Thursday, July 30, 2009

North Dakota, South Dakota, Marilyn Monroe

Mitchell, South Dakota

  • We had our first bad weather day as it rained most of the morning and early afternoon. Classic South Dakotan rainy summers.
  • We visited Mitchell’s “Corn Palace,” a tremendous building first constructed at the turn of last century and the brainchild of two men with awesome mustaches designed to serve as the centerpiece to an annual corn exposition that would promote South Dakotas’ corn production. A huge sign when we walked in declared it to be the “world’s only corn palace.” We were shocked to learn that there weren’t many other corn palaces scattered across the globe.
  • The palace was littered with puns everywhere we turned. Snacks were sold at “Corncessions,” an event was described as “a-maize-ing,” and our guide referred to a “cornparison’ between two murals.
  • The exterior of the building has murals from previous years depicting incredible pictures and scenery. The murals are made entirely out of corn. Other murals hang in the auditorium inside, which is also used to host basketball games and concerts.

Kimball, South Dakota

  • En route to the Badlands, we stopped when we saw a sign for a tractor museum on the side of the road. The museum was made up of 3-4 buildings, which mostly contained old John Deere tractors.
  • Our tour guide asked Butch and Ushi if they were twins.
  • The highlight of the museum was a small, one room schoolhouse. They had two old gradebooks from the 1940s still intact with names and grades. I love the potential of being able to confront someone with the knowledge that they got a C in math in 3rd grade.
  • Ushi asked our tour guide if he could buy a book from the schoolhouse because he likes “vintage stuff.” They negotiated a price of $5. Classic New Yorkers it starts with a $5 book. By this time next year, we’ll own half the real estate in South Dakota.
  • She asked us where we went to college. When she didn’t know what Yeshiva was and we explained that it was a Jewish college in New York, she made a quizzical look that implied she had never heard the word “Jewish” before. And I supposed we all look the same, too, right?

The remainder of this post was authored by Butch. It is presented to you in its full, unedited form with several “Av’s notes” where indicated.

The Badlands

As always I prefer to number than to bullet. And not just to be different.

  1. Like most days of my life I was automatically reminded of The West Wing today because of Mount Rushmore. Let me say this in very definite, certain terms. There is no competition between North Dakota and South Dakota. It is not merely a relative temperature or geographical discrepancy that favors the southern state. Nor is it because the word South inspires more fun. South Dakota is the only Dakota that matters because of the vastly entertaining nature of its landscape and the good humor of its people. (Av’s note: Of course we haven’t been to North Dakota, but we rightfully assume that it sucks.)
  2. Imagine a mini version of the Grand Canyon that possesses tall sweeping crags that rise seemingly into the clouds, and also has the dramatic, beautiful chasms. Now also imagine Av's face when we passed one of many "Beware- Rattlesnakes" as we ambled up to a small peak. (Av’s note: It is still extremely unclear to me why nobody else was taking these warning signs seriously.) Imagine also that a duo of New Yorkers that had driven to the Badlands in 33 hours straight asked us for ways to enhance their trip. Of course we knew they were Jewish because they were from New York. The Chai necklace also helped. But the best part is that the US Government was good enough to build a highway that loops through this wonderland of the Dakota prairie which has glorious viewpoints every few thousand feet and offers spectacular views in all different varieties of elevation, and easy access to many walking/hiking trails. Woe was us that we didn't have time to camp and hike more.
  3. The first hundred or so signs for Wall Drug on I-90, beginning way back in Mitchell, were ignored. The next hundred or so got us curious. By the third hundred we had no choice but to research the early drug store whose claim to fame was that it offered Mt. Rushmore visitors free ice water. The small drug store from a town of 231 in a town "in the middle of nowhere" (as quoted by Mr. Hustead, the owner, and most genius marketer in the history of the world) became popular enough to spawn a restaurant and second coffee chop. Then the restaurants and coffee shops got together and had little souvenir shop babies and adopted all manner of cowboy themed shops, banks, art museums, hotels, an 80 foot dinosaur replica, and a chapel. I think Wal- mart stole its business plan from Wall Drug. They sell everything and they have an entire town of stores. Needless to say we created a photo album of the fourth hundred Wall Drug signs. And the coffee was only a nickel. A Nickel!

    Mount Rushmore

  1. With just minutes of daylight left we first glimpsed the perfect blend of natural wonder and man made art for the first time. You don't really need to keep reading because there are no words. But then you'd still be bored at work, so I'll just throw some up here, you know, for the kids. With time to burn before the lighting ceremony at 9 we visited the museum. All museums would be more fun if they had displays that allowed you to mimic blowing up parts of mountains by pushing old school dynamite plungers. We learned many fun facts. For example, the mountain was named after Charles Rushmore, some lawyer from NY that visited the site in the Black Hills Mountains some time in 1885 (Av’s note: more national monuments should be named after lawyers from NY.) Apparently he just asked for it to be named after him. It seems that nobody until then had thought such a dumb move could work. It took 14 years to build and cost $1,000,000. Which back then was still a lot of money. The actual work only took about six years due to constant funding problems and political battles. Washington's head was completed in 1930, but Lincoln's was completed in 1937.
  2. Classiest Park I have ever been to. A park ranger spoke to us about her experiences in Africa during her time in the Peace Corps. Having to speak about America every day to try and explain American life to the natives helped her gain a deeper love for the vast differences all Americans bring together to weave the beautiful tapestry of our country.
  3. Next there was a video giving an overview of American history, stressing the importance to the nation of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt- because the 4 Presidents chosen were meant to personify the growth of our nation from Revolution and infancy, to vast western expansion, to renewed strength and unity, and finally to a national will exerted on the global stage. (Av’s note: We learned that at 21 inches, Washington’s nose is 1 inch longer than the other 3 presidents. Perhaps a certain incident involving a certain cherry tree caused George’s nose to grow slightly longer than Honest Abe, Tom, and Teddy.)
  4. A Boy Scout troop ceremonially took down our star spangled banner and folded it up so that all the military servicemen present could place his or her hand on it and tell us in which department of the armed forces they served. After the video we sang the National Anthem as the lights gradually illuminated the sculptures atop the mountain. It was touching and felt patriotic. Since I'll clearly not have to opportunity to defend Freedom my next best option was to practice the capitalism so dear to our hearts. So I bought a T-shirt at the gift store with a big eagle on it.
  5. Before the ceremony began we had a nice round of presidential trivia with a park ranger. Some were obvious. Taft was the biggest, Lincoln the tallest, Madison the smallest. Adams and Jefferson died on the same day... Some were interesting. Clinton never met his dad, Teddy Roosevelt, not Kennedy, was the youngest president. But the best question was indeed the trickiest. Who becomes president if the Vice President passes away? Most, but definitely not all, of the people in the amphitheatre shouted out "The Speaker of the House.” They were all wrong. The president would still be the president. He wasn't dead in the example. Better Shtick could not have been had.

Av's note: We departed Mount Rushmore and drove southbound. We stopped for the night to spend Tisha B'av in a small town 2 hours north of Cheyenne called Douglas, WY. Next year in Jerusalem...

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