What do you get when a woman from New Jersey and a man from South Dakota meet and fall in love? Two people who do NOT want to visit each other’s home state. But, of course, we did. “I grew up in a small town” I told him on our first date. He grew up in the capital of his state. Imagine my surprise when I discovered my small town had a bigger population than his capital!
But, I visited his overly large, desolate, bleak, godforsaken state with an open mind. We chose to drive, since flying there consists of many stops, the last of which involves boarding a crop-dusting plane. Halfway across Nebraska, we decided to eat the roast beef sandwiches I had packed. The last bite was still in my mouth when we passed what he called a feed lot. A nice term for several hundred cows corralled into a twenty by twenty foot space. I called it the worst stench I had ever experienced in my life. I could not swallow my last bite of sandwich for at least two hundred miles. Perhaps, those cows would have gotten a giggle that I had gagged on roast beef.
The landscape became more and more barren, and I could see nothing for fifty miles in each direction. He told me we would be driving through an Indian reservation once we crossed the state line. I thought that might add some excitement to our trip. Now, I knew better than to expect teepees, but apparently the Indians now have these expansive structures called ca-si-nos. I learned a lot.
We were on a winding road, and I couldn’t help but notice there were no trees, no houses, or buildings of any kind, and I hadn’t seen another car in twenty minutes. I turned to him and said “Remember when we were driving through the New Jersey wilderness” (I had to stop here and wait for him to stop laughing) “and you still felt claustrophobic? Well, I’m having an anxiety attack. What if our car broke down or one of us had a heart attack, or even worse, what if I needed a restroom? Where are all the rest areas?” “We don’t get enough traffic” was his reply. Well, build them, and they will come, I thought to myself.
Then I started spotting pheasants by the road. Believe me, when there is nothing else to look at, a beautifully colored bird is a welcome sight. We had probably passed our thirtieth pheasant, and I had shouted “Look, another pheasant!” thirty times, when he mentioned that they are the state bird, and pheasant hunting was big in this area. I sat there stunned, my mouth dropped open. I looked at him incredulously “You eat your state bird?” “Of course, they’re delicious. They taste like chicken except a little stringier.”
When we checked into our hotel, I noticed a painting of pheasants behind the desk. “You eat your state bird!” I said accusingly at the desk clerk. Without skipping a beat, he said “My grandmother makes the best pheasant gravy. Pheasant tastes like chicken except a little--” I know, a little stringier, I thought. “--gamier.” he finished. Gamey? That’s gross. I turned to grab my suitcase, mumbling to myself “New Jersey might not be the greatest place in the world, but you don’t see us eating our goldfinches.”
I have been to South Dakota five times now. We have actually talked about getting a cabin in the Black Hills, the beautiful part of the state. He has made the trip to New Jersey exactly once. Perhaps I should mention to him that we have salt water taffy…it tastes nothing like chicken.