Saturday, February 6, 2016

I-98: Episode Eight -- Pork: The Other White Meat

a syndicated television series spanning one decade, 2040 - 2049
Chronicles from The Bakken
Starring Samuel "Oilman" Goshwin & Liam Nikolai Gjorkstad
with occasional appearances by Archie McCool
initial funding from Apple Prairie Broadcasting  
matching grant money from The Legacy Fund
continuing support from viewers like you.

In the last episode, Amtrak had cleared Minot, heading west, bringing Sam and Liam closer to Boomtown every hour.

Somewhere west of Ray, Sam asked Liam what kind of car they should buy at Northstar. Liam was surprised Sam would ask. Wouldn’t they simply replace the Lamborghini with another Lamborghini?

“I don’t understand. Aren’t we just going to get another Lamborghini?”

“I suppose. I was just thinking about an electric car. A Tesla. A Model XS.”

Charging stations were now ubiquitous across the US. Tesla and GE had merged in 2030 after realizing they were pretty much in the same business: making money off government subsidies.

GE-Tesla cars now had a 650-mile range on one charge.

“But this time, driverless.”

Driverless cars never were perfected. Funding for that research died out when Congress realized that with 34% unemployment among the country’s youth there was another solution to driverless cars. Uber-all and Lyft-us received government contracts to train inner city youth, ages 14 to 19, to drive. Once they had their commercial small-vehicle driving licenses (CSVDLs), they were matched with owners of cars who no longer wanted to drive or were physically unable to drive.

Not only would the cars technically be “driverless” from the owner’s point of view, the owner had his own personal valet who could drop off the dry clearing or pick up dinner-to-go. Pizza delivery companies like Dominoes pretty much folded once “driverless cars” and Amazon drones appeared on the scene.

“You know, if we got a driverless car, ….

“ … pizza delivery would be a snap.”

“Speaking of which, I’m hungry. What about you?”
 “I’ve been thinking about pulled pork and a Dr Pepper when we get to Williston.”

“That’s right. There’s a Jimmy Deen’s Pulled Pork and Billiards at the mall.”

Williston was a “Pork Sanctuary City.” In 2015, federal prisons quit serving pork with the explanation that it was a financial decision. There just wasn’t much demand for pork in federal prisons, officials said.

After the pork ban in federal prisons, the #PigsLivesMatter snowballed. PETA stole the hash tag from some police union in Missouri confusing donors. It was a fortunate turn of events. Over the next decade the number of Muslim immigrants streaming into the US resulted in tense situations in Detroit, Cedar Rapids, the Twin Cities, and Kansas City. The Pork Party was using pork to instigate and incite demonstrations, not always peaceful, by throwing pork at undocumented residents. Things got so out of hand that by 2027, Congress felt there was no choice but to ban pork across the continental US and Alaska. Due to the popularity of Spam in Honolulu and the fact that Hawaii was now home to the first presidential primary, Hawaii was exempt. Hormel’s Spam Museum was moved from Austin, MN, to Makakilo, Hawaii.

The Pork Prohibition Amendment never passed; it became a state issue. Forty-nine of the fifty-one states banned pork but no less than 65 major metropolitan areas declared themselves pork sanctuary cities. Iowa declared itself a “pork sanctuary state.” Iowa was punished; the “Iowa caucuses” were shut down and Iowa lost its bragging rights as the first state to vote in the presidential primaries. Texas banned pork but the state claimed to have more pork sanctuary cities than any other state, though Illinois was not far behind.

Pork wasn’t the only issue dividing America by 2025. Other Congressional bans that resulted in sanctuary cities included urban rap (music), automatic weapons (such as “machine guns”), NASCAR racing, curling, and kite-flying. Most of these wedge issues resulted in multiple sanctuary cities, with one exception. For inexplicable reasons, there was only one NASCAR sanctuary city, Daytona Beach, and much of that was under water much of the year due to rising sea levels due to global cooling. As the polar sea water froze, it expanded, and earth’s oceans rose precipitously. NOAA had tweaked its thermometers and moved them closer to the tropics but to no avail. It was only a matter of time before NASCAR racing would be a thing of the past. No one would notice.

Williston was one of five pork sanctuary cities in North Dakota. The others were: Alexander, Watford City, Rugby, and New Ulm. Three of the cities were in the Bakken; many of the roughnecks were from Texas and there was a risk they would leave if pork was banned. New Ulm’s strong German heritage explained why it was a sanctuary city. New Ulm, in fact, boasted two "sanctuary" designations. In addition to being a pork sanctuary city, New Ulm, located in south-central Minnesota, tired of ever increasing utility rates, declared itself a "North Dakota sanctuary city." The issue was tied up in court, but for all practical purposes, "New Ulm, MN" was now "New Ulm, ND." The zip code did not change.

No one could ever explain why Rugby became a pork sanctuary city. Rumors were that the city fathers hoped Harold Hamm would build a $4 billion pork processing plant in the city. The city fathers did not know that although Harold had the "right" last name, he had nothing to do with pork. 

The sanctuary cities were clear proof how Balkanized the United States had become over wedge issues. One agency that seemed immune to this was the EPA. No jurisdiction was able to successfully challenge EPA rules and regulations, no matter how bizarre, in the early decades of the 21st century.

The last straw was the EPA rule inserted into the 6,000-page omnibus bill as a footnote designating oxygen as a toxic gas. An EPA bureaucrat had noted that oxygen was toxic for anaerobic bacteria and, as they say in the Smithsonian, "the rest is history." In general, most Americans felt oxygen did more good than harm, but it depended no how the pollsters asked the question. 

The EPA had pretty much brought the US to an economic standstill by 2030. The states that did challenge the EPA found themselves in court for years. It was at that point that Congress stepped in again, forming a cabinet-level department to expedite the challenges: the Department of Conflict Resolution, Arbitration, and Policing. If conflicts between the states and the EPA could not be resolved within one year and a day, the parties were referred to a Department of CRAP arbitration committee which would impose a solution. [EPA rules did not apply to the Federal government, the District of Columbia, or Hawaii.]

These arbitration committees were patterned after the North Dakota Industrial Commission which had been so successful in managing the boom-bust cycle of the oil and gas industry in the early 2020’s. Of course, that was all in hindsight. Badda-bing.

Like the NDIC, the federal arbitration committees were composed of three members, but the director did not vote unless there was a tie between the two voting members. In the case of a tie, the director cast the deciding vote. There was talk of eliminating the two other members who seemed superfluous, leaving just the director as the only commission member, but then it wouldn’t have seemed like a real commission. So, in the end, the panels were left with three members. The commission was given 45 days to come up with a decision. There was no appeal process.

Once a conflict was resolved, with or without arbitration, it was DeptCRAP’s responsibility to police the decision, to make sure both parties complied with the decision.

Sam and Liam were getting their stuff together. Amtrak would soon be pulling into Williston's Northstar Center.

[The I-98 theme song crescendos as the camera pulls away with an overhead shot. In the distant, the Bakken is coming into view. Rolling credits.] 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I-98: Episode Seven -- #BeesLivesMatter

a syndicated television series spanning one decade, 2040 - 2049
Chronicles from The Bakken
Starring Samuel "Oilman" Goshwin & Liam Nikolai Gjorkstad
with occasional appearances by Archie McCool
initial funding from Apple Prairie Broadcasting  
matching grant money from The Legacy Fund
continuing support from viewers like you.

In the last episode, Liam and Sam were boarding a "shortened" Amtrak train at Rugby, thanks to an unscheduled stop okayed by Warren Buffett III, whose WBR&C railroad owned the track.

The only unanswered question was whether Thelma and Louise were on the Amtrak cars arriving in Rugby or had they been left behind in the derailed cars north of Fargo. Their whereabouts were never shown during the previous episode. It was during the ending credits that we learned that Thelma and Louise had indeed been stranded in Fargo. The show's writers were told to write the two young women out of the show because of a contract dispute. The back story was that the character who played Thelma was the great-granddaughter of Kaley Cuoco. She felt that she deserved the same pay as her great-grandmother, not realizing that I-98 never made any money, even after it went into syndication (it ranked below The Apprentice), and no one ever expected the series to make any money. Apple never streamed it.

Also, it was getting too difficult for folks in North Dakota to follow all the characters; it was time for some of the characters to move on.

Speaking of moving, that's exactly what Sam and Liam did; they left.

It was a whistle-stop stop in Rugby and the two had to literally run to catch the train before it pulled out at 2 mph. Ever since the Amtrak disaster of 2015 in Philadelphia, Amtrak had placed limiters on the throttle, limiting acceleration to "walking speed." There was one exception: the California bullet train. No, the California bullet train was not yet in operation. In fact the only real track that had been laid was a bridge "somewhere in the valley," but to show progress, the California legislature continued to vote on parameters for the California bullet train.

Sam: "That was close."

Liam: "What do you mean, close?"

Sam: "The stop wasn't all that ... darn ... I forgot my cellphone ...."

Liam: "Nah, I grabbed it off the picnic table just as you started to run for the train ..."

Sam looked at his wrist. The Apple Watch, version AW5417, had synced with his iPhone with IOS71. He checked the CO2 PPM app: CO2 had remained steady at 385 for quite some time now. He recalled how CO2 PPM had peaked at 430 in 2020 and then after that entered into a steady decline.

Although there were many theories on the decline in atmospheric CO2, the most likely cause was the nation's switch to Bakken light crude oil, which was found to burn very cleanly, and the end of flaring in North Dakota about the same time.

NOAA felt the decline was due to inaccurate measurements. To remedy that, NOAA began in 2025 re-locating CO2 monitors. They moved them closer to the oil fields that had now stretched into South Dakota to remedy what they thought were inaccurate measurements.

Unfortunately, the relatively sudden drop in CO2 had decimated the flora, which in turn, was playing havoc with honey bees. Honey was now approaching $100 / 10 ounces. More expensive than gasoline, which again was hitting record lows.

Sam and Liam were mesmerized by the fields of wildflowers along the track. The fields had been planted back late in the Obama-era in an attempt to bring back the bees. Liam even recalled the button he had worn years ago.

"Sort of reminds me of "#BeesLivesMatter." [Not to be outdone, Presidential wannabee Jeb Bush had had his own button: "Bees!"]

The fields became more noticeable the closer they came to Minot. A lot of the old ICBM sites were now "Save the Bee" sites.

Most of the ICBM sites had been defunded by Congress when then-President Trump launched "one for the gipper" from site A-02, 9.9 mi SE of Karlsruhe ND, 48°00′04″N 100°27′15″W, to take out ISIS once and for all.

The exact location was classified but was inadvertently released during the Hillary Clinton campaign back in 2020 (yes, she ran once again, even as she neared 75 years of age). Hillary testified later she thought she was sending her telephone number to a friend, not knowing that 48°00′04″N 100°27′15″W was a geographic coordinate, not a telephone number. At the time she famously said, "what does it matter, anyway?"

But now many decommissioned ICBM sites had become havens for bees. Honey was now the #3 industry in North Dakota, as measured in revenue, behind oil and drones. Sweet dreams were made of these.

The train was slowing, pulling into Minot. It would not stop, but it would slow down, although for Amtrak, "slowing down" is an oxymoron, or worse, redundant.

This was a non-stop from Mall of America to Northstar Center in Williston which meant no scheduled stops between Minneapolis and Williston, but the train did slow for urban centers. Minot was considered an urban center, though its population now paled in comparison to that of Watford City. West Watford City extended to East Alexander.

As the train rounded the curve, Sam and Liam saw the new billboards going up asking for donations to help Minnesotans pay their intermittent energy utility bills. The state was now completely reliant on intermittent energy, and utility bills had surged, as expected. Even the heirs to the great Dayton estate were surprised to see how many wind farms it took to generate enough electricity to keep the lights on, not to mention, to recharge the Teslas. To conserve electricity, the state had asked Minnesotans to stop making Swedish meatballs during peak electricity demand.

Sam noted the irony, "It's kind of funny how things worked out. Ever since CO2 dropped, it got colder in Minnesota just as they were meeting their state-mandated wind farm initiatives. And now no one can afford it."

"Yes, I've heard they are thinking of widening the I-98."

Sam corrected him, "Well, not quite. They are only going to widen the west-bound I-98. Although I think it would be cheaper just to make all four lanes west-bound. The east-bound lanes haven't been used in years."

Overhead Sam noticed the fleet of drones. The train started to pick up speed, having cleared Minot. Sam and Liam were only about a day out from Williston, once Amtrak hit cruising speed, about 15 mph, "walking speed."

[The I-98 theme song crescendos as the camera pulls away with an overhead shot. In the distant, the Bakken is coming into view. Rolling credits.]

Next week's episode: Pork -- The Other White Meat.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

I-98: Episode Six -- The Derailment

a syndicated television series spanning one decade, 2040 - 2049
Chronicles from The Bakken
Starring Samuel "Oilman" Goshwin & Liam Nikolai Gjorkstad
with occasional appearances by Archie McCool
initial funding from Apple Prairie Broadcasting  
matching grant money from The Legacy Fund
continuing support from viewers like you.

In the last episode, Thelma and Louise were headed west on the BHTR&A BNSF Bullet Train, more commonly called the "Bakken Bullet Express," Amtrak's bullet train from Chicago to Williston. They had gotten on at Chicago. There would be one stop at Bloomberg's Mall of America and then no more stops until Northstar Center, Williston, heart of the Bakken.

The BBE (or as the locals called it, the "BB King") was inaugurated one year after the second Bakken boom. The first Bakken boom had begun in North Dakota in 2007; the price of oil subsequently collapsed which ultimately set up a price spike to $200 oil and a second Bakken boom in the late 2020's. Hindsight suggested that would happen, but no one saw it coming until 2020. As they say, hindsight is 2020.

Did "we" say one stop between Chicago and Williston? Thelma and Louise were unaware -- in fact, everyone was unaware -- there would be two additional stops this fateful day. And no stop at the Mall of America as scheduled. 

Sam and Liam were still sitting at a little picnic table in Rugby, ND, underneath wind turbines frozen in time, waiting for BB King. Liam had successfully reached Warren Buffett III's office and had spoken with a secretary whose last name was "Munger" or something like that -- Sprint-Verizon-AOL reception had gotten worse ever since the last merger. Yes, Ms Munger (or whatever her name was) confirmed with Liam that Warren Buffett III had okayed an unscheduled stop at Rugby.

3:30 p.m.

Amtrak had not stopped at the Mall of America. Due to a bit of unrest in downtown Minneapolis earlier in the day, the Bloomberg mayor asked the mall to give the activists a bit of room to destroy things, starting with some of the anchor stores at the Mall of America.

Amtrak thought it best not to become part of the 5:30 Evening News With Brian Williams and bypassed the Mall of America, creeping by at 5 mph so passengers could gawk. (Brian Williams had passed on many years ago but the ratings had been so good that MSNBCAl Jazeera brought him back via a 3-D hologram.)

4:20 p.m.

The initial reports were sketchy but it appears the BB King derailed on a curve leaving Fargo. It appears that the bullet train entered the curve just as the train was halfway through the switch, as noted in the graphic below. The switchman switched the tracks a moment too early. The engine and the first three passenger cars made it safely but the last six Amtrak cars left the track. "Leaving the track" is a phrase no passenger likes to see in the same sentence in which Amtrak is mentioned.

UND drones were the first to spot the derailment. The Amtrak engineer of course was oblivious to any problem behind him but reported some days later that he thought it strange that his train suddenly accelerated. He said it was if, and I quote exactly: "It was as if I had just lost six cars."

It wasn't until he reached Gardner, North Dakota, some 25 miles to the north that the engineer was aware of what happened.

The engineer, Eric Kjorstadsonson was a stoic Norwegian. When the radio call came in that he lost six cars back in Fargo, he said, and I quote exactly: "Uff da."

Sven Olalfson, the second engineer's only comment was, "Well, it could have been worse. We could have been in one of those cars." Not likely. Most Amtrak engines were at the front of the train, not somewhere in the middle. Although at one time there had been talk of putting Amtrak engines in the middle of the train so the engineers would be closer to the dining car.

5:00 p.m.

Rugby was approaching. Actually, more accurately, Rugby was standing still; but the Amtrak train was approaching. On the other hand, Einstein's theory of relativity would not differentiate between what was approaching what. A bystander in Devil's Lake would not be able to tell whether Rugby was approaching the train or whether the train was approaching Rugby. The more interesting question was whether Schrödinger's cat in one of the passenger cars that derailed back in Fargo was dead or alive. Alex Schrödinger, who never traveled without his cat, had boarded the BB King in Chicago along with Thelma and Louise, and had been in one of the cars that derailed.

(It turns out that due to a quirk in the Unified Theory of Everything developed by Al Gore back in 1997, the cat was neither dead nor alive. The cat was in what Al Gore described as a "relativity lockbox" -- a place where things go when Einstein's theory of relativity can't explain how things disappear, particularly federal tax revenue. The "1997 theory" -- his Unified Theory of Everything -- was in his last note before he died. In the note says he did not release this theory in 1997 because he was miffed that there were some people who thought his "Global Warming Theory" was wrong. He felt if people did not believe his global warming theory, they would never take his Unified Theory of Everything seriously, and he was just too old to continue the fight. He left his theory in a PowerPoint presentation and then sent it to Hillary Clinton where it was lost in her private e-mail server. It was only in 2017 that the FBI was able to find the lost e-mails. Unfortunately, Microsoft-Apple no longer supported PowerPoint in 2017 and the presentation has never been decoded.)


Liam and Sam were about a mile away when they first saw the BB King.

Liam: "Is that the train?"

Sam: "I believe so. Looks shorter than usual."

Liam: "That's because of Einstein's theory of relativity. At that speed, the train seems to be shorter than it really is. No, his theory suggests just the opposite. At that speed, the train should be longer than it really is. I don't know. I'm confused."

The train rolled to a stop. Martha Syverton-Jacobson remembers the day BB King stopped in Rugby.
 "It had never happened before. In their last American tour, the Rolling Stones had played in Rugby, but BB King never came to Rugby. Oh, you mean the train. Oh, I don't know anything about any train called BB King. The only thing that happens around here are those dang WBR&C trains that keep going off the track and blowing up. It's worse than Casselton. Casselton gets all the press because it's closer to Fargo.""
The train had hardly come to a full stop before Sam and Liam arrived on scene.

Sam: "It is shorter than usual. Only three cars. Used to be nine."

Liam: "Amtrak cutbacks?"

Sam: "Something like that, I suppose. Let's go."

[Camera pulls back. Schrödinger's cat is seen leaving one of the passenger cars. Sam and Liam are seen getting into the car. The light snow continues to fall. The voice over: "Next stop Williston, the heart of the Bakken. Were Thelma and Louise derailed or are they on the train? What adventures await Sam and Liam in Williston?]

One seldom sees "adventures" uses in the same sentence as "Williston." But, then, this is the Bakken.

Next week's episode: #BeesLivesMatter.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I-98: Episode Five -- Memories

At the end of the last episode, Sam and Liam were "trapped" in Rugby, hoping the bullet train out of Chicago would make an unscheduled stop in Rugby to pick them up, taking them to Williston's Northstar Center where they could buy a new car.

Meanwhile, Thelma and Louise, released from an ObamaCare Small Unit Care Klinic (colloquially called OCSuCKS), were racing to catch the aforementioned bullet train to get them back to Rugby. They were unaware that the train was a non-stop between The Mall of American (Minneapolis area) and Northstar Center (Williston area). In fact, the two of them were unaware of a lot of things. But that was pretty much the norm for those growing up in North Dakota: unaware of a lot of things.

They arrived, by taxi, at the O'Hare Transcontinental Rail Terminal, purchasing their tickets to Williston en route using their ApplePay/Apple Watch, version 101.1. The bullet train had arrived about 30 minutes earlier and the train was about to depart. Thelma and Louise bolted, jumping inside just as the bullet train's sleek aluminum doors were closing.

After the obligatory hand sanitizer ritual, they took the elevator to upstairs seating and promptly fell asleep. Estimated time of arrival, Williston NSC: 6:14 p.m. One stop, Bloomington MOA.

[Camera fades out from Thelma's AppleWatch, and fades in on Liam's AppleWatch.]

Back in Rugby, at the little picnic table underneath the wind turbines frozen in time, Liam was checking his own AppleWatch. The bullet train should be racing through Rugby about 5:30 p.m. With any luck at all he might be able to reach the dispatcher in Omaha at Berkshire Hathaway Transcontinental Rail and Air.

"Siri, Omaha, Berkshire Hathaway Transcontinental Rail and Air."

"Did you say, 'Birkenstock Taupe Suede'?

"Omaha, Berkshire Hathaway Transcontinental Rail and Air."

"Got it, 'Birkenstock Taupe Suede.' Dialing now."

Siri, version 56.02.1 still had a few bugs to work out.

"What are you working on?" Sam asked.

"Trying to reach the Omaha dispatcher."


"Got it, thanks."

In no time, Liam was working with Darla, the Omaha dispatcher for the Bullet Train. It looked like something could be worked out.

Nothing much to do now, but wait.

"Hey, do you want to look at an old YouTube video of the the I-98 bridge when it was being built ... back during the Great Recession?"

"Brings back bad memories. The Affordable Highway Act."

"Yeah, it was a rough start. A number of stimulus bills had been passed but most of the money went to bailout banks, if I remember correctly. So I-98 was built with Bakken oil money. The president had introduced the Affordable Highway Act, but like the bridge in Alaska, it went nowhere. Harry Reid didn't even let that bill out of committee. Nancy Pelosi wanted to read the bill first, lessons learned, I guess. So, I-98 had to be built with private money. The only problem, if I recall, there was a huge shortage of heavy construction equipment and no workers. Everyone and everything was tied up in the Bakken. And it only got worse with the mega-pads. Caterpillar couldn't keep up. Even Mitsubishi  and workers from eastern Europe had to come in and build the bridge."

The First I-98 Bridge, Over The Red River, Looking East Into The Promised Land
"Yeah, it was a rough start, but that was then."

[Camera pulls back. Sam and Liam fade into the background. A light snow begins to fall. The voice over: "Will the BHTR&A BNSF Bullet Train make an unscheduled stop at Rugby. Will Thelma and Louise sleep through the stop. Does anyone care. Does anyone use question marks any more. What does it matter."]

Next week's episode: The Derailment.

I-98: Episode Four -- The Bullet Train

I haven't seen the photograph, but a reader tells me "they" are building a huge new multi-lane, divided highway (Gateway Drive) from the city out to the Grand Forks, North Dakota, airport.

This is most likely the new I-98 featured in the eponymous television series.

For those unfamiliar with the I-98 series, here are the relevant links:

Although the series is set in the future (2040 - 2049), it is being written, and if Hollywood picks it up, filmed in the present.

The series was put on hold following an incident involving a high speed chase. I am happy to report that the series will be up and running but heavily censored, and could be pulled at any moment.

Season 1, Episode 4
"The Bullet Train" 

When we last left off, Thelma and Louise were on their way to eastern Montana, but ended up in Chicago. With the crashed Lamborghini they were up a canoe without a paddle, as the Muddy River Boys used to say. Meanwhile, Sam and Liam were still near Rugby, North Dakota, also without a car. [In the television series, there will be a Twin Peaks-like soundtrack, with a Don Pardo-voice over: "Previously, on I-98, ....]

The local authorities brought Sam and Liam up to date with the little information they had. And that was about all they had, little information: their yellow Lamborghini was stolen.

Liam said, "It could be worse." 

"So, what do we do now?" Sam asked Liam. The good news was that the derailed highly-volatile Bakken crude oil train had only obstructed one set of tracks; the explosion had caused relatively little damage to the other tracks. Some years earlier, under pressure from the USDA chief, Warren Buffett had agreed to put in "the quadruple track," or the "QT" as it was known, across the northern tier. There was one dedicated track each for crude oil, agricultural products, Amtrak, and "the bullet train." Yes, Amtrak was still running but was pretty much a train for tourists without a time schedule or appointments to keep. On the other hand, BNSF saw an opportunity when airlines continued to charge high fees to fly into the Bakken. The BNSF bullet train would be passing through Rugby later in the day. Liam suggested they take the bullet train to Williston, which, they estimated, would take about an hour.

Most of the excitement outside of Rugby had died down. The ECNALUBMA had departed the scene; the ice cream truck had sold out of everything but "Michelle's Veggies," a small snack pack that never really caught on in the Midwest. Or the South. Or the North. Or really anywhere except Huntington Beach, California, where the snack packs made great fish bait for tourists fishing off the pier.

[Warren liked the "quadruple track." He had gotten the idea from his own quadruple bypass about that time and said "why not?" Charlie Munger wrote a best-seller on building the BNSF bullet train and the QT, titled, "Why Not?" Both Warren and Charlie were now sharing a room in a long-term assisted nursing care unit in downtown Omaha owned by Malia and Natasha.]

To save time, the bullet train no longer stopped at Minot. It didn't stop at Rugby either. It was a non-stop from Minneapolis Mall of America to Northstar Center in downtown Williston.

[Williston had expanded north to the "old 13-mile corner," now a way station along the I-98. At the intersection of I-98 and US 85 going south towards Williston there was another toll station for Minnesotans. Cars with Minnesota tags were expected to stop and pay a toll for using I-98; non-Minnesota tagged vehicles were exempt. Like the I-98 toll bridge across the Red River, the government did not need the funds, but Minnesotans were so used to paying taxes and tolls there were concerns that traveling free, going "cold turkey" as it were, would be too much for Minnesotans. Especially the older ones.]

The bullet train did not stop at Rugby on its direct non-stop to Northstar Center, but Liam had connections. Yes, the BNSF dispatcher said, the train could stop in Rugby due to the unusual circumstances. Liam and Sam caught a ride with the two Rugby patrolwomen to the pre-planned location where the bullet train would stop, near the Geographical Center of North America and Sprint Cell Phone Tower Obelisk. The Obelisk used to be a tourist destination but the wind farm pretty much obscured the Obelisk. But the old folks still knew where the Obelisk was.

Sam and Liam got out, walked over to the little picnic table and sat down, waiting for the train. The wind was blowing too fast for the wind turbines which were now sitting frozen in time. That was serendipity for Sam and Liam: without the turbines turning, they could hear themselves talk, although with the wind they had to talk a little louder than usual, and had to hold onto their Minnesota Twins baseball caps.

"I wonder what happened to the Lamborghini?" Sam asked, really to no one in particular. Liam was texting a note on his iPhone which came with its own briefcase because it was really too large to fit anywhere else.

Sam spoke again,"Who are you texting?"

"Pat, Jr." was the reply.

"Oh, over at Northstar Center?"

"Yep, need to get a new car."

"What are you thinking?"

"No question. A Tesla."

Liam had pretty much given up on electric cars. The Lamborgini turned out to be a real pain to re-charge, even with all the charging stations along I-98. Even McDonald's, who still did not allow folks to charge their computers INSIDE their restaurants, had charging stations OUTSIDE their restaurants. But with exploding batteries, poor range, and constant re-charging, Liam had finally decided that with the loss of the Lamborghini he had an opportunity to buy a Tesla.

Tesla started out building electric vehicles but switched back to conventional gasoline sports cars in the late 20's. 2027 or thereabouts. EVs never caught on but there was a small niche for EVs. It was called the "feel-good" niche. Liam had originally bought the Lamborghini EV to feel good, but he now felt as good as he thought he would ever feel, and decided a new feeling was what he needed. Like the feel of a muscle car. And with gasoline now costing 29 cents/gallon due to the flood of new oil found in the early 21st century, the price of gasoline was no longer a factor in deciding what kind of car to buy. It turned out CO2 was good for the environment, too, based on several studies financed by Exxon, BP, and Chevron.

Small talk ensued. But not for long. The bullet train would be arriving momentarily.

Meanwhile several hundred miles to the east, Thelma and Louise were still getting their bearings after being shaken up.

"Well, that sucks." Louise said to no one in particular. The Chicago police had arrived. It took awhile to sort things out, but the police took Louise and Thelma at their word: they were simply driving to the mall when they were cut off by some dude; taking evasive action resulted in a small fender bender. The fact that Louise was in a low-cut, highly-revealing blouse probably had nothing to do with how they were treated, but one wonders. They were given a "driving-while-blond" warning and taken to one of the local ObamaCare Small Unit Care Klinics (colloquially called OCSuCKS). Neither had ever enrolled in ObamaCare but that really didn't matter. Most Americans had never enrolled. Even the promise of an ObamaPhone with one's enrollment didn't seem to help. So, the government simply gave up. ObamaCare morphed into HillaryCare, the only real difference being that enrollment didn't matter any more.

Thelma spoke first, "So where do we go now?"

Louise  looked up at the large screen in the waiting room with weather, transportation, and breaking news. The BNSF bullet train she noted, coincidentally, was due to be departing shortly. "If we run, I think we can make it."

"Run where? Make what?" Thelma asked.

"Quit, put out your cigarette -- [Thelma had just lit up her ever-present e-cig] -- and follow me."

Louise bolted; Thelma in quick pursuit.

[Twin Peaks-like music, Don Pardo voice-over, "Will Louise and Thelma catch the bullet train? Will the bullet train make an unscheduled stop at Rugby? Does anyone care?"]

Next week's episode: Memories.

I-98: Episode Three -- The Chase


I-98 is a syndicated television series spanning one decade, 2040 - 2049
Chronicles from The Bakken
Starring Samuel "Oilman" Goshwin & Liam Nikolai Gjorkstad
with occasional appearances by Archie McCool
initial funding from Apple Prairie Broadcasting  
matching grant money from The Legacy Fund
continuing support from viewers like you.

Season One, Episode Three: The Chase

They called themselves Thelma and Louise. Thelma was 15. Louise was old enough to remember the 1991 movie in re-runs.

In all the commotion, no one saw them jump into the yellow Lamborghini. Of course it had not been planned, but it wasn't the first time Louise had taken off in someone else's car or pick-up. It was easy to do in the North Dakota winters where folks left their vehicles running during short outings in the middle of winter. Louise was momentarily confused by the Lamborgini's dashboard and "operating system" as she called it. But after a moment, it seemed intuitive and off they went, around the barricades and past the Good Humor truck.

With all the Bakken milllionaires and the fancy sports cars on I-98, two young women in a yellow Lamborghini did not seem out of place. The only vehicles that still got folks to turn their heads were the vintage Volvos coming out of Minnesota. The Volvos were common  during the "great migration" but not seen so much any more. When Volvos were seen on I-98, North Dakotans were known to turn their heads, and murmur, "how sad." But that was often followed with typical Scandinavian optimism, "It could be worse; they could be coming from Wisconsin."

It was only when Sam and Liam finally got back to the six-lane divided highway, when they noticed their car was missing. They might have noted their missing car earlier but the young, shapely, tall, blonde paramedics tending to their needs had momentarily distracted them. The authorities were alerted via a text message. It took a moment for the older Rugby policewomen who had set up the barricades to decode the text: CR STLN. W-B-Y-L.
"W-B-Y-L" -- world's best yogurt, but what did the "L" stand for? And the "CR STLN" -- what the heck was that?

Once they bought a few vowels, it all made sense: Car stolen. West-bound-yellow-Lamborghini. Vanna White, the Rugby dispatcher, always loved playing that game, but it often slowed things down in the fast-paced world of crime prevention in Rugby. The sky overhead was filled with media drones filming the derailment; the flare from the overturned tank car was getting bigger but seemed to be relatively non-threatening. The safety retro-fits to the tank cars were apparently doing their job: releasing the legendary flammable cargo at a measured, OSHA-prescribed rate.

The firemen later said they decided to let the fire burn itself out. The girls scouts had arrived; North Dakota girl scouts never passed up an opportunity for s'mores. The Good Humor truck had the marshmallows; the girls scouts had their cookies; and, the chocolate? A Widman's truck was on its way to the Bakken.

The MSNBCAl Jazeera drone was the only drone following the yellow Lamborghini. By now, television viewers across North Dakota were tuned into watching the Rugby Story, as it was now being called. Surfing across the various networks, the "chase" was quickly becoming the "reality show of the season." Some were already making comparisons to the SUV-freeway chases so common in Los Angeles at the turn of century.

Thelma and Louise were flying. Thelma, all of 15, had no clue. All she knew was this: flying down I-98 in a yellow Lamborghini was more exciting than taking North Dakota state history where she would be had she not skipped school today. She never understood the reason she had to memorize the 56 North Dakota state counties. And that was just for starters. Of course North Dakota state history was easier for her parents when there were only 53 counties in the Peace Garden State.

The omniscient narrator wasn't going to digress and talk about North Dakota history, but driving down a six-lane divided highway across North Dakota is about as boring as it can possibly get. One might as well take this opportunity to tell a story. Bill Bryson thought crossing Nebraska was boring; he had obviously never traveled across North Dakota on "old" US Highway 2 (now I-98, built to accommodate all the Minnesotans fleeing their state due to high taxes among other things. The Target security breach was "among the other things," best forgotten).

So, while Thelma and Louise make their way across "old US Highway 2" it's as good a time as any to explain the 56 counties. (Spoiler alert: they won't get as far as they would like.)

 Like so much of North Dakota history, this story begins during the Bakken boom. In fact, to digress again, the old timers remember when they took North Dakota state history during one year of middle school, and even that seemed too much. But after the boom, the state required three years of North Dakota state history to graduate: pre-boom, during the boom, and post-boom state history. Students were allowed to substitute one year of state history with a year-long course in engineering, preferably petroleum engineering, but MDU was able to lobby the legislature into allowing electrical engineering as an alternative to petroleum engineering. The Legacy Fund paid the salaries of the engineering professors, most of whom came from BP.

During the boom, QEP made history when it petitioned to "unitize" one of its fields, which was known as the "Grail." The attempt by QEP to unitize the "Helis Grail" started innocently enough but one thing led to another and before the governor knew what happened, the other two members of the NDIC agreed to let the oil companies unitize the five western North Dakota counties: Sheridan, Roosevelt, Richland, Williams, and McKenzie. Except for the three-hundred-forty-five (345) "extraordinary sites" the entire five-county area was unitized.

Sheridan, Roosevelt, and Richland counties had been annexed by North Dakota some years earlier. When the issue came up, it only seemed to make sense. These three Montana counties were part of the Bakken. Most of the legislators in Helena didn't even know where the three counties were located. If anyone had asked, and no one had, North Dakotans had long been upset that Montana would name one of their counties after TR who had had his ranch in North Dakota, and, for "pete's sake," they would say, not in Montana.

Harold Hamm, Jr, one day, simply said, it's time to annex eastern Montana; let's just do it. In fact that was the headline in the Informed newspaper:

"It's Time To Annex Eastern Montana, Let's Just Do It -- Harold Hamm, Jr."

The NDIC agreed. The NDIC, of course, had no authority to annex eastern Montana, even if it was just three Bakken-oil-producing counties, but that had not stopped the NDIC before. The commission had made a lot of decisions over the years that seemed to be beyond their bailiwick. Moving the North Dakota state capital to Williston seemed to be beyond their bailiwick, too, but no one noticed that either. A lot of Bismarck legislators were heard to have said at the time, in typical Scandinavian optimism, "it could be worse. They could have moved the capital to Fargo."

So, eastern Montana, or at least the three Bakken-oil-producing counties of Sheridan, Roosevelt, and Richland were annexed and became part of North Dakota. That is where the counties should have been all along if Lewis and Clark had known about the Bakken in the first place. That's why I-98 runs from Grand Forks to Bainville, North Dakota. The state was willing to fund the interstate within the borders of North Dakota, but no farther east or west.

Thelma did not know this history. She probably would not have cared. Louise, on the other hand, knew the story very, very well. But that story will have to wait.

 Next week's episode: will Thelma and Louise reach Montana? (Spoiler alert: no.)

I-98: Episode Two -- The Inferno

Season One, Episode 2: The Inferno 

I-98 is a syndicated television series spanning one decade, 2040 - 2049
Chronicles from The Bakken
Starring Samuel "Oilman" Goshwin & Liam Nikolai Gjorkstad
with occasional appearances by Archie McCool
initial funding from Apple Prairie Broadcasting  
matching grant money from The Legacy Fund
continuing support from viewers like you.

Season One, Episode Two: The Inferno

Liam: "Don't tell me you're crying over a little bit of spilled beer?

Samuel, blowing his nose in his handkerchief, wiping the tears from his eyes, "No, it's this darn hayfever."
Samuel had run out of Allegra-X, the follow-on to Allegra-M, which, in turn, had followed Allegra-D. 

[Shares in the parent company had plunged several years earlier when investors noted that the manufacturer was getting near the end of the alphabet. Disaster was averted, however, when the President of the United States had stepped in, and by executive order, added sixteen letters to the alphabet. Like most of his cabinet, the letters were not needed; nor, like most of his cabinet were they ever used, so no one complained. In fact, had the letters been more like the president's "czars" no one would have even noticed them.]
It was easier to get refills back when ObamaCare still existed, but that was long ago. ObamaCare had been replaced by Michelle Enterprises. Michelle Enterprises went public in 2025 (NYSE ticker: ME), and despite its "heritage," was endorsed by the Tea Party, long since defunct) when Michelle agreed to tack on "Inc." at the end of ME, to make it appear "more capitalistic." The original plans were to make the enterprise an LLC but no one in the administration knew what those letters stood for, no one having been in business before.
Michelle Care Enterprises-Medical Systems Endeavors (MCE-MSE, pronounced "mickey mouse" by Fox Business News) was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Michelle Enterprises. MCE-MSE developed the health care enrollment app. Unfortunately the Belarus engineers who wrote the code neglected to develop the "medication refill" app. [The Belarus engineers, in their defense, said it was never in the contract to develop a "refill" app.]
And without the app, Samuel was up a creek without a paddle, as they often said in Rugby.  More accurately, he was up a creek in ragweed country without his allergy medications.
Ragweed was nearly eradicated when the I-98 was being built. Ragweed to the I-98 workers was what yellow fever was to those working on the Panama Canal at the end of of the nineteenth century. Ragweed hayfever could never be compared to yellow fever, but it slowed things down.
Dr Ole Kjorkstad (no relation to Liam, despite the similarity in surnames), was North Dakota's "Dr Gorges." He almost eradicated ragweed. Unfortunately The New York Times did a piece on the weed, and wouldn't you know it -- ragweed was declared an endangered species. Now it was back.
Had The Dickinson Press not done a human interest story on ragweed, it's likely The New York Times would have never picked up on the story. But the video-story went viral: a Dickinson city bus driver had gone into a hayfever sneezing fit and had run his bus into a WBR&C crude oil unit train west of the Dickinson refinery. Unfortunately, the 220-car unit train had not yet unloaded its legendary flammable cargo. The ensuing inferno could be seen from outer space for days. It reminded some of the old-timers of the good old days when flaring was still allowed. Today's four-car derailment was a far cry from the "Dickinson Disaster of '27" as it came to be called.
In his haste to reach the overturned beer tank, Sam had forgotten it was late August, the 28th to be exact. Ragweed pollination season begins on August 15th, like clockwork.

The sun was low on the horizon; pollen counts increase at dawn and dusk, like that other North Dakota scourge: mosquitoes. Sam was sneezing into his handkerchief and Liam was still swatting the aforementioned pests when they reached the beer running into the drainage ditch.
By now the authorities had arrived; drones were circling overhead; two Rugby female police officers were setting up barricades; a Good Humor ice cream truck had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. The ice cream truck was the one non-emergency vehicle allowed to go around the police barricades.

A crowd had gathered. The crows feasting on roadkill had long scattered but were not far out of sight.
"Get back! It's gonna blow!" cried a voice from the crowd; the shouter was never identified. The yell was said later to have come from the grassy knoll on the other side of the road.
The two oil men ran toward the drainage ditch, covering their ears. Liam jumped into the ditch, and became partially swamped by the beer, which in another setting might not have been the worst outcome. Sam didn't make it to the beer-filled ditch. One of the three derailed oil tank cars burst into flame, no explosion, just a 30-foot-flare, reminiscent of the old Bakken flares.
"Quick, this way," Liam cried.
Sam was temporarily blinded; he was lying in a swath of ragweed; his eyes were swollen shut. Instinctively he moved away from the heat of the flame. Liam tried to get to his knees, stumbled, and fell back into the ditch.
The Rugby ECNALUBMA had arrived on scene but was blocked by the Good Humor truck from getting where it needed to be. Not funny, despite the lettering on the ice cream truck.
The paramedics rushed to Sam and Liam (they would later be honored by the Rugby Rotary Club as heroes for rushing toward the fire when everybody else, that is, Sam and Liam, were trying to flee).
The crowd was not moving. The crowd sort of reminded some folks of the crowds that gathered every February at the First Lutheran Church in Williston for the annual Lutefisk and Lefse Dinner.  It would take more than a three-alarm fire to get Norwegians to leave their pews patiently waiting for lutefisk.

[Post-events, the mayor of Rugby became a national celebrity, even thinking about running for President of the United States for his actions that day, maintaining calm in Rugby. The Dickinson Press would later publish a human interest story on the derailment, focusing on the ECNALUBMA.]

"Sam, are you okay?" was all a shocked Liam could muster.

The drones continued filming.
Next week's episode: the chase.