Photos by Kris Kandel, Joe Kerlin and J. Alan Paul Photography
One of my good buddies is a huge, wait, I didn’t say that right, yuge!, Donald Trump supporter. In fairness, it’s no secret, we live in North Dakota, so several of my buddies love that guy. I do not. If you know me, you’re not surprised. Now, hold on a minute before you stop reading and stay with me. This is not a political monologue, but uses politics to prove a point. If you watch “Law and Order,” you know that part of the show when the judge is steaming and about to cut off Jack McCoy or hold him in contempt of court for coloring a little outside the lines? Much like McCoy, I will get to the point, tie it together beautifully, and you’ll be more impressed than the jurors in the box rendering another “guilty” verdict for America’s greatest fictional district attorney.
So, like I said, Trump. The key word, though, in the preceding paragraph was not Trump. It was “buddies.” Let me say that again. The most important thing isn’t our differences. If it were, I wouldn’t be the greatest DJ in the west tailgating lot, blasting tunes from my friends’ tailgating rig at Six Flags. If Fox News and MSNBC were what we focused our energies on, that same tailgating rig wouldn’t have been a centerpiece at my wedding last fall, right next to the bar station manned by the fine folks at Chubs Pub. If my friend’s MAGA hat was all that mattered, we wouldn’t have rode together thousands of excellent miles through mountains and billowing smoke from the wildfires raining ash down while towing said tailgating rig all the way to Missoula, Montana, in August 2015.
Despite our political views, we remain good buddies that text on a daily basis in a world of vitriolic partisanship that too often tries to pigeonhole us into boxes like conservative, liberal, moderate, Trump supporter, ABT (anyone but Trump), etc. Why? Because there’s more to us than a political label. Because to hell with politics. Those who know me know that I’m pretty fiscally conservative. But most of you don’t know that, nor do you even care. What you care more about—the reason we’re friends, the reason you read this column, the reason why our politics don’t matter one iota—is the fact my office at Vogel Law Firm in Downtown Fargo looks more like a college dorm room decked out with more Bison mementos than the NDSU Bookstore. Bruce Quick, a fellow North Dakota State alum, Bison fan and super attorney here, has dubbed my office “The Dorm Room.” The label fits more so than any political moniker you try to stick on me, or me on you.
I’ll paint the picture for you.I’m typing this in “The Dorm Room.” I glance left and staring back at me are three Thundar bobbleheads from the 2012, 2013 and 2014 football championships, located directly behind the Bison green and yellow nameplate on the front right-hand corner of my desk. A daily NDSU wood calendar with a Bison sitting above the dates anchors the trio. A small Bison football Harvest Bowl helmet guards the opposite corner of the desk, with pennants and photos decorating the walls as we swing by the door and come to a panoramic print from One Herd of the scene in Downtown Fargo during ESPN’s “College GameDay” appearance right behind a mini-fridge. Abutting the fridge along the south wall are three large bookshelves. Sitting atop the bookshelves are two football helmets in glass cases that bookend things. The first is a Bison helmet signed by Kyle Emanuel and Adam Keller. I had the privilege of serving as the NDSU Blue Key alumni advisor when Kyle and Adam were in the group and they, like their Blue Key classmates, are “FOS’s” (Friends of Swan, SIL). Next to the Bison helmet are the commemorative Bison Illustrated championship issues from years past and a photo of me with some buddies on the set of “College GameDay” in the middle of Broadway. Behind those photos, sitting on a felt banner from the 2012 championship season, is a panoramic of the Fargodome after Brock Jensen scored the game-winning touchdown against Georgia Southern in the most memorable game ever played in the Fargodome.
Just a foot to the left of that scene, hanging on the wall behind the same set of bookshelves, is a signed 1994 Bison program from then-head coach Rocky Hager that says, “Joshua – follow your dreams to the top!” On the bookshelves’ east end is a Carson Wentz signed Eagles helmet. Continuing along the east wall, on the back part of my desk, are three signed NDSU footballs, one from the Great West Football Conference championship team, my NDSU diploma (double major in history and political science), two Bison statues made of North Dakota lignite coal, a third Bison statute made of bronze and another Bison football helmet. Completing the circle around The Dorm Room, right next to the aforementioned Bison bobbleheads proudly holding nine national championship trophies, is a commemorative desk clock from my Blue Key students marking three years of service as their advisor. Thus, Quick’s nickname for my office is both appropriate and something I wear like a badge of honor.
There are other important things in my office. The most important are the photos with my wife from our wedding, and photos of my family. There’s also a giant replica of the famous oil painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Leutze, a framed replica of the Declaration of Independence, a glass cookie jar that belonged to my great-grandparents, a globe that lights up when the lights are off, and a wooden wall mount of the United States painted as the American flag. Of all these things, with the exception of my wedding and family photos, the things that define me most are tied to NDSU.
That is the unbreakable bond that my MAGA buddies and I have as Bison brothers. It is a lifelong bond that will survive the ebb and flow of the turbulent political waters. It is more important—exponentially more important—that any of our differences. In a long-forgotten 1947 speech, Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (Mich.), the influential chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, warned his colleagues that “we must stop politics at the water’s edge.” The Dorm Room is a testament to that. Tailgating is a testament to that. The discussions you have at your kitchen table each night or over your backyard grill with neighbors every weekend are testaments to that. It’s what helps us rise above the water’s edge. If we can remember that simple lesson, that what unites us is far stronger than anything that can ever divide us, we’d all be better served. E pluribus unum!
I’m looking forward to this fall where I can spin some tunes at Six Flags, toss back a couple cold ones, and we can all MTGA, Make Tailgating Great Again! That is the strength of the Herd. Everybody up for the kickoff, the march is on!