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  Field Notes From
Great Plains

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From Author

John G. Mitchell

Great Plains On Assignment

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From Photographer

Jim Richardson

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Brian Strauss


Great Plains

Field Notes From Author
John G. Mitchell

Best Worst Quirkiest
    What's best about the Great Plains?  The wall-to-wall sky might be counted a contender.  Or maybe the way the floor of that sky lies awash with amber waves of grain.  There's a lot to like about the look and feel of this region, once the outlander gets used to it (and some unlucky visitors never do).  But to my way of thinking, the very best of the Plains are its people, by and large the warmest, friendliest, most forthright folks I've ever had the pleasure of meeting anywhere in these United States.  Okay, that's one whopper of a generalization, and I deplore the idea of regional stereotypes.  Didn't much like it when, as a longtime resident of New York City, I was often and unjustly reminded that New Yorkers are the unfriendliest people in the world; or when, as a citizen of Massachusetts, I was denounced by New Yorkers as a frosty, uptight Yank.  (Hey! I'm just a guy-o from Ohio!)  No matter.  I'm here to sing the praises of the people of the Plains. They made my days.

    I was prepared for the worst, but this time I was lucky.  I missed it; or, rather, the worst missed me.  I mean weather.  I mean tornadoes, hailstorms, headwinds, vernal blizzards, blinding dust.  Over the course of the two or three sorties I needed to put this piece together, I can't recall but one or two days of meteorological inconvenience, and minor ones at that.  But minor inconvenience wasn't the case on previous visits or assignments to the Plains.  Once, in Oklahoma, a dust storm forced me off the highway for half a day.  On another occasion, in eastern New Mexico, the powder-puff sky turned suddenly black and chased us, under prevailing westerlies, for a hundred miles (160 kilometers).  Electricity was in the air.  That evening we managed to hole up in a High Plains motel before the lights went out.  When they came back on a few hours later, the TV announced that a twister had leveled three whole blocks, next town over in the Texas Panhandle. 

    Traveling I-90E from Rapid City, South Dakota, you're in for a treat.  Keep your eye peeled for the exit to Wall (population 800).  Why Wall?   Because it sits at the edge of an escarpment where the Plains butt up against the Badlands.  But that's not why you'll want to go there.  You'll want to go there to get a free glass of ice water at Wall Drugstore, the capital of kitsch, the craziest collage of cool in the U.S.A.  The Wall—all 50,000 square feet (4,600 square meters) of it—is not your grandmother's drugstore.  This one is part bookstore, art gallery, Western apparel emporium, café (buffalo burgers, you bet!), and doodad salon.  Get your plaster rattlesnake, rubber spider, life-size jackalope (that nonexistent cross between a jackrabbit and an antelope).  The Wall is said to invest $300,000 a year promoting itself, mainly with signs and billboards in places near and far.  One sign sits in Antarctica, announcing that Wall Drugstore is only 10,645 miles (17,131 kilometers) away.  (Full disclosure: The Wall invested nothing in this writer or in this space—not counting one free glass of ice water.)


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