Uncharted Territory: ND, MN, WI

06/12/2010 at 8:56 am | Posted in 49>50, Stories from the Road | 1 Comment

This blog entry goes with the photoblog taking shape over at http://flickr.com/mariancall. The photos are less great photos, more a way to tell the story, which is in the captions.  The experience I’m referring to in this blog entry is chronicled in this photoset.

Of everywhere I visited in the upper Midwest, Fargo was the only place in the middle of the country I’d ever really been (except for Wheaton, IL which is not really anything like Chicago).  And the Midwest has never much interested me, cuz, no mountains.  But that lack of interest or expectation set me up to be totally blown away.  The scenery was a lot prettier and more varied than I imagined, the culture was awesome, the food was amazing (and cheap!).  And I was kind enough to bring better-than-predicted weather to most of the places I visited.

And the people.  The people are why I love to do this.  I was lucky to be meeting almost entirely strangers, and I met entirely awesome interesting people.  Of course, my listeners tend to be awesome interesting people.  Hence all the portraits of folks you don’t know — I like to remember that one significant conversation I had with someone I’ve never met, about that time in college when they XYZ and it changed their direction in life.  Talking to strangers is my hobby.  Taking photos of people who claim they always look ugly in pictures is also my hobby.  Beware my merciless lens; I am the Candid Bandit.


  • Art galleries in Fargo/Moorhead.  Lots of them.  With awesome art.  And with three colleges and not much else to do, there’s an incredible theater and classical music scene there.  Did you not know?  It’s one of those towns that must create its own scene, since the rest of the world is unlikely to stop in.  People there have decided to make it happen on their own, and so it’s happening.
  • Watching a 12-year-old semi-pro competivite yoyo-er do tricks absentmindedly while talking to us.  Yoyo-ist.  Yoyo-phile.  I’m not sure, but he ruled.
  • Double the expected audience at my cafe concert in Minneapolis/St. Paul (!!)
  • My iPhone died in Tok, Alaska.  Thankfully I am enough of a nerd that I carry an old backup iPhone on six-month road trips.  I made three attempts to get it replaced, and had three failures and redirects.  But on the plus side, I got to visit the oldest mall in America in Roseville, MN.  And you can guess how much I love malls!
  • Hearing Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown for the first time.  I’ve been eager to get this album for months.  It’s a folk opera retelling the Orpheus myth set in Depression America, featuring Greg Brown as Hades and Ani DiFranco as Persephone, plus a kickin’ band.  You can buy it here.  And if you can possibly catch it live, you should.
  • We camped outdoors in rural Manitoba.  The first campground we pulled into was mostly deserted, and I had an ooky feeling about camping where no one else was.  Then Scott asked, “Is that a graveyard?” True ’nuff, there was an ill-kempt and crumbling graveyard right across a chain link fence from the numbered tent sites.  Crooked tombstones and all.  I’m not superstitious, but I really couldn’t do it.  We opted to drive on to a site that turned out to be conveniently located right next to the late night freight train express corridor.  (And killed the battery in my car using the headlights to set up the tent, and had to get a jump from some Alabama boys with molasses-thick accents in the morning.)
  • I was instructed to go barefoot more often, at least once a week.  Sound advice any way you look at it.  Easier to follow down here than in Alaska, of course.
  • I didn’t get how the Great Lakes had beaches. I mean, it makes sense logically, but witnessing them was something else.  Rehearsing with a guitarist on the beach in the sun is exactly how I like to spend my afternoons in the fantasyland where I get to mostly make music instead of send e-mail — so I was a lucky lucky lady in Chicago.
  • Cheese. Dude: CHEESE.  I love you Wisconsin…

People everywhere love to talk about their own state, and other states.  And I love to listen.  My first question is usually: “Why do you live here?  Why did you come here, or why did you stay here?” I even ask baristas and bank tellers.  I love the answers I get.  My favorite was so far, said of Milwaukee: “Tea.  Have you ever tasted $400/lb. tea?  Let me get you some.”  To which I, of course, say slainte.

Of course the regional stereotypes are a little true and a little false, and everywhere people see the grass as greener on the other side of the fence.  Everyone thinks they live in the least cool place until you tap into a funny, juvenile source of pride and they light up as they sing some stupid old song about their baseball team.  After collecting this much informal folksy knowledge about the country, I expect I’ll be able to settle a lot of arguments at cocktail parties.

(Speaking of which, may I have a word with you, Kansas?  Dude, you are not flat.  I’ve driven all the way across you both ways now, and I have seen nothing even close to as flat as Fargo.  And Manitoba totally takes the cake.  So don’t you be trying to steal North Dakota’s thunder.  You nice and rolly compared to the N.D.)

Must sleep, as it’s 4am.  Now have most mountain states booked, on to cementing the West Coast in late July and then my August trip from Seattle to Florida.  New dates are up at http://mariancall.com — tell your friends!  So I can keep rolling along.

And let me know what sorts of reports you want back, too.  It’s hard to encapsulate this experience, but I’m trying a number of methods and seeing what works out.  All my best —


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  1. […] Uncharted Territory: ND, MN, WI, on the first three states I hit on tour, including a lecture at Kansas for claiming flatness […]

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