I spent the long hours of freeway driving reading to my children
the “little house” stories. Laura
Ingalls Wilder crossed the prairies as a child with her family in search of a new
life. The prairies are a windswept, God forsaken, patch of land that only
a rattlesnake could love. They only thing that keeps you from going insane
are the endless billboards.
Billboards are a dying American art form. I guess we don’t have
room for them in our “Martha Stewart, Pottery Barn” world. Good
billboards must show a complete lack of taste. The lower the better. Really good
billboard advertising campaigns rely on the merchant’s willingness to
maintain about a hundred of the behemoths. Ideal locations are in the middle of
a pond or high on a hillside, any location that says “How did they get
The second goal of a really good billboard is to find something no
one really wants, like, say … five-cent coffee (this ain’t no Starbucks), and
then nag the passing drivers endlessly about how you have the “best” five-cent
coffee in the land.
Wall Drug in South Dakota is the most famous tourist trap with
endless signs. Their campaign centered on “free ice water” billboards,
many showing an old horse drinking out of a trough. Boy, that makes me want
to stop and have a cool one.
There are some so-called “Indian trading posts” that rival Wall Drug
in quality and quantity. My favorite is the “pet the real live buffalo”
campaign for a New Mexico tourist trap. Pet a big, hairy, smelly, fly-covered,
herd animal, trapped alone in a small pen. Come on honey! Get the camera!
Sarcasm aside, you do start to get desperate after the second or third day
of driving the flats.
My ever lovin’ tries to keep the magic in our marriage by pointing
out all of the different quantity and quality of road kill. Even that loses its
thrill after about 4,000 miles. It is just the prairies; they are so unendingly
dull that you lose your mind. So of course the ideal business in the middle of
the prairie is a really big gun store. Heck, even I was ready to shoot
something. Get out the Visa, we’re going to Cabella’s.
Cabella’s, to bring everyone up to speed, is a huntin’ and fishin’ gear
kind of place.
Most people on a trip across the country get to see the natural
wonders like the Grand Canyon. Not us! We got to see something bigger and
better: Cabella’s Super Store, the only place you can find patio lights made
with real shotgun shell casing! (I bought two sets.)
Located in Mitchell, S.D., close to the “Corn Palace” and Wall Drug, it
is 85,000 square feet of testosterone. The decor is Bambi meets the Grim
Reaper but leaves a nice corpse. The decor is accented with real fish in the
fishponds and real live maggots in the live bait wells. The walls are decorated
with replicas of every dead animal that has ever been shot, hooked or just
plain old clubbed to death. Not to be missed is the mutant deer display. Imagine
an altar to genetics gone haywire with deer that have 15 points on their
antlers. The men folk were surrounding it like a bar on “free beer day.”
Hey, at least the hunters from Cabella’s use a gun. Most
pheasants we saw were hunted with a Ford F-250 pickup. I understand the urge
to kill after just a few days on the Plains, let alone a lifetime. Maybe I am
being too harsh. I am sure there is a beauty in the sameness of it all. I am not
little Laura in a covered wagon; I am just a girl from the land of mountains
and water. I don’t speak the language of the Plains, but somehow I have
the feeling that those “shot gun” shell
patio lights will feel right at home in the Valley.
Kate Russell lives in the Lower Valley. You can reach her