I just emerged from a cave in South Dakota where I spent the night jamming with South Dakota anarchists. This may have been the most punk rock night of my life.
I started the day at a cheap hotel, and woke to a phone call from S, the driver who had given me my last ride the night before. He is a Pennsylvanian safety instructor for fossil fuel companies who is studying to be a minister, and his passion for the South Dakota scenery is palpable. He took several hours out of his morning to show me around the Black Hills, rolling hills with patchy snow and gorgeous valleys. He even took me to Mount Rushmore, which is maybe the most insane piece of “art” ever constructed. The four presidential faces are carved into a cliff that was seized from the Lakota tribe in violation of the Treaty of Fort Laramie and it has been a source of controversy ever since.
On the ride, we talked about S’s path to Christianity, about capitalism, about climate change. I am an atheist, an anti-capitalist, and environmentalist, while S is a Christian, a business owner, and a climate change denier, so we had essentially no common ground but we did have a lot of fun. He was a really open and curious person, and ended up treating me to a giant Mexican meal before dropping me off and handing me cash.
Wandering around Rapid City with a backpack and a banjo felt like begging for attention, and everywhere I went people would smile and wave hello. I guess they don’t get to many travelers through here, and no wonder, it’s a tiny town with a huge prison right in the middle of it.
While I was sitting on a corner playing a small family came over, and one of them pulled out his guitar to join in. This guy just shredded on the guitar. I couldn’t even close to keep up. After a couple songs they gave me their phone number and said I should come join them at their house to visit a cave and jam some more.
I drove up the long windy roads into the hills where the house is with a lovely woman who was 7 months pregnant, her husband in prison for drug use and likely to be in another 10 months. Her life collapsed and she was taken in by this family, lifelong friends, who own the cave. Arriving at the house I notice detritus strewn about, freshly cut lumber, the sweet smell of sawdust. It was all very romantic.
As I walked into the house young children were running around, the dog – John Wayne – ran up to lick my hands, and my new friends and their parents were gathered in the living room. Together the family had built this house in the hills, as well as most of the furnishings. The casually talked about the dinosaur fossils in the backyard.
The grandpa of the house, T, is an agronomist for the US Department of Agriculture who laughingly describes himself as slightly right of Rush Limbaugh. We talk a lot about farming (he applauds Occupy the Farm) and about the Indian reservations around the area. Pine Ridge reservation is one of the poorest places in the world, and predictably suffers from crime, drug abuse, etc. Most white people I talk to caution me not to go there, but T says “sure go to Pine Ridge! You’ll be fine, nothings going to happen to you. I mean you’ll get raped a bunch, but you’ll be fine.” I’m fairly certain he was serious.
SO THEN I WENT TO THIS CAVE! It was a massive, several miles long cave deep underground with stalactites and dripping ceilings and echoes. The grandmother, their daughter, and her fiance (the guitarist) pulled out a fiddle for me and led the way down to the cave. We strapped on headlamps and climbed down a windy staircase into the belly of the hillside. The night was filled with incredible folk music, everyone had beautiful voices, those not playing music would burst into dance occasionally. I can’t wait to come back and play a show with my sweetheart in this cavern!
As we were emerging I talked to N, the mommy in the house, who had just turned 28 (at midnight). She told me about traveling to protests around the midwest and hitchhiking by herself around the country. It’s so rare for me to meet other lone female travelers, so it was really exciting to hear her stories and that she’d never really had a bad experience.
I wish I could introduce you to this family. I love them immediately.
Do you ever get so excited you just want to stay awake forever so you don’t miss anything? On the surface, Rapid City is a small, normal town, but scrape the surface almost anywhere and you’ll find some eccentric, exciting people who can really vivify the place. After less than 24 hours here I’m already looking forward to coming back. It makes me wonder what all I’m missing back home. I can’t wait to go back and seek out more Bay Area adventures. The world is full of invitations, I am just learning to recognize them and say yes.
* Side note: the little girl at this house had just gotten a new bicycle. Her mom had bought it for her because she had met another girl who didn’t have one and so she had taught this girl to ride the bike and then given the bike to her.