The little Minnesota town that Bob Dylan fled in 1959 is a hundred miles shy of the Canadian border. From the Twin Cities, it’s three and a half hours by car, due north past fields and silos and a hundred lakes. Maps show crossroad towns, Sax, Independence, Canyon, but look out the car window and there is little proof they even exist. The thick woods are remote enough to hold moose. In the winter, when temperatures can drop below zero overnight, a stranded driver has reason to fear that frostbite will arrive before the tow truck.
Dylan’s followers make the pilgrimage en masse to mark his birthday each year, and lucky for them he was born in May. They only have to deal with a heavy splattering of bugs on the windshield. The capital of the Land of Bob is Hibbing, quintessential iron-mining town, population sixteen thousand or so. They know they’ve made it when the off-road ATV shops, biker bars, and broken-down rural miscellany give way to the regional airport and other markers of modern civilization: Super 8, Walmart, KFC. A commercial district encircles a grid of avenues lined with modest houses and tidy lawns. Howard Street, broad and bedecked in two-story red brick, is the major artery of a drowsy downtown well past its prime. It has a jeweler, a bookseller, a bank, the Moose lodge, a knitting shop. Every other block seems to have a vacant storefront standing out like a missing tooth. The drinking crowd is liable to make a scene outside Bar 412 in the wee hours. Otherwise, hush.