Greetings From Williston, North Dakota
Credit: Michael Christopher Brown
Things have gone south at the boardinghouse. The truckers are not enthused that there's a journalist in the house. It's not that surprising. All the guys are running from something or someone and they don't want the world to know their whereabouts. I understand. If I lived in Williston, I wouldn't want anyone to know either.

Kathy Walton is constantly pulling me by the ear to some free dinner or high school choral presentation. I think she senses my story might not be another Williston-is-awesome story, and this gets her up in my grill even more. Don't I want to come to the Moose Lodge? Meet some truckers who owe their lives to Williston? How about the board meeting about the new bypass? I turn her down, and she pouts. I feel bad – she's having a rough time. She just went on a date with a guy she met on the Internet, and after some sightseeing, he got handsy. It's another blow to her Williston-as-utopia worldview.

And then there's Rex, her wonder dog. I come home one day and my room reeks of urine. It takes me 30 minutes to find the culprit: My fleece is soaked in piss. Rex plays dumb. A few days later, we all sit down for the weekly group dinner Kathy has with "the boys." Usually, it's some kind of goulash, but tonight it is succulent duck. I am on my third helping when she drops a bombshell.

"Are you enjoying Charlie?" Kathy asks.

"Charlie, you mean from the front yard?"


I'm being fed a pet. Later, Kathy tries to backtrack and says she was just joking, but I don't see Charlie around any more.

I start taking most of my meals at the El Rancho Motel, one of the local almost-hot spots. The walls are covered with framed newspaper articles heralding booms that went bust. The patrons are a cross section of prosperity and doom. An old rancher couple eat in silence; there's not much to talk about except for the truck traffic. Many of the ranchers sold off the mineral rights when times were tough and don't make a dollar from the rigs on their land. Then there's the shiny lawyer couple just back from their Arizona vacation home – they own millions of dollars in mineral rights. But here, everyone is equal, slaves to the El Rancho buffet. One day over a BLT and gravy, I overhear two French-speaking guys moaning about their inability to get an espresso. The guy with the three-day beard is pissed.

"What, no espresso-maker in the hotel? How is that possible?"

The waitress shrugs her shoulders and walks away.

I sidle up to the French guys. New oil guys from Montreal? Geologists from Lyon? The beardy guy just laughs.

"Oh, no, no. We're from Paris Match."

Of course they are.