Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Patriotic Ice Cream with the Presidents, Adventures with Animals and a Place to Drink Freely; Part 2

The first thing I did after putting away my gear was to lock up my pistol according to the wishes of Jon and Sheena which we had discussed prior to my trip. The last thing this world needs is anyone else feeling anymore uncomfortable about firearms in any way, so I'm happy to oblige anyone who has a specific request regarding their personal space. Some people ask that I don't have firearms in their house, or in Mike's case, tell me never to come to their house without one. With what little we are able to control in regards to our own lives, each person has the right to dictate the rules of their personal space and how they share it. I packed my Sig Sauer away in my duffel bag and changed my clothes (which I had not done in the last 36 hours), threw on some deodorant and we set out towards downtown Rapid City for breakfast.

Downtown Rapid City is a joke more than anything, I didn't see any vomit, urine, feces or hypodermic needles anywhere on the sidewalks. There were a couple of street performers but they were clean and at least somewhat talented. All that aside, Abby was definitely on edge about the suspicious bronze statues they have of various presidents around town. When Brandy and I drove through last June, Abby started growling deeply out the window, after looking around, we figured out that the bronze figures were what bothered her. She never behaves that way when people approach the car, so I guess that she sensed the evil which flows from every politician that can attain high offices.

We went to a place called Tally's for our late breakfast, along the walk Jon loaned me his phone so that I could call Brandy and let her know I arrived, my phone was dead from all of the standby time. I was disappointed to find that the staff at Tally's did not count much of anything, in my mind everyone should dress up as The Count from Sesame Street and count things fanatically. The Count has always been my favorite character because he knows what he wants and he'll go to any length to get it. On one episode he locks himself out of his own castle just to count the knocks before someone comes to the door, that is true dedication to values.

I started off with some coffee and we all ordered crepes of a different variety, I had apple myself, and I showed Jon and Sheena how to do half and half shooters with coffee. Even though I only slept 1.5 hours out of the last 36, I felt fairly alert. I asked about the legality of 190 proof everclear in their state, which launched a discussion about what everclear was and how liquor was made. Every time I start to explain the mashing and distillation process, people seem to glaze over, but I think that I was able to effectively describe the process, more or less. I won't go into great detail here, but everclear is an alcoholic spirit which is made of pure, uncut and unaged grain alcohol. It comes in two varieties, one of which is 151 proof (75% alcohol) and the other is 190 proof (95% alcohol). It is basically the commercial version of moonshine. Several states allow the 151 version, but have outlawed the 190 proof version, but most of the states allow both. Washington does not allow either, which is strange because they do allow 151 proof rum and, most recently, absinthe. In any case, everclear is a great novelty it doesn't have any redeeming flavor qualities and it burns your throat, but it is very inexpensive and has a label on the bottle which warns you about flammability and a note which indicates that it is not intended to be consumed unless mixed.

One of the nearby street performers began playing The Rockford Files theme on his harmonica, which neither Jon or Sheena had heard of. I was disappointed because it reminded me of one of my favorite moments on the mid 90's sitcom "NewsRadio" where they call the home of Jimmy James, the radio station owner, to find that the greeting on his answering machine included the theme song to the The Rockford Files. You will have to watch both shows in order for that joke to be funny.

After breakfast we walked around downtown Rapid City for a little while. One back alley is filled entirely with graffiti based art which people continuously paint over old graffiti art with new graffiti art. There were some good pieces there, though the notion of spray paint artists has always bothered me, if they spent as much time learning a mainstream art skill, most of these people could gain a reputation as a credible artist. One person didn't even make a picture, they just painted in random quotes of bad philosophy. If I were the person who's painting had been covered with that, I would be very unhappy.

We continued to walk around downtown a little, then went back to the apartment to get the car and drive up to Mount Rushmore. Jon gave me the front seat since their Yaris is very compact, but I found the interior to be surprisingly roomy considering it's size and silly pirate name.

We stopped by a nearby liquor store, I wanted Jon to try a good Scotch and some 190 proof Everclear. The store was just an old house that was converted into a store, but the guy working there was kind enough to point out a better deal on the Everclear which saved me a few pennies. As friendly as he was, I suspect he only ran a liquor store to get a good discount for himself. It's funny what you can decide about people based on very limited experiences. I liked him to say the least.

We got out on Mt. Rushmore Road and started heading up towards the park, we had to stop for fuel along the way, and the gas station was near a tourist attraction that had a big sign labeled "Crazy Horse."

Jon and Sheena had not gone to this particular attraction, so we spent some time talking about what it might be, I surmised that it was a horse with a tragic back-story..... You see, he wasn't always crazy, he used to be a normal horse, liked running on the plains and chowing down on grass like any other horse, but then these tourist attraction people showed up, looking for a new crazy horse for their twisted show. They made him watch as they murdered his family, driving him mad, driven even further into insanity by the crowds of people who come to laugh at his misery. They probably only needed a new crazy horse because their last one commited Equinocide after years of torment. The story has all the makings of a new drama series where the horse becomes an edgy cop and takes revenge. In any case, we didn't stop to find out.

We went to Mt. Rushmore because Jon and Sheena already had an Annual pass, last year when Brandy and I were traveling through, we decided that $10 was a lot to pay for something we could see just fine from the highway. It is an interesting monument, but the pictures are truly much more impressive than the monument itself.

I don't know what more you can do at the base of four giant heads carved into the side of a small mountain, so I guess it seems fitting that they have an ice cream bar at the entrance to the visitor's center. I would have expected higher prices, but I believe waffle cones were $2.75 and soft serve cones were $2.50, it made me wonder if the cost of the cones was subsidized by the federal government as so many other things are without reason. The design of the line and payment counter made it easy for people to walk off without paying, you ordered your ice cream, then collected it and had to walk around the corner and to the far end of the counter to pay, the station there was only monitored part of the time and in the large crowd, I imagine confused tourists must walk off frequently thinking their spouse took care of payment when nobody demanded cash for the goods they received.

We left the mountain of heads to drive deeper into the national park. Along the way we passed through a series of tunnels which had been designed so that you could see Mt. Rushmore through them when you were on the opposite side. Sheena seemed to enjoy honking the horn as she passed through the tunnels too much. The road was very windy going up and down steep hillsides, at some points narrowing to single lanes due to the steepness of the hill. We had a short discussion about Franklin D. Roosevelt as we drove, but the conversation was cut short when I noticed piles of dry tree limbs stacked in very close proximity to each other. I asked if the forestry service was planning to intentionally burn the trees, Sheena replied that they were made by land beavers, I laughed a lot and the conversation degraded as we all made ridiculous suppositions about land beaver shanty towns like this one.

We continued our trip through the park's "wildlife loop" which is a lot like traveling through a compact version of Yellowstone. Sheena brought along some old hot dog buns to feed to the wild Burros which congregate near a parking lot and get very fat doing so, but before we got there we passed by some Bison on the road side.

You can see two bison in the distance to the left of the road.

These pictures aren't up to my normal standard of quality, but considering how quickly they were snapped as we drove by, with little more than a second to take the picture, they aren't too bad.

We got to the Burros and fed them the hot dog buns. There are some particularly fat ones that tend to push the others out of the way to try getting as much as they can. In one instance the car was completely surrounded and Sheena wanted me to feed my last piece of bun to a juvenile who looked skinny. I began to call it over, but one of the larger ones butted it's head in, Sheena reached over with another piece to try to distract it, but took it away when it moved over. I gave my piece to the baby, but the large adult was visibly unhappy at Sheena's trick and began to look like it was going to scream. Sheena threw the last piece of bun at it and I closed the window quickly, then we drove off. I was glad not to have a donkey screech directly in my ear.

Here is a picture of one of the smaller Burros.

We continued on the "loop" seeing more bison and at another parking area, there was another group of Burros. At the end of that parking area two ladies were petting a donkey, and they seemed to be unaware of the fact that he had a massive erection, he apparently liked them a lot.

The last thing we saw on our way out of the park was something I had not seen before in person, and I'm glad that I can cross it off my virtual list now, which is Bighorn sheep. The disappointing part is that it was summer, so they did not have big horns, but they were definitely sheep, even though they look a lot more like goats.

Here is a picture of two that were running along the road side.

We left the park and headed toward Custer, where we were going to have dinner at the home of Jon and Sheena's friend Katie.

Custer is a very small town, not entirely unlike the place I grew up, aside from the total lack of sea-water. Just past the driveway we went up there was one of those "you are speeding asshole!" signs, which did more than just tell you the speed you were going, if you were going faster than the speed limit, bright yellow strobes would flash as well.

Katie made burgers, bratwursts, potatoes and corn on the cob for everyone and she had a large Weimaraner who was very friendly and playful, I've always liked this particular dog breed, but never knew the name of the breed. I had a bratwurst and a burger, which I had to convince Katie to allow me to take prior to the point when she thought it would be cooked enough. I've always enjoyed burgers more when they were just a bit less than well done anyway. After eating I didn't realize it but Sheena pointed out that I had not been talking much, which was in stark contrast to the car-ride where I was surprisingly talkative for someone who had taken no serious sleep in the last 36 hours.

I was feeling a little tired after the meal, though I was amused at the dog which kept checking the plate which I had set on the deck, hoping to find some tiny crumbs that he had not collected in the last three or four passes. Eventually I went inside to throw the plate away, when I came back out everyone but Jon and Sheena had gotten up to do something else. I suggested that we make a game of watching the speeding sign which we could see through the trees. I'm not sure exactly how it would work out, but it would involve some system of guessing and betting.

At this point I decided to call Brandy to wish her goodnight and let her know what I had been up to so far. I walked out to the car to make the call and noticed two large deer standing in the neighbor's yard. They watched me closely while Brandy and I talked. Eventually they decided that they weren't certain about my presence, so they left, I wished Brandy goodnight and grabbed the bottles of everclear and scotch I purchased earlier to bring inside.

Jon never had everclear so I convinced him to take a sip with me before I poured us some scotch on the rocks. Jon has never appreciated hard liquor fully, but I've been working on him for several years and to his credit he is definitely trying to embrace it. I went over the proper technique for drinking scotch, explaining that I liked to add twice the amount of ice that I do scotch, instead of mixing water in directly. I find that allowing the ice to melt gives you more time to enjoy the perfect blend of scotch, and the fact that you add so much ice keeps it colder so it doesn't change as fast. Every time I try to order whiskey this way at a restaurant they just bring me a glass of whiskey with ice in it. Maybe next time I'll try ordering straight whiskey and a separate glass full of ice. I instructed Jon to breath in before the sip, take a small taste, swallow, then exhale thoroughly to completely enjoy the flavor and to keep yourself from inhaling sharp fumes and coughing. He said it wasn't too bad and eventually did finish the whole glass, over time I think he'll come around fully.

After finishing those drinks we got back into the car and drove a few blocks to the center of Custer where they were having some sort of charity street party event. It was a BYOB event, put on by the local police department, so we stopped by a gas station to buy some alcohol for the event. After looking through their selection, Jon and I chose a six pack of Natural (Natty) Ice tallboys, which ran us a total of $4.50. Beer prices in central states are excellent by the way, even if they only sell the weakest watery beer in the country. Sheena was disappointed in Jon for stooping to the level of a hobo, but after a few exaggerated "aww c'mon" type exclamations, she relented to only telling Jon that he wasn't her boyfriend anymore.

The band just did lots of covers, a few of them were OK. I specifically remember a couple of CCR songs which weren't too bad, but on the whole they were a little too loud, so we found a far corner of the roped off parking lot to make our spot. It was still hard enough to hear that a group conversation was not possible, so most of the time it was just Jon and I talking about things over our six pack of Natty. Since talking about all sorts of things is what Jon and I do best together, it was a very enjoyable chance to catch up. Jon finished his first beverage before I did, probably because a lack of sleep and addition of alcohol tends to make me talk more, but I started my third just before he started his. At that point, I think we were just buzzed enough to enjoy talking too much, so when everyone else decided it was time to go, we were only about 25% done with our third drinks. We decided that we couldn't waste it, so since Sheena was driving, we drank them in a couple of minutes and were on our way.

We stopped at Katie's house to drop her off, then took a series of freeways on what seemed like an eternal drive to Wal-Mart. At this point it was around 12:00AM and we were going to Wal-Mart because in an earlier discussion, Jon and Sheena were talking about picking up an air conditioner for their apartment. I estimated that the smallest unit available would probably cool their whole place. There was also some concern about the lack of grounded electrical outlets available. I had volunteered to help Jon ground one to make it work, and also suggested that they could use an adapter as long as they didn't leave it unattended in case static electricity were to build up and have nowhere to go, coming out of the wires as heat instead. I guess we talked about it enough that they decided to go for it. Since a visit to Wal-Mart can't get any better than one you have at 12:30AM with a buzz, I was excited about the notion.

Though the trip seemed to take an eternity, the conversation was very enjoyable. I'm fairly certain that I spoke too passionately on a few subjects that bother me greatly when I'm less tired and intoxicated, but I think that everyone was fairly pleased with the discussions. I don't remember all of the specifics, but I know we touched on subjects of materialism and wedding planning.

When we arrived at the Wal-Mart, Jon and I needed to use the restroom, so Sheena went ahead to explore the land of air conditioners. I remember making lots of jokes and laughing a lot, but I don't think any of it was probably that funny. I can't say for sure since at this point I was beginning to feel very sleepy and couldn't think much beyond that. It took us a few minutes to find Sheena, the air conditioner section was divided up strangely and I guess Sheena was standing between aisles because we walked by a couple of times before finding her. After some deliberation, they selected a unit and after picking up some flour for tomorrow's breakfast, we were on our way. I carried the air conditioner out to the car on my shoulder, I'm not sure why I didn't use a cart, but I think it was because we didn't get one to begin with and I carried it through the store as well, but I'm not completely certain in any case.

We drove back to their apartment and were greeted by their noisy and young cat Pavel. The moment I arrived that morning, he started a non-stop meowing fit. He was mostly meowing at me, but also at Jon and Sheena sometimes, he didn't seem to want anything because he had food and water and was not eager for attention. It wasn't really annoying, it was just strange. We were all very tired by now, so we agreed that the air conditioner setup could wait until the morning and we all went to bed.

I found the couch much more comfortable than the ground or concrete table that I slept on the day before (It was around 2:30am by the time we went to bed, so it was Sunday). The only problem was that my arm would hang over the edge, which eventually led to my arm falling asleep. I woke up after a couple of hours with a cold, dead appendage where my left arm used to be. I rolled over and repositioned, but it took some time for my arm to regain feeling and functionality. I prefer this type of circulation loss much more than a minor one where you get the feeling of a thousand needles poking you at once.

Up until this point I didn't feel any real stiffness from the trip, but wasn't surprised to find that after a bit of sleep I was tense and sore. I went back to sleep and woke up about 4 hours later to Pavel going ape-shit on a plastic Wal-Mart bag that he found and liberated from the contents that held it down. I didn't recognize the sound at first truthfully, I was sleeping so hard that I woke up in one of those hazes where I just stared trying to figure out what was happening. After about 20 seconds of this, he finally came running out, dragging the bag with one of his front paws. His hobbled run/hop reminded me of the way that apes run when they drag something, keeping one paw in the loop of the bag with the other three jumping and twisting high to avoid stepping on the bag.

I laughed and he ran back into Jon and Sheena's bedroom. This was followed by something along the lines of a "What the fuck Pavel?" and the noise of the bag being taken away.

It was still early, so I fell asleep again quickly, but woke up what I estimate was about two hours later because the sun was completely out and very bright. Apparently sunlight was only enough to get myself and Pavel out of bed, so I spent some time working on my return trip plan. Instead of taking I-90 all the way back, I decided to follow 90 North until it went just past Spearfish, then head up US-212, crossing through only 20 miles of Wyoming in the very North East corner. This reduced the trip by about 100 miles, and I assumed that riding a country highway for a while would be much more enjoyable than the Interstate.

After I set my checkpoints for refueling and printed out my directions, I got up to make crepes, which I had promised to show Jon and Sheena how to make after discovering yesterday that they both enjoyed crepes but had never made them. They were both sleeping, so I decided to make them anyway in the hopes that they would get up before I was done, allowing me to demonstrate.

I started by making the blackberry filling. They bought frozen blackberries at Wal-Mart the night before, which turned out (unsurprisingly) to be very bitter. I put them in a sauce pan over low heat to defrost them. Once defrosted I added sugar to extract the juices. The juice came out very easily, but it was still quite tart, so I spooned in sugar until it was more bearable. In general, I think I should have made it sweeter, but after adding as much sugar as I had, I didn't want to go overboard and make it too sweet or simply use too much sugar.

After the blackberries and juice started to boil, I turned the heat way down and added flour to thicken it. This is where I think it tipped back over the edge of slightly too bitter, but the blackberries were just too juicy to use alone without anything else such as cottage cheese or whipped cream.

The filling was done and the crepe pan was hot enough (one of the keys to making crepes effectively is very slow heat), so I started ladeling the batter onto the pan, even though Jon and Sheena were still in bed. Pavel was keeping me company, every time that I opened a cabinet, he would rush in and hide in the far back. At one point, I didn't see him get into the cabinet and shut him in it, realizing a few minutes later what had happened because he was no longer circling and meowing. The same thing happened every time I opened the refrigerator, he was always perched and ready to slip in wherever I was.

I made some coffee with which we could have some irish cream, another something that I was astonished to find neither Jon or Sheena had tried, but I was mostly making the coffee for me since I knew neither of them had any strong affinity for the brew.

After I finished making enough crepes for both of them, I walked over to their room and woke them up by announcing the fact that their food was ready. I had one of my crepes "suzette" with butter, lemon juice and a sprinkling of sugar and one with the blackberry filling.

Once breakfast was finished, I took a long overdue shower and changed into fresh underwear and a long sleeved shirt. I had been wearing shorts from the moment I arrived until now, but had to change back into my one pair of jeans that I brought. They weren't smelly, but they did have a a collection of bug guts on them. Since they would only be collecting more, I didn't think it would matter much.

When I came out, Jon and I unpacked the air conditioner and put it in the window. Due to their odd style of window, and the fact that there were two sets of windows, made it hard to position the air conditioner. They didn't have anything else to use, so we put the air conditioner on some of the styrofoam that it was packed with. I told Jon and Sheena that they could get wood cut to custom lengths at most hardware stores for free, so they could set a 2x4 in place for the cost of the 2x4 (usually $1.99).

It was summer and we were in South Dakota, so it was already at least 90 degrees outside by that time, so I spent a few minutes cooling off in front of the air conditioner before packing up my things. Since I had been in and out of my bags frequently, I started by taking everything out of my saddlebags and duffel, then putting them back in the bag which made the most sense, putting things I would use frequently at the top of my saddle bags. This wasn't hard because I didn't need access to very much while I was actively riding.

I put all the bags on the bike, unlocked my pistol, reloaded it and placed it back in the pocket of my concealment vest. Since my Northern route would be taking me up and over Wyoming, I didn't need to worry about my CPL being invalid on the ride home. I said goodbye, made a last check to verify that I got everything, started my bike and rolled it out onto the sidewalk I rode in on just one day before.

This concludes part 2 of my story, part 3 will consist of my entire journey home. It took me a long time to complete part 2 due to the lack of time I could dedicate to it on my lunch breaks. I hope to finish part 3 in a shorter time frame so that I can go on writing about whatever else I fancy when I have spare time.