In the mean time the sun had dipped over the horizon and the temperature was less dipping, more plummeting past freezing. We headed back to the car park, loaded the dog in the trunk and drove back to Brookings. Gray’s house was cosy and warm; him and his wife had a wide range of hobbies and their home reflected various aspects in piles of papers, books, craftwork and pictures; a clutter of sorts but one of richness rather than laze. I settled in a chair with a cup of tea and soaked up this atmosphere. When you have been away from your own home for any period and staying in a comfortable but sterile lodgings you feel privileged to be brought into someone’s own space like this and realise the world over, home is home.
Gray offered me a choice of restaurants; I soon eliminated the chains; I’d had Applebees elsewhere and although one or two of the chain eateries in Sioux Falls had been perfectly pleasant I thought, Brookings being a little more Bohemian, that I’d like to taste something with local flavour. Gray and his wife suggested somewhere they loved, but he warned me not to expect cordon bleu.
We drove a few blocks back to the main strip out to the Interstate, and pulled in at a very ordinary little building, with the large lit sign declaring we were at the Back Yard Grill. It was a 70’s diner, a precursor to the fast food joints and from the outside looked slightly warn, even though lit only from street lights. I found out although the building might be old, the business was a new one. Inside were plain benches and tables, and you ordered up at the counter. Behind you could make out the kitchen, dominated by a series of grills permeating all sorts of woodsmoke. I went for some pulled pork on cherry, with a host of sides including cornbread and beans, washed down with a coke. It was all very basic. But it tasted amazing. The meat had been smoked for hours and was so tender it melted in the mouth. Cornbread is not usually my favourite dish; it has a tendency to dry up my mouth, but with the mixture of sauce on the pork and the beans soaked into its pores, it was a useful offset of all the riches of the other ingredients. Unlike so many American dining experiences, I did not feel bloated by the time I stepped outside again.
I said my farewells to Gray and his wife in the car park and thanked him profusely for a rich and wonderful day out. I scurried into my car out of the cold northerly wind and headed back to the Interstate. As I drove south I reflected on this little town; real home town America. Not the chintzy or oversanitized versions shown by Hollywood or the advertisers, but a demonstration of fairly simple living. No huge dramas, no massive throbbings of people commuting or gathering. Just a place where you can make a living, but more importantly make a home and keep your family and friends around you. I’d seen the civil defence sheds near the airfield earlier on and had joked to Gray; who is going to invade here – the Canadians? But it was an interesting angle – it was essential to have the Civil Defence force but they would be taken up with community activities, particularly when the winter storms hit. The rest of the time it was a relaxed and in some ways easy living.