This last couple of words is not meant to insult the South Dakotans, though. Very little has been actually easy about setting up these idyllic towns, and Brookings was the best of them by far having the added angle of academic and cultural highlights sometimes lacking in others. The settlers had come in to a windswept nothing – a big grassy plain with bison on it, and they had not had an easy time working with the Sioux there. Crops failed, cattle died. People suffered. If you fell foul of some illness or tragedy, it was pretty much up to you alone to pick yourself up and start again. There were no safety nets, no social services. You had to do it yourself. Even the basic chores were all done by hand. You extracted or carried your own water, you found ways of heating your home from whatever soil or shrub you could find around. You ate what you could grow, rear or hunt for.
No, what I meant by easy living is that the South Dakotans make it look easy. And they are relaxed and pleasant and friendly.
I’ve mentioned the film Fargo, a film full of violence and gore, but what always appealed to me was the calmness of many of the “local” characters who matter of fact get on with life. The film slightly overdoes the deadpan nature and their touch of naivety. Yes they talk a little slower than most Americans, and much more quiet (nothing wrong with either of those traits), but to me the characters here in the real Dakotas were funny, intelligent and with diverse interests, set in a rock solid sense of where they are and how they coped.
Certain solidity of character needed out here.
Gray had suggested not to rush in on the first day, so I planned to head to the EROS data centre around nine. One of the reasons I had my car was the centre is in the middle of nowhere, about 10 miles north of Sioux Falls city. Gray lived in another town altogether, and Matt lived out the opposite side of Sioux Falls so I could not rely on lifts.
The hotel had a certain culture. It was another one of these universal brands that once you had decided you could stay in it you had the system worked out wherever you travelled. There was no dining room, no breakfast service, you were in a motel and the “suites” element was less it was a number or rooms, but more you could cook for yourself. Having arrived near midnight the night before, I had not managed to get anything, so had a few cups of filter coffee from the complimentary drinks selection in my room and hoped that lunch was not too far away. I saw there were machines and a small shop to buy things from the hotel but they looked horribly overpriced and I decided I would wait to do a supermarket shop when I got back from work.
I stepped out of the hotel to icy blasts. The snow was lying but thin on the ground but the roads had been well gritted. I carefully drove up I29 to its junction with one of the great routes of the US, the I90 which goes from Seattle to Boston and at over 3000 miles is the longest Interstate in the US. I followed this for just a few miles before coming off at my junction. There is very little else down this road so I was not too surprised to see the turning signed to the EROS data centre itself.
I now headed north on this ordinary tarmacced road, it rose steeply from the Interstate. I was a little surprised to see how undulating the country was. My impression was the plains were flatter than this. Gray would of course explain this to me later.
The road bounced over several hillocks and although it was still snowing I could make out just how rural this landscape was. There were just a handful of farms, a couple of other homesteads or houses along the route. Every mile I came to a junction where a road would go off at right angles; sometimes I stopped at the junction, sometimes the incoming road gave way. I saw a few cars coming towards me, there seemed to be a few more heading my direction. The sky was grey and still full of snow and I wondered whether I had arrived on the first day of winter and my trip to Sioux Falls was to be completely snow bound. I looked down this straight road with the snow starting to gather on each verge, a long wire fence reaching off into the distance, and I could not help thinking of Fargo. This was the film not the place, but the city from which the film took its title was only about 200 miles north of where I was driving.
Just that hint of “Fargo”