I decided to re-post this post from September 2006 so I could link to it from this new post.
I was glad that on this most recent cross-country trip I took the time to actually see the country I was crossing.
The day I spent in Indiana turned out to be quite interesting. My friend and I went to a small country town where they were having a fair. But it wasn’t a big fair, with midways and carnies. It was a small affair, with lots of local vendors and stalls selling local crafts and foods. It was also interesting because the community is full of Mennonite and Amish people, who were all represented there, but not “on display” for tourists as they might be in more well-known “Amish Country.” I’m not sure there were any tourists there at all, actually, apart from us. It was just a corner of America, being itself, that we got to visit for the day.
I got to visit a few more corners by detouring up to I-90 and going through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Especially South Dakota. Which happened to be where I was on the 5th anniversary of September 11. Where better to spend a day of American self-reckoning than smack in the middle of it? But the difference was striking: just a few days earlier I had been in lower Manhattan, within Ground Zero itself even, on one of those beautiful, clear, almost-Fall days like it had been on the day of the attacks. A sober energy was beginning to percolate within the streets, as people got ready to face the somber occasion of remembering the awful day their neighborhood changed.
By the time that day came, I felt like I was a world away, in the near-emptiness of South Dakota. I began the morning leaving Sioux Falls, driving through the vast flatness while listening to Native American chants on the radio. By lunchtime I’d reached the famous Wall Drug, perched at the mouth of the Badlands national park. I paid the $15 and drove through them, all the while listening to NPR’s urban-broadcast coverage of the 9/11 remembrances and resulting state of the world. In the empty, sunny stillness of the Midwest the day’s activities in New York and Pennsylvania may have seemed a world away, but it was all still in these United States.
Exiting the area in Rapid City, from there it was time to head up into the Black Hills. Along the way I saw a lot of interesting wildlife: prairie dogs, mountain goats, and the most American of all animals: the turkey. Climbing up through the granite turrets of the hills I suddenly saw, there around the bend, Mt. Rushmore and its quartet of great American leaders. George Washington was particularly striking, with a small yet confident, fatherly smile on his lips that seemed to say, as he gazed out eastward over this great nation on this sad day, that, despite it all, we would be okay.