“Sometimes the path you’re on is not as important as the direction you’re heading.”
We continued our trek up I-29 with the sounds of Thin Lizzy pushing us along. Since I’ve always panned Lizzy as garbage, Paul felt it important that I listen to something other than “The Boys Are Back In Town”.
“You’ve got to appreciate the double lead guitar harmony; they were like the first band to do that. Anytime you see a critic reference Thin Lizzy in a review, they are just basically saying that they use double lead guitar.” His lesson on Lizzy would explain why every Ted Leo review ever written mentions Thin Lizzy (I still don’t understand why they always mention Springsteen, other than the obvious New Jersey connection). For the remainder of the trip it became a game to point out Thin Lizzy’s double guitar influence on an artist: Wolf Parade, Iron Maiden, Turbonegro…who knew Thin Lizzy’s influence ran so deep.
Not only was Paul trying to coerce me into liking 70s double lead guitar rock, he also had the goal of convincing me to purchase a giant back-pack for camping up in the mountains. I kept trying to explain to him that I already had a backpack; the same backpack I hauled around in college filled with over-priced textbooks and Bruce Chatwin travel novels. When he began listing the items we would need to take with us, I gave in: water, sleeping bags, pillow, water, tent, food, and more water. We made a short stop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to pick up equipment at Scheel’s. I wanted to take him to Ernie November’s, the record store my friends and I used to visit as teenagers. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time, and I didn’t even where the new store was located. It’s pretty sad that back before the internet, poor little Iowa punks had to drive almost two hours to buy independent music.
My high school sanctuary.
Back on the road, we made way into the dismal sprawl of South Dakota, a land of vacant hills covered in yellowing grass. The only objects breaking up the monotony were the barrage of advertisements for Wall Drug. Every five miles a sign would appear amidst the bland scenery advertising “Wall Drug: Free Ice Water!” After a dozen signs stating the same sentiment I became annoyed shouting, “WE GET IT!” This didn’t seem to stop the signs from coming though.
At one point Paul asked me about Wall Drug, suggesting we might have to make a stop. That’s what these signs do to you: beat you into submission until you are drawn to visit likes zombies. “Must go to Wall Drug, drink ice water. Eat rock candy.”
Wall Drug: home of free ice water, steam baths, and blow-jobs from horses.
I explained to him that it wasn’t worth stopping for. I remember going as a six year old and being unimpressed, which says a lot. Six year olds are entertained by sandboxes for Christ’s sake. Wall Drug is basically a glorified gas station with lots of old timey souvenirs for Midwestern rubes to spend their money on.
My only fond memory of Wall Drug is when my brother and I got the chance to lay our heads on the plastic boobs of a mannequin.
To help wake us from our Wall Drug stupors, I decided to put the Pixie’s “Doolittle” on. Soon we were both caught up in the music, nodding our heads and screaming alongside Frank Black and crew. With the Kim Deal’s booming bass-line pounding out the speakers, Paul shouted, “I wish I could inject the Pixies into my bloodstream!”
I don’t know if the Pixies ever wrote a bad song (I’m sure you could find one in their rarities, but those don’t count). I’ve always felt they are hugely underrated. I know, it’s not like they are some unknown, underappreciated geniuses like Slint or Neutral Milk Hotel, but I still don’t feel they get the credit they deserve. I know their song “Where is My Mind” is known by pretty much everyone on earth thanks to “Fight Club”, but I doubt the majority of the public would be able to tell you who sings it. They are even featured on several video games, but that’s not saying much since game makers always seem to throw us indies a bone (only “NCAA 2006” could make me sick of Guided By Voices “Teenage FBI”). I’m not claiming the Pixies are some little garage band that never made it, I just don’t think they get recognized for their genius. They are always referred to as influential, which is a nice sentiment and all, but they are more than influential; they’re fucking incredible.
Once the “Doolittle” greatness ended, we were forced to concentrate once again on the Wall Drug phenomenon, with signs coming every mile now. We had to escape this insanity.
Then, our savior appeared in the distance: The Badlands. Without much discussion, we pulled into the Badlands entrance, looking forward to an escape from the Wall Drug Menace. Despite the $15 dollar entry fee, we both agreed a change of scenery was in order. As we drove up to the first viewing area, we both sat quietly in awe. The bulbous rock hills of beige and crimson looked like something out of a Star Wars movie (pre-CGI). The sun was just beginning to set, which added to the grandeur of the land, casting a golden glow amidst the green grass, straining to grow at the foot of the mounds.
At one of the viewing points, there was a sign discussing how settlers used to try driving their stage coaches through the hilly terrain, hence the name “badlands”. After reading this tid-bit, I looked out onto the bumpy land and thought,” Damn our ancestors were stupid.”
I don't remember passing through these Badlands when playing Oregon Trail.
Back in the car, I put on some Neil Young (we didn’t have Springsteen’s “Badlands” on us) and soaked in the majestic terrain. Paul was so caught up in our surroundings that he suggested we just stop and camp for the night. I would have agreed, but I had a goal for the night. While researching micro-breweries for the trip, I came across a tiny little brewery called Crow’s Peak in Spearfish, South Dakota. My mind was set on the notion that we would end our first day of driving sipping on homemade brew in western South Dakota. Paul was concerned that we wouldn’t make it before closing time, but stubborn as I am, I stuck to my goal. “We will be drinking a beer by drive’s end.”
Paul said goodbye to the beautiful scenery by taking a piss.
As we were exiting the Badlands, still reeling in the brilliance of our surroundings, an antelope with antlers a foot long came running out into the road. As we sped toward the antelope, who decided to stop in the middle of the road, I suddenly awoke from my dream-land.
“AHHHH!” I screamed, swerving the wheel and slamming the brakes. The tires screeched in horror. Once at a complete stop, the antelope calmly trotted to the side of the road.
“Dude, why are you screaming like that?” Paul asked. I tried defending myself, but it was futile: I’m a puss.
Pulling out of the Badlands entrance, we saw the epic-center of evil right before us: Wall Drug. I pushed the pedal to the floor, hoping to speed past its mesmerizing powers. For some masochistic reason, I still kind of wanted to stop to check it out. Luckily, the thought of sipping a foamy beer helped me escape the evil clutches of South Dakota’s blackhole.
As our drive continued the land became a little easier to tolerate. Paul threw on the Beach Boy’s “Friends”, which I didn’t know how to take. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great songs, but the lyrics were pretty miserable. For example, on “When a Man Needs a Woman” Brian Wilson sings in a falsetto:
You know it makes you nervous
When you wait for your boy
You wait nine months for a bundle of joy
There’s a baby
Yes, there’s a baby about to be born
When a man needs a woman,
They make things like you, my son
This is by the same guy who wrote “Hang On To Your Ego”! What makes it more baffling is that “Friends” was released just two years after “Pet Sounds”. Those drugs really sunk Brian Wilson fast, at least the lyric writing part of his brain.
Around 7:30 we rolled into the Black Hills, with exits for Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Devil’s Tower popping up every few miles. Spearfish stood at least another 45 minutes away. Our chances of getting to the brewery in time were bleak (the website said it closed at eight). Paul asked if we should just camp in the Black Hills and do some sight seeing in the morning, but after eight hours in the car, I was becoming delirious and stubbornly stuck to my goal. “We’ve got to get to Spearfish,” I insisted.
We sped past the Black Hills, through Sturgis, and soon found ourselves at our destination around 8:15. Since I didn’t plan ahead and actually get directions to the brewery, we made a quick stop at a gas station where we were pointed in the right direction. After maneuvering through a residential area, we came upon what looked like a tiny barn sitting upon a giant clump of dirt. When we saw the sign, we knew we’d found the end to our day long journey. Once parked in front, we hopped out of the car and noticed the closed sign taunting us from the window.
“Damn it, it’s closed,” I said slamming my hand onto the hood.
“Wait, I think I see people inside,” Paul whispered. We tiptoed up the stairs and could see a bartender behind the bar and a girl sitting on a stool sipping on a mug of beer. I creaked open the door, realizing how ghoulish we must seem.
“Uh, hi. Are you guys open?” I asked shyly.
“Um, no, but if you guys want to have a beer that’s cool,” the young bartender replied. YES! Our goal had been attained after all! We didn’t haul ass for nothing. We both took a seat at the bar, and the bartender poured a couple of ice cold brews. Paul ordered up a stout and I asked for the IPA.
“You’re going to love the IPA, it’s the best I’ve ever had,” the girl said. I was so entranced by the beer that I had forgotten about the sole patron at the end of the bar. I looked over to find a cute brunette smiling over at us. She had a spunky, sophisticated look to her, reminding me of a young Parker Posey.
“Oh really? That’s saying a lot,” I joked. On cue, the bartender plopped the golden IPA before me. As I took a sip, the hoppy freshness soothed my parched tongue. This girl knew her beer. It wasn’t an over the top IPA with its perfect blend of hops and a crisp, fruity finish. I told her I agreed with her, and soon the four of us were chatting over our beers.
There was something about this girl I couldn’t put my finger on, a certain intensity. Whenever I’d talk she stare at me with the most captivated look, like she could see the words floating out of my mouth. I began to get the feeling she might be interested in me. Usually girls are staring blankly in the distance when I discuss beer, but she was unfazed by my rambling. When we told her that we were from out of town and doing a tour of breweries, she seemed even more interested in these two stinky nomads from the Midwest.
A few brews in, she began listing bars we should check out in Spearfish, and I began to wonder if she was suggesting places for Paul and I to go, or if she was inviting us to go with her. Every time she’d take a drink, I’d catch her eyes glancing at me from over the edge of her massive mug. Like something out of a “Wonder Years” episode, our eyes met and I could hear the entrancing organ intro of “Good Vibrations”, followed by Wilson’s voice:
Softly smile, I know she must be kind
When I look in her eyes
She goes with me to a blossom world
I’m pickin’ up good vibrations
She’s giving me excitations
I awoke from my dream-state when the bartender came around the bar and took a seat next to her. Right before my eyes, she stared at him with the same spellbound stare she had been aiming at me for the past 10 minutes. I was confused. Is she dating the bartender? Was she digging me until he cock-blocked me? Or is she just an attentive listener with everyone?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a boob I had been. A girl gives me an inkling of attention, and I think she’s instantly fallen for me. I let the beer wash away my internal embarrassment and continued with our conversation. In the end, I think that the bartender’s stomp upon my hopes was a good thing because I know longer had the need to be self-conscious: I could simply enjoying the South Dakota beer.
Our discussion went all over the place: beer, hiking, tourists, kayaking, and yes, even Wall Drug. Soon the bartender was enjoying our company so much he decided to let us have another round for free. We ordered a brown (amazing!) and a pale ale (only mediocre beer there), and continued our banter. He went on to tell us about the current hops shortage in the brewing community. I’ve heard about gas shortages but never a hops shortage. Due to the lack of affordable hops, we found out that the brew master at Crow’s Peak had been experimenting with spruce needles.
For the next hour, the four of us sat around sipping on some tasty beers and conversing like we’d known each other for years. I knew we’d be visiting many more breweries in the next few weeks, bigger and more well-known, but I doubted any would match the intimate experience we had at Crow’s Peak.