Duluth: “Where rail meets sail.” Where rustic meets rustbelt. Where woodtick meets moonbeam, and uphill meets down. You’re a microcosmic casserole, a dichotomous hotdish, Duluth, where stone meets water, and water meets sky. Actually, between water and sky is a thin slice of Wisconsin, appearing blue because of the way light scatters across the distance, and sometimes distance is good. You see, people often end a sentence with the phrase, “but there’s always Wisconsin,” as in, “we can’t get no drunker here, but there’s always Wisconsin,” or, “we don’t make lampshades from human skin, but there’s always
Wisconsin,” and so on, lending a certain comfort to the color blue, and the distance it conveys.
Driving into downtown from the west feels like entering an architect’s model, as the street burrows between stubby office buildings along the table of land between harbor and hill. When I moved here, freeway and mall had already drawn and quartered the business district, and it was the nadir of the Reagan recession. The industrial boomtown started busting as the high-grade ore played out in the 1950s, and by the late ’70s competition from abroad arrived, along with bumper stickers reading, “ Eat Your Foreign Car.” While the early ’80s were cloaked in a campaign slogan touting, “Morning in America,” around here we wondered if there was a bottom to this freefall, which might at least afford a dead-cat bounce.