Hail, South Dakota

I have South Dakota etched in my brain. For the past several weeks I’ve had a compulsion to drive to South Dakota. It’s not as if I’ve turned into the Richard Dreyfus character from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (besides, he was obsessed about Devil’s Tower which is in Wyoming and not South Dakota…although Devil’s Tower is pretty darn close to the South Dakota/Wyoming border), but I think it about it a lot. I’ve been thinking about it so much and have had such a strong compulsion that I actually ordered the South Dakota Vacation Guide from their official tourism website. And it arrived in the mail yesterday. Yay!

State Facts

Capital: Pierre (pronounced “peer”)
Dessert: Kuchen
Animal: Coyote
Fish: Walleye
Insect: Honey Bee
Song: Hail, South Dakota

The state population is 754,844. That’s probably the population of my neighborhood here in Chicago. (Well, maybe it would be the population of this neighborhood plus it’s immediate surrounding neighborhoods, too.)

Besides having kuchen and walleye (both quite yummy) and honey bees (presumably producing honey to flavor the kuchen), the big attractions are calling to me: The Crazy Horse Monument, Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills. These are the things I want to experience. (And the Mitchell Corn Palace should probably be visited, too.)

But why this seemingly sudden strong urge to visit a state with the motto “Under God, the People Rule?” It is the epitome of a red state and I’m a very blue state kind of person. I think this deep desire is not just to visit a state with bigger than life monuments, it’s that I’ve somehow tapped back into my most cherished childhood memories of the “road trip vacation.”

When I was a kid, we took driving vacations every year. These weren’t just jaunts to the Wisconsin Dells or Springfield, these were long road trips to places like Florida and Texas. (Actually, they were always about Florida or Texas for some reason.) These trips usually involved camping, first in our pop-up trailer and later in our mini-motor home. Even though we had the short attention spans typical of most kids and everything didn’t always go right (a flat tire in Alabama and a hood malfunction at high speeds were quite memorable), I remember these trips very fondly.

It was fun to whiz down the expressway at 75 mph (that was the speed limit for the most part back then) with the windows open, playing games that involved car license plates and signage. There were kitschy road side attractions and Stuckey’s every few miles to keep us from getting too bored.

Lookout Mountain? Been there. Okefenokee Swamp? Yep, been there, too. (And I have a really funny story about a raccoon encounter in Okefenokee, too.) Also, amusement parks were visited. Six Flags over Georgia, Six Flags over Texas, and the ultimate amusement park: Disney World. In fact, we visited Disney World every year for seven years in a row. We were Disney World pros and developed our own system for visiting the park with minimal waiting in line and minimal cost.

Back then you didn’t pay an all-inclusive price, you purchased books of tickets. There were A, B, C, D, and E tickets. E tickets were used on the high end rides like the Haunted House and Space Mountain. Hence the expression “that was an E ticket experience!” The lower cost ticket books had relatively few E tickets, so they were very a precious commodity. We would go to the park in the morning, then stay at the park until lunch time. Then we’d head back to our camp site to eat lunch, swim, nap, etc. and finally eat an early dinner. At around 6 PM we were back at the park and hanging around the entrance. Families often left at this time, too tapped out from the high cost of lunch and trinkets to spring for dinner at the park, too. So we would often get offered — or even ask — for leftover tickets and then head back inside and stay until the park closed at 10 PM. We were thrilled when we copped ticket books with unused E tickets! It was a brilliant system.

So I think that’s what I’m really craving: the joy of the unexplored, open road. The promise of a thrilling E ticket experience at the ultimate destination just a few more hours away. And the camaraderie of a good road trip, too. Because of course I don’t want to do this alone, either.