Your Route Home IS Someone’s Home

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Phil led me back into the visitor area, and over to the wall of maps, tourist guides, and advertisements for roadside attractions. “Let’s see here…” He mused, plucking material from the racks. “This oughta be a good start,” he grinned, proudly fanning out an array of glossy brochures like a winning poker hand. “And they’re all right off of the Interstate,” he flicked the pamphlets with his pointer finger and thumb.

Hoping to sideline further discussion of tourist attractions, I told Phil that I was actually on my way home. “I live in Montana,” I said as if that alone would explain my lack of interest in North Dakota’s tourist attractions. “I’m just driving through,” I added with a hint of apology.

Phil looked perplexed, as though it had never occurred to him that anyone would use North Dakota as a simple throughway.

“What’s the rush?” He asked, visibly disappointed that I wasn’t planning a stop to see the world’s largest buffalo statue in Jamestown. Phil persisted, undeterred, rattling on enthusiastically about more favorite roadside attractions, scenic overlooks, and restaurants. At the end of his speech, he reached for a North Dakota highway map. “Take this too,” he grinned. “It’s free.”

I took the stack of tourist information from him, even the map, though I certainly didn’t need a map. I almost laughed out loud, picturing the stretch of I-94 that crosses North Dakota. The east-west traverse runs such a straight line, I’d feel safe with a twelve year old at the wheel, or relinquishing that 353-mile stretch of road to one of those dubious self-driving cars.

Despite Phil’s charming sales pitch for his beloved state, I got back in my car on that sunny, autumn afternoon, fixated on the Montana border. I set the cruise control to 80 and sped on past Medicine Wheel Park, the beloved buffalo statue, Kroll’s Diner, the Painted Canyon Nature Trail, and even Salem Sue, the giant fiberglass Holstein cow sculpture.

While packing my car yesterday in sub-zero temperatures, I found the stack of printed tourist guides that Phil had carefully curated for me back in October, tucked into the pocket of my car’s driver’s side door. I intended to toss everything in the recycle bin, but my efforts were thwarted by Phil’s voice in my head. “What’s the rush?”

What is the rush?

What would happen if I carved out thirty minutes, even an hour, for a giant buffalo sculpture? The world’s largest, no less. I tried to imagine standing beneath the concrete creature, looking it in the eye, offering up my bundle of worries to its immensity. Who knows? Maybe it would do the trick. If not, it would be a good place to stretch my legs. Besides, Jamestown has a river running through it, and there is always an apt metaphor to be found in a river.

At the very least, I thought, it would give me something good to report to Phil next time I saw him.

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