I am standing on a stage at Mt. Rushmore and a thousand people are applauding me.
I have been invited up here along with about 50 other vets to participate in a flag lowering ceremony. It’s past dark, the huge granite monument behind me has already been lit, and we are asked to sing the Star Spangled Banner. It’s a stirring moment, and I feel a little unworthy, but I’m still glad we came here.
We left Kansas City, Kansas, early this morning and headed up I-29 toward Omaha. The ground begins to flatten out and soon we are cruising through the alluvial plain of the Missouri River, which we verify is a flood plain when we must take a detour through the Police State (see post script below) of Iowa because our car is not amphibious and the highway is underwater, so now we will only have about 12 hours of driving to do today, and isn’t this vacation fun?
Anyway, we take the “road less travelled” detour, and soon we are cresting some low rolling hills of corn and hay, when I spy a wind farm on the horizon. We stop to take a picture, and I’m amazed at these gentle giants as they silently and slowly spin in the breeze a hundred feet or more over my head, and I’m thinking that these slender white turbine towers are actually beautiful, and compliment the pastoral farmland below. There are at least 30 of them, and I hope we build more, because I’d like to one day say we did at least something too break our dependence on foreign oil besides talk about it.
Soon we re in Nebraska and we can see agribusiness on a grand scale. These farms are the size of counties and corn and sunflowers cover the entire state all the way to the tree horizon. Giant combines are baling hay and the whole operation looks like it must be mechanized, because I hardly ever see a human being outside of a seat on a huge machine. The hay is stacked in neat rows and the silos stand 6 abreast. The whole impression is of efficiency and precision, and I can’t help but contrast it with the simple and small Amish farmsteads.
Now I’m beginning to think God is against us, because the bridge is closed in Omaha and we have another half hour delay. By 3PM we’re in South Dakota, and the Great Plains open up around us like a vast inland sea of waving grass and hay. Huge bales of it are stacked in pyramids and rows, their yellow coils lending contrast to the green field grasses, which flow over the land all the way to the horizon. It’s breathtaking to see the wide-open spaces that define this state, but we must keep moving or we’ll be late for the Light Show at Mt Rushmore.
We check into the Ramada Inn Rapid City with barely enough time to unpack before heading 30 miles to the monument. The temperature has been climbing all day, and hit over 100 by the time we reached South Dakota, so we’re not going to have the top down on our short drive.
You pay $11 to park at Rushmore, and from the lot it’s a short walk to the amphitheater. We have a few minutes before the “show” starts, so Jonathan and I grab a Buffalo burger from the Café’, which was probably an OK piece of beef when it was cooked around lunchtime, but now is about as juicy and flavorful as piece of cardboard, and the greasy fries taste like hardtack.
You can view the monument from any paved area surrounding the outdoor amphitheater, and it is an impressive sight. Each of the figures (Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln) are about 60 feet tall, and they gaze out in deep reflection at the wide sky surrounding the park, which is itself a scenic mountain at a surprisingly high elevation, and is surrounded by tall conifers. The granite edifice is bald for the most part, and the loose tailings and rockfalls are evident below the sculptures. The grey color of the rock surfaces subtly changes in the dying light, and there’s a real sense of peace and grandeur that transcends the time and space of the here and now. But in spite of that, it seems to me that placing these national leaders on such a pedestal way out here in the middle of nowhere is a little incongruous, and I really think it would have been more appropriate to honor the great Western Explorers Lewis and Clark who first pioneered this area. That was the original proposal but it was unfortunately not to be. Aren’t there enough monuments to Presidents in Washington, where they really belong, after all? I’m all for honoring our national heroes, but I think the venue is important.
We have a hard time finding a seat for the show, which starts without preamble and 5 minutes early. It’s easy to understand why the Park Service can’t spring for a set of outdoor speakers to make announcements about upcoming events, since they’ve only had since 1930 to make improvements, and of course I’m sure it’s nigh impossible to find an entrepreneur willing to sell a decent sandwich in a high volume location for only $9, but I’m still amazed that the projector screen they expect a sea of people to watch from a few hundred feet away would be rejected as inadequate for the average Man Cave. Amazingly, the introductory video has subtitles and I’m sure that was very helpful to the people in rows 1-3, but the rest of us enjoyed the tinny sound of cheap speakers. After the video, the white spotlights come on, and the effect is to whiten and deepen the facial shadows, so that they stand out in the darkness like a giant holographic image.
After the flag’s lowered, the ”show” is over, and Jonathan is irate, because he doesn’t think it’s a show. He’s seen better at Stone Mountain, which features a laser extravaganza accompanied by music, and it really does blow away this lame presentation. I kid around with him that he wants a Disney version of the event with fireworks and maybe Shamu doing flips in an aquarium at the amphitheater, but the reality is that he’s right, this isn’t a show so much as a dignified ceremony, and to be honest even within that context it isn’t done very well. I mean, you’ve have a monopoly on a unique monument for 80 years, and all you can come up with is a spotlight and a scratchy soundtrack? At least rebrand this thing so that people aren’t expecting something extraordinary, because it isn’t. I’ve seen this phenomenon at Gettysburg as well, where independent tour companies are able to sell tickets because the National Park Service’s product is simply inferior. If you farmed out the operations of this monument to a private firm they’d have a real show, and they wouldn’t have two people in an Information Office that doesn’t have a shred of salient data about the park or its famous sculpture, but DOES have a couple of Rangers standing around picking their noses and talking about Oprah. That’s the kind of overhead that simply kills innovation and improvement, and we simply can’t afford this anymore. There’s no reason why Mt. Rushmore couldn’t be a good profit center for America and still honor these men.
One last point about this area. It has more tacky tourist attractions than anywhere else on earth, and that includes Daytona, which was the previous KING of SCHLOCK, but Mt. Rushmore makes the Beach Blanket Bongo Capital seem as conservative and dignified as the Vatican. There’s something for everyone. For you wine lovers, what could be better than a glass of Red Ass Rhubarb Wine, which you could enjoy with your Chuck Wagon Supper? Or how about a stroll through the Reptile Garden (who knew they were plants?) or touring one of 3 caves or the Dances With Wolves set? And of course there’s the obligatory “National Wax Museum”, which I’m sure is sanctioned by the Smithsonian, or the “Cosmos Mystery Area” for UFO freaks and Democrats. Adults will enjoy the World’s Smallest Biker Bar or Olivia’s Adult Bookstore, while the kids might like the Dinosaur Park or the Maze. Grandma might want to shop at the Quilt Corral, but I’m not sure if she should bring her lasso. Water Parks, Gemtsone and gold mining, drive through zoos, air and space museums, go karts, “Putz-N-Glow”, 1880 Town…the list is outrageous and WAY over the top, and it’s pure American commercialism of the 1960’s variety. No one can drive through here without remembering some childhood trip where Dad loaded up the station wagon and headed to Wally World. It’s a blast back to the halcyon days of limited taste and crass commercialism, and it’s a load of fun just to read the signs. Some of these are so bizarre that I’m not sure what the target market is. “National Museum of Woodcarving”? The World’s Only Corn Palace? Really?
But we don’t have time for the Corn Palace and retire for the night. The hotel is also an anachronism, but a pleasant one, from the era when a resort had an indoor atrium complete with pool, hot tub, game room, and bowling alley! Free hot breakfast, clean rooms. Go there, and see you tomorrow!
There are two kinds of cops in the world: a small percentage that are here “to protect and to serve”, and the lion’s share who want to “ticket and torment.” I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that we ran into the latter while going through Iowa (The Police State), and Jonathan finally earned that ticket he’s been dying to get, but I don’t think it taught him ant kind of lesson, because in this case our little piggy had set up a speed trap, which is what police do when they need money and are too incompetent or cowardly to confront real criminals, and his traffic citation had about as much to do with law enforcement as ambulance chasing has to do with justice.
Yes, my son was speeding, about 70 in a 55. But he was forced onto a two lane blacktop by an Interstate detour due to a flood in northwest Missouri, and it seems Indiana decided that all of those rerouted motorists trying to make up for lost time were perfect fodder for the Gestapo-like, yet somehow humorless, State Troopers, who were lining our 50 miles of back road Hell like pigs at a trough.
So our particular swine passes us just as we cross the border into his territory (“Welcome to Iowa! Now pay up!”), pulls us over, swaggers over to our car with the air of a man who is trying to compensate for shortcomings in other areas, and begins demanding our insurance and registration like he’s Commander Klink at Stalag 13. Jonathan produces the documents and then he asks if we know why we’ve been pulled over. You want to say, “because you’re a fascist Razorback too dickless to chase down a real bad guy”, but you don’t because the fascist has a gun, and, contrary to the provisions of our 2nd amendment, I’m not allowed to carry one without the permission of the statists who now rule our erstwhile republic. So Jonathan admits he knows it’s because of his speed, at which point the porcine copper starts saying Jonathan wasn’t wearing his seat belt, either. He was, of course, but now I try to bargain with him.
“Well maybe he wasn’t wearing his seat belt after all. I mean, that’s not a moving violation, is it?” The new Union of Socialist States of America (USSA) requires that proletarians like me must whimper and beg for leniency and barter for our freedom from our betters, who all do make-work for the government, and thus have achieved magic positions of power based on pointing a gun at my head.
“I’m afraid that’s a moving violation and is $130, so it won’t help much”, squeals the pig, as he stalks back to his car.
In about 15 minutes, the oinker is back at our car, handing Jonathan a $114 ticket for the serious offense of Driving Within Iowa (DWI), but of course the porker explains we can always fight this in court, which he knows is very convenient for us, seeing as how we live only two time zones away. So all that’s been accomplished here is a further delay to what is already a very long day for us, Indiana’s low reputation is further sullied, and the cop gets to waddle over to the Dunkin’ Donuts for his breakfast with a shit eating grin on his face.
Now, I’m going to end this little tale of Stalinist woe, because I want to tell about Mt. Rushmore and I’m running out of pig synonyms, but not before I make another point. We shouldn’t need to drive around in fear of the police, if they’re really there to protect us, but if that’s true, why does everyone’s sphincter tighten up whenever you see a blue light in the mirror? Why do these goose-stepping, jack-booted Nazis seem to only be interested in enforcing that tiny percentage of state statutes that deal with driving, and why don’t they show us at least the same courtesy as the average child abuser? Why do we still have speed limits fixed at 1955 levels when cars are much faster and safer today? We all know that the answer to these questions is money, but the basic incivility of our cops goes beyond that, and it has to do with the fact that they’re not local. We don’t need State Police anymore than we nee national police like the FBI. What we need is local cops who have to come home at night and say hello to their neighbors, and I doubt seriously that they’d be issuing anywhere near as many tickets to their own neighbors, because then they’d have to face some ostracism when they do something unpopular instead of hiding behind a badge. But we won’t do that, because the average American is so emasculated now that he’s willing to trade just about anything for a false sense of security. My message to you is quit sucking your thumb and be responsible for your own safety and security, and cut down on this damn police state!