Monday, June 02, 2003

Moving On

Day Three (2)

Our next stop was Keystone, South Dakota, whose sole claim to fame is that Mount Rushmore just happened to be blasted into the side of a nearby mountain. Keystone had the instant feeling of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, with its flashing lights, Christmas-themed stores, and overweight people wearing tank-tops. By the time we got to Mount Rushmore, and in spite of it being an awesome feat in its scale and sight, I got the feeling that I'd been there before. It is such a natural icon, much like the Statue of Liberty, that when you actually see it, you can't help but be a bit disappointed that it's not any different from the pictures you've grown up with. Whenever I go to places like this, the same thing happens. I pay an ungodly amount of money to see something I could've seen from a distance for free; I get caught in a conversation with an old man who's lost his wife; I see the monument, stand there for a few minutes, and then feel a bit unsure of what to do next in order to get my money's worth, usually resulting in me finding the nearest pamphlet booth or informational video. To make matters worse, J. refused to stop off and check out the mysterious Cosmos Ball that we'd been seeing advertised for the last 200 miles -- 'It's mysterious' 'It's funky'.

We had to pass through Rapid City, South Dakota on our way to and from Mt. Rushmore, and I'm sad to say that Rapid City is in dire need of a face-lift. Standing in the shadow of some of the most incredible landscapes in the country and itself the largest city in western South Dakota, one would imagine that Rapid City would see the need to impress tourists more than it does. Maybe it was the weather, but there seemed a perpetual grey hanging over the city, causing it to seem like a city always on the verge of waking up but never quite doing so. There is plenty of potential: wonderful location, nice size, and even a decent, if a bit generic, name. And yet I don't get the impression that it's waking from its slumber anytime soon. Like so much of the West, it seems more likely that it will rest on the laurels of its (relatively recent) past, reliving the 'glory days' of the Wild West, and leaving the I-90 tourists with nothing but ideas of how nice it could've been with just a little effort. At least Iowa tried!

With the afternoon slowly escaping us, and J. and I giving up on the notion of making any real distance today, we decided to check out what Teddy Roosevelt saw in Devil's Tower National Monument when he made it America's first official National Monument. Rising (literally - it's still 'growing') about 900 feet into the sky, Devil's tower from a distance looks like an enormous tree stump. It stands alone, save for a few surrounding hills, and one quickly understands why so many American Indians regard it as a place of religious significance. (Because, obviously, they were not as sophisticated as we, who know how to use such monuments. Savages.) Today it is climbed by over a thousand people a year, so the lustre of its mysterious summit is gone, as is its origin -- it was formed by magma shooting up from the earth but having nowhere to go. I found it an unsettling contrast to the underachieving of Rapid City. To harsh of juxtaposition in a day filled with too many already.

By the time we got back on I-90, J. and I were ready to call it a night at Gillette, Wyoming -- no relation, it turns out, to the razor. We washed up at our Super 8 Hotel and walked across the parking lot, hungry only for a large pizza but getting a large pizza and a dozen screaming children. Oh, I'm mistaken. They weren't just screaming, they were also rolling themselves on the floor around our table. I swear, it was something out of a Pentecostal church or something. I sometimes don't understand parents who just let their kids do whatever they please. It's one thing to let them get away with bloody murder at home, but in public? I even heard one of the ladies, mouth filled with a slice of Pepperoni Lover's pizza, outside and in, say something about how well behaved her daughter was, despite the fact it was her daughter who kept throwing a ball at me the whole time I was there. Little bastard. She and that boy from the prairie dog farm ought to get together.

I'm not sure how I feel about the day as I type this. There was so much good, but much of it was inexpressibly good; and yet, at the same time, there was so much expressibly bad that also happened. It feels so good to be unexplainably happy, and yet remain irrationally bitchy. Sounds like a fun person to travel with, huh?