SD pt. 2:
despite the fact that i'm still about 8 states short of the set of 50, i feel pretty confident when i say that south dakota is less state, more tourist trap. the whole thing. more than any other state that's out there. and before you get up-in-arms about florida, remember-- that state has natural attractions, like beaches, and the everglades, and your grandma. south dakota has badlands national park in its sights-god-intended-you-to-see column. and that's about it.
it's like a group of dudes got together long ago, all south dakotans of wealth and priviledge, and said, "our state is flat, nearly empty, and has just the one big national park with a name that implies that it's scary and unpleasant. farming employs only so many, plus it brings in only so much scrilla, so...ideas?" and then one guy said, "hey, we could make a palace outta corn! that's crazy!" and another guy, maybe he was secretly gay, said, "we could turn one of our towns into a mecca-like destination for motorcycle enthusiasts." crickets. "just putting that out there."
and another guy said, "what about taking a giant rock and putting some faces on it? maybe presidents' faces? that way it's like money, and people love money! i, for one, am a huge fucking fan!" and then another guy, but this guy had a big mustache with old tyme twists at the end, he said, "ooh ooh! how about a giant drug store with signs drawing you in for hundreds of miles along the interstate? and i know what you're thinking, but this is a giant drug store, i'm talking not just shampoo, but, like, shoes and soft serve and shit." and then all motions passed, there was a chorus of, "hip hip, horray!", and the long, noble pursuit of turning the state into a giant roadside attraction began.
before i get into pictures of the state proper (which is to say, pictures of the tourist traps), here's a one-off of special meaning to me. see, for years, i ran an outdoor concert series, and my favorite task (of the many tasks i had assigned myself) was ordering portapotties for each show. it was fun, not just because i have the comic sophistication of an 8-year-old, but because said companies are often in on the joke-- like mr. john, or call-a-head, whose hold music was their signature take on "king of the road"-- "king of the load." i loved when they put me on hold! poop jokes forever!
also, while this might seem unrelated, i'm fascinated by the popularity of the comedian larry the cable guy. first of all, i love entertainers whose monikers are a sentence (looking at you, cedric the entertainer!). they are so much more fun that those on the other end of the spectrum who go by one name (eat shit and die, bono!). second, i don't find LTCG (four initials!) funny, even though poop jokes are the backbone of his routine. and third, his catchphrase, "git-r-done," is so ubiquitous in this country that i can't think of anything to compare it to except maybe "have a nice day." it goes beyond t-shirts and annoying watercooler jokes-- in newport, nh, right near the nothin' fancy pet salon that gave my dog the worst haircut of his life, is the "git-r-cut" barbershop.
and what does it mean, anyway? "do that thing you're doing?" why would you want that on a t-shirt, or a bumper-sticker, or the place that cuts your hair? wouldn't you assume that any barber would git-r-cut? isn't that what you pay them for? maybe if you were going to a pizza place expecting to git-r-cut, then i can see the need for elaboration, but otherwise...and besides, the pizza place might just be called git-r-slice, or something clever/not-at-all-clever like that.
so if you look at the above picture, and squint (keep in mind i took this picture while driving, so if i got any closer i would have risked rear ending the 'potty and ending up needing the car wash equivalent of a rape shower), the company on this potty is "git-r-done." this is perfect on so many levels-- a use of git-r-done i understand, and one that involves shit, and then it all comes full circle because larry the cable guy is shit. i can't tell you how much seeing this portapotty made my day. it was so much better than my trip to wall drug. which brings me back to the south dakota tourist hellfire. but thank you for allowing me to get the git-r-done part done.
so after a few hours of driving/about 2302 wall drug signs, i decided i owed it to myself to see badlands national park. i hadn't seen any national parks yet, i wasn't going to have time to go to any others (like glacier or yellowstone, but at least i have an excuse to go back) (to anywhere but south dakota), and i've had the movie "badlands" out from netflix for so long, unviewed, that they're probably convinced i've stolen it. so $15 later, i had entered the lands that are bad.
the weird thing is that i've been to many, many national parks in my life-- when i was 10, i went on a 2 week trip with my family in the southwest where i saw about a dozen. and while i'm now a lot older than ten (just technically-- sense of humor still in that ballpark), i have a really short attention span for canyon-y national parks because they've all started to look the same. i'm in awe for the first five minutes, taking a zillion pictures, and then my eyes glaze over and i wonder why the hell i payed $15 to look at another fucking pile of rocks.
and it was kinda weirdly crowded, so at least i wasn' the only tourist trapped. but i wanted to captures the above moments to emphasize the park's natural beauty is often compromised by the unnaturally ugly/its convenient parking.
i got to see the prairie dogs below, but they really just looked like subway rats to me. besides, if you've ever had to deal with chipmunks or red squirrels, then it's really hard to find rodents cute. they're just so much less adorable after they've tried to eat your porch and shit in your walls, ya know?
and then there was the fossil walk, which was literally a wooden walkway through a seemingly arbitrary stretch of desert with with plastic cases next to it with fossils in them. alright then. for this bad boy, they just had his skull and this odd description.
perhaps, perhaps. a girl can dream.
i stopped in the gift shop for the least-ugly merch i could find, because badlands is a kind of rad name, and because i needed to get something for my friend emma, who happens to have "Badlands" tattooed on her ankle (ask her). the guy at the register was superchatty-- from jersey! went to hunter college! had a childhood friendship with justice allito (i swear, he mentioned this)!-- and when he offered to tell me a good way out of the park, his face turned dark when the name "wall drug" was mentioned.
wall drug is less a tourist trap and more a tourist black hole. not only do they have signage along 90 for 400 miles (seriously-- there's a sign outside a walmart at one point that says, "only 355 miles to wall drug!"), signs that promise everything from 5 cent coffee to cowboy boots to eternal life, but they have a road to wall drug that goes directly from badlands. all signs, all roads, all life leads to wall drug. resistance is futile. the nice new jersey man tried to warn me, but i didn't listen. how could i? into the heart of darkness i went.
and i mean, there was reason to believe i wouldn't totally hate it. sometimes ugly americanism is actually kind of beautiful, like at dollywood. yes, it costs $55 with parking, and a majority of said parking is designated handicapped because obesity is considered a disability, and a majority of attractions in the park involve food, but the park itself is this amazing spectacle of bluegrass music, live eagles, and lard, all in the name of a big-tittied woman who grew up poor and then became a country superstar. so sure, i'll eat a $6 slice of pie the size of my head in honor of dolly. god bless her, and god bless america.
wall drug, on the other hand, is ugly americanism at it's fucking ugliest-- all the worst things americans do as humans and as tourists are encouraged within wall's walls. the general attitude is, welcome to wall drug! please touch everything! eat whatever, wherever you want! let junior run free, we don't care! no shirt, no shoes, no shit! america, fuck yeah! we're wall drug! in fact, i found the prefect image to embody the "america, fuck yeah!" attitude:
what better way to celebrate our nation than with paper mache and the freedom to pee in luxury? also, team america's head quarters are in mount rushmore, but if you haven't caught the reference yet, only netflix can help you now.
wall drug is the size of city block in wall, sd, in what i think is one of the only blocks the town has, period. i think i read somewhere that wall drug employs a third of the population of wall, and i might guess that it employed closer to the whole fucking thing. it's a drugstore as mall as attraction as most inner circle of hell.
these animals to the left are one of the first things you see when you enter the wall drug vortex. harsh, but trust me, these guys have it good-- i can't imagine the suffering that would come from being stuck at wall drug for life and not being dead. there was a point when i was jealous.
they do have a drugstore, but also a leather store (so did dolly, but at least she had a grizzled old guy on site to tool your purchase and make them your own. hence my leather key chain with a unicorn tooled on it next to the letters FTW, figure it out), "art galleries," a place where you can mine for gold, a fountain (that you can play in, of course-- touch EVERYTHING, we mean it, we're wall drug!), and, as if i really need to say it, more than one place to shove enormous quantities of food directly into your mouth hole.
tired of chicken selects, i went to the main restaurant/trough, and that's where i saw this amazing piece of "art." natch, it was only of the only things at wall drug not for sale.
just in case it's not immediately clear, the painting to the right shows a line of white people-- prominently women-- marching in the snow, cold and afraid, all while under the careful watch of an indian-- i'm sorry, evil redman-- holding a gun. he's the devilish looking oppressor all the way to the side.
yeah. what the fuck?
keep in mind i saw this objet d'art while waiting in line for a bison hot dog, which was just the irony on the cake. anyway, this painting seriously blew my mind. it was at this point i thought of calling the place balls drug, not because it sucked balls, which it did, but because i couldn't imagine were you get the balls to paint and/or display something like this. again, natch, balls, one of the only things not on sale at wall drug.
anyway, i got my bison dog from some poor hipsterish teenaged girl who literally looked at me like, "take me away from all this death," the kind of look puppies give you at the aspca. then i was so eager to get out of there that i took the bison in a to go container so i could eat it in my hot car rather than spend another second at ground zero of national shame.
so i get to the car, sit in the driver's seat, buzz struggling to get up front and closer to the source of the meat smell. i take my first look at the dog, and something seems odd (i was so eager to get out of there it's amazing i waited around for the food at all). i take a bite, and then two things become clear-- one, my hand, steering wheel, and driver's side door are covered in bison dog juice, and two, this dog has been deep fried. they deep fried a hot dog. come the fuck on. then again, what else would you expect from wall drug? of course we fry everything! order a small fries and get a bucket full! we dress our burgers with frosting! we're wall drug! and i wish i had expected that so i didn't have to spend ten minutes searching for handiwipes so i could remove wall dog jizz from the interior of my car.
on the lighter side, buzz ate well.
oh, and since i can't find any other context for this photo, this is from an exhibit at wall drug (wall drug celebrates creepy animatronics? i have no idea), which does sort of fit in given the nature of my ejaculating hot dog story above).
so yeah, wall drug can suck it. adios, south dakota.
actually, there was one amazing thing i saw at the gas station before i left wall (where i stopped to not just get gas but reinforcements for dealing with my driver's side hazmat situation).
this was on the gas pump, and if you read it, it basically says that if you steal gas, you're fucked-- not only will they find you and make you pay, they'll fine you...THIRTY DOLLARS. and by they, they mean the gentleman to the left, who, as most overweight white men do, looks vaguely like larry the cable guy. and honestly, reading this tempted me to steal gas for the first time in my life. silly me, i thought stealing was a crime that was punishable by, like, prison, but nope. thirty bucks. that will feed a family of four at wall drug, with dessert (don't forget seconds, we're wall drug!).
without even getting into a no-fun liberal rant about how gas actually costs lives, there was something remarkably bizarre about this to me. but then again, that's south dakota. cuz another guy at that aforementioned white guy meeting, one with a lot of exposure to lead, said, "ya know, stealing gas should just be punishable by a small fine, who gives two shits. i mean, i know we ride horses, rely largely on coal, and don't even have gas stations yet, but that's just the way i feel. also, rapists should be punished by having to spend the rest of their lives without getting to use the letter H and furthermore i want to bring an end to wearing socks and having to drink water in order to live."
and on that note.
i don't know if i even stopped for gas in wyoming, but it was beautiful to drive through. and while i don't think this picture was taken there, this is as good of a place to dump it as any.
i guess i was taking a picture of how flat it was, but that i decided it was worth capturing a bunch of boring landscape while going 86 is a true testament to how fucking dumb i am. and keep in mind, 86 was slow. but maybe this picture was taken in wyoming, because at that point, i was knee deep in my second day of heavy driving, and still recovering from my experience at wall drug (the horror! the horror! we're wall drug!). still...it's breathtaking, isn't? not the landscape, my stupidity.
i wasn't going to stop for the night in montana until it became clear that even my stupidity has limits. once again, i called my dad for food advice in missoula (that mcdonald's thing...not so successful), and he did some research and directed me to the oxford cafe, not just because it would actually be open, but because he said it sounded "colorful." colorful like, poker game up front, three guys trying to pick fights with the shift cook/waiter during my dinner of biscuits and gravy, and one person having the bartender tell them, "put your fucking shirt back on! i don't want to see that, nobody wants to see that, nobody wants to see your tits in my bar!" naturally, i was in heaven.
it's evidentally a famous local eatery, as right it should be. that's why i could find a picture of it on the internet to post here, because, as much as i would have loved to have taken a picture myself, i also wanted to live. see the cowboy hat guy? i sat right there. and where the white t-shirt guy is there was some guy who told the cook that he didn't care if that chicken fried steak behind the counter was owed to someone who ordered it first, he was sitting there now, and he was hungry, and did said cook have a brain in his fucking head. did i mention i also had a pancake?
i know it's a cliche for writery types to fall for montana, but damn. and i know missoula is not representative of the whole state-- i've been told it is to montana as austin it to texas, which is to say, a city filled with people who, if they were elsewhere in the state, would be shot on sight-- but i loved it, and i wish i could have stayed longer. all i really got to do was eat, drive around, find a hotel room (where they gave me free cookies! i mean, shit), and wake up early so i could get to oregon with plenty of daylight left to play with teeter at shredworld (i'll explain).
but when i did wake up early and drive out of town (see below), it was so pretty that if i didn't go back it would be a crime. not a crime, like, say, murder, but like deep frying a perfectly hot dog, or twisting history so it's the dakotas' fault they got their land taken away so whitey could build hellholes on it, or...stealing gas. so if i don't get back to missoula, it will cost me thirty dollars. guess i have to git-r-done. ?
next: OR-- mount hood and portland. this is the part of the trip where i have friends. no shit!