Even though we have been in 71 countries and more than forty states, we are accustomed to the culture of California and big cities. People talk about the “flyover states” and that is where this trip has taken us. Life is much different and refreshing.
The fact that these states did not experience the amount of hysteria over COVID-19 reflects their difference in life. We are willing to sacrifice a lot to live on the coasts. Just the idea that people in flyover states are indifferent to using plastic straws while our coastal society has made it a focus of our culture displays the small difference in our lives. The fact that no server has said “Do you want change” when presented with cash equal to more than the check amount speaks volumes about their life. They would never make such a presumptuous statement. They just bring the change back, never assuming the extra money is theirs.
We make movies and TV show in our culture and many times they are about people living in small towns. Almost invariably it casts a negative light on their “small” lives. It seemed to us with the many interactions with the people we encountered that they like their “small” lives. They don’t judge us, but we judge them. Who is insecure?
As we pulled out of Bismarck, ND (yes, named for 19th century German leader, Otto Van Bismarck), we noticed once again Fox News on in the hotel lobby. No one would ever see that in California, but then Fox does not pay places like CNN does to have their channel playing. We headed down the highway often, at 80 Miles an hour (yes, legal in these parts), to Rapid City, SD, to visit Sturgis, Deadwood, Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore.
On our way down to Sturgis we encountered one of the minor controversies of the COVID period. As you may know Native Americans have been hit hard by the virus. Some politicians have suddenly jumped in to ‘help’ the tribes where they have left them to languish in the past. Readers of this column may remember that I have written about the mismanagement and over-management of the tribes by the Washington bureaucracy. I am very much in favor of taking better care of the tribal members.
The controversy was created when the South Dakota Sioux shut down a state highway that cuts through their reservation saying it is tribal land. This caused a dispute with the governor. We were driving down State Highway 65 with no indication of what we were to encounter ahead. We arrived at a checkpoint more than halfway down this stretch of highway that runs 37 miles. Two young men wearing badges that looked like they were taken from a cereal box asked us a series of questions including the Beautiful Wife’s full name and cellphone number (she was driving), how we were feeling, and then told us we could not go any further because we did not have a federal permit. They could have just asked us up front if we had a permit and sent us away. When BW asked what would happen if we went forward they said they would spike our tires and stop us and then take us to the tribal jail.
This entire episode is an insipid power struggle that makes the tribe look bad. First, there is an easement through the land that has been established by having the highway there. The excuse of the virus does not change that. The other point was we and everyone else using the road just wanted to drive on it to our destination. We weren’t getting out of our cars to hug a tribal member and give them the virus. Stopping us potentially exposed the young men more than if they let us go. Our take on this – Governor 1, Sioux O.
As we got closer to Sturgis you could hear a low level hum, even with the windows closed. Then it got louder and louder and started to reverberate. All of a sudden we were surrounded by hundreds of motorcycles, us being the only four-wheel vehicle.
Of course, this was my imagination of what it would be like if we were in Sturgis for the famous motorcycle rally. This year it is still scheduled for August 7th to 16th, with the final decision to proceed being made June 15th. The people I know who have attended speak glowingly about it. Last year 490,000 motorbike enthusiasts descended upon this town with a population just shy of 7,000. The place must be insane. Having lunch there and driving around you really can’t imagine the onslaught that happens. You can drive down Harley – Davidson Way and really begin to get an inkling.
We left there and visited Deadwood, a town designed to give us a taste of the west in the late 19th century.
The night was truly special. Having been blessed with visiting the greatest existing cultural sites in the world, few have left me speechless. The temples in Luxor were magnificent. The Taj Mahal exceeded any thought I ever had of it. Add to that Mount Rushmore. I lived with the thought all my life and then it went beyond any impressions I had of it.
There were two serendipitous occurrences in the history of the development. A mining attorney came to South Dakota from New York in 1885. He took a tour and noticed the mountain and the story goes that he asked what the name was for the mountain and was told it did not have one and the guide suggested Rushmore, the man’s name. It officially became that name in 1930. The famous structure itself was conceived in 1923 when another site was chosen. Sculpture Gutzon Borglum thought the initial site was inadequate for the concept. So a site named for a person by chance and not intended originally for the monument becomes something that will live forever in the minds of people worldwide.
We attended at sundown after a short rain. While entering the facility we were greeted by matching rainbows. We were pleased to see there were about 30 people joining us, imagining the massive throngs that must fill the area on a normal summer night. We watched the sun go down beyond the striking sculptures. Then as dark began to encase the area, the lights went on showcasing those four famous faces and a breathtaking scene left us enraptured. As we peered at the sculptures, one is left to wonder how this monument was conceptualized and then actualized.
What a great end to a truly remarkable American day.