Russ Ringsak

No Regrets Just Questions

March 8, 2011

My nephew Beau who runs the family farm near Grand Forks drove over to Bemidji for the show on the 12th of February. After the truck was loaded we had dinner at a comfortable restaurant near the fine old depot. A good place, marred only by the mindless music that got louder and dumber as the night went on; it finally hit that point where full grown persons reach their banality overload and must walk out. Out into the crisp winter air and away from the reach of hammering repetition and unrelenting maudlinism.

It was time to go by then anyway, but neither of us will go back there no matter how tasty the prime rib. We left wondering how rock and roll could have degenerated into such self indulgent rot, and where did you go Nadine, Barbara Ann, Linda Lou and Mustang Sally? We need, the whole country needs, a little up-tempo harmless humor. And now I'm beginning to understand affection for the Good Old Days.

And it was a surprise because I had dinner the night before at a downtown Italian place that was the very essence of civility and restrained good taste. And there was another place near our hotel I'd highly recommend as well, if I remembered the name. A sweet downtown they have there in Bemidji.

Anyway, I asked Beau about the hired hand from the air base I had met when I went up there to help with the beet harvest. They hired him as a seasonal truck driver and after two years the guy retired from the Air Force and they were happy to make it full time. He's from western Pennsylvania, a tropical mountain paradise compared to our Red River Valley of the North, and has somehow managed to adapt to flat land and cold straight roads. We'll call him Jake.

It's way easy to make mistakes in the farming business, some of which will put permanent damage on one's person and others that inflict pain on outrageously expensive machinery. And given the blueprint of the human creature and our natural propensity for error, unpredictable miseries become inevitabilities. And how could it be otherwise.

But when they happen because of an error by Jake he never considers himself a bad guy. His reaction is always in the nature of "Now how in the heck could something like that happen?" Or "Who'd ever think that thing woulda come apart like that?" He never says, "Man, I really messed that up. I can't believe what a screwup I am." It just never seems to cross his mind.

He may stand in wonderment that such a violent cracking of a gearcase could occur or how those teeth could have been sheared off or how that bearing could get fried like that, but he doesn't take it personal no matter how close he was to it. It's not anybody's fault. It's just another remarkable event. They'll happen.

And as much as it may cost their operation, Beau not only understands it but finds the 'no regrets just questions' thing refreshing. Me too.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He had been to a fall soccer match that came down to a shootout, this one set up so that there was a line of defenders, maybe four or five, posted forward of the goal. The kicker was about to take his best shot at drilling it through them and into the net. As he backed up and concentrated, about to unleash the missile, a woman on the sidelines, herself a member of the women's team, loudly hollered to the defenders: "COVER YOUR ISH!!!"

This is North Dakota, a manly state where the personal region has been variously referred to in such terms as "wedding tackle" or "the package," or even the British "naughty bits." And now comes this. The Ish. Is this local or are females elsewhere now referring to it as dismissively as this?

It is a remarkable and flexible language we have here. And it was also at a soccer game, which may somewhat explain it. And I should have to add that I never heard the word 'soccer' at any truck stop I ever set foot upon or into. So I don't know that much about it.

The trip up to Bemidji was remarkable only in how long it took, partly because of stopping at Clearwater to get the truck washed and having it take about two hours and then be a lousy job on top of it.

Not a problem, but it set a certain tone. Later that night I was about to turn in and on a whim thought I'd go down the hall and get a munchie and a sody pop and I found myself locked in. Called the desk. They sent a guy up and then another and they passed a torx screwdriver shaft and a Phillips with a very skinny handle under the door into the nap of the carpet, and with that and my Leatherman I was able to remove the door handle and the bolt lever, and the cover plate and the backing plate. My side of the door was then all wood and they still couldn't turn the lock. At 4:30 AM they finally gave up and I went to bed.

At 8:00 AM the front desk called and said she was sending up a couple more guys. They had me put the plates and handles back on. More jiggling. I sat and looked out over the frozen lake with all the fish houses strung in loose arcs out there, thinking that a stranger to Minnesota might take them to be housing for the homeless. I later asked a guy where those people go in the summer and he said he thought they went under the bridge.

By 10:30 they were ready to answer my request for a SWAT team but then a tall soft spoken gangly guy showed (I could see through the little fisheye peephole) and he made the same kinds of jiggling noises they'd all been making for hours and after about ten minutes there was a sudden sliding snap sound and bingo the door opened. Wow.

When they put it back together they just took the whole lockset out and pushed an entire new one in there, the hardware part, and connected the one little wire from the door's card reader and didn't even have to reset the combination or make a new plastic key card. They couldn't have drilled out a cylinder because there wasn't one to drill. They would have had to just saw the door down and they were ready to do that, before the Houdini Einstein Lone Ranger guy showed up.

As one might expect in a small town, I became a sort of folk hero; hotel staff and guys in the parking lot who worked at the place or made deliveries would smile and say Niceta get outa there I bet huh? Our whole entourage knew the story and by the time I got to the auditorium locals there looked at me and gave me understanding smiles.

The hotel gave me a gift basket with great chocolates, cashews, a giant Minnesota coffee mug and a non-expiring card for a free room. I'm thinking if I don't live long enough to use it I'll specify my coffin to be set there for the free night. It's non-expiring, y'know.


I lent my camera to my daughter who just went to Belize for a week with her husband and I forgot to download the memory card. I think I had some photos in there of the snow and cold up there in beautiful Bemidji. So instead of that I'm sending pictures from last year, taken before we started using them here on the website.

Here is a goat sculpture from a park along the Spokane River; it's backed up to a dumpster. You operate the lever and the goat comes alive and eats your trash, and how very cool that is. For both of you.

Trash Eating Goat
Trash-eating goat.

And here, also in the city of Spokane, is a view underneath the very dramatic high arched concrete Monroe Bridge, built in 1911:

Meeting under the Monroe Bridge
Meeting under the Monroe Bridge

And here is a gorgeous Federal semi tractor with a sleeper, possibly a 1948 or so, looking as good as anything in the entire truck stop nation. I'm not sure where I took this shot but it was on a return from the west coast somewhere. It's carrying a vintage GMC snubnose on the trailer:

Federal Semi Tractor
A rare and beautiful Federal, and why a person should carry a camera.


Next week: Memories of Morris in Middle Minnesota.

©R.Ringsak 2011

russring at visi dot com

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