September 18, 2005

Fifty Miles East of Fargo

Like all great storytellers, my brother Mark is recalled by those who knew him as more than just a character: He truly was larger than life.

When Mark shared his stories all attentions were rapt. No one interrupted. We willingly walked into the fanciful world he conjured.

To be fair Mark came from a full monty of matchless storytellers. His lineage was of Irish and French origin. Go figure!

Slight exaggeration is viewed by good storytellers as essential to a good tale. To us a story needs a pulse of patina as surely as it requires plot and timing. Truly only a fool destroys the moment's rapture by discounting the oral offering. Long before the movie industry implored viewers to suspend their disbelief, storytellers gave flight to imaginations without usurious charge.

Mark surely enjoyed motorcyles and fast cars. Thrill was his mantra. But to be complete, Mark even more loved women. All of them. He adored and worshiped them. They were in many ways his holy grail.

This is a short tale of Mark and motorcycles and women, though not in that order. It is also a moral play, as it shows that sometimes, perhaps not often, the tales of a storyteller are far truer than one might expect.

Way back in the summer of 1973, Mark and I decided to head to the West Coast on our bikes. We both were riding BMW R75/5's at the time.

Before we could leave, however, Mark insisted that he needed to spend a few days with his girl, Leslie, who was summering on an isolated island in Casco Bay, Maine. So we spent almost a week there, me pretty much alone, and they, well they were in love.

On days that I grumbled about the need to head west he would reply, "Don't worry man, I'll take you to Detroit Lakes, Minnessota, where there's at least a dozen girls for every guy." I of course discounted such paradisical pronouncements as testosterone-stimulating hogwash.

Finally we departed the island. We cruised the byways of Maine and New Hampshire, crossing through Mount Washington Valley before evening. We were in Montreal the next day, and northern Quebec Province the next. The adventure then headed west across Canada, finally reentering the States via Thunder Bay, Ontario.

It was there that Mark suddenly again mentioned the name "Detroit Lakes." We had been on the road for 2 weeks by then. Our nightly habitat consisted of LL Bean sleeping bags and a small tent. We had long ago abanoned regular bathing, though we stopped to swim in lakes and rivers daily. Still the lack of hot water and soap was becoming obvious.

So, too, was the lack of female companionship. Mark was still in love, but I was between ladies that summer. As a confirmed serial monogomist, the in-between status means I had no one. I confessed as much to Mark that afternoon as we entered Thunder Bay.

"We're not far from Detroit Lakes," Mark matter of factly declared. He said it as if the mere mention of the place equated with a guaranteed abundance of girls. I took the bait. I asked him what was so special about this town.

"Detroit Lakes, Minnesota," began Mark, "is a small town about 50 miles east of Fargo, North Dakota, on Route 10. I stopped over there back when I was in the Army, when our train let us off there for a few hours. I was swarmed with girls the moment I got off the train. Seems there are almost no guys there."

"You're full of it, Mark," I relied, and changed the subject. That night, as we bedded down near a State Park, Mark brought it up again: "You'll see what I mean soon buddy."

Two days later, we pulled into the Town of Detroit Lakes. It looked like any other town to me. Being hungry, I suggested we get a bite a the A&W joint we had just passed on Washington Avenue. He agreed.

After getting off the bikes and removing our helmets, I strode to the take out window. Inside I saw a cute girl with a warm smile looking back at me. "What can I get you hon," she asked? "I'd like a couple of chicken breasts, please," I said. And then it happened. Without batting an eye, the waitress winked at me, broadened her smile, and asked: "So you want to take me out tonight?" I was stunned. I heard Mark laughing loudly behind me.

Not wanting to hurt this fine young lady's feelings, I of course accepted the invitation. She told me there was a dance at the Town Hall that night, and that I could meet her there at 7 p.m. She suggested we spend the rest of the afternoon down at the Town Beach. We did.

No sooner had Mark and I shed our jackets and stripped into shorts down at the beach than I looked around and saw that we were surrounded by girls. Girls were everywhere. There seemed to be no men around between the ages of 15 and 60. "What the....," I intoned to my brother. He couldn't resist the I told you so routine.

Within minutes, other girls approached us and asked both of us to take them out that night. Later, at the dance, it was more of the same. I decided that Detroit Lakes required several days of careful study.

We stayed there nearly a week, as I was determined not to leave until I heard Mark start to whine the way I had back on that island in Maine. Ah, brotherly love has many twists of fate.