On the way out we started seeing the signs halfway through Minnesota. Wall Drug is like the only thing along I-90 WEST outside of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. Neither are worth stopping for. In fact we were relieved when we finally passed it on the way out. Except about a mile away from it there was a billboard saying STOP! You just passed Wall Drugs. Geez, cut us a break.
On the way back, driving straight through at night, those billboards on a lonely road started to seem like friends, greeting us every few miles, letting me know there was someone out there. The sky and road were pitch dark except for the occasional Wall Drug advertisement.
So because we were hungry and perhaps curious, we pulled off. The town was hopping and surprisingly Wall Drug was closed. We turned into a DQ and had to stand in line behind folks in cowboy gear and Little League players to place our order. It took a while and combined with eating and lounging we stayed until closing. An employee was just locking up as we were exiting. I kidded with him—Don’t lock us in!
The employee, a kid, was earnest. Don’t worry. Then he proceeded to tell us it was Wall’s birthday. The town was 106 years old. He also told me there was a rodeo in town and that tomorrow there would be a big tent pitched on Main Street in front of the drugstore and that there would be dancing at night. I tried not to act like that was pathetically provincial. So I responded with Wow!
He went on to tell me that he wasn’t originally from Wall but eastern Montana (What’s the difference!?)
I hadn’t planned on really talking to him. I just wanted to treat him like the scenery or like those ubiquitous billboards, part of the local flavor. I was a tourist and he was a bison I might photograph beside the road.
Yet, he had engaged me and I was wondering how to get out of the conversation. The longer I stood there, the more my mind wandered. Maybe he’d followed the rodeo into town, was injured by a steer and ended up in Wall. Maybe he and his girlfriend had hitchhiked to South Dakota for the celebration and she’d left him for a better step dancer. Or perhaps he’d left Montana when his mother remarried and the guy was treating him like a jerk. Maybe his dad was the tall, silent type who took him fishing and hunting but wasn’t able to hold a conversation with him. Maybe all the silence was driving him crazy and he had to get away.
Or maybe he was standing there looking at me and wondering what was wrong with the frumpy, middle-aged woman before him; why did she smile in such a condescending manner? Maybe he hated all the tourists who come and go and never stop to consider real people and real lives. I know, I hate it too.
Anyway, we parted. But before walking away I said Happy Birthday.