Baxter Black: Good times up north
April 9, 2011
I was in North Dakota in early spring. The night before, the temperature was 3 degrees.
That morning, it had warmed up to 4. I walked into the giant Ag Expo building and made a circle of the trade show, just visiting. I stopped at the booth of a man selling wood stoves.
"How are things goin'?" I asked,
"Well, " he said, shaking his head, "You know how things are."
I did know how things were.
I'd been up north the month before. Everywhere I looked, prosperity reigned. The oil business was booming and had moved his home state into wealth. They could change their name to North Wyoming or Saudi Dakota.
I read unemployment was below 4 percent, banks were flush, and the state treasury had a surplus. I thought maybe the vendor was seriously ill, was financing his daughter's veterinary school education, or he'd been unable to winter in Acapulco because of the drug war.
"Is business bad?" I asked.
"Selling stoves in North Dakota in the middle of the winter?" he replied as if I was a moron. At least he didn't say "Duh."
I asked what he did in the summer.
"I farm," he said, "Corn, wheat and beans, and I run about 400 cows."
"It looks like grain and beans are going to skyrocket in price, what with Russia's famine and Ethanol. And cattle are selling at record prices," I said.
"Yeah, but you know how things go, something could happen," he said. "The river might flood, there's still time for a blizzard … "
Try as I might I couldn't get him to say anything optimistic. I put myself in his place and tried to think up something positive like, "The new gate we hung that goes to the lower lot swings good, I made my rubber boots last longer by not wearing them outside, I discovered Plasti-Dip for my old pump plier handles, the doctor said I was only 20 pounds overweight, I finally finished reading Max Armstrong's autobiography, my son is taking welding in Vo-Ag, we got a satellite dish so we can watch RFD-TV, the pipes didn't freeze in the basement, and I thought I wasn't going to like my wife's new car … but I do."
But instead, I said, "Accounting for the recession, I'd say you're doin' petty good."
"Yeah, but … I have to live here," he said.
"Well, just hang on," I said, "And pray for global warming!"
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