Sunday, March 25, 2012

That Is Just So Fargo

“There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it.”.- Marge Gunderson, from the movie Fargo.

Fargo, the award-winning movie by the Coen brothers, is one of my all-time favorites. Of course the characters and their accents are exaggerated, but if you’ve spent much time in that part of the world, you can recognize and appreciate the exaggerations. The movies and television do the same thing with Texans and Southerners and people from “Noo Joisee”. It’s all part of story telling plus it saves a lot of time and wasted dialogue.

Recently, a NLOL (nice little old lady) from Grand Forks, North Dakota (just go north out of Fargo on I-29, can’t miss it) made headlines. Her name is Marilyn Hagerty. Marilyn writes the Eatbeat column for the Grand Forks Herald. She is about the same age as the other, more famous Marilyn would have been if she were still alive. Marilyn Hagerty is 85, could pass for 70 and my guess is that she too was a hot little number back in the day.

Ms. Hagerty recently did a review of the new Olive Garden restaurant in Grand Forks. It was a very positive review and I can only imagine that the waiting time for a table there has increased considerably. Grand Forks has a population of just over 50,000 and the Greater Grand Forks area population is around 100,000. Most of the nation only hears about Grand Forks when the Red River floods. (That would be the “other Red River”, not the one I live near which is more famous and flows in the right direction.) Grand Forks is actually quite nice. The economy is diverse and the unemployment rate is low (less than 3% based on the latest BLS report). Life is good in Grand Forks and an Olive Garden restaurant was long overdue.

However, as so often happens in this age of instant information, Ms. Hagerty’s review of the new Olive Garden went viral. It seems that people in the big cities, especially those on the east and west coasts (aka blue states) got a real hoot out of Ms. Hagerty’s review.
It was just so…well, it was just so Fargo. Couldn’t you just see Marge Gunderson, “with child” and in uniform sitting there chowing down with her duck-carving chubby hubby Norm? And when the review mentions “two, long warm breadsticks” what sharp wit among us could let that pass by with a phallic reference? And who could possibly hold back laughter when Ms. Hagerty wrote “All in all, it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks. It attracts visitors from out of town as well as people who live here.” How embarrassing. Clearly, the Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce needs to shut this lady down.

Interestingly, her review got so much attention on the internet that Ms. Hagerty ended up on national television. She was initially interviewed on a couple of the early morning news/talk shows and later got on during primetime and late night. She is a delightful lady and didn’t seem to be upset that so many people were making fun of her Olive Garden review. She admitted that when she was told that she had “gone viral”, at first she had no clue what that meant. Watching and listening to the interviewers speak with Ms. Hagerty, I could sense that they were a bit uncomfortable. Instinctively, they seem to know there is something fundamentally out of whack with our culture when a nice, little article, by a NLOL, about a new restaurant opening in and nice, little city in the nation’s heartland becomes a joke.

My guess is that early on, as the “virus” was spreading, it wasn’t widely known that the article had been written by this sweet little 85 year old lady. Then we meet this sweet little 85 year old lady and suddenly everyone is trying to figure out how to “make nice” and put a “heart-warming” human interest spin on the whole thing without sounding as down-home and corny as the article they were making fun of in the first place.

So what’s my point? Just this: when you get away from the 5-star, $$$$ restaurants where for a lot of money someone will tell you what you are eating (because otherwise you would have no clue) and how it was prepared (so you will be convinced you could never cook such a meal) and somehow you still go home hungry because smaller portions make better “presentations”; you end up eating with real people in real places like Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S.A

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