The great American myth is the hero who leaves home to remake himself in another place: James Gatz leaves North Dakota to become Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island; Robert Jordan leaves his teaching job in Montana to fight in the Spanish Civil War; Huck Finn took a raft, Dorothy flew off in a tornado, Sister Carrie rode the train, Jack Kerouac hitched rides—and so forth—but in my experience the Cities have been quite roomy enough for a restless, impulsive person to live his life. I never felt stranded here. Sometimes I felt the pull of the roads going west, Highway 7 out of Excelsior and Clara City toward South Dakota, and Highway 212 through Chaska and Granite Falls, and Highway 12 through Litchfield and Willmar and Benson and Ortonville. And now and then, just for a taste of freedom, I’d drive out west late at night through the little towns and stop around 2 or 3 a.m. at a crossroad and get out of the car and walk around in the dark for a while and then head back to do my 6 a.m. radio shift.
After the university I spent part of a summer in New York City, thinking that a young writer ought to be there, but squalor did not appeal to me. I met an artist who painted by night and drove a cab by day, was hooked on marijuana and LSD, and lived in a tiny fourth floor walk-up with a wife and two little daughters. I decided that Minnesota was a better place to be poor. You can go to your mother’s for a huge supper, and even if she doesn’t approve of your life, she’ll send you home with a big bag of vegetables from her garden. Also it was a better place to be original—behind the scrim of Midwesternness, the myth of the placid, backward hinterland—than in ferocious Manhattan."