Stopping at Kroll’s German Diner in Minot, ND

Minnesota was rocked by snow and Ice on Jan. 4, 2003. We saw an accident with two semis, a van (most windows broken out) and two passenger cars. Another stranded driver was killed by a speeding semi near St. Cloud, MN. Here Gosia steps around the Jeep in the Twin Cities to bring me a coffee. The wind has already started, and a ton of snow is about to fall

North Dakota’s landscape in cattle country is stark but beautiful to me.

Good morning. It’s 3:50 a.m. Central Time on Friday as I write now in Estevan, Saskatchewan. Not much time to write the last two days. We just plugged on and on.

We stopped at the duty-free shop at the Customs border in Portal, N.D. last night and bought a not-bad bottle of white wine to declare at the border. I now declare it wasn’t too bad, and we won’t have to declare it at the Alaska border after celebrating our first-ever visit to Saskatchewan.

We had the pleasure of getting a good-natured border patrol officer yesterday evening at Canada Customs. He asked if I had $10,000 on me.

“I wish,” I said with a sigh.

I declared the wine. He asked if I intended to give it as a present to someone in Canada.

“Not a chance,” I said with conviction.

He asked about our intended stay and what we planned to do at the border and then waved me on toward the city of Estevan.

Gosia followed in the Jeep. Ten minutes later we met up at the men’s and women’s lavatory.

“The guard said you told him to give me a hard time,” she said with a chuckle.

“What did you say?”

“No chance,’ I said. `I’m a strong Polish woman.’”

Now we are in a low-cost suite at a Canada conference hotel. As Paul Simon once sang, “Couple in the next room about to win a prize.” And I have computer earplugs in as I try not to listen!

I could not write on Jan. 5.

That was a harrowing and time-costly drive through the last of Wisconsin and most of Minnesota.

Minnesota on Thursday was rough on 94 for the first few miles. A Jeep Renegade like our vehicle that was minutes ahead of us spun out and hit something. Pieces of black debris were on the side of the road as I crawled past with Gosia’s Jeep behind my Chevy van. Both have shown themselves to be solid performers in ice, snow and heavy winds. A Minnesota state trooper vehicle had its red lights on, and the trooper stood at the door of the Renegade about 60 feet from the highway. This driver was smart and stayed with the car. One of the snow-stuck cars we saw the other day in St. Cloud won’t be claimed by its male driver. He went to the side of I-94 seeking help and was nailed by a speeding semi. Gosia and I have a pact to stay with the vehicle if one of us slides off a road.

All of North Dakota was literally a “polar opposite” of Minnesota. We had blue skies from Fargo to Grand Forks, and I waved to the University in Grand Forks as I drove by. I once flew into Grand Forks to give a talk to Greeks and student affairs professionals. It was a lovely audience, I recall. Gosia and I both loved the frosted trees and stark but beautiful North Dakota landscape. Traffic was minimal and no semis hugged our tails as they had back in Minnesota.

We ate lunch yesterday at Kroll’s diner in Minot, ND. Gosia had the walleye, and I opted for the German version of cabbage rolls. They were similar to the Polish cabbage rolls made by Gosia except that Kroll’s added rice. Both meals were good. A trucker in the booth behind us struck up a conversation while we waited for our waitress to deliver kuchen flavored and topped with rhubarb. It was similar to what my dad’s German mother made for us kids, but it rated only a C+ compared to Grandma’s A+ kuchen. I love kuchen really super tart and nearly sugar-free like Grandma’s once was.

“Is the rhubarb really tart?” I asked the waitress.

“Oh no, there’s lots of sugar added,” she said.

“Oh, darn,” I said but ordered it anyway.

I should tell you about the Super Eight we stayed at in Minnesota. We had booked ahead because I once had been in a similar bad snowstorm in Alexandria, Minnesota while freelancing and it took a couple tries to find a motel with a room because troopers had shut down I-94.

Pooped by our drive through whiteouts, wind-whipped ice off the tops of semis, and black ice on bridges, we checked in at the Super Eight.

“You got the only room left,” said one of the two clerks. Her pitbull boosted himself up to check us out.

We got to our room on the second floor. The room was in shambles. Gosia brought the two desk clerks up. Their sweet pitbull stayed behind the counter.

“I can give you your money back,” said the female clerk. I noticed her fingernails as I signed the document at check-in. Her nails were long as daggers and were coated with pinkish lacquer.

“No,” said Gosia. “Make up the room.”

“It will take 20 minutes,” the other clerk whined.

“We’ll wait,” Gosia said.

“Vera is out of a job,” said one clerk. I assumed Vera was the day maid.

“We’ll ask the clerk to outsource someone.” The two clerks summoned a big, strapping young man to bring up clean sheets and towels. They asked him to help them. “I can’t,” he whined. “My hands are black. I spent most of the day working on my car.” He spent about 30 seconds naming car parts he had exchanged until both girls cut him off.

“Can you hang up the towels?” one clerk asked.

“I can’t–,” he said.

“We know, we know” the clerk said with a voice as sharp as her dagger fingernails. “Your hands are black.”

Twenty minutes later Gosia and I were alone in the finished room. Maybe 40 minutes later, I was asleep while Gosia went through her email and messages.

Now it’s time to wake up Gosia. Breakfast is now served, and we have a 12-hour drive to reach Edmonton.