Greetings From Williston, North Dakota
Credit: Michael Christopher Brown
I hit a two-foot-deep pothole one ­morning, leaving Rancho de Kathy, and the driver's-side visor smashes me in the eye. Good times. Tony and Mike have scored jobs at Napa Auto Parts making $15 an hour, with promises of tons of time-and-a-half overtime. It's not the oil job they dreamed about, but it's a start. They just have to make it a few more days until their first payday. Then, Tony says, they'll try and save a few bucks so Mike's hot wife can drive her car out from Oregon.

I pop into Napa to see if Tony or Mike wants to make $20 and fix my visor. Mike does the job in about four minutes and has a big smile on his face.

"We found a place to live."

In Williston, this is big news. I ask him if it's nearby. Mike jerks his hand and points behind the store.

"It's just out back."

The next night, I drive around back – Mike wasn't lying. They are living in a trailer in the parking lot behind the Napa. Tony opens the door and invites me in for a beer.

"A woman at Napa sold it to us," says Mike with pride. "Cost me $5,000, but I can pay it off over 12 months."

I don't know what to say. There are a few problems: There is no water hookup so they will have to keep showering at the nasty community center. And they had talked about breaking free of Oregon and now they were de facto indentured servants riding their bikes to a public shower across town. Was this really progress?

To celebrate, I've promised the boys a night at Heartbreakers, Williston's second-best strip club. We pay $10 to get in. We're 1,200 miles from the ocean, but most of the white guys are wearing O'Neill T-shirts and sideway caps. They sit at the rail and make it rain. Alas, the talent does not match Williston's newly exalted status. An emaciated middle-aged blonde grinds a chunky brunette as Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." plays. This cannot be unseen.

I turn to Mike and Tony, but they're gone. I wander outside and find Tony trying to stop Mike from punching a wall or someone's face. I ask what happened.

"Mike's wife just texted him she's not coming out."

Mike breaks out of Tony's grip. "I just want to punch someone. It'll make me feel better. Spend the night in jail, I don't give a fuck."

Tony tells him it's not a good idea.

"I don't have any bail money."

Mike says he's going to walk the two miles back to the trailer, but this is a bad idea. We give him a ride, and he starts apologizing.

"Sorry, guys. She's just being a bitch. But I ain't going back."

Once we get Mike situated, we head back to the club, flashing our bracelets so we don't have to pay another $10. Tony gets a text from Mike.

"He's OK. He's watching Transformers."

A topless blonde sidles up to Tony. He tells her he doesn't have any money, but she keeps talking. Tara's from Wisconsin and has the words confidence and attitude tattooed in parallel letters on her back. But Tony zeroes in on the Fight Club tattoo on her arm. They both love the movie and trade lines. Tara's been in town less than a week and has already spent a night in jail.

"The cops said I was weaving. I said the fuck I was."

Tara's staying eight miles outside of town in a trailer without a shower. There's light in Tony's eyes so I slip him a 20, and they go off for a dance. Tony emerges with a smile.

"I gave her my number. She's totally into me!"

The club closes in five minutes, but men are still streaming in, paying $10 for 90 seconds of pleasure. We stumble outside. To our left, one dude is shoving another guy's face into the concrete. A full beer can flies through the air and explodes against a car. Tony doesn't notice any of it.

"I'd never been to a strip club until last week. I came here with my dad. That girl's totally going to call me."

We jump into my car, and Tony grins and stares out the window and up at the stars in the North Dakota sky. "I love Williston."