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Excerpts of North Dakota Travel Diary
State 12 - NORTH DAKOTA 24 AUG 98 - 28 AUG 98


A proper send-off . . .

Our last day in South Dakota. Day begins brightly. Sunny. Real sunny. And hot, too. In the kitchen, packing the pantry to withstand 60 mph, I happily remark to Ken "Whaddya know, our first campsite without thunderstorms, tornadoes or hurricanes. Maybe our luck is changing." Sentence is barely complete when right on cue the sky darkens. Raindrops hit the roof . . . ping, ping, ping, ping, ping. Sky gets darker. Raindrops get heavier. Then hail.Then bigger hail, Faster. Louder. Bam, bam, bam, bam. Like someone dumping a truckload of pebbles on our tin roof so close to our heads. Boom, boom, BOOM! Now rocks. Big rocks. Ken yells over the noise, "Look at the size of that hail." I scream back, "Yeah, the size of lemons." He shouts back, "No way! More like oranges! I'm gonna get one." Hail stops. Door swings open. Ken leaps out into the wet darkness and jumps back in nanoseconds. Soaked. A huge iceball sits in his cold, wet, drippy, red hand. We measure it. An unbiased ruler reports "Three-inches." Storm stops. Sun comes out. All this in less than 10 minutes. Mother Nature harrumphs.

Serving up insults

Stop in a cafe in Medora where food is ordered at the counter and taken to go, or if one of the two plastic tables are available, can be eaten on the premises. We order spinach salads. The owner, a John Goodman lookalike says, "You folks must be from the east." His suspicions are affirmed. "Yeah, I could tell from the questions you ask about the salads. Ohio, right?" (Well, Ken's from Ohio, but I'm from Massachusetts.) So we congratulate him on being 50% accurate. Then he says, to me. "Massachusetts! Boy, you get punishment enough with Ted Kennedy." (Happen to like Ted Kennedy but didn't want to get into a point, counterpoint over the counter, so a noncommittal shrug with a stupid half-smile from me ends the Ted Kennedy banter.) The guy brings our salads to the table and says contemptuously, "So what are you here to save?" (Huh?) "Everyone from the east comes here to save something. What are you saving? Elk? Buffalo? What?" Trying to keep the conversation light, I meekly reply, "My sanity," and return my attention to the salad, hoping that ends it. But he persists. "We don't mind you people coming out to visit, but don't stay. Please don't stay. Visit. Yes. Spend your money, yes. But go home." Ken and I exchange glances. We can't believe this guy is hovering over our table, serving up insults. Wish now we had taken the salads To Go. We are the only people in the shop. The man remains standing over our table while we eat, throwing out disparaging remarks about easterners and Californians (in his mind we're the same breed.) Surprisingly, the spinach salad is delicious, but we can't enjoy it because the table talk is too tense and too critical. Of us! I just want to finish the salad and get the heck out of here. The man proceeds to tell us that he used to be a farmer in Montana but lost the farm "because of the government." The curious schoolteacher in me wants to ask what branch of government? But the little-girl-afraid-of-bullies in me stifles the question as I stuff spinach down my tight throat. The man is now railing on about how Montana isn't the same because all these Californians are moving in and changing everything. He says the word "Californians" like someone else might say "cockroaches." I'm just nodding in silence. I want to leave. To my shock and horror, I hear Ken say, "Well, couldn't the Indians say the same thing about you? The settlers came and changed their way of life." The air is thick in hostile silence. "That's debatable," is the abrupt reply and he leaves. Our salads are gone and so are we. Jump into the truck and rush home. I hate tense moments like that.

Safely back in our trailer, we begin working on our postcard for the day. At 10:30PM there is a knock at the door. (Nobody ever knocks on a trailer door.) Dismiss the noise as a branch or fallen rock. Nope. A distinct knock. Ken opens the door and I stare out behind him like a frightened calf. It's the man from the cafe! My breathing stops. He explains that I left my pocketbook and he is returning it. He drove to all the campsites in town looking for me, which means he had to close up his shop to do that. Shocked, I weakly mumble a meek Thank You. He drives off. Now I wish I had offered him a reward or something. After all he closed up his shop at 10:30 which is the peak time for a cafe to be open here in Medora because the famous "Medora Musical" ends at ten,which leads to a tourist stampede in search of cafes just like his. So this guy was really nice to do this.

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