Postcard from the End of America: Williston

Oil made this America-dominated, futuristic world, and with its increasing scarcity, will unravel it. Most pampered yet most disappointed, we’re living in the age of peak oil, water, gold, copper, wheat, rice, cabbage, porn, greed and banking shenanigans, etc., for with more mouths than ever going after a shrinking donut hole, the ugliness is just getting started, and let us not forget, this age of oil has also been an era of mass carnage, a century of resource wars that have wiped out hundreds of millions, but for the survivors, us grubby schmucks, what a cool ride, eh?

But wait, wait, here comes the game changer, a fracking revolution that will make the USA energy independent, and extend this gaseous joy ride for a few more decades, at least. If you believe the hucksters, North Dakota and Texas as deus ex machina will lead this sagging nation to a new epoch of prosperity.

Each well can be fracked up to 18 times, and for each fracking, you must pump millions of gallons of water, 25 railcars of sand and more than 500 chemicals into the ground, less than half of which is sucked out, meaning much of the toxic cocktail stays in the earth to poison the soil and water until Jesus returns, pigskin in hand and singing “God Bless America,” but let’s not be tree-hugging terrorists here. If not for this, we’d be forced to invade innumerable countries to steal their oil, God forbid. To not rape their lands there, we must violate our own foundation, but just to be on the safe side, we’re doing both, of course.

This empire will be defended at all costs, even if the entire world is blown up and this nation itself destroyed, for nation and empire are not one. A nation is the total fabric, the water and soil that nourish, the all consuming ant hill, while the empire is the violent wet dream of a few sneering egotists. It’s the fist fuck that kills. The Amtrak route that goes from Chicago to Portland, Oregon is called Empire Builder, and it was on this train that I saw Williston, North Dakota for the first time. With so much freight traffic coming in and out of Williston, the Amtrak train is always delayed, from several hours to half a day, and so the conversations on board often focused on fracking as we approached the Bakken Shale Play. The conductor said, “Yes, this is a hassle, but I also look at it as our country’s future!”

Having sold drilling rights to an oil company, a tall, beefy man in golf shirt and khaki shorts intoned, “Of course, the money is nice, but more importantly, our family has become a part of history.”

Wearing a blue, Abbey Road T-shirt, a boy of about eight boasted to the portly woman from outside Spokane, “My grandpa is, like, the President of Exxon. He keeps a notecard on everyone he’s met. Me and my mom, we flew from New Jersey to Boston, where we stayed a few days, then we flew to Chicago, where we got on this train. We will get off in White Fish, Montana. In Montana, we have a house like a castle. It has a deck overlooking the river. Sometimes I go swimming in that river.”

A man was pointing out the different crops, wheat, hay, soybeans and oats. He said, “My family has always been in farming, but I now work for the Klondike Cheese Factory, in Wisconsin.”

“And where you’re going?”

“Stanley. To see my girlfriend.”

“She works there?”

“Yes, she’s a project manager for a new shopping center, but she’s about done. Soon she’ll move in with me.”

“Sounds good.”

“Yes! We first met 20 years ago, then I got married. That didn’t last. A couple years ago, I looked up my girlfriend on FaceBook, and there she was!”

“That’s incredible.”

“Well, not really. Everybody’s on FaceBook.”

“I mean, it’s incredible that you’re hooking up again.”

“We’ve always been meant for each other, but stupid me, I married the wrong woman. I have three houses: One I rent out, one I live in and one I use as a fishing lodge. It’s just a cabin, really, on my sister’s property. All of my brothers and sisters live within a five-mile radius. My new house is really nice, man, but it needs a woman’s touch, you know what I mean?”

“It sounds like you’re doing OK at the cheese factory.”

“Yeah, I make $17 an hour, but I’m the sanitation supervisor. A new guy would make 11 an hour. It’s not bad, but many of them can’t take it. One dude quit just after a day! I don’t even bother learning their names until they’ve been there a while. For the first couple of weeks, I just call them, ‘Hey, new guy!’”

“Your girlfriend’s OK with moving to Wisconsin?”

“Yeah, she’s made her money. They’ve been paying her $125,000 a year, but she’s worked her tail off! She won’t make half of that in Wisconsin, but a meal won’t cost her $25 either.”

“She may not even find a job in Wisconsin!” I laughed.

“Yes, that’s true too!” He then fumbled with his cell phone for a minute before showing me a photo of his girlfriend in a business suit. She’s surrounded by a dozen men, also in suits. Smiling, they’re all wearing hard hats and holding shovels.

Looking out the window, I saw a distant red barn, an abandoned church and, episodically, car and appliance cemeteries rusting in the failing sun. Smoothing out the baserunning path of a spiffy diamond, a white haired gent waved from his small tractor. To not disappoint the old fart, someone must have waved back, I hope. Inside this long, steel tube, our bodies shook nonstop, as if sobbing. A man in his 50’s observed, “I’ve taken this train many times. Fifteen, twenty years ago, you could see so many buffalos, elks and pronghorns, but now, there’s almost nothing left. It’s very sad.”

To service hundreds of oil rigs, many roads have been carved out of the landscape, and fences have gone up, so there’s a “fragmentation of habitat due to energy development,” to quote a fish and wildlife official, and even without accidents, fracking is inherently toxic, but we also have more than a thousand spills of oil and chemical-laced fluids a year, in North Dakota alone, so it’s no wonder that the only wildlife thriving these days in the Northern Plains is the sexually hard up and hard-drinking roughnecks.

Approaching Williston, we could see with increasing frequency trucks and tankers on nearby roads, and long trains carrying oil, chemicals and sand. Here and there a rig, and we passed an austere man camp, then another. This time, I would not stay, but only get off on my way back from Portland. When I told the conductor of my intention to spend time in Williston, however, he let lose this alarm, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. It’s the most dangerous place!”

“Oh, c’mon! How bad can it be?!”

“You have male-on-male rapes there. They’ll spike your drink, then rape you, they’re so desperate. People are killed and robbed, and the cops won’t even come, since they’re overwhelmed.”

“But I already made my hotel reservation!”

“I’d rather lose the money. It’s not worth it. You may get killed and dumped in a field, and no one will ever hear from you again.”

“You’re making it sounds like the most dangerous place on earth. I’ve been to Detroit and Camden. Surely I can deal with Williston.”

“It’ll be worse, I guarantee you. One time the crew ordered a pizza delivery, and we just locked the doors until it came. I don’t even dare to step outside in Williston.”

“You must be joking, right?”

“No, I’m not. If there’s a shooting or stabbing in Williston, the cops will ask, ‘Is he dead yet?’ If the person’s already dead, the cops will just let the body lie there, and only get to it when they can. It’s out of control. It’s hell on earth.”

“How can people function if it’s so dangerous? What about the locals, the people who’ve always been there?”

“They keep off the streets, especially women. If you’re stuck there, you’re stuck there, but the only women who go to Williston anymore are the working girls.”

A man in his early 50’s, the conductor had said all this without even a gleam in his gray eyes, so he was excellent at keeping a straight face, but then he stated, “Last year, there were 3,700 murders in Williston,” which would average out to over ten a day, and though I roared in laughter, he still would not smile.

Besides the ridiculous body count, much of what the conductor said isn’t out of line with current Williston lore, with incidents of male-on-male rapes sworn to by countless people in spite of repeated police denial and the complete absence of news accounts. On the train away from Williston, I talked to a man whose wife worked as a nurse in its hospital for 13 months, “Did she hear of male-on-male rapes?”

“No, but it was crazy enough. Lots of fights. Beatings, stabbings, sometimes shootings. One time a guy came in who had been slashed by a prostitute,” and he laughed at this amusing memory. “He was this big black dude, and he had hired two prostitutes, and as he was busy with one, the other went through his stuff. When he started bitching about it, the one he was with took out a knife and slashed him across the belly. After they stole from him and took off, he had to drive himself to the hospital, and that’s how he showed up at the emergency room, all bloody, with one hand holding in his entrails.”

“It’s not a good idea to hire two prostitutes. Even if they don’t steal from you, it’s too confusing.”

“You’re right!” And the cheerful man, Anton, laughed again. Though Russian, he was born in Brazil, came to the US as an infant and now lives in Woodburn, Oregon. Though he owns ten acres of farmland, it’s not enough to pay the bills, so he must work as a painting contractor. In fracking country, Anton has a crew of five, and they all live in a rented farm house 35 miles from Williston, “I pay them $20 an hour, and we work six days a week. I brought them from Oregon, because it’s cheaper that way. The ones who are already in Williston would want to be paid 30.”

When Anton arrived in Williston three years ago, eating choices were limited yet expensive, but now, with new restaurants opening, he can get a reasonably price meal at Rice and Spice, for example, and the line at McDonald’s isn’t nearly as long. Rents are still preposterous, with a two-bedroom going for $2,500, higher than Chicago or Seattle, but Anton is only paying $1,250 for his out of the way farm house.  Exhausted drivers are what worries him most, not violent criminals, “There are a lot of accidents there. I was rear-ended recently, so my back and neck are hurting again. The guy didn’t even have insurance. This really pisses me off! I’ll have to see a doctor when I get back to Oregon.”

A week after seeing Williston for the first time, I finally pounded its sidewalks, and the experience was, well, anti-climatic, for here was a pleasant and still tranquil Midwestern town. I was neither mugged nor raped on sight, but then again, I’m no catch, admittedly. Yes, there were two strip bars right by the train station, Whispers and Heartbreakers, but there were also the Lord’s Ten Commandments painted on a nearby building. A few thoroughfares, Second Street and Second Avenue among them, were busy with truck traffic, but the rest were quiet, even sleepy. Moms, kids and ordinary women strolled downtown streets. Teenagers wandered. Outside the Salvation Army Store, three bikes were left unattended, and on a store poster, grandma licked an ice cream cone, “ICE CREAM / OLD FASHIONED / IT’S GOOD!” It was near the 4th of July, so flags were everywhere, and outside a home with a miniature, plastic castle, I spotted a sign that pleaded, “COMBAT VETERAN LIVES HERE / PLEASE BE COURTEOUS WITH FIREWORKS.” I ran into a handsome, polyresin buffalo in front of a modest home, then a bronze moose outside the Moose Lodge. Seeing me snapping it, a man shouted out, “Hey, I just sculpted that!” I passed an Asian bistro, Basil, and its price for pho, $14.50, did make me jump, but later I’d pay just $8.95 for an acceptable lunch buffet at China Sun, 1 ½ mile from downtown.

I entered through a bowling alley. As I sat down, the cashier said to the only other customer, a lanky black man standing at the counter, “You’re not working today?”

Ignoring her question, he replied in an African accent, “I need a Chinese girl.”

After a long moment, she said without emotion, “Go to China.”

“I went to China. There were no Chinese girls there. I need a Chinese girl here.”

After another drawn out minute, she monotoned, “I’m no Chinese girl.”

In this flat manner, they ping ponged back and forth until his to-go order was ready. After lunch, I went to my hotel, a Super 8, which cost me $108.87 per night, a great bargain in this steep town. On the way, I’d see several help wanted signs. In the window of Conlin’s Furniture, a help wanted sign promised a salary of $50,000+, with health and dental benefits, 401K, paid vacation and “a beautiful work environment.” “You owe it to yourself to stop in and fill out an application,” it plead. The unemployment rate for Williston is less than 1%. From the parking lot of Super 8, I could see the sign for DK’s Lounge and Casino, so that’s exactly where I headed after a quick shower. Country music greeted me as I opened the door. After easing onto a stool, I asked the barkeep what she had on tap and ordered a Beaver Creek, based on its charming name alone. A fine IPA at five bucks for a 20-ounce mug, it was not nearly as expensive as I had feared. Settled, I surveyed my environment to find the ratio of men to women to be about 6 to 1, which is about average for most bars anywhere, especially in the late afternoon. The two loveliest women, young and slim, turned out to be waitresses, however. A man to my left explained, “The prettiest women in this town all come from elsewhere. The local chicks are like yetis.”


“You know, the abominable snowman, or, in this case, snowwomen!”

“Oh, c’mon, man, I’d never call a woman that.”

“You might not say it, but you would think it!”

“Well, since the men are beefier here, the women have to beefy.”

“That’s one way to look at it. It’s their insulation, their winter packing. It does get cold here.”

“Hey, maybe these nice looking women aren’t even real! They’re just hologram! I bet you can put your hands right through them,” and I stuck my arms straight out.

“Ha, ha! I’ll call Erica over so you can try.”

“No, man, don’t do that. I just got here. I don’t want to get beat up! Do they have a bouncer here?”

“Not today. Only on weekends.”

“So it’s really not that bad. What would happen, though, if I do something really stupid.”

“The clientele will take care of you.”

“I’ve heard so much about this place. I was expecting more chaos, but look at this,” I waved at the bar, “it’s pretty mellow right now. I’d even say it’s melancholic.”

“It won’t be if you return on Friday. There will be 300 guys in here and you’ll be lucky to get a seat at the bar. Have you seen the movie 300?”

“No. What’s it about?”

“The Persians are invading Greece, so you have this army of 300 fighting them, and it’s the same kind of rampage here. You have so many different states, so many different attitudes all converging on one small town that’s just not ready to deal with such a rampant onslaught. There’s too much testosterone here, so you even have males raping males, and that’s why I’m getting out of here!”

“What about the prostitutes? I imagine there must be hundreds of them here. Shouldn’t that relieve some of the pressure?”

“Surprisingly, no!”

“How much are they charging, by the way?”

“Oh, I have no idea! I have no idea.”

“But listen, listen, if I was a prostitute, I would run right here and make some quick bucks, no?”

“But it’s not safe here! If you’re a woman, and you’re by yourself, you run the risk of having the shit beat out of you if you come to a hotel room.”

He then pulled up some Backpage ads on his cell phone, “Look at these! ‘My first time in Williston.’ Then there’s ‘I just got to town, and I’m ready to play.’ Check this out: ‘I want it in my mouth.’ ‘Smoothy Skin, Luscious Lips, Extreme Water Flow.’ What the hell?! This one, ‘PETiTE EXOTiC ASiAN DOLL,’ has ‘NO BLACK MEN THNKS.’ So a bunch of them are here, like you say, but there are risks, because there is so much violence here. You have bar fights, stabbings. The men are beating each other up!”

“But you haven’t seen any violence yourself?”

“No, not yet, but I’ve had enough.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Just since November, so eight months, but I also worked for a year on an oil pad in Killdeer.”

“Maybe you’re just burnt out.”

“That too. They have me cleaning these pipes all day long, and I work 80 hours a week. The tips of my left fingers are numb and my right hand tingles. All day long I must hold this machine and sometimes I must lift these heavy pipes that are covered in oil and muck. It doesn’t matter how good your gloves are, they’re very hard to hold on to, so I’m done, man.”

“What about the chemicals? Do you worry about all the shit you’ve been exposed to?”

“Well, I don’t know. When I was on the rig, I heard all these warnings about the H2S gas, about how it can destroy your sense of smell, then kill you without you even knowing, but there’s also this crap that must be sucked from the ground and hauled away, and we’re talking water, chemicals and all the natural, you know, whatever that’s deep down in the earth, but the combination of it all is something no human should ever smell. The nauseation, oh God! I mean, you must check the level. You must bend over and look into the hole. It’s not exactly like an outhouse, which we’ve both experienced, but over time, the continual smell of it, honestly, hell, there were times I was ready to drop to my knees! It’s like your body knows. No human being should ever have to smell that.”

“So it’s probably best you’re getting out of here, before it really kills you!”

“Well, I’m done. Soon enough, I’ll go back to Grand Forks, five hours East of here.”

After AC/CD’s Hell’s Bell, Johnny Cash came on, and it’s remarkable how soothing yet invigorating was his music. Jaunty, smirking, it exuded endurance and defiance, but with a touch of melancholy. For the men and women who’re toughing it in Williston, the Man in Black is as good a patron saint as any.

“On the train, I met this stripper who was going to Grand Forks to work,” I continued.

“She can’t be, because there’s no strip joint in Grand Forks. Maybe she meant Fargo?”

“No, Grand Forks. When I asked her what she was going to do in Grand Forks, she just smiled and said, ‘I give people pleasure.’ She said she could work anywhere.”

“So she’s a prostitute!”

“Yes, but she also said she was a stripper, but maybe she just wanted to sound classier. She did have the Space Needle tattooed on her left forearm. That’s pretty classy.”

“That’s classy?!”

“Yeah, man, the Space Needle has a lot of details. It’s not like the St. Louis Arch or the Washington Monument. To do a proper tattoo of the Space Needle, you must include the elevator and the rotating restaurant at the top.”

“I see what you mean.”

“So this chick said she started stripping in Seattle, but they charge a girl $120 a night to dance there, so she moved to Portland, where it’s only 30 bucks. Now she’s going to Grand Forks.”

“What do you mean charge a girl?”

“These clubs don’t pay but charge a girl to dance.”

“$120 a week?”

“No, a night! So they must make at least that in tips to break even.”

“Holy shit!”

“I’ve heard they’re charging the same in Williston.”

“No way!”

“That’s what I’ve heard. Have you been down there?”

“I’ve only been to Whispers once. I saw this 48-year-old dancing.”

“A forty-eight-year-old?!”

“You know, different men have different tastes. Some like them old.”

“If she told you she was 48, she was probably 55 or 60!”

“I felt kinda bad for her, so I did tip her a dollar.”

Since coming to Williston, my new friend, David, has only touched or been touched by a woman one other time, when he went to a beauty salon to have his back hair removed. In his early 40’s, he does have a girlfriend, a woman in California. Born in the Philippines, she married an American, then divorced him. Though David said they had been dating for 14 years, how strong can this long-distance relationship be? Maybe she’s just a hologram! Or an emoticon.

Before leaving, David asked a waitress a few questions for my benefit, “Miss, this is your first night, right?”


“What brought you up here?”

“To North Dakota? My husband.”

“What state are you from?” I chimed in.


“What city?”


“I used to teach in Boulder!”

“Oh, yeah? What did you teach?”

“Creative writing.”


“I live in Philadelphia. I just got here. I thought Williston would be a lot crazier.”

“Yeah, everyone makes it out to be so awful, like oh my God, and that you can’t even go out at night, but it’s not so bad. It’s fine here, really.”

“So what does your husband do?” David continued. “Is he working in a shop or on a rig?

“A rig.”

“Oh, nice, so he must be making decent money. Just out of curiosity, though, can we ask you why you’re working here?”

“Cause I don’t want to sit home all day to watch TV and eat. That’s no fun! I actually have two jobs. In the daytime, I work for Stallion.”

“Stallion! What do you do for them?”

“I’m just cleaning for them now, but they’re training me to drive a truck. I should get my permit soon. Then I’ll really be a productive person.”

“Hey, you’re becoming more North Dakota!” I stupidly added. Not only had I slept sitting up on a train the night before, I was well sloshed by this point.

“More North Dakota? You mean I should add fifty pounds and put on more makeup?” She laughed.

“At least fifty pounds. Winter is coming! When in Rome, ah, you must eat more fried chicken!”

“That’s not what they eat here, dude,” David corrected me.

“Whatever. When in Rome, eat more chicken fried steak!”

“I feel fine now, but maybe I’ll take your advice.” Laughing, she walked away, and soon David also left.

DK’s was still buzzing, but since the jukebox was mute, I could hear someone telling jokes from behind the black curtain that split this huge bar. Unlike me, he was no drunk fool but a real comedian, one Mike Brody from the Twin Cities, and though I have no doubt his lines could disarm and undress, and his delivery ruthless yet nuanced, I could hear no laughter or applause whatsoever, so it’s quite possible he was performing for himself alone.

Soon, though, my attention was drawn to a woman sitting to my right. In her early 50’s and rather exhausted looking, she was having trouble getting the attention of the barkeep, Erica. Talking to her, I found out her name was Verna, and that she was working as an administrator at a man camp, “Our company is considered a leader in this field. We only work with companies. We don’t take individuals. Halliburton is one of our main clients.”

“How much do you charge for a person per night?”

“You know, I don’t even know! They don’t tell me, but it’s around $150.”

“But they get three meals a day, right?”

“Yes, they eat very well.”

“And they can’t bring guests or alcohol in, right?”

“Absolutely not! But it’s not a prison,” she laughed. “They can always leave. They can come here.”

Arriving from Polk County, Wisconsin, Verna has been in Williston for a year and four months. She’s originally from St. Paul. In Wisconsin, she worked for Spooner Train, an outfit that offers dinner on a moving train, at $50 per person, or dinner, drinks, then an overnight stay on a parked train, at $299 per couple. They sell nostalgia, basically.

“I came here thinking I’ll get a job at the airport. It has turned out well, but I’m tired. Everybody’s tired here.  That’s why there are so many accidents. I was just rear-ended.”

“How many hours do you work a week?”

“Eighty four.”

“Wow, that’s so many! Why won’t they hire two people and give each 40 a week?”

“No one will come then. You get paid more because you work more. It’s not so much they’re paying you more per hour, it’s the fact they’re giving you more hours. Every six weeks, though, I get two weeks off.”

“Do you go home?”

“Yes, but that’s another story. My home has been trashed!”

“What do you mean?!”

“Squatters! The last time, I went home, I discovered that it had been broken into. My white carpet is now red and purple, and there are beer cans and liquor bottles all over.”

“What about your electronics? Did they take your TV?”

“No, they didn’t take anything. I’m sure they were planning on coming back. There was no hurry. They’re probably there right now, partying.”

“Oh, man… So did you call the police?”

“Yes, I called, but the police are useless. They haven’t done anything. They didn’t even bother to take fingerprints.”

“What about your neighbors? Did they see anything?”

“I have no neighbors. There are no other houses around.”

“It sounds like a teenaged thing. Maybe a bunch of teenagers broke into your house and use it for parties.”

“Whoever they are, they know that I’ve left to work in another state.”

“You know, maybe the cops are not investigating because the kids who broke in are related to them.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Maybe the cops themselves broke into your house! So, anyway, there’s nothing you can do about this?”


“No security system?”

“They can always cut the wire. They’re not stupid!”

“Maybe you can plant landmines in your yard!”

“That’s an idea. At this point, I’ve given up on that house. After I bought it, it went up in value, so I put in on the market at $240,000, but it didn’t sell, so I lowered it to 169, finally, but at this point, I won’t even get that. It will take a lot to fix. You know, they even broke some of my windows, so that my pipes burst from the cold. At this point, I don’t care if a tornado hits it!”

“I think you should go back and lob hand grenades at the house, get even with these motherfuckers!”

“You know, I can’t even get worked up over it. I’m tired. For years, people have been messing with me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Have you heard of crowd stalking?”

“Yes, but who are stalking you?”

“I don’t know, but that’s the whole point.”

“I don’t understand. I mean, what do they want from you?”

“I don’t know either.”

“Maybe I’m stalking you!”

“Maybe you are.”

“Maybe I’m one of them!”

“Even in Williston, strange things have happened. My car has been broken into several times. Someone slashed my armrest. Why would they do that? Another time, someone cut some of the wiring under my hood.”

“So someone’s really messing with you, but why?”

“I don’t know. I wish I was actually crazy, so I could be cured, but it’s worse this way, because I have no idea what’s going on.”

“How long has this been happening?”

“For years! Once, someone scrawled “HI” into the dirt on my TV. I’m wondering why God is allowing this to happen.”

“To test you?”

“Test me for what?! I already believe in Him! I used to really believe in Him, but since I got here, I’ve only been to church twice.”

“Which church?”

“Oh, two different churches. I don’t believe in religion, only in God, so any church will do.”

“Now that you’ve made some money, maybe you can run away, very far away!”

“I’m sure they’ll find me.”

The lights had gone up, so it was about time to leave. Around 29-year-old Erica, a small crowd of supplicants had gathered, but each would walk out of here as needy as ever. Erica works 9 ½ hours a day and makes a pretty penny, but it’s also time for her to move on. Soon, she’ll be a field operation assistant for Oasis, another oil services company. With an 11-year-old at home, she wants weekends and all holidays off. One hundred percent Williston, native Erica is as lovely as they come, not that she needs any endorsement from a dirty old creep. “Thank you, ma’am,” I muttered as I staggered into the night.

Approaching Williston from the North, you’ll see an indigo sign with white lettering, “WELCOME TO WILLISTON / BOOMTOWN, USA.” On the back, there’s a black and red tableau of 14 men in hard hats, all busy carrying planks, pushing a wheelbarrow, climbing up a ladder, painting or standing on a scaffold, etc. The caption, “Will!ston / It’s getting better together.” Around town, you can also find posters that blares, “Excuse our mess!” but with “mess” crossed out, to be replaced by “progress.” A shopping center is being built, and East of downtown, luxury condos have gone up. Beneath this triumphant optimism, however, there is a toxic current that is poisoning not just bodies and souls, but also the fractured foundation of this still beautiful town, for when the rigs are hauled away, sooner rather than later, all that will be left will be an unholy mess.

In the window of Skinful Pleasures, a downtown tattoo parlor, there’s a sign, “Walk-ins Welcome!” Next to it, however, there’s a “Fuck You” black T-shirt. Although this juxtaposition is merely coincidental, it also sums up Williston’s ambivalence towards its lucrative rape. Fracked ten thousand times, North Dakota will never be the same.

With few industries, North Dakota has long been reliant on the military to feed its coffers. Hence, its nuclear base in Minot, drone bases in Fargo and Grand Forks, and drone research facilities in Grand Forks, Grand Sky and elsewhere. The University of North Dakota even awards a bachelor’s degree in Unmaned Aircraft Systems Operations, the first of its kind worldwide, needless to say. (“Mom, I think I want to major in drones!”) Fracking, however, may turn out to be this state’s worst pact with the devil.

On the day I left Williston, there was a bazaar downtown, with stalls set up right in the middle of Main Street. In the mild sunshine, I saw no roughnecks or fracking whores, only ordinary families leisurely perusing knickknacks and clothing racks. Smiling, two girls sat to have their caricatures done. On a table, there was a donation jar to help kids from Rickard Elementary go to Washington DC this April. There, they will visit the Air and Space Museum, among other attractions. Wearing a “Home of the Brave” T-shirt, a blonde-haired, skinny boy played God Bless America on his flute. He was excellent, too.

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He's tracking our deteriorating social scape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America. Read other articles by Linh.