Signs that you’ve made a lot of trips across western South Dakota on Interstate 90 in the past few months:
1. You notice when Reptile Gardens updates one of its billboards or Cosmos puts up a new one, and you consider either one an addition to the scenery.
2. You always use your “own” habitual bathroom stall when you stop at a rest area.
3. You have the preset buttons on your car radio set to three different South Dakota public radio stations and know exactly where one will fade out and you need to switch to another. You also schedule your travel time around your preferred programming.
4. You recognize individual horses in pastures along I-90, and you’re starting to imagine you can recognize individual cows.
5. You’ve considered getting preferred customer cards for the truck stops at Murdo and Vivian.
6. If you play the billboard alphabet game, you know exactly where to start it in order to take advantage of the J’s and Q’s on certain specific signs.
7. You remember when that deer carcass near Belvidere, now a bit of dried skin over a few bones, was fresh road kill.
8. You don’t bother to bring an audio book to listen to while you drive, because you don’t consider 275 miles a long trip.
9. You can estimate your gas mileage quite accurately based on the direction and velocity of the wind, including an automatic adjustment for driving east (downhill) versus west (uphill). You’ve learned to assume that the wind will blow from the southeast when you’re driving east and from the northwest when you’re driving west. If the wind isn’t blowing at all, you consider it an unexpected gift. If you happen to get a tailwind, you consider it a minor miracle.
10. Despite all the tricks and gimmicks to make the miles go faster, you still don’t take the view for granted. You notice and appreciate, not just the glorious splendor of sunsets that spread across half the sky, but also the subtle beauty of light and shadow across low hills. For someone who grew up there, a trip across the prairie and a chance to see miles of it reaching to the far horizon isn’t a long and boring drive. It’s refreshment for the soul.