Returning to Charles Kuralt's America for July in Ely, Minnesota:
"My parents weren't born here, and I wasn't," Jim remarked. "So to a lot of people in Ely, I'll always be a packsacker."
Packsacker? I tried the expression on Mike Hillman the next time I saw him.
"Outsider," he said. "To tell you the truth, we're all packsackers. The Ojibwa would like to think they've been here forever, but they came from somewhere else. The French trappers and the British traders were packsackers, and so are we. It's okay to be a packsacker. But when Reserve Mining Company opened up the taconite mines in Babbitt and a lot more people moved in here, now those guys were ridge-runners."
"Ridge-runners are worse?" I asked him.
"Oh, much worse," Mike said. "See, a packsacker is usually just a guy on the run, heading up here to get away from whatever is oppressing him in the city. But a ridge-runner, he's going to stay here. And he has enough money to buy a boat and a motor. He's going to end up being a rival fisherman!"
Mike said, "Being at the end of the road, we've always had packsackers, all kinds. In the old days, the mob in Chicago used to send guys up here to hide out until the heat was off. My dad used to take 'em fishing. People asked him, 'Aren't you afraid of these guys?' He said, 'I'm the safest one in the boat. I'm the only one who knows how to get home.'
"We still get packsackers, and we're real tolerant if they don't look too funny. Did I mention there's a two-weirdo limit in Ely?"
That one caught me with a mouthful of coffee, which I came close to sputtering onto the table.
"No, it's true. I'm serious," Mike said. "Down in the cities, you've got a lot of anonymity and there are weirdos all over the place. But Ely has a two-weirdo limit. If there's three weirdos in town, people start to worry. Then when the police come in to the coffee shop for coffee, they'll hear, 'Hey, you see that new guy in town? Yeah? What you doin' about him? Where's he from, where's his people?'"
Tags: Charles Kuralt, America