There were the snippets in and on our way to Iowa. The way Ty chuckled when my mom attempted a joke. The way Zoë instructed me on how to properly (and provocatively) consume a Push Pop. When we laughed about "Existential Jeopardy" and Carly Rae Jepsen. When Zoë critiqued Ty's driving, to which Ty responded with false arrogance, "Please, Zoë, a MAN is driving." The sharing and wordless passing of a package of Oreos. Conversations about politics and literature, and about how our respective reading material smelled: fragile, old, developed, fresh. And remembering that, if we girls fell asleep in the car, we could trust Ty to get us somewhere, anywhere.
Immediately after crossing into South Dakota, we were bombarded with billboards advertising Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota. And though we were still hundreds of miles from Wall and from the Badlands, the billboards stayed with us. Followed us for miles and miles and miles, increasing in frequency and oddity. They advertised FREE ICE WATER and that Wall Drug was A ONCE IN A LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY. And despite knowing that Wall Drug would be a tourist trap, we planned to stop.
And earlier in the day, we had paused in Mitchell, home of the Corn Palace. We made time for an "awkward family photo" and listened, bemused, as Ty spewed puns ("Has anyone ever been stalked at the Corn Palace?" "I'd be a-maized.")
Back in the car, Ty turned down the music to ask Siri, "Where's a good place in South Dakota to get exotic meats?" He looked at his phone for the results, but paused before sharing its finds. "Well," he said in a particular cadence that left us howling, "one of the five places listed is an Arby's."
It was still just the beginning of our journey. But under the gray sky, between Mitchell and Wall, we were stopped by a state trooper, which Zoë adequately documented.
The trooper was more polite than most of his Indiana compatriots - he smiled, told us he'd pulled us over for speeding, asked for license and registration and proof of insurance, wanted to know where we were heading (Yellowstone). "Oh, you're on vacation?"
He asked Ty to go to his patrol car to see his speed. Ty returned after a couple of minutes, which Dawn and I spent debating the odds of a ticket and discussing the trooper's nice manners.
"Well, that was one of the nicest troopers I've ever met," Ty said upon returning, shuffling documents.
We agreed. "Did he give you a warning?"
"No. Ticket. 83 in a 75," he replied. "The usual spiel. They're trying to keep everyone safe, it's for my own safety." He recited the rest of the ticket script. "Oh, and he thought you were my wife," he dropped in Dawn's direction, almost an afterthought.
"Yeah, he asked, 'So is that the Mrs. and kiddie?'"
"He thought I was your CHILD?" I asked incredulously, my voice rising with indignation. "SERIOUSLY?"
Ty confirmed as Dawn laughed hysterically.
It has been two hours and this is already another running joke; Dawn has scolded me for inattention, Ty has threatened to pull over the car, I've sworn frequently with vehement mock outrage.
Ty is still going 5 mph over the speed limit, straight toward heavy gray clouds and endless flat horizon.
And finally, after Mitchell, after Wall Drug, after unfortunate phone calls and shit-shooting and chagrin, we reached the Badlands. And as Zoë said, the Badlands are "a wholly inadequate name for a place that dwarfs all our petty human problems. For all the space, there's no room for anger or sadness."Catch up with the first part of the trip, a visit to the Henry Doorly Zoo.