Published February 24, 2022

She's Not from Around Here: Hot Dish Airports

Written by
Amy Allender
| The Dakotan
Amy Allender [Photo: Amy Allender]
Amy Allender [Photo: Amy Allender]

Since moving to North Dakota I’ve had many moments that leave me thinking I must have stepped into an alternate universe. However, few compare to my experiences at North Dakotan airports.

Though locals may not bat an eye at the Hot Dish airport experience, to those of us who aren’t from around here, it’s really something else. Among out-of-state friends or family, I like to spin tales of NoDak airports late into the night. The tales are tall, and only slightly embellished. They’ve become some of my favorites, because in so many ways, the airport is a microcosm of life here.

On a summer night in 2012, I walked off an airplane into the old Minot International Airport for the very first time. Not only was this my first experience at the Minot airport – this was my first impression of Minot itself. This was the day I moved to Minot.

I’d left Shreveport, LA alone, early that day with a small backpack and a disgruntled cat as carry-on luggage. At the time, I thought I was well versed in the ways of small towns. Now, just imagine my surprise when I stepped into the airport to discover I could see the whole airport from where I stood.

[Photo: Amy Allender]

My feet froze to the spot. I’d never seen anything like this. I didn’t know places like this actually existed. Without moving I could see all three gates – or was it four – each with a cluster of chairs in front of them. Through a pane of glass I could see the security checkpoint. I could even see baggage claim.

Where was I? Was this place for real?

Although my cat was starting to yowl in her duffle, I pulled out my phone and snapped a photo. This was a story I needed to tell.

To everyone else this was commonplace. This was home – or home-for-now. And now it would be my home too.

As time passed, I observed other things unique to North Dakotan airports. Like the snack bar’s menu – carefully spelled out with plastic letters to include Hot Dawg. That menu item stayed up for years – until the airport was demolished and the new airport opened.

Or the time someone dropped their keys in the gate area. An agent found them, then walked to the center of the room – in view of everyone traveling, from all gates. Without using an intercom – there was no need in a space so small – she held them up and loudly said, “Somebody dropped their keys. If these look like yours, I’ve got them up here at the desk.”

Moments later, a man walked up to claim them. The rest of us exhaled a collective sigh of relief. Mutters of, “Good thing she found those,” and “Lucky you found them before your flight,” filled the terminal.

[Photo: Amy Allender]

Take it from someone who isn’t from around here: This kind of thing doesn’t happen anywhere else.

Another time, I accidentally left my laptop near baggage claim. There’d been a hold up with our luggage, so I pulled my computer out to work for a while. Somehow it got left. As soon as my husband and I arrived home, I realized my mistake. He immediately returned to the airport, where he was greeted by a TSA agent, “Looking for a laptop?” he said.

He had put it aside and was watching the door for a panicked looking person to come and retrieve it. My husband thanked him and brought it home safe and sound. The whole ordeal took no more than 15 minutes.

The Hot Dish flying experience is all these intangibles and many others combined. It’s hearing slightly exaggerated “Ooo” sounds in casual conversation. It’s knowing there’s a good possibility you’ll see someone you know on your flight. It’s how the Bismarck airport leaves TV remotes out on end tables, so you can watch whatever you want while you wait to take off.

[Photo: Amy Allender]

I love all of these things. I love how I seem to be the only one noticing them. Most of all, I love returning to Minot after a trip. As I approach the gate for my final connection, I can spot other Minotians from afar. There’s an aura in the cadence of friendly greetings, flannel, well-worn work boots, and mentions of the wind. It looks like home. It looks familiar and safe, and I’m so glad I get to be one of the few who name Minot as their final destination.

There’s really nothing like it.

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