National Geographic : 2003 Nov
FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA through the low-slung downtown day and night. Or that within one zip code, 58102, there is a medical center that broadcasts robotic surgeries, a historic Broadway being restored to former glory, and a library where young refugees from Bosnia, Sudan, and Somalia crowd around computer screens, catching up on news from home. What Fargodid get right is the friendly tenacity of Fargoans, says Kristin Rudrtid, an actress who played the kidnapped wife in the film and who lives here with her ten-year-old daughter. "That spirit of pressing on, one foot in front of the other, with a good heart," is how Fargoans get through their winters, she says. "People seem to obey the Scandinavian concept of janteloven. It means, basically, 'Don't show off.'" When Fargocaptivated moviegoers with its "Ya! You betcha!" heartland stereotypes in * 1996, Fargo responded with an ironic wink. Residents wore their goofiest ear-flapped caps for an Academy Awards gala held downtown at the Fargo Theatre. The national news media arrived to get in on the joke. But Mar gie Bailly, who runs the 1926 art deco theater, had the last laugh. Drawing all that attention to her faded gem of a movie palace attracted more funding to restore it. Weeks later, as a particularly nasty winter melted into a flood, the news media was back. With friendly tenacity and no showing off, Fargoans filled and set 3.5 million sandbags to defy the swollen Red River. Dennis Walaker, the bear-size director of Fargo Public Works, emerged as a local hero. Fargoans do not coddle their heroes. When 80-year-old Ruth Urang catches sight of Walaker on the street, she lets him have it: "Tell your road crews to stop tossing these economy-size hunks of ice on my walk." Only after Walaker promises, and is out of earshot, does Urang say, "He saved the city. If it weren't for him, we'd all be nine feet under." Urang, who has just returned from a friend's funeral, is attacking the snow in front of her crisply modest home with a fresh yellow-bristled broom. She wears a light coat and skirt. Her shins are bared to the 20-below windchill. No, you don't let a little threat of frostbite cramp your style in Fargo. So on an average way-below-zero morning, you may spy Ronald Daven port cycling to his bank job, his face mask collecting a crust of ice crys tals. At noon bundled-up Matt Halverson casually barbecues bratwurst outside Metro Drug at Second and Broadway. After dinner Hannah Berg, 7, braves the icy wind to arrive at Horace Mann Elementary School's out door rink. The other kids, all older, blindfold her so she can kneel on the ice and sort their hockey sticks to decide teams for a pickup game. And in the coldest late hours, two nearly naked souls stand on a fire escape, steam billowing off them. They have just emerged from the sauna at the Hungry hordes flock to the annual Kiwanis Club Pancake Karnival-a 45 year tradition that now draws more than 10,000 people to the Fargo Civic Center. Eager eaters line up before the doors open at 7 a.m.Tami Smith, chairperson of the break fast, likens it to "cattle moving:' This year a faulty griddle caused a near catastrophe, but the crew just improvised, and the show went on.