I drive across western South Dakota on I-90 often enough to notice when a gas station changes brands, a rest area gets a new hand dryer, or one of the Black Hills attractions puts up a new billboard. (When you've finished your audio book and the alphabet game is your primary source of entertainment and alertness, those billboards are important.)
Even so, it took me a minute last week to realize what was wrong at the Murdo exit.
The long green car was gone.
For as long as I can remember, Exit 192 at the edge of Murdo has been marked by a huge billboard advertising the South Dakota Auto Museum. The billboard, topped by an impossibly long green antique car, has been one of the landmarks of I-90 travel for decades. It certainly has been there as long as I've been driving across the state.
It probably was there the only time I've actually visited the Auto Museum, but unfortunately I can't remember. I was about six or seven at the time, and the only thing I remember about the trip was being unkindly teased by my older sister and even older cousin. The cars themselves apparently didn't make much of an impression.
As an adult, living in the Black Hills with family in the eastern part of the state, most of my stops at Murdo have only been quick ones on my way to somewhere else.
Last Sunday, though, I noticed the empty space along Highway 83 even before I turned off the interstate to drive into Murdo. The billboard was a splintered mess along the edge of the road, with the green car a crumpled wreck beside it. Apparently the most recent round of severe storms to sweep across the area had been too much for the elderly sign.
Driving past the wreck, I looked as closely as I could while still maintaining the dignity and respect appropriate to the recent demise of a public figure. I've wondered from time to time over the years how much, if any, of the sign had been built from a real car body. It looked as if the front end, at least, was an actual car, but I couldn't tell for sure. Inquiring minds—or this inquiring mind, anyway—would like to know.
In the meantime, I hope they rebuild the sign, and soon. I'll even promise to visit the museum if they do. Especially if the new sign includes the word "antique." Along that part of I-90, particularly heading east, the billboard game really needs that "q."