Monday, February 17, 2014

I-98, Episode Three: The Chase


a syndicated television series spanning one decade, 2040 - 2049
Chronicles from The Bakken
Starring Samuel "Oilman" Goshwin & Liam Nikolai Gjorkstad
with occasional appearances by Archie McCool
initial funding from Apple Prairie Broadcasting  
matching grant money from The Legacy Fund
continuing support from viewers like you.

Season One, Episode Three: The Chase

They called themselves Thelma and Louise. Thelma was 15. Louise was old enough to remember the 1991 movie in re-runs. In all the commotion, no one saw them jump into the yellow Lamborghini. Of course it had not been planned, but it wasn't the first time Louise had taken off in someone else's car or pick-up. It was easy to do in the North Dakota winters where folks left their vehicles running during short outings in the middle of winter. Louise was momentarily confused by the Lamborgini's dashboard and "operating system" as she called it. But after a moment, it seemed intuitive and off they went, around the barricades and past the Good Humor truck.

With all the Bakken milllionaires and the fancy sports cars on I-98, two young women in a yellow Lamborghini did not seem out of place. The only vehicles that still got folks to turn their heads were the vintage Volvos coming out of Minnesota. The Volvos were common  during the "great migration" but not seen so much any more. When Volvos were seen on I-98, North Dakotans were known to turn their heads, and murmur, "how sad." But that was often followed with typical Scandinavian optimism, "It could be worse; they could be coming from Wisconsin."

It was only when Sam and Liam finally got back to the six-lane divided highway, when they noticed their car was missing. They might have noted their missing car earlier but the young, shapely, tall, blonde paramedics tending to their needs had momentarily distracted them. The authorities were alerted via a text message. It took a moment for the older Rugby policewomen who had set up the barricades to decode the text: CR STLN. W-B-Y-L. 

"W-B-Y-L" -- world's best yogurt, but what did the "L" stand for? And the "CR STLN" -- what the heck was that?

Once they bought a few vowels, it all made sense: Car stolen. West-bound-yellow-Lamborghini. Vanna White, the Rugby dispatcher, always loved playing that game, but it often slowed things down in the fast-paced world of crime prevention in Rugby.

The sky overhead was filled with media drones filming the derailment; the flare from the overturned tank car was getting bigger but seemed to be relatively non-threatening. The safety retro-fits to the tank cars were apparently doing their job: releasing the legendary flammable cargo at a measured, OSHA-prescribed rate. The firemen later said they decided to let the fire burn itself out. The girls scouts had arrived; North Dakota girl scouts never passed up an opportunity for s'mores. The Good Humor truck had the marshmallows; the girls scouts had their cookies; and, the chocolate? A Widman's truck was on its way to the Bakken.

The MSNBCAl Jazeera drone was the only drone following the yellow Lamborghini. By now, television viewers across North Dakota were tuned into watching the Rugby Story, as it was now being called. Surfing across the various networks, the "chase" was quickly becoming the "reality show of the season." Some were already making comparisons to the SUV-freeway chases so common in Los Angeles at the turn of century.

Thelma and Louise were flying. Thelma, all of 15, had no clue. All she knew was this: flying down I-98 in a yellow Lamborghini was more exciting than taking North Dakota state history where she would be had she not skipped school today. She never understood the reason she had to memorize the 56 North Dakota state counties. And that was just for starters. Of course North Dakota state history was easier for her parents when there were only 53 counties in the Peace Garden State.

The omniscient narrator wasn't going to digress and talk about North Dakota history, but driving down a six-lane divided highway across North Dakota is about as boring as it can possibly get. One might as well take this opportunity to tell a story. Bill Bryson thought crossing Nebraska was boring; he had obviously never traveled across North Dakota on "old" US Highway 2 (now I-98, built to accommodate all the Minnesotans fleeing their state due to high taxes among other things. The Target security breach was "among the other things," best forgotten). 

So, while Thelma and Louise make their way across "old US Highway 2" it's as good a time as any to explain the 56 counties. (Spoiler alert: they won't get as far as they would like.)

Like so much of North Dakota history, this story begins during the Bakken boom. In fact, to digress again, the old timers remember when they took North Dakota state history during one year of middle school, and even that seemed too much. But after the boom, the state required three years of North Dakota state history to graduate: pre-boom, during the boom, and post-boom state history. Students were allowed to substitute one year of state history with a year-long course in engineering, preferably petroleum engineering, but MDU was able to lobby the legislature into allowing electrical engineering as an alternative to petroleum engineering. The Legacy Fund paid the salaries of the engineering professors, most of whom came from BP.

During the boom, QEP made history when it petitioned to "unitize" one of its fields, which was known as the "Grail." The attempt by QEP to unitize the "Helis Grail" started innocently enough but one thing led to another and before the governor knew what happened, the other two members of the NDIC agreed to let the oil companies unitize the five western North Dakota counties: Sheridan, Roosevelt, Richland, Williams, and McKenzie. Except for the three-hundred-forty-five (345) "extraordinary sites" the entire five-county area was unitized.

Sheridan, Roosevelt, and Richland counties had been annexed by North Dakota some years earlier. When the issue came up, it only seemed to make sense. These three Montana counties were part of the Bakken. Most of the legislators in Helena didn't even know where the three counties were located. If anyone had asked, and no one had, North Dakotans had long been upset that Montana would name one of their counties after TR who had had his ranch in North Dakota, and, for "pete's sake," they would say, not in Montana.

Harold Hamm, Jr, one day, simply said, it's time to annex eastern Montana; let's just do it. In fact that was the headline in the Informed newspaper:

"It's Time To Annex Eastern Montana, Let's Just Do It -- Harold Hamm, Jr."

The NDIC agreed. The NDIC, of course, had no authority to annex eastern Montana, even if it was just three Bakken-oil-producing counties, but that had not stopped the NDIC before. The commission had made a lot of decisions over the years that seemed to be beyond their bailiwick. Moving the North Dakota state capital to Williston seemed to be beyond their bailiwick, too, but no one noticed that either. A lot of Bismarck legislators were heard to have said at the time, in typical Scandinavian optimism, "it could be worse. They could have moved the capital to Fargo."

So, eastern Montana, or at least the three Bakken-oil-producing counties of Sheridan, Roosevelt, and Richland were annexed and became part of North Dakota. That is where the counties should have been all along if Lewis and Clark had known about the Bakken in the first place.

That's why I-98 runs from Grand Forks to Bainville, North Dakota. The state was willing to fund the interstate within the borders of North Dakota, but no farther east or west. 

Thelma did not know this history. She probably would not have cared. Louise, on the other hand, knew the story very, very well. But that story will have to wait. 

Next week's episode: will Thelma and Louise reach Montana? (Spoiler alert: no.)

Radio Ga Ga

Radio Ga Ga, Queen

No comments:

Post a Comment