The Best Medicine

}Despite earnest self-promotion, North Dakota is primarily known for sewage and potluck dinners. It has Dave Barry to thank for that.

Last August, Barry got wind of the state’s efforts to raise its profile and went to town in his humor column, which is syndicated in 600 newspapers nationwide. He ridiculed the city of Grand Forks’ choice of tagline, “Where the earth meets the sky,” and the debate about whether to drop “North” from the state’s name. Dakotans were left shamed, tails quivering between legs.

And yet, in good humor, they fought back. The Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce organized a letter-writing campaign, and last week Barry paid a visit to the city.

He had a sewage lift station named after him and attended a potluck dinner in his honor. All of which can only help the area, says Fred Lukens, president of Simmons & Flint, a Grand Forks ad agency that handles Subway franchises in the region.

“People east of Chicago would be hard-pressed to find us on a map, so by Dave writing about us, it can’t hurt the state’s name recognition,” says Lukens, who attended several events. “Hope fully, more than a few people will be curious enough to consider that there’s more to us than cold weather and potluck dinners.”

Barry also got to try some ice fishing and met such Grand Cities luminaries as Punky Beauchamp, president of the East Grand Forks City Council. And he weathered the attention with grace. At the sewage lift-station ceremony, he cracked to the Grand Forks Herald, “It’s not every day that your work is compared to human waste.”

He also admitted that his hometown, Miami, has its own image problems. “Our new tourism slogan is: ‘Come back to Miami. We weren’t shooting at you,’ ” he said. He added: “We’re not trying to solve [our problems] by changing our name. But if we do, we’ll change it to North Dakota.”