(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published March 3, 2002)
In last week's column, I described my January visit to Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn., which are also called "The Grand Cities" by about six people who are hoping this name will attract more humans to the area.
I went to The Grand Cities because I had poked some good-natured fun at the residents. They responded by good-naturedly inviting me up and formally naming a sewage pumping station after me in a ceremony that will forever remain a vivid memory in my mind, even though I have burned my clothes.
But that was not the end of their hospitality. They also exposed me to the popular northern sport of ice fishing, which gets its name from the fact that "ice fishing" sounds better than "sitting around drinking."
The idea behind ice fishing is that the northern winter, which typically lasts 43 months, eventually starts to make a guy feel cooped up inside his house. So he goes out to the Great Outdoors, drills a hole in a frozen body of water, drops in a line, and then coops himself up inside a tiny structure called a "fish house" with a heater and some fishing buddies and some cigars and some adult beverages and maybe a TV with a satellite dish. It's basically the same thing as drilling a hole in the floor of your recreation room, the difference being that in your recreation room you'd have a better chance of catching a fish.
I started my ice-fishing trip at the Cabela's outdoor-supply store, which is close to the biggest thing in East Grand Forks, and which has huge tanks inside with fish swimming around. There I met a guy named Steve Gander, who had two snowmobiles running outside in the subzero cold. We hopped on and drove them at a high rate of speed, right through the East Grand Forks traffic. (By "the East Grand Forks traffic, " I mean, "a car.")
We snowmobiled down to the Red River, which divides East Grand Forks from Grand Forks, and which gets its name from the fact that the water is brown. There we met Cabela's employee Matt Gindorff, who had drilled some holes in the ice. Matt dropped a fishing line into a hole, and within just 15 minutes - Talk about beginner's luck! - nothing happened. Nothing ever happens in ice fishing, because - this is my theory - there are no fish under the ice. Fish are not rocket scientists, but they are smart enough to spend the winter someplace warm, like Arizona. The only fish anywhere near me and Matt were the ones in the tanks at Cabela's; they were probably looking out the window at us, thinking "What a pair of MORONS."
TRUE FACT: Every January, The Grand Cities hold a day-long ice-fishing tournament called "The Frosty Bobber." The first year it was held, the total number of fish caught was zero. The second year, one person actually did catch something. It was a salamander.
So Matt and I sat there, "fishing, " until our body temperatures had dropped to about 55 degrees. Fortunately, Steve had brought along a traditional beverage called "schnapps, " which can be used, in a pinch, to fuel your snowmobile.
After the "fishing, " Steve and I snowmobiled up to the Sacred Heart School, where the Grand Cities honored me with a benefit potluck supper, to which the entire community had been invited. It was a big deal. The Grand Forks Herald published a color-coded map that divided the Grand Cities into three sectors, and assigned the residents of each sector to bring one of the three basic potluck food groups: (1) Hotdish; (2) Jell-O salad; and (3) Bars, which are desserts cut into bars, and which often feature, as a key culinary ingredient, Rice Krispies.
The potluck supper was almost a disaster, because the people who showed up first were all from the east side, which had been assigned to bring bars. This meant that for a while there, there were hardly any hotdishes. This story was reported the next day on the front page of the Grand Forks Herald, under the headline (I am not making any of this up) "HOTDISH SCARE."
Fortunately, the hotdish people showed up. So did the Jell-O people, big time. I have never seen that much Jell-O in my life. Most of it had things suspended in it: fruits, vegetables, office supplies, you name it. But the food was delicious, and the people were wonderful to me. As I sat there in the Sacred Heart gym, surrounded by these good-hearted, hard-working, Jell-O-eating people, I felt, despite my big-city cynicism, a warm glow inside. You have GOT to try schnapps.