WEDNESDAY, JULY 20, 2016
This morning we had a housekeeping item to take care of before we left town. Now that the light of the day was upon the car, and us, we had a much clearer idea of the murderous bug weapon that we were soaring in the night before. My windshield and the grill of my car proved to be a tragic crime scene. There was too much splattering on the glass that it made it difficult to see. Thomas being the seasoned driver and smart individual that he is, made it a priority to remove the bugs and he knew precisely what he needed. He was on the hunt for an auto parts-accessories store for a product that would clean the glass of such a mess. Once he punched in a few searches on his phone, he was set on his mission. Meanwhile, my only assignment was to find someplace to eat with breakfast food, preferably a pancake house. The place I selected, from the parking lot did not look too inviting. After we glanced at each other, Thomas made the call and said no. It wasn’t too long before we got to our destination of the auto store and at least Thomas was successful completing his task.
We stopped to get something to eat since my pancake hunt was a bust. We chose Applebee's. It was lunchtime and crowded, but we were seated fairly quickly. I was facing the doorway and noticed that at the hostess stand were several young female workers. Asian and assuming from same country; they were at least speaking the same language. This always fascinates me. To be in a rural community where the overwhelming majority of the population is white, yet there is such a conspicuous minority immigrant population growing, always fills my mind with questions. How did they get here? How many other people made the journey before they felt satisfied with their new American life to become the freedom beacon for those back in their home country? What was the experience that brought that first person or family here?
Our waitress was Tammy. After we put our order in, we talked and pontificated about the project until our food arrived. When Thomas’ salad was set on the table, he did a quick inspection of it. By the eyebrows hovering above his glasses, I gathered something was amiss. Heavy-handedly sprinkled on his salad were bacon bits. He is a vegetarian. Bit or not, he wants no parts. He told one of the waitresses that checked on us that it was no mistake on anyone's part but he would like a salad without bacon. He didn't know there was bacon on the salad; consequently he didn't know to say "no bacon." As quickly as his salad was whipped away, the salad came back. Thomas thoroughly inspected again. To his dismay (and perhaps no surprise), they had only picked off the top visible layers of bacon bits. He calmly pushed it aside, dismissing it. Due to the major mix up, our waitress gave us free dessert. They were very overly generous and apologetic. I wonder if they expected us to get irate.
Now that we were well fed, minus one salad and ready to move on, we still had to finish addressing the bug situation. A pit stop to the gas station was needed to spray the windshield one more time, squeegee it down and take it through the car-wash. Mind you, all this time Thomas is in complete control, doing the work as I simply followed his orders. I knew this process would take a while after seeing the line of cars for the car-wash. Instead of staying in the car, I decided to stay out front and use this opportunity to make a phone call while I had some privacy, time and quiet. I was on the phone for a while, excited to hear the voice on the other end, even if it was brief. When my conversation ended, I started casually looking around the front of the store of the gas station for Thomas. For some reason, standing directly in front of the gas station made the car wash feel another state away. I doubt I looked that confused, but a guy asked me if I was lost. It seemed peculiar to me. Strangely I wonder if he thought I was a prostitute or something? Thomas pulls back up from the car wash and a guy waved as he walked past our car. Are people not used to seeing black folks, or are they genuinely that nice or am I that paranoid? Or perhaps as my mother is known to do when asked an either or question, I will answer, “yes,” as if all qualifying.
During some part of the navigation, Thomas discovered that Devil’s Lake was the home of a State Park called Grahams Island. We decided that since we were close and it was called Grahams Island and my grandparents are the Graham(s) and we are all the way out here in the middle of North Dakota working on a documentary about them, we had to go. Little did we know how visually spectacular the trip would be to get to the park. Thomas knew from the GPS map that we would eventually be on a two-way road that would be surrounded on both sides by water. To the side, solitary stark trees, all trunk and grey, stuck in the middle of a bay, almost strewn about. Straight off the pages of a Dr. Seuss book, the landscape became faintly bizarre. I know I didn’t expect this in North Dakota.
After a few stops for pictures on the road, we made it to the entrance of Grahams Island State Park. It was pretty busy for midweek. Several people were towing their boats to launch, others were cleaning their catch at the station and there was a large construction crew digging. Some like us were entering simply to meander about. I put my money in the envelope for our entry fee and went inside the station for a map of the park. The map was not that easy to follow so we drove around on the one road in the park wandering. We found a quiet hidden place where there was a large, empty pavilion facing the water. It was only once we got out of the car that we realized that we had entered a swarm of dragonflies. From our vantage point all the way to the water’s edge, there was nothing but flying bodies occupying every inch of the air, buzzing back and forth in a disorderly manner. If anyone were squeamish or afraid of bugs or anything flying, this was the place you would have lost your cool and retreated back to the safety of your car in a frightening panic. At that particular moment, I was not sure if I fell in that category. Most people see 2 dragonflies at the most at any given time, that I knew I could handle.
Since the plan was to go to the water’s edge to investigate and perhaps fly the drone, we decided we would go for it and see what happened. Now is not the time to look like a chump, especially not over bugs that don’t sting or bite. I took a deep breath, pulled up my “big girl pants,” and we trudged through. There is no other way to describe it besides it being the parting of the seas. For the mass of dragonflies, it was inconceivable that not one flew into me and I was able to walk all the way to the water unscathed. It’s as if we had some invisible force field around us that deflected them. The mosquitoes on the other hand, were not affected by this shield and had their way with us. We passed the freak out test and Thomas collected the drone and we casually walked back and forth through the swarm and filmed and flew at the water and left.
Roused by the drone flight over the water, Thomas wanted to fly the drone at the two-way road that brought us into the park. His plan was to shoot similarly to the flight in Alaska over the Alaskan Highway; I am driving and he is controlling the drone from the inside for an aerial shot. Once we got off the bend of the road and were at the end of the straight away, we pulled over in the narrow shoulder and he got the drone ready for flight while I got in the driver’s seat. I followed his orders for the speed. We practically had the road to ourselves. Everything was going well until he exclaimed, “stop the car!” I slammed on the breaks and before I could even ask, he was out of the car, in a running, hastened pace. The drone was still flying but slightly off the road in the wrong direction, over the small patch of grass and rock that separated us from the water. Suddenly, I see the drone drop a fraction of a second before he got there. From a distance, I couldn’t tell if it dropped in the water or in the rocks. Either way, I felt horrible. Here he is using this expensive equipment on this project and it could be destroyed. In a few minutes, he comes walking back with it, like a wounded bird. He explained to me that the gimbal was broken and all was not lost, but it would now be out of commission and was in need of repair. Apparently the drone is programmed to fly, “home,” it’s original point of origin of flight and it is not something that one can override easily.
Some time was spent mourning the loss of the drone. I felt guilt ridden and had a lump in my throat for a while. Thomas sent an email to the company about the override feature because he had issue with it before. It was time to head back on the road. Our stop today was Rugby, North Dakota, the geographical center of North America. Like Lake Carlos State Park, this was another of the places that the Grahams had documented that I could visit. You would think that for such a title as the “geographical center of the North America,” that there would be a lot of hoopla around this marker. When we got there it was almost anti climatic except for the fact that this is part of the project and I am at another place that the Grahams had set foot. There in the parking lot of the Rancho Grande restaurant off of Highway 2 stood an obelisk made of stacked stone marking the spot. It is safe to say that if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you may have easily driven right past. We parked and got the cameras out and proceeded to take several rounds of pictures and film. While we were doing this, a man and a young girl scurried across the highway and walked towards us. In her small hands was an old wooden milk crate with several lovely flower arrangements peaking out of each compartment in their own green glass soda bottles. Smiling, as he got closer, the man asked if we would like him to take a picture of both of us and we gladly agreed. He took our picture, much like the one of my grandparents, with a person flanking each side of the sign. When he returned the camera, we made our rounds of introductions. Mike and his daughter Mya were selling their wild flowers at the farmer's market across the street. They always bring over what they don't sell to Rancho Grande, where the restaurant will use them as centerpieces for the tables. Mike was really engaged and asked where we were from and where we were going. Mya was quietly standing at his side with her strawberry blond hair in a bob and matching strawberry colored round cheeks. He suggested we see the Painted Canyon on the way to the Badlands. The Rancho Grande Mexican restaurant was highly recommended too.
In the car, driving on the long ribbon roads, we turned tuned in to a public radio station and caught the start of NPR’s, “On Point.” The topic couldn’t have been timed any better for us to hear. “Hey Kids! Go Outside, Already.” Today’s guests were Dr. Scott Sampson, author of, "How To Raise A Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling In Love With Nature," and Erin Kenny, author of, "Forest Kindergartens: The Cedarsong Way." Scott dropped some statistics that were staggering: on average, children only spend 4-7 minutes a day outside but put in 10 hours on screens. The most difficult of all these facts to hear is that this is the first generation where the children's life expectancy is shorter than their parents. Times have changed, but not always for the better. I think about how much of a challenge it is to get my niece and nephew outdoors and how different their relationship with nature is to mine when I was their age. Technology has made kids and adults screen zombies. When I was a child, I ran the streets, literally. I was in the yard, or roller skating, or riding my bike or fishing around in the creek behind the house or just walking with my friends. The only stipulation to my free play was that I needed to be back before it got dark, but you didn’t dare come in any later. Everything that the guests said was true and right to the heart of the matter. The lack of interest to free play outdoors is such a paramount and multi layered topic that I will let the two authors speak for themselves. Listen to “Hey Kids! Go Outside, Already.”
On Route 14 South, there are no cars for miles. Out of nowhere, as if a mirage, a car with gleaming halogen lamp eyes comes speeding up the road. Cadillac, grill chrome, smoked out windows...brother leaned back on the inside. Not what I was expecting, but I love seeing the unexpected. By the time we get to the next big city of Bismarck, North Dakota, we stop to eat a late dinner at Olive Garden. Both of the hostesses were mature women with frosted blond hair. Perhaps it is a Bismarck thing. I am not passing judgment; I am merely an observer of the world. It is something that I don’t see often and it caught my eye. Another observation I made was that of 3 young black men working at the restaurant. My guess was that they were African. Wouldn’t know what country and wouldn’t pretend to guess, but I am assuming that the circumstances of their working here wouldn't be any different than the young women from Applebee's this afternoon. Our waitress Kayla was totes adorbs. Early 20s. Super blond. Super sweet. Kayla told us we were a “Class A" table. We are so chill people clearly don't know what to do, but we will take the compliments. There must be a bunch of high-strung customers at restaurants. The meal was satisfying and a nice break from the car. Outside something wicked was looming in the sky. In the distance the lightning was giving a true performance and was as tremendous as the large clouds that concealed its full power.
The day was coming to its end. It was time to get to our stop for the night. The things that you see people hauling on the road are always riveting. On Route 94, we witnessed a triple haul. It was a pickup pulling a trailer pulling a U-Haul with a motorcycle. That is a lot of towing going on. I wish them luck. Last but not least on another road related riveting topic. On this day, my car was officially named Amelia, for Amelia Earhart. Although not crossing the Atlantic Ocean like her namesake, considering the miles we were putting on her on this first of many road trips, it seemed appropriate. With her new name, she now had to have a nickname of A Milli (Lil Wayne). 22 miles outside of Dickinson, North Dakota we crossed the Mountain Time Zone and there were still rays of the sun shooting across the horizon. In a matter of a second, my future self had turned into my current self. Time zones are such curious things and seem arbitrary. I know someone who travels all the time, around the world, 12 hours ahead, 4 hours back. I think of him as a time traveler, who based on his own admission, is exhausted from losing and gaining his future and present self, or as I have said to him, “he doesn’t know his ass from his elbow.” Like magic, all the electronics made the switch from Central to Mountain Time. Our final destination was Dickinson. The first hotel was booked and they directed us to their affiliate across the street. On the drive over, we passed many other hotels with full parking lots. What's popping in Dickinson on a Wednesday night?