One of the hard parts of every road trip is realizing that once you’ve seen the biggest, boldest attraction on your to-do list, you can’t just teleport home. You still have hundreds of miles to go before you can relax, and a bunch of other sightseeing options yet to come, all of them inferior to the majesty of the awesome thing you just witnessed. You can’t surrender to discouragement, though. You committed to the drive, and now you have to finish it, no matter how some of your later stops may make you roll your eyes and wish you were back in front of the awesome thing again.
On a related note, here’s that time we dropped by the actual Deadwood, the capital of mixed-use casinos.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, marvels, history, and institutions we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Beginning with 2003’s excursion to Washington DC, we added my son to the roster and tried to accommodate his preferences and childhood accordingly.
2008 was by far our least favorite road trip to date, and still holds the ignominious title as of 2018. Our next vacation had to be better. Step one was plain enough: we looked at Anne’s brainstorming list of future road trips and chose the one that screamed “dream vacation”. That’s what led to our long, long drive out to the farthest reaches of South Dakota and beyond. At nine days it was the longest we’ve ever taken. The farthest point of 1,180 miles made it the longest drive of our lives. It would be the farthest west we’d ever been up to that time. It was also our first vacation using exclusively digital cameras to record the experience, leaving behind the 35mm film of our childhoods forever. They weren’t expensive cameras for their kind, certainly not the most advanced as of 2009, but we did what we could with the resources and the amateur skill sets available to us.
We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.
The rest of our scenic drive through Wyoming back to the South Dakota border dragged by with little of note. We passed a town called Alva (population: 50, says their sign), who probably split gas supply with Hulett in exchange for livestock or whatever. A turnoff in a town called Aladdin (population: street rats) pointed us in the direction of the luxurious safety zone of I-90…where the skies began to match tempers after the long day and the long, long walk.
Once we returned to South Dakota’s slightly larger populations, we stopped in Spearfish to fill up our tank the rest of the way with normal 87-octane gas. Their fair town had appeared in headlines prior to our arrival when the laser-focused folks at PETA sent a letter to the principal of Spearfish High School recommending they change their name to “Sea Kitten High School” as a way to engender more sympathy toward sea creatures…even though a football team called the Fighting Sea Kittens would be laughed and wedgie’d off every field. On the bright side, “Sea Kitten High School” would be a great name for an anime series.
Beyond Spearfish was our next planned stop, the infamous town of Deadwood. We were aware that their major export is gambling, but my wife’s research hinted they might offer other activities. High on her wish list were historical sites such as Wild Bill Hickok’s murder scene and burial site. Driving through town, we could appreciate some of the faux 19th-century structures and storefronts, but — much as our 2004 Niagara Falls trip had been bedecked with a bevy of Visitor Centers — over half of Deadwood’s business names seemed to end in the prefix “And Casino”. Restaurant and Casino. Visitor’s Center and Casino. Historical Site and Casino. Gas Station and Casino. Casino and Casino.
We dropped off the car in a Parking Garage and Casino (probably) and roamed down the street in search of lunch. An abundance of restaurants And Casinos enticed us, but we decided on a place called the Buffalo Steakhouse that had a patio seating area but, shockingly, no casino that we could see. This lack of supplementary income may have explained their customer service deficiencies. We waited several minutes before the high-school-age hostess finally remembered her job description and seated us. We waited several more minutes for our 80-year old waitress to take our orders with 70% accuracy. We waited even severaller minutes for the presumably 110-year-old cooks to prepare our meals…or perhaps they were finished in record time and the waitress simply forgot where the kitchen was.
During our lengthy stay, we tried to enjoy the surroundings. Live entertainment was provided by a cowboy singer whose vocal range was a grievous blend of Bob Dylan and Wilford Brimley. When he began yodeling (not hyperbole — true yodeling), only advanced meditation techniques could save us. We tried instead to focus on the decor, an amalgam of out-of-state license plates and tributes to hardcore cowboy legends like Tim McGraw and Lou Costello.
By the time we stopped eating our mediocre meals (rather than bother finishing them), the ominous rainclouds finally made good on their threat to dampen our spirits. We stopped in an ice cream shop down the street for a bit — not for shelter (I had my umbrella), but mostly to wash away the taste of lunch. A round of cones fulfilled that purpose.
Once we grew tired of sitting, we ran across the street to the Hollywood Museum and Casino, whose secondary tourism draw was a collection of famous movie props and vehicles. Admission was free and all ages were welcome to enter, but signs cited state law that required minors to maintain a minimum safe distance of three feet from all slot machines at all times. Compliance would’ve been simple if those machines didn’t cover nearly every inch of every wall between the front door and the exhibits in the backroom. My son dutifully walked through the Museum and Casino down the exact middle of the aisles with his body sideways and his arms locked at his sides in an honorable display of imaginary paralysis. He turned his nose up in disgust at the grungy zombie gamblers around him, working the machines with one hand and clutching cigarettes and liquors in the other.
Beyond the grizzled gauntlet lay our quarry: authentic Hollywood movie vehicles and props.
Further down the street we found some of that “history” Anne was hoping to catch. In between downpours we found the Saloon And Casino where Old West gunman Wild Bill Hickok was officially shot from behind and killed by the mostly forgotten John McCall.
She would’ve liked to have seen the Official Wild Bill Hickok Morgue, Starting Point of Homicide Investigation and Casino, had it been an option. Since the rain wasn’t long in tarrying, we decided to leave town before sundown without visiting the graves of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane over at Mount Moriah Cemetery and Casino.
Later back in Rapid City, we had dinner at the same mall as the previous night’s FuddRucker’s, but at another restaurant we don’t have in Indianapolis — the slightly famous Taco John’s. While Anne and I tried to wrap our heads around their “West-Mex” menu — which incorporates such alien concepts as tacos with potatoes in them and side orders of tater tots — my son stuck with the Western theme, but erred on the side of safety with the more familiar, mundane Arby’s on the other side of the food court.
After dinners we excused ourselves momentarily from vacationing and perused through a nearby Game Stop. One used copy of Final Fantasy XII later, we returned to the hotel for a therapeutic night that was 100% casino-free.
To be continued!
1. The Fast-Furious pic used to draw a disproportionate hit count for months after I first posted it online, despite the blurriness and despite my mistaking it for Dom Toretto’s Dodge Charger. I’m not a master of car talk and I never sat through a single Fast/Furious flick until 2017. They always had the best trailers around, though.
2. Online resources tell me the Buffalo Steakhouse remains in business today and at some point added a casino. Naturally.
3. A 2015 Forbes article revealed all Trans Ams used in the making of the original Smokey & the Bandit were demolished during filming. The single surviving specimen, used strictly for promotional purposes, remained in the collection of Burt Reynolds himself, unstarted and used for over thirty years until he had it auctioned off in 2016 for a cool $550,000.00. My suspicions about the car we photographed remain far from allayed.
4. In October 2017 we were notified Taco John’s would finally be coming to central Indiana, albeit in the not-quite-convenient town of Lebanon. As of June 2018 we’re still waiting.
5. Today Spearfish High School proudly remains Spearfish High School. Because sometimes renaming things for stupid reasons is stupid. Congrats to them on their integrity and on resisting the urge to add a casino.]
* * * * *
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]