The Great Plotnik

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Posting from Rapid City: "Passenger Yee"

The following post, "Passenger Yee," comes from our Mountain Time Correspondent Dee Akay. Akay seems to have this thing about flying. -- ed.

Passenger Yee

Before the plane from Denver to SF took off, they brought an unclaimed bag onto the plane, asking for "passenger Yee." At first no one answered, then someone did, but she didn't look like any Mrs. Yee.

I'm not afraid to fly anymore, but maybe I am. That bag, placed in the overhead now, has caught my attention. They all seemed so interested in getting the plane into the air on time, was anyone paying attention to what could be inside the bag?

And what am I, or anyone else, going to do about it for the next 2 1/2 hours? And how will you read this account, of what could be our last joyful day on earth, if all of a sudden our entire world goes black?

I'll try and write fast.

Rapid City was old but cool, in its un-reconstituted way. Restored downtowns these days are usually just Tropicana, with a tiny bit of the original powder left but liquefied down to tastelessness by Sharper Image and Evelyn and Crabtree.
Rapid, as locals call it, is still the real deal, long dusty blocks of mom and pop stores, big, one-of-a-kind places, maybe with mom still behind the counter. We found four of our Vernon Kiln plates in an antiques mall very much like our favorite place in Pawtucket, but only one plate was below the $10 maximum, so now we have VERMONT.

On downtown street corners in Rapid City you are greeted by lifesize bronze statues of every American President, sometimes two and sometimes four per corner. Reagan wears a cowboy hat, Jefferson runs a bronze quill over the entire embossed Declaration of Independence and Harry Truman holds aloft the famous DEWEY WINS! headline. Bushes One and Two are there, but no Obama. It may be too early. Or too late.

South Dakotans don't have much of an accent, but they can do a mean parody of North Dakota, sounding exactly like William H. Macy in "Fargo" or Barb's Aunt Orpha. They are the nicest people in the world, going out of their way to be friendly, but unlike Safeway clerks in the Bay Area, in Rapid City they seem to mean it. "How ARE you?" "Are you enjoying your stay in South Dakota?" "Oh, have a wonderful rest of your day." "No, thank YOU."

Boulder was friendly too, but Colorado freaked me out. That legal concealed weapons scary can a society get? A student at enormous UC being allowed to carry a gun into class? AND, pot is legal? "Har har, dude, wow, what colors! I've got the munchies! BLAM!"

Perhaps it is just a coincidence that in Colorado we saw no gay people holding hands or anyone wearing a head scarf. South Dakota was the same. At Mount Rushmore we noticed plenty of gaydar-activating men walking together, wearing, you know, one guy has on madras shorts and the other the exact same pattern madras shirt, like they're being careful but still need to make a muted statement? Muted because that yoho over there in the cowboy hat could get angry?

Of course, I am that yoho. I bought my cowboy hat in the Lakota camp store in Badlands National Park, and haven't taken it off in three days. The sales girl, who had a broad face with Sioux cheeks and Sioux eyes and that unique shade of sunbaked brown, said I looked good in it. And Diane, the sweet woman in the red blouse who worked the check-in counter at the Badlands Host Campground and Motel just a mile outside the entrance to Badlands National Park, told me I looked just like all the guys over at the Lazy J Bar.

Of course we went to the Lazy J for dinner. There were four men in the place. True to Diane's word, three wore cowboy hats, me, the owner of the place and his friend. The two of them sat at one of the tables playing cards while Barb and I sat at the bar. The fourth guy was the bartender, a Latino guy who said their pizza was homemade. In Exterior, South Dakota, "homemade" means frozen dough the bartender grates cheese onto and then pops in the microwave.

Two women were in the bar, both of them off-duty employees. One, forty-five-ish, hair twisted into a graying knot at the back of her neck, sat on a stool, eyeballs glued to the video poker machine, while the other, younger, cashed out her paycheck. The owner got up from his card game to ring $120 at his register, walked to the end of the bar where they also have a package sales business, counted out the cash to his employee, then took it all back in exchange for twenty or so pint bottles of what appeared to be gin. 

She stuck all the bottles in a large bag and walked through the front door framed with signed dollar bills from past customers ("Best" of "Luck" from "LeRoy and Dolly"), and moved quickly out to her truck.

Barb and I were halfway through our "homemade""pizza." We looked at each other -- Exterior, SD, is only a few miles off the Pine Ridge Reservation, where they are not allowed to purchase liquor, except maybe out of the trunk of a young white woman they already know from waiting on them at the Lazy J? Maybe, maybe not?

This is nasty business. So are the Badlands, dry, sere, forbidding. You are staring at the dried up bottom of a vast interior seaway that once cut what is now America into two parts, kind of like we are now, but physically. South Dakota was completely under water for several million years, and what is visible is what has been left after the Rockies formed and the ocean dried up, ancient, striated rock formations, moonscapes devoid of life except for a few longhorn sheep.

And Buicks! Chevrolets! Fords! What ARE these strangely named vehicles we never see in California? Chryslers!

This year they ought to call the Badlands "The Not So Badlands" because they've had rain, lots of it. It only happens once every twenty years. Wild clover is everywhere, acre after acre of stately green leaves below golden seed pods, waving like blond, aromatic cheerleaders at a dusty reservation rodeo. The whole county smells like clover honey.

We had to have some of that honey. Darla, the lady at the old sod homestead, told us she'd sell us a gallon but we'd have to come by her house tomorrow in Wall. Diane at the Badlands Host said she knew a woman, Janice, whose husband Dave is a bee keeper and makes honey and maybe we could buy some from her. Janice's family runs the Valley View Resort a few miles down the road, so we drove out there.

We turned off Hwy 43 onto a long, narrow gravel road made narrower by arches of overhanging flowering sweet clover. Never has gravel smelled this good. We drove all the way to the top of a flat butte, invisible from the highway.

Up on the butte is an old red farmhouse guarded by the world's oldest dog. Janice sells Dave's honey by the gallon, quart, pint or bee. She allowed as to how she thought the plastic bees would travel better than the glass jars, if we wrapped them up well and stuck them into a checked-in suitcase, so we bought half a dozen bees-worth. Then we saw the bars of soap, made in her kitchen by an Ojibway woman, and we had to have some of those too, if only to hold up the bees.

We walked out onto the back patio. We could not see forever but maybe all the way to Nebraska. The White River down below, green farmland next to rushing river in front of light red, brown and maroon and dark red, brown and maroon, rocky, ancient.

You can stay at the Valley View for $120 per night or $160 for two beds, but we'd probably stay at the Badlands Host again. For $60 we got a room upstairs, two decent beds, a shower that worked with plenty of hot water, a view out the window of an elderly Indian man on a riding mower seemingly riding in circles cutting down dirt, and, that night, when the bright bulb outside our curtain threatened to make sleep impossible, and I stepped outside to unscrew it, I was met by the sight of fifty kajillion tiny flying black bugs, rampaging against that light bulb, participating in what had to have been the Big Bug Jamboree of 2014, where bugs come to meet other bugs and perpetuate their flourishing race, which was working out great for them until I unscrewed the light bulb and everything in their world went black.



At 11:54 AM, Blogger notthatlucas said...

No picture of the world's oldest dog? And that hat really is you! (Especially if it keeps that blue thing you normally wear off your head.)

This was a great post - thanks for writing it (and surviving the vagaries of Yee's bag).


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