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The Exile

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Before you finalize plans to vacation in Minnesota this summer, be forewarned by Wesley.
I never did catch his last name. I came across him in a little frowzy bar in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, near the bridge across the Mississippi into Minnesota. He was staring out the picture window facing the river, lost in thought, his beer untouched."Heading for Minnesota?" I said, to make pleasant conversation. He turned to me, and in a tumble of words, Wesley's whole sad story came rushing out.

Wesley had grown up in Minnesota, just south of Minneapolis. Five years ago, he had decided to move to Cincinnati for a better job. His car was stopped at the Minnesota border by a vigilante committee wearing DeKalb Seed Corn feed caps who noticed a lamp shade sticking out of his trunk and suspected he might be trying to leave Minnesota. Leaving the state is a serious crime in Minnesota, right up there with killing loons.

Wesley soon found himself in an impromptu court assembled by the local sheriff. He might have gotten off with a small fine had the vigilantes not discovered his wife and two children in the car. Taking children away from Minnesota constitutes child endangerment in most Minnesota courts.
Wesley's fortunes quickly went downhill. His children were taken into protective custody. His wife decided to remain in Minnesota to be near the children. Wesley himself was banished from Minnesota for five years, followed by another five years' probation during which he would be allowed to visit Minnesota twice a year to see his children.
Wesley's children were now teenagers. His wife had divorced him three years ago. He was alone in the world. On the afternoon I came across him in LaCrosse, his sentence was up, and he was preparing to visit Minnesota for the first time in five years. He had only an hour to wait.

Wesley fidgeted with his glass of beer, still full. I wondered what awaited him on the other side, over there in Minnesota.

He turned to me. "Tell me," he said. "Do you think I'll be able to make it to Minneapolis in time for the Twins game tonight?

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.