HAZELTON, N.D. – A tiny North Dakota town's promise of cash and free land lured only one family from out of state. Now, Michael and Jeanette Tristani and their 12-year-old twins are trying to move from the town without a traffic light back to Miami.
Tired of crime, traffic, hurricanes and the high cost of living in Florida, the Tristanis moved four years ago to Hazelton, a dwindling town of about 240 that has attempted to attract young families to stay on the map.
Rural communities across the Great Plains, fighting a decades-long population decline, are trying a variety of ways to attract outsiders. But the Tristanis show how the efforts can fail even at a time when many people are desperate.
"It's been quite an experience, 50-50 at best," Tristani said. "It hasn't been easy. No one really wants new people here."
Michael Tristani came from his native Florida wearing gold necklaces and a Rolex and driving a Lexus. He proved as foreign as a flamingo in a place where pickups, farm caps and flannel shirts are de rigueur.
"People thought I was a drug dealer," he said.
Tristani said he was prepared for Hazelton's bitter winters — when wind chills can reach 50-degrees below zero and snow drifts are measured in feet — but not the small-town drama.
"People prejudge you without getting to know you," Jeanette Tristani said.
This made me laugh.
As someone who came from outside the Upper Midwest to go to North Dakota, the attitude being address is not at all surprising. I made a lot of friends there, and a lot of those friends were from the Upper Midwest and North Dakota. However, I was treated by many people, for whatever reason, as an "outsider" and viewed very suspiciously by several people. I think it all goes back to that somewhat irritating Minnesota Nice, passive-aggressive attitude.