Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Water, water everywhere, and a restaurant scene

High waters approach this South Dakota farm.

Floods have hit the Dakotas, as most people know. We’ve seen it now from the southeastern South Dakota to the northwestern North Dakota. In Pierre, South Dakota’s capital pronounced Pier, the National Guard has blocked traffic from a long stretch of the Missouri River. Sandbags ring the shops on Main Street and houses along the Missouri. Some homeowners have gotten into spirit, spray-painting signs on front lawns that say things like “Fort Trachen” and “Fort Billingsley.”
I couldn’t find a Fort Donnelly, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Gavin and I are nearing the end of our 10-day, father-son road-trip, and the road out of the Badlands took us into the interior of South Dakota. He drove yesterday for a full two hours, and he hugged those yellow and white lines without having to say a word. He’s now up to 10 hours total driving on this trip (he is counting) and he’ll emerge – especially with some teaching ahead from Uncle Tom – with some newfound confidence in his abilities behind the wheel.
I ran yesterday and this morning. Pier (you have to get the pronunciation down) was a short run, more of an exploratory outing. After running along the river (and getting my feet wet as I trespassed beyond National Guard lines), I climbed a short hill to the black-domed state Capitol building and ran around the Governor’s “mansion.” It is a ranch house on steroids, beefed up in the middle, with a long circular drive, a basketball hoop off to the side, well manicured and quite approachable. I could have run up and rang the doorbell. South Dakota is not so worried about security.
South Dakota's Statehouse

I ran up to the Capitol building and decided to climb the stairs and go inside. I saw no one (it was 8 a.m.), took a self-guided tour booklet and learned about the 67 Italian stonecutters and artists who helped build it about 80 years ago. Each of the Italians, according to the book, had left a “signature” of sorts: a tiny blue tile on the multi-colored mosaic floor. Guided by the book, I started going up and down the marble stairways (only running into a few people who didn’t take a second glance at a fairly sweaty runner) until I finally found one of the blue tiles. That satisfied my itch, and I was out of the building, back to the hotel (where we had stayed up late watching the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the 10th inning on rookie Josh Reddick’s walk-off single), and then we made our way out of Pier.
We drove through the northeastern part of the state for what felt like hours and hours in a good way, under a big dome of a blue sky, corn to the horizon, water on both sides of the straight-arrow highways lapping the asphalt, and dead skunks by the dozens. We saw so many dead skunks that we were ready for each: T shirts stretched to cover noses, PEE-YOU exclamations after each passing (some were truly horrid), laughing because that’s what two guys do on road trips when it comes to smells.
Gavin, I would honestly say, wins the Inappropriate Traveler Stinker Award. He revels in farting, unfortunately (as we are in close quarters), and he does this in startling fashion in public as well as private. There was a moment on the western edge of North Dakota, traveling south out of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, northern site, when we stopped at a roadside restaurant for a late breakfast.
It was one of those wide-open dining rooms and I picked a place that I thought would be far away from people (for aforementioned reasons). But the place filled up and we were surrounded. To our left were two elderly ladies and the waitress asked them: “Just your regular toasts, ladies?” and they nodded, and the thought passed my mind, life without teeth. To our back were four other elderly people who were chatterers. There was so much crosstalk that I couldn’t distinguish voices.
I was eating eggs and toast when suddenly, with no warning, Gavin let out a burb for the ages. BUUUUUUUUURRRRRRRRBBBBBB. Or something like that.
There was silence around us. Gavin started to giggle. And to our backs, the four elderly people started to laugh. And laugh. They couldn’t control themselves. They slapped knees. They would laugh in waves, a slow period and then a big rush of laughter. I didn’t dare look.
We paid our $17 bill and walked out quickly, and we laughed, too, all the way down that North Dakota road, about a burb heard around a restaurant.
We’re now headed for St. Paul, to Tom’s wonderful apartment, to showers (yeah!), to a Red Sox-Twins game tonight and tomorrow night. I’m just back from an hour run around the Pickerel State Recreation Area (an above-average camp/swim site where we had a roaring fire last night) and I am experiencing a rare feeling on this trip: A chill. It must be 58 degrees and windy. I had the wind to my back on the way out, the wind in my chest on the way back, and, yes, I passed a dead skunk on the empty, empty road that had water on both sides of it and ducks scooting in the morning light. That skunk stunk. It’s all part of being on the road, a good thing.

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