Romancing the Range

This is my Sunday column for the Feb. 10, 2013 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this piece aired on Saturday’s “Between You and Me” program on Northern Community Radio.

Romancing the Range
By Aaron J. Brown

Life boils down to moments of consequence. With Valentine’s Day approaching (it’s this Thursday, for those affected) I was recently asked to name my most romantic moment. You know, for conversation. That’s easy.

My most romantic moment occurred on a hot summer night in Hibbing, Minnesota, the central hub of Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range.
It was the annual Mines and Pines Jubilee street dance on Howard Street where a chance meeting connected me forever with my wife, Christina.

Let’s pause for a moment and consider Iron Range summer street dances. I imagine other places have street dances, too, but our blue collar mining region relies on them as a sweaty handhold for the passage of time.

Usually Range street dances are scheduled around Independence Day, but several city festivals speckled throughout the summer create a functional street dance season. In this, people traverse northeast and southwest along Highway 169 to drink upon the yellow lines painted down the middle of some gritty town’s most respectable street.

It’s not that everyone from the Iron Range goes to all the street dances; it’s that everyone goes at least once in their lives and some never leave.

So on this July day in 1998, the Hibbing street dance had been pulsating for some time. Some of you might know the scene. Three bands play along the mile-long span of Howard Street, spaced so that those standing next to the high powered amplifiers can only hear that band, but everyone else is keenly aware of three bands playing at the same time.

The bars have set up folding tables along the sidewalks, frequented like lemonade stands staffed by the most adorable children in human history. My underage friends made plans to acquire some of the nectar, something that did not then interest me. I wandered the streets hoping to see something, or maybe someone.

My belief in a higher power is really only possible because sometimes the coincidences are unbelievable. The shuffling cattle of revelers parted like a sea before me and this girl I kinda’ knew from somewhere was standing right there. And she smiled.

I should say I had already met Christina before the street dance. We had met the previous month at the Hibbing Daily Tribune; she was the cub reporter on the city desk, I was the even greener freelance writer. I had taken a shine to her one night writing a story about a no-hitter thrown in a Legion baseball game while she worked late to avoid the heat of her apartment. She regarded the meeting as insignificant at the time, and really, I don’t blame her for that.

That night she had already fended off advances from an unknown miscreant dripping rum out his pores, tending as the third wheel to her newlywed friend and her husband. I had abandoned hope of finding anything of value or purpose not only in that evening, but in the entirety of the Iron Range. And in this moment, our eyes met and we walked together thenceforth. Our three children now sleep in the other room. We blog and tweet into the night on land that’s been in our family for generations.

I cannot stress enough how the word “romance” juts out like bones from the swamp in relation to the concept of an Iron Range street dance. Just this past month Hibbing officials made arrangements for additional security at next year’s street dance after a racially charged parking lot melee at last year’s event. We took in Keewatin’s Fourth of July fireworks this past summer, steering clear of the dull neon haze hovering over the downtown like the lights of a city through distant fog. Last year I listened to the earnest complaint of a fellow Iron Ranger that the way the holiday fell on the calendar might disrupt the scheduled semi-formal brawl between Eveleth and Gilbert partisans.

I say all of this knowing that it will in no way deter next summer’s street dances. Wouldn’t want that. These street dances must go on, for from this sea of chaos true order can arise.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts 91.7 KAXE’s Great Northern Radio Show on public stations.

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