This road trip had to be done. I missed the last opportunity because my body was still healing from my illness dating back to May. My mission this time around was simple: I was not going to miss this opportunity.
The original opportunity entailed covering Heartland Pride in Omaha for Lavender Magazine as a road trip story. Unfortunately, my doctor did not clear me to do so, therefore we rescheduled everything. I found our next opportunity and gave myself more than enough time to be healthy enough to accomplish this story.
Therefore, I went to Fargo.
I know that Fargo is not Omaha. It shouldn't be. In fact, having never been to Omaha, the familiarity of Fargo worked into my advantage in fulfilling this rescheduled "Pride Road Trip."
It has been five years since the last time I visited the most progressive and fun city in the state of North Dakota. It was for Fargo-Moorhead Pride. The real reason for this trip was to do a test on the connectivity of OnStar's 4G LTE Wi-Fi in a Buick LaCrosse at that time. Let me be real for the moment…I had a good time in Fargo.
For this return to Fargo and its Pride weekend, I got another large luxury sedan to take up to the Red River and back. The 2019 Lexus ES 300h Ultra Luxury tester seemed fitting for this run. The big attraction to this Lexus sedan was its 2.5-liter Hybrid driveline. Having done long road trips with this particular driveline (in a couple of Toyotas, mind you), I knew what it was capable of in terms of performance and economy.
With the Lexus ready to roll, I had my accommodations sorted out, reached out to my connections with the local visitor's bureau and Pride committee, plotted on what to cover for my main article in Lavender Magazine and who to interview. I also got some suggestions for great dining in Fargo.
When it comes to planning something like this, there is always a purpose. This is not a vacation by any means. Though, I saw that at least one of the hotels have a whirlpool in case I need it.
One thing I will admit is being a little too overprepared for any travel. I was able to combine everything into my larger suitcase, even with a weight penalty due to packing 60 copies of Lavender Magazine for one of the local organizations in Fargo. It was a half-assed attempt at conceptual thinking without consideration of constraints to my physical well-being.
On Friday morning, I was off. I followed a rule of thumb that states if I left later in the day, my travel and overall travel will prevent me from having a nice, smooth ride. Going in the morning yielded the opposite effect which made the drive up on Interstate 94 a nice one.
One aspect of this trip was to try either local restaurants or places we do not get down in The Cities. That worked in my favor on the first day, as I ventured towards the campus of North Dakota State University for dinner at Herd and Horns. It was a cool pub restaurant that offered a solid menu and delicious food. It was a great way to end a whirlwind day of driving, getting reacquainted with Fargo and Moorhead, and dealing with some consulting work.
The first night was spent at the Courtyard by Marriott in Moorhead, right by Interstate 94. What I love about this brand is the consistency of rooms, amenities, and overall comfort and convenience. I will admit to waking up in the middle of the night after an early nod off. It was nothing about the hotel, just me. Moving right along…
Saturday was all about transition. I had another hotel to check in on the other side of the Red River, and I begin my actual assignment at the Festival in The Park at island Park. That also meant dropping off the 60 copies of Lavender Magazine to the Pride Collective and F-M Pride folks.
It also meant getting down to business. I had no interviews lined up for my story in Lavender ahead of this weekend's festivities. I walked out of the Festival in the Park with four very good ones.
It also was an opportunity to reconnect with a few folks I knew over the years. Joe Larson was the Executive Director at The Aliveness Project in Minneapolis. He moved to Fargo a few years to become a pastor at a local Lutheran church. Since his relocation, Larson has been very active in the local LGBT community, including being on the board of the Pride Collective.
Another former Aliveness Project friend was up here to see Larson. Tim was the Development person at the HIV/AIDS services organization and was just visiting from The Cities. I also ran into a local acquaintance, Bill, who is now celebrating his 20th year at US Bank.
It also gave me the opportunity to meet some wonderful people, one of which I had contact with prior to my arrival into Fargo. While he is the Sponsorship Coordinator for F-M Pride, Josh Boschee is also one of the Representatives for the 44th District in North Dakota's legislature. I had a great interview with him for Lavender – which all will be published in due time. Boschee is proof that people do wear multiple hats in smaller LGBT communities.
The Festival in the Park was a wonderful time. Lots of photos taken of those wonderful people. I loved the energy from them, as well. And, yes, there were lots of eye candy, indeed! I may be old and single, but that does not mean I cannot look, admire…ahem…moving right along.
After checking into my new hotel, the Radisson in downtown Fargo, I had a chance to do some work with transcribing interviews and transferring images. It also gave me some recovery time from the park to get ready for the evening's social at The Boiler Room.
Let us consider my age for the moment. It seemed appropriate that I would check out the social for the local AARP chapter with the Red River Rainbow Seniors at said restaurant. Luckily I knew a few people who will be attending, which made things more welcoming.
That is the key for me when I visit somewhere. Will I be welcomed, even as a stranger? Even someone who is shy in new and unfamiliar situations?
But, I also need to be with people my age and generation, especially in LGBT situations. The Boiler Room welcomed us with superb service and good food. I also got a lot of great conversation with local folks. I should have recorded it all.
The beauty of travel is to connect with others. The AARP/Red River Rainbow Seniors social (and dinner) was a great opportunity to connect with people like myself. From there, I called it a night happy and fulfilled.
Sunday was the parade. It did not kick off until 2:00PM on the other side of the Red River. I had an open morning. I picked up the Lexus from the hotel and proceeded to find some more spots to do photos by the Red River. It was not just a couple of blocks until I noticed a car meet behind the Fargo Public Library. It turned out to be the monthly Fargo Cars & Coffee.
You know that I would mostly find something like this in my travels. It's as I could not get away from such things. The meet was good. They had a good mix of classics and sports compacts, along with some muscle. It was definitely a good mix of vehicles and people.
Two JDM cars completely stood out: A 1989 Suzuki Alto done up in a "Hello Kitty" motif and a Nissan Skyline Autech four-door owned by a guy named Robert. V&R's video collaborator, Josh Dvorak, saw the post I made on Facebook from Fargo Cars & Coffee and prompted me to talk to Robert. You got to love the power of social media sometimes.
It was back to the original program by 1:00PM. I walked across the Red River to the lineup at the Moorhead Mall. The mall itself simply looked sad with stores either not open or empty. A couple of stores were open, but they did not interest me. I was looking for a quick lunch before seeing how the Fargo-Moorhead Pride Parade launches from the mall.
After that quick lunch, I walked back to check out the lineup. I knew this parade was going to be big. Not exactly Twin Cities Pride big, but big for Fargo-Moorhead. The train that Minnesota State University Moorhead brought was already a winner. The energy from that train was amazing. There were plenty of floats, pulled by pickup trucks and plenty of marching units.
The plan was in effect. I had more than enough time to walk about to the Fargo side of the river and get a position to get photos from the march itself. I decided to use the bridge over the river on NP Avenue as a backdrop for those images. The result was a huge number of images and reconnections with people in the parade itself.
What blew me away was not the size of the parade, but the love the parade got from everyone along the route. I ended up jumping into the parade with the Fargo-Moorhead Pride volunteers and the parade coordinator. The overall energy of the entire parade matched that I experienced at the Festival the day before.
That energy hit a major crescendo as the parade concluded at the Fargo Civic Center with the Rally. The Rally kicked off with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem by the Fargo-Moorhead Gay Men's Chorus, followed by two impactive speeches by the Grand Marshal Johnny Olson, who is also known as local drag star Miss Kitty, and by the Tri-Star Transgender group president Katrina Koesterman. The crowd responded as these speeches were calls to further the agenda of equality on both sides of the Red River and beyond.
The rest of Sunday was spent working on my stories. I did venture out for food a few blocks away. Pounds was a cool spot that still wore some Pride paraphernalia while serving up some tasty burgers.
The weekend was over, and Monday arrived with lots of rain. After checking out of the Radisson, I loaded up on breakfast at Randy's University Diner just south of Interstate 94. The restaurant reminded me of places from my childhood, such as Tiny Naylor's, DuPar's, Bob's Big Boy, and another diner with a very unfortunate (and very racist) name. The food was good to go along with its classic atmosphere.
The rain began to let up just east of Moorhead. Then, it was a solid two-plus hour stint behind the wheel before nature called in St. Cloud. It was smooth sailing back home afterward.
It shouldn't take five years between trips to Fargo to experience Pride in a community that is still working through its bubble status as the beacon for a community to come together. Pride itself broke records for its longest parade ever and the largest crowds at both the Festival, Parade, and Rally. The sun shone on all of these events, as people came from both sides of the Red River to come together as one community.
The one thing I noticed about my physical self was that I saw a major improvement in my endurance. I did more walking this weekend than I anticipated – and I felt good about it. My muscles were sore, but I expected it.
My spirit was fulfilled on many levels this weekend. Concerns about my physical health were set aside for the work necessary to deliver content to three outlets – including this one. I also took some time for myself – within and outside of the Pride festivities. The conversations and connectivity were beyond my expectations. An extremely positive experience overall to be had in Fargo.
As for the Lexus ES 300h…a review is forthcoming. Stay tuned…
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle and Travel Arrangements provided by Toyota Motor North America
All Photos by Randy Stern