Musings, North Dakota Living

Local Girls

I stood in line at our local Oktoberfest on a beautiful fall Saturday evening. The middle-aged man in coveralls next to me attempted his fourth pick-up line. “You busy later tonight, sugar?” I continued to ignore him with ease, staring at the menu on the side of the truck. Finally, he snorted. It was a rude sound, so I chose to ignore that too. Then he said something that made my eyes swivel toward him and stop for the first time since he had interrupted my peaceful contemplation. “Oh, I get it. You’re one of them… local girls. One of them rude local girls that don’t give us the time of day. One of them local girls that think you’re too good or sumthin.'” He spat local girls like it was the worst insult he could throw at me. The more he talked the more I felt my mouth gape open. Usually ready with a retort, I was actually taken aback enough by his unexpected hostility that I was speechless. I managed an eye roll and then walked away. As I escaped, I thought to myself, maybe I am one of “them rude local girls.” After all, I did reward his frustration with nothing but an eye roll. Nonetheless, I wanted to say two things to him: One, “them” is not an adjective, sir. (English teacher: I can’t help myself.) Two, it’s men like you, sir, that have turned me into one of the rude local girls.

Sometimes in life, you end up in an unexpected place. Sometimes, you end up where you expected to be. I am one of the latter: exactly where I once expected to be, strangely enough. And it’s nothing like I expected.

Let me explain. I’m currently residing in the middle of an oil boom. I did not realize the implications of “oil boom” until I moved here permanently. It’s wild. It’s a modern day gold rush, if you will. It’s full of, to put it nicely, uncouth and greasy men, like my less than charming friend at Oktoberfest. It sometimes seems devoid of soft colors, pretty things, and women. Man camps and RV parks pop up overnight. It’s dangerous, and the traffic is insane. Not city traffic – I’m not a country bumpkin overwhelmed by the number of cars crowding the road. It’s the trucks. Five lanes of shiny Honda Accords, Ford Focuses and Toyota Prius Hybrids going 70 mph in the same direction is small change compared to a mile-long train of 50-ton scoria-caked oil trucks tailing my Ford Escape or even worse, barreling toward me only feet away in the oncoming lane, the only thing separating us a faded yellow line. There is a plus side: At least I’m attempting this madness in my sturdy little SUV and not a shiny Prius.

So why did I do this to myself? And why would I expect to live in this madhouse one day? Well, my dad’s farm is here, and it didn’t used to be like this. I grew up here in the summers, the days passing gloriously in a blur of summer baseball, horseback rides, gritty nights in sleeping bags around campfires up high in the buttes, and trips to the baby blue painted swimming pool in the small town of Watford City. I loved it. It was beautiful. It was peaceful. It was a different place than most people in my hometown of Bismarck knew. I always dreamed of settling down in the area so I could watch the sunsets every night. Then, around the time I was finishing college, things changed radically. In the past several years, new oil formations have been discovered mainly in the northwest part of the state, where our farm is located, along with new technology developed in drilling methods. North Dakota, a sparsely populated and rarely noticed state up to that point, skyrocketed to become the second biggest oil-producing state, trailing only Texas. The Bakken Oil Field has completely transformed the place I knew growing up from a peaceful, wide open, rolling prairie to a mess of trucks, wells, drills, flares, scoria roads, trailers, and campers. And trucks. Did I mention the trucks?

In April 2011, I was wrapping up my second year of teaching elsewhere in North Dakota when I was offered an English position at one of the high schools here. Was it the old blurry dreams from the past that made me pick up my phone to accept the offer? Perhaps it was the need for a new challenge, or simply the raise in salary and increase in benefits. It was a little of all of these reasons, to be honest. But if I was to pick just one, I think that the chance to move here, to the place I’ve always loved so much, was just too irresistible despite the massive changes.

Over the last year and a half, my transition into one of the “local girls” has become more cemented. I’ve said things to rude men that I never expected to say. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve become cynical of male intentions. But it’s also been a great adventure, and it’s this experience that I want to record. As one of the local girls, I have a unique perspective, simply because we young girls in the oil boom are the minority. I’m sure all the other local girls could attest to the things I share. But we’re not trying to be rude. We’re just trying to be … local. And survive doing it.