Monday, August 31, 2009

Golden Guys, Free Haircuts and Badlands

(written Aug. 28, 2009)

Lunch for farmers is 10:30 a.m. apparently. Jerry, who sat next to me had a huge slab of fried ham and hash browns and brought his own tomatoes in a Ziploc bag. You might be wondering if Jerry, with his checkered buttoned down and suspenders, chatted me up like all the only kind gentlemen I sit next to at the counter. Well, no he didn’t. And yes, I took offense. I got the Midwest nod but that was all. This all occurred at Betty’s CafĂ© in downtown Mitchell. I had my first meal of the day there at 11:15 and many of the towns’ farmers were already finishing up lunch as I ate my eggs over easy, hash browns drowned in butter and wheat toast. I highly recommend drowning your hash browns in butter. They probably singlehandedly put me in the grave a year earlier, but it was well worth it. Right as I was leaving, another Golden Guys crew was having lunch together. Where are the Golden Girls? Do the older women in these towns not like one another enough to meet up for lunch each day? Or are they too busy making up their homes to come out to the local coffee shoppe?

I just so happened to arrive in Mitchell in the middle of their corn festival so Main Street was lined with amusement rides and food vendors, mostly BBQ. I asked at Betty’s why it hadn’t started up yet and she looked at me for a second and said, “because the kids are still in school.” Duh! I wonder if she thought I wanted to jump on the tea cups ride as soon as they turned it on. The town itself was very cute if you could see it past all the cotton candy and prizes for squirting water quickly into the clown’s mouth. I took some of the side streets to get away from the excitement and saw this little old-fashioned barber shop. I walked in but no one was there. Then, all of a sudden, I heard “Can I help you sweetheart?” A nice gentleman that resembled a good looking Dom Deluise came out from the back room. The cool Hawaiian-type shirt may have helped the Dom look-alike come to mind. So I asked if he’d cut my hair straight across and how much that would be. I told him I usually went to barbers in the city since it was cheaper than going to a girl salon. I didn’t remember to use my regular come-on, “Do you do girls in here?” That always goes over well back home. He said we’d “figure something out.”

So I sat down in the cool red chair and he put that little white tissue paper thing around my neck as if I was going to get a shave and began chopping off the inches. He even recited the amount of months it would take to regrow. I never realized there was a calculation for that. 8 months apparently. Woah! Dave asked what I did back home and whether there were real George Castanza’s there. He also knew about Five Points so I mentioned that I used to work in the courts right next to that spot. Maybe he’s seen Gangs of New York or something because when I asked him if he had ever been, he said no. But he had a friend from here that had gone out there to do his music thing downtown, but ended up in computers. Since I already knew what he did for a living, he proceeded to tell me that George McGovern’s barber was cutting my hair. I think he sort of asked me if I knew who that was and honestly, I recognized the name but couldn’t for the life of me remember exactly who he was, but I nodded regardless. I knew he was a politician though. And now I was assuming he was from South Dakota. Sure enough, I was spot on. He apparently grew up in Mitchell and lived right down the road. Mr. Carter, my new barber, said you could even go knock on his door and he’d invite you in for a chat. Not sure I wanted to do that but good to know. So the cut was done and he did a fabulous job. I asked him what the damage was and he said it was on him. Unreal! Another gentleman giving me somethin’ for nuthin’. He said he enjoyed the conversation and he wouldn’t take anything. So sweet. I thanked him and plan on sending him a postcard from Mt. Rushmore.

Down the road was the Corn Palace and the way it was advertised, you’d think it was an amusement park of some sort. It’s cool to see but I do hope no one travels here to see just that. As luck would have it, I arrived on the day that Joan Jett and the Blackhearts was playing there and I couldn’t help but wonder when I saw the auditorium if they would sell out the seats. She’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I heart her but I still didn’t want to stick around until 7:00 and pay $35 for “I Love Rock & Roll” and a bunch of other songs I probably wouldn’t recognize. Sorry Joan. I did walk around and learn some history of the palace. It’s quite a structure. Made of corn husks and dried kernels. Very unique for sure! Walking back to my car, I ran into Joan’s tour bus driver. He was cleaning the bug carcasses off the windshield with a ladder. He said, “it’s like it’s raining bugs around here.” Considering I had to stop twice on the way to clean off my own, I agreed. And their guts get all sticky and make it real hard to clean. I feel bad for the Queens car wash guy that will have to deal with my vehicle when I return. Gross!

So I got back on the road and headed to the Badlands. On the way, I got mooned by these young boys in a pickup. I saw the ass all of a sudden but couldn’t believe that kids still did this sort of thing. After the pants came back on, they drove so fast, I never caught up to give him a thumbs up. Wasn’t enough of a quick draw to snap a shot of the full moon. Sorry. I stopped at a rest area to get some information and this kind woman gave me a ton of useful tips on seeing the Black Hills and all the cool monuments in 3-4 days. I have no clue whether it will take that long but I did tell here I wasn’t all that interested in anything museum-related or exercise-related. Hiking (which really means walking) was fine but no biking or any of those exertion-type things. So I got my map and was all set. The sunflowers along the route were cool and the highway signs advertising Wall, SD and other sights were hilarious! They know how to keep you entertained on such a long flat road. And I hit 2,000 miles on this stretch.

With one eye on the road and the other on the signs, I kept mistaking “Supper Club” for “Stripper Club.” I started to think this highly Christian part of the country had some skeletons in their closets. The fonts they use confused me at 75mph (don’t worry, on this interstate, the limit is 75 so it’s all good). I also saw a billboard for an auto show that had the original General Lee, the red “01” car from the Dukes of Hazzard. It all comes full circle because yesterday on Fresh Air, Quentin Tarantino was saying how he had studied under James Best, the guy who played Roscoe P. Coltrane. I’m still a little surprised that South Dakota never welcomed me on the way in. But they did notify me that I had just entered Mountain Time Zone so now I was 2 hours behind New York.

The Badlands I am not even going to write about because I am still in awe of what I just witnessed. I know I went to the Grand Canyon as a young child, about 6 or 7 years old I think, so I don’t remember my reaction to that. But this was just incredible. I felt like I was in a painting or someone was going to pull on the Sears Portrait Studio scene cord and it would vanish behind me. So just check out the photos and you’ll maybe see what I mean. While I was taking tons of photos, I had one of those “thank goodness for digital” moments. I had this flashback of what it must have been like when we had film cameras and I wanted to take lots of photos on a family vacation. My mother must have limited us. I don’t remember her doing that but I do remember her limiting our use of paper towels while “camping” in Maine. And flash bulbs and developing rolls of film are much more costly in comparison to a few Brawny’s. While in the Badlands, I did learn why those bales of hay are scattered all over the land. I thought they were separated so the horses could wander over once they were done with one and scratch open the plastic that wraps it up. But stupid city girl that I am, I learned from this nice couple in the Badlands that a baler machine goes around and collects the hay (which I guess is just floating around?) and makes those bales and leaves them wherever they are. And later, the farmer collects them for use with the animals. I also learned from a couple of women that I met at a rest area that I was “known” on the highway but other travelers. She said that they always talk to folks along the way and they kept hearing people say, “there’s someone from New York on these roads.” Hilarious!

Now I’m in Wall, SD, which was recommended to me as a quirky tourist attraction but a must-see. Since I just drove through that part of town, I now see what she meant. It’s like a replica of an old western town with the saloon and the drug store and other types of shops. I think some of it is authentic since it says it was made in 1931 but it seems so updated that it’s hard to see the old West with all the souvenirs and prairie women mannequins in the display windows. I’ll stroll through tomorrow and take some pics. Right now, I’m sitting and having an angus steak with texas toast and waffle fries at the Red Rock Restaurant and will slumber at the Motel Welsh where owner, Wes, has given me a good deal because he stuck me in Room 2 which is pretty much a bed and a shower stall/toilet. On my way out of the office, he said, “thanks for the business.” You don’t hear many folks say that anymore…

Joke of the day: Q: What do you call cheese that isn’t yours? A: Nacho cheese.

No radio highlights today because I mostly listened to NPR. Learned that the lyrics writer for “Do Run Run” and “Going to the Chapel” died.

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