Look at this bucolic bullshit. The stuff patriotic songs are made of. Rolling hills, green pastures, blue skies, waving grain, and Hegge’s corner lot down the road from us now has a cow pen in their yard made from salvaged garage doors.
Meth is a pretty serious issue in South Dakota. Drugs and alcohol in general. Many people from my hometown and the surrounding area have struggled or died from drug related incident, my family included. The first time I every got drunk was in my friend’s boyfriend’s Ford 4x4 roaming the gravel paved roads that snake across our countryside for miles. I got ashamedly drunk off my ass on two or three light beers. Probably Natural ice. My best friend since I was 6 is to blame, and my mother was very forgiving of our hangovers the next day. She was always the cool mom, still is. Needless to say, drunk driving is a pretty big issue in my home state. What else are we gonna do? We live in South Dakota.
I’m happy to report our driver that evening was sober and responsible, and I couldn’t have asked for a better and more authentic girl from Minnehaha County gettin’ drunk for the first time experience. Especially since I was a know it all book worm with a very strict father. I learned to lie early on in life.
Driving Mom to work this morning, I forgot how picturesque my redneck of the woods can be. Straight out of a Republican candidate’s bid for Senate, the American flags, John Deere tractors, and white steepled country churches are too good to be true. Much like any political ad, it is too good to be true. Honestly, a lot of the families in my “neighborhood” are strange in their own ways, the corner lot Hegges especially, but I will proudly state my immediate family was considered odd from the get go.
Not church going folk
The least athletically enthusiastic group you’ll ever meet. Even my father only half cared about football, the most sacred of all religions, and was only slightly outraged by Janet Jackson’s mistake that fateful Superbowl evening.
I have to give it to the Midwest, friendly is trendy. Even if you don’t agree with someone’s politics or religion (I head they're a Dolphins fan, how dare they?!), people are still going to be overly polite. To your face.
Something that's always taken me aback, even as a child, is a strange driving ritual I rediscovered this morning. It’s as if each South Dakotan has a code of honor, and we must acknowledge that code with a flick of the finger. Not the middle finger. That's a New York ritual my body felt very natural adapting to when I moved there. Get me drunk and I will physically say fuck you to everyone. Sometimes on the subway to unsuspecting folks I just don’t like the look of, I love confusing those randoms with a flash of middle flesh from unassuming positions. Oh we have fun!
After years of observation, I asked Mom why people raised their fingers up from their steering wheels in greeting as their cars passed each other. It seemed so passive, so creepily automatic to me. Mom probably couldn’t believe she had to explain basic cordiality to her daughter, but I couldn't help but think the hello seemed like an obligation. If you don’t wave, are you insulting that passerby, and therefore the entire community? Seems like a rule for a despot, not a neighbor.
The point is, being overly friendly because it's expected is exhausting to me. I probably feel this way because of my past in the service industry. My last job as cruise director really tapped my good humor reserves. Yet it's nothing compared to some of the women who are "friendly" here in South Dakota. Basic human decency is one thing, but being greeted by a customer service representative who sounds like her side hustle is Cinderella's fairy godmother is another. Just that Midwestern malady of being nice, I guess.
I don't know which I prefer at this point. In New York you’re lucky to get any eye contact or verbal acknowledgement. Waving is extravagant, and should be rewarded with a tip. In South Dakota, people don't know how to tip and will get a smile no matter what. It's unnerving either way. I think I will isolate myself until I figure it out.
Here are some random thoughts I had while sitting at this downtown bar in Sioux Falls:
I swear to the football gods if I see another pudgy headed white guy with a nothing face I’ll scream. They’re like bulldogs with less interesting expressions.
So many white people for a state with so many Native American names. Although that could be said for any place in this country. Appropriation strikes again!
What would happen if Americans had their beer and burgers taken away from them? Fries too. I don’t want to think about the answer, but I want you to. Think long and hard about that deprivation, and if you have no problem with it, then we can be friends. At first. Until you guilt me about my meal and drinking choices, then I’ll ghost you.
Newsflash, there are semi attractive bearded hipster bartenders in every state, not just New York, and they all have seemingly kind eyes. Eyes probably just blurry with beer buzz. Much like mine at the moment.