South Dakota by Peter Thody
Actually, before arriving in Deadwood we had no idea it was a gambler's paradise with 24-hour gaming in every hotel, bar, saloon, and restaurant on Main Street. Seriously. We'd booked ahead at the Bullock Hotel -- "Step back in time and walk through the very same corridors, rooms, and hallways that Deadwood's first Sheriff Seth Bullock himself still proudly haunts!" -- and once we'd squeezed ourselves and our cases through the gaming halls and up to our room, it was time to explore.
The Main Street itself looks just the way you want a Wild West street to look, with plenty of wooden-fronted saloons. Add in the fact that we'd arrived in the middle of a jazz festival so the street was blocked by a huge stage, and the atmosphere was great too.
So, time for a beer, realizing only after ordering a second that if you keep hold of your glass, refills are about half the price. Moving on for a third -- it's been a long day -- we find ourselves in conversation with Kevin & Brian, two college guys who seem delighted to have the opportunity to find out what life's like in England and, more specifically, what we think of the French Government's position on Iraq and the British Government's position on gun laws.
Despite us having pretty much directly opposing views on both points -- I quite admire the Gallic quality of sheer bloody-mindedness and enjoy living in a country where gun crime remains extremely rare -- their friendliness, openness, and insistence on buying us beer proves overwhelming and in minutes we succumb. An hour later we've decided to join forces, invade France, and create the United British & American Colony of Gaul. We've agreed on a unilateral disarmament treaty based on Kevin's realization that his family's collection of 28 guns probably is excessive -- 23 would be a far more sensible number. And next time we're passing through we're going out with him to discover the satisfaction of shooting something.
Years of experience tell my wife that it's the next pint that's the one that'll keep us there all night, so it's time to say farewell to two more new friends from South Dakota.
And that's it, really. A good meal, a quarter in the slots because it seemed rude not to, twenty minutes feeding the machines trying to get rid of the bucket of small change won with our first quarter, and then bed. A walk around Mt. Moriah Cemetery in the morning to see the gravestones of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, into the car, on our way, and half an hour or so later we were in Wyoming.
Over the next three weeks we'd travel another 3,329 miles and visit Montana, Idaho, Oregon, California, and Washington. We'd meet dozens of other wonderful, friendly people and see countless more unforgettable sites. July 2005 was the adventure we'd always dreamt it would be. What we hadn't expected was that this empty-looking, virtually unknown-to-us section on the map would prove so special.
Thanks, South Dakota!
January 8, 2006