Monday, June 02, 2003

Onward ho!

I truly doubt anybody is reading this travelogue, but we can't just abandon our forlorn travellers two days into America's Heartland, can we? Well, you may be able to, but dammit I can't!! Onward, we go . . . thus begins a two-part day.

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Day Three (1)

The morning began with a jolt I neither expected nor welcomed: an email from J. had enquiring if I'd been fired yet. As one might expect, I was somewhat taken aback by this question, and only mildly concerned by what I regarded to be thinly-veiled Aussie irony, so I replied with a curt, 'What the hell are you talking about?' It turns out, so I learned at the adjacent McDonalds, where I broke down and gave him a call, I had been doing internet development (as a student) for the school without being eligible for work-study government funding. Because of this, since clocking out a couple of days ago, the federal government had begun dunning my boss for $10,000 dollars. The upshot of this, pretty obviously, is that I was more or less out of a job; more importantly, because he was also a friend, my boss now suspected that I might be attempting to scam him out of money. [ed. Fortunately, a friend at the college went to bat for me and began asking questions on my behalf, and quickly discovered that I had simply failed to fill out some paperwork that would've easily made me eligible. Granted, I still didn't get my job back, but I also doubt that my boss had to pay that $10,000. A regular reader, and former co-worker, can attest that the website we maintained never re-achieved its ill-gotten glory after our departures. ]

Needless to say, I left Murdo in a rather pissy moody. I've never been a good employee, but neither have I ever been unemployment -- the fact that the incongruity might right itself eventually never occurred to me, and I burked its realisation even further as I sipped my Coke and crunched my ice, grumbling to myself and creating an odd assortments of hyphenated cursing that would always begin with 'fucking' and end with 'shit'. It is times like this, I decided, about one hundred miles west of Murdo, standing at an ATM in a mosquito-infested, mephitic Shell station, that you begin to learn something about yourself, the stuff you are made of, not to mention how much money you currently have in your checking account.

There is a scenic highway that runs through the B(r)adlands National Park for thirty-eight miles and rejoins I-90 at Wall, South Dakota. I was eager to get my mind off my morning troubles, and I thought such a drive might just be the thing. We stopped off at a farm that lets you see and feed prairie dogs, contributing, I concluded later, to the further bastardisation of nature. [ed. One of these days, remind me, and I'll write something about my feeling, ironic or not, that all national parks should be completely closed to the public.] Still in a pissy mood, I glared a hole into a child when he effectively scared away a couple of prairie dogs that were obviously posing for me as they ate. Little bastard.

The Badlands National Park is easily one of the oddest-looking places I've ever been. Erupting out of the sublimely jejune South Dakota grassland like a nasty looking rash on perfect skin, you can't help but wonder how in the world they it got there; though, I should point out, I was told by a father of two -- one of which was in a baby-carrier on his stomach, while the other apparently fell off a cliff somewhere because he failed to respond to his father's calls the whole time I was in the gift shop -- that there is a really nice movie detailing its geological history, a movie I did not get a chance to see because J. threatened to drive away were I to do so. So anyway, one minute you're shelling out eight bucks for a pass to the park that lasts seven days, and looking at nothing but grass; the next minute you're confronted with a seared masterpiece that just goes on and on. There's not enough horizon for some of it. J. and I walked around for a couple of miles, lumbering, often tripping, over slippery rocks, and then drove further into the park, stopping occasionally for scenic views off cliffs that made my already gingerly-placed foot quiver. The thirty-eight miles inside the park, while very nice and well worth the money, were a bit taxing. By the middle of the drive every gorgeous view, while definitely imbued with a majestic enormity one rarely finds back East, began to feel like the same view from two miles ago. I kept taking pictures, though, in hopes that I might notice something particularly fetching when I viewed them all back home.

We left the Badlands, very tired, very hungry, but also very excited about our next stop: Wall, South Dakota. I had watched a short documentary about the Wall Drugs store, but it's really something you have to experience to truly appreciate (or depreciate, as the case may be with J.). The moment you cross the border into South Dakota from Iowa, you're bombarded with so many roadside advertisements, some more clever than others, for Wall Drugs that you'll be forgiven for thinking it were some ubiquitous chain along the lines of Wal-Greens. Not so. Opened in the early 1900s, if the Discover Channel is to be believed, Wall Drugs didn't really catch on until the Great Depression, when its owners started distributing free ice water to travellers on their way to better times in the West. Such a humble beginning is surprising considering its contemporary bombastic presence (it takes up a city full block) in the otherwise very uninspiring town of Wall. There are no fewer than four entrances, all of which lead into a virtual mall -- but it all manages to remain but one store. There are a couple of restaurants, endless places to buy useless items like miniature model horses and Wall Drugs t-shirts, a chapel, an arcade, rows and rows of interesting historical photographs (well worth the stop in themselves), a fine collection of Western Art, a large mechanical dinosaur that roars every twelve minutes (along with the obligatory sulfur breath that all dinosaurs must've had), and several statues of eight foot rabbits. I left Wall with my spirits considerably lifted. I might be unemployed, but I'll be damned if I didn't get a great picture of J. looking as though he were being sodomized by a six-foot rabbit [ed. That's not J. in the photo.].