attributed to the Norwegians – the histories of the various Native American tribes, and also some information on North Dakota today. I thought that the information on the indigenous peoples was one of the most valuable, and the quote below caught my attention; the idea that man always was and simply awoke to existence was a fresh take on things.
The museum closed up at 5, so I saw myself out to take a peek at the capitol complex. The state’s tallest ‘skyscraper’ and capitol building is located here, along with a statue dedicated to Sacajawea, the woman who helped Luis and Clark. I never realized that this good ol’ American tale took place way up here. I knew that they were exploring Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, and therefore assumed them to be more to the south.
I walked the rest of the way to the downtown area to grab some food and a drink. One of the other things that amused me was the absurd mishmash of houses that lined the streets, consistent only in their uniqueness. The docent directed me toward the town’s microbrewery where I plopped down for a bit and sampled the spread. They had a solid selection, though the day’s dark horse was the Strawberry Wheat Ale, whose flavors were subtle and not too fruity. The Laughing Sun comes highly recommended by myself, and all the other patrons I spoke with.
Like many fledgling breweries they offered no food options, giving me the chance to see another Bismarck monument. When the former Patterson Hotel opened in 1911, this 7 story, towering behemoth used to be the swankiest place around. It was the place to stay on those rare occasions that presidents and dignitaries actually visited the area. The rooms have now been converted to accommodate senior living, and the lobby into Peacock Alley. The oldest bar in the state had another beer to try from the nearby Mandan Brewery, as well as great burger. I worked though both and then set about getting back to my hotel. No way was I going to walk back the way I came, so I asked them to call me a cab. I was amazed to have them present me with a voucher for a gratis ride! This awesome (and probably easily abused) system is meant to keep people off the road who shouldn’t be.
The purpose of this trip was of course to speak, which I did in Bismarck, and then again in Fargo. I rode east to the second location with one of the other speakers, and together we enjoyed a full three hours of unchanging landscape. There was a little bit of snow, and the odd outcropping of houses, but it was mostly nothing. Once in Fargo, I checked into the hotel, supped on the complimentary dinner, and then set out to explore this fabled town. I swung into the local Drekker Brewing, and also fought through the frigid cold to snap a blurry shot of the famed Fargo Theater marquee. Here’s a better one, compliments of Google.
The next day I delivered the speech again, and I can say that it went pretty well. It started strong, but felt like it grew a bit repetitive in the last ten minutes or so. Still though, it was a strong showing, and something I could definitely feel good about. Toastmasters encourages its members to record themselves so that they can listen back after the fact and critique themselves. I went ahead and did that, and have also uploaded that here for your listening pleasure. I assure you, it is not the most gripping of content, but if you’ve got 40 minutes and nothing better to do, here you are.
After the work was done, I joined some of the other speakers for a beer before they dropped me back off at the hotel. Just across from my lodging was an airplane museum that had caught my eye the day before. I’m always curious, and such places are great for rounding out a trip. Of course I was in North Dakota for work, but I always approach these opportunities with the mentality of a traveler as well. For such a place as Fargo, I was genuinely impressed with the quality of the collection. Overall, it was a great trip, and another great opportunity to grow my experience and capabilities. I must also add that it inspired May and I to watch Fargo, the movie.