Pulling into town the sign said: Welcome to Vermillion, South Dakota. Home of the Tanagers! I don’t know what a tanager is, but it makes me want to say Go! Go Tanagers! I set off on my bike in the early afternoon to see what Vermillion was all about. “University Road” sounded like it might be the-drag-that-would-have-the-pita-pit-and-the-papa-johns-and-the-noodles-and-company-on-it, so I biked in that direction. It was flat, and there wasn’t much going on. A little kid on a bicycle with training wheels yelled “hello!!” and waved eagerly. Vermillion is nothing like where I live in New York City.
Then the lawns and houses and friendly kids became farms and silos and fields of beige corn stalks. That’s when the smell hit me. Manure, pungent manure — worse than a port-o-potty at the end of a three-day music festival. Like having stepped in dog shit, only it’s not just on the bottom of your shoes — it’s everywhere. It’s in the air, on your tongue, in your hair, it’s inescapable. It’s like you’re wearing a one-piece jumpsuit made out of shoe bottoms that had all stepped in dogshit. But worse. I was beginning to think maybe a “tanager” was just a “clump of manure” (Go Tanagers!)… my original idea to break on through to the other side and keep pedaling had to be abandoned. I took a right on a dirt road between two corn fields.
The smell didn’t go away, except when I put my nose inside my shirt, and there was no way I was biking along that road with my head down (because that’s when Malachai comes for you).
So I sucked it up, held my breath, pedaled as fast as I could on sand and pea gravel, and eventually wound up at a highway that took me back to campus, where opening act Brett Dennen was soundchecking.
It was clear we’d have to make our own fun in South Dakota, like we did the day before when we drove through Badlands National Park. The Badlands is a cool place, for a little while, with majestic canyons and jagged middle-earth rock castles formed by erosion. It was a little Tolkein-y for my taste. Mostly we enjoyed playing the throw-the-cactus-until-it-sticks-to-seth game.
Throw The Cactus Until It Sticks To Seth Game
On the way back to Rapid City we stopped in Wall, SD, and like every other tourist on their way out of the Badlands we went to “world famous” Wall Drug. Scooter bought a mesh South Dakota cap with an antelope on it, which is cool because we were actually in South Dakota and it was only 3 bucks, unlike the mesh South Dakota caps with antelope on them that you can probably get at Urban Outfitters in New York for fifteen. He’s been wearing it, mostly without irony, all day today.
Seth bought gnomes.
And I spent an hour at Wall Drug staring at a window display of stuffed foxes and deer dressed up in human clothes, standing up like they’re having a tea party. I like taxodermy as much as the next guy — don’t get me wrong — I even priced out a wall-mounted “jackalope” across the street from Wall Drug ($70 for a stuffed rabbit head with fake antlers, c’mon!)… but this was just too creepy for words. Is that cowboy with the purple hankie around his neck pointing his gun directly at the deer-wearing-a-flannel, or just near the deer-wearing-a-flannel?