Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me…” You know the rest.
Today I turned 34 in South Dakota. Never done that before. Well, never done either I guess! This is one SMALL town. I’m in Kadoka, South Dakota, population: 706. 85% of the population is white and almost all the rest are native American.
Last night for dinner, I went local and had the requisite American meal: meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Mmm…nothing says the West better than meat lovingly formed into the shape of a loaf! It was actually quite tasty. My waiter at the small roadside diner was a guy from Bali! Of course, another local waitress told me he was from Bali, India. Not too worldy in these parts I guess. I’m sure she meant Indonesia. She had the first 3 letters right, at least.
I even overheard her teaching him nursery rhymes.
“Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb…”
“Humpty Dumpty sat on a fence…”
She went on loudly like this for about a half hour. I mean seriously! The guy was more than 30 years old. I mean hand him a newspaper if you want to help him with his English. Nursery Rhymes?? Seriously.
Then at breakfast I gave my newspaper to a guy who also seemed to be from ‘somewhere else.’ Turns out he’s from Tajikistan. He’s studying at Stanford and was driving around the country like me. We shared a bit of “this is definitely middle America” comments and went our separate ways.
I headed off to the Badlands in the chilly rain. The weather seemed to match the scene. Here the prairie gives way to a rugged no-man’s-land of unusual rock formations carved by wind and water. Its weird, multi-colored peaks, desolate buttes, desert-like moonscapes and fossil-rich fields, is an easy stop for road trippers like me zooming down I-90. This fascinating landscape of the park erodes at a rate of about 1 inch per year providing an ever-changing landscape. Its stark, craggy beauty really breaks up the monotony of the trip and the rain adds to the feeling. And aptly for this moment, Def Leppards, “Rock of Ages” came on the radio as I navigated through this eerie landscape. Very cool.
This little detour ended at Wall, South Dakota. If you’ve never heard of Wall Drug Store, I guess you haven’t lived because it has truly made the tiny town of Wall a thriving shoppers mecca! It’s a testament to great marketing, that’s for sure. What a crazy phenomenon. Welcome to the Disney World of Dakota! This town would be nothing without this ‘drug store crap emporium.’ The whole main street WAS the drug store. Through the racks of T-shirts, rows of shot glasses, and loads and loads of tchotchkes I searched for the actual drugs. I finally did find a tiny apothecary. This place was sensory overload, but it teemed with tourists searching for the perfect “jackalope” keychain or “I’ve been bad in the Badlands” t-shirt. Not my scene. I bought my mom her second Jackalope and got the hell out of Dodge, or Wall as it were.