I’ve been posting photos of my trip on Instagram, because
I’m an attention whore I like to share my adventures with others. Monday afternoon, I posted a pic of a dirt road I’d been driving down to IG and got an interesting response.
“Doesn’t seem real!” a friend named Amy replied to my story.
I assured her it was very real. It had been my view for 15 minutes nonstop. Amy, I should point out, lives in the heart of Philadelphia. The odds of her ever coming across scenery like this are pretty slim. And it’s funny, whenever she posts pics of the skyscrapers and other scenes from a bustling metropolis, I kind of think they don’t seem real.
Perspective is a funny thing, huh?
It’s been an interesting trip. Murphy’s Law has been in full effect, but at least I can’t blame myself this time. I’ve been punctual to a fault. My interviewees? Not so much.
No sooner had I hit the road Monday morning than I got an email from my noon subject. They had to cancel, because the family farm in Philip had been hit hard by storms over the weekend. I totally understood. I drove through Philip that morning, and the damage was heartbreaking.
Those Great Plains thunderstorms ain’t no joke.
Day one, I ended up all the way in Nebraska, much to my surprise. It was a circuitous route to get to that long dirt road Amy was in awe of. I crossed state lines twice, all the while flipping between Mountain and Central time zones every few minutes. It was confusing as hell; the clock would read 1:12, 2:14, 1:17, 2:21, 1:32, and so forth and so on. I felt like a time traveler. When I arrived at my destination, I figured I was either five minutes early or 55 minutes late. Luckily, it was the former.
When I got to Winner, South Dakota, Monday evening—my first layover—I checked into my hotel room and learned that a second interviewee had cancelled. He’d just been diagnosed with Covid. Yikes. That’s okay, I figured. I can still meet with six people out of eight.
I walked across the street to a Mexican restaurant I’d discovered a year ago, on my first visit to Winner. My first order of business after a long day of interstate travel? A very tall margarita.
That baby hit the spot. As did the carnitas. Why, oh why, can’t we find a decent Mexican restaurant in Rapid City when every other podunk town has one?
This was the view from my hotel room in Winner. Amy would probably blow a gasket.
Day Two took me to Burke and Mitchell, where I completed two more interviews. Most of the drive afforded me spectacular scenic views like this one.
South Dakota really is beautiful. Everything is so lush and green now, thanks to our recent rains. It was a breathtaking drive, especially with the tall prairie grass dancing in the wind.
Despite the cancellations, I’d finished four out of the eight scheduled interviews and was feeling pretty good about the trip. Until I pulled into Hartford, SD, shortly after 4 p.m. I checked into my room, pulled up my email, and was dismayed to find two more people had cancelled due to “scheduling conflicts.” This meant I had just checked into a hotel for a three-night stay, but had nobody left to interview.
And of course, the room was non-refundable. That’s what I get for trying to save CenturyCo a few bucks.
I was desperate now, so I reached out to the two that had cancelled. I’m not ashamed to say I resorted to begging. Told them I’d driven clear across the state and half my interviews had cancelled on me. Said I was willing to meet anybody, anytime, anywhere, in order to salvage the trip.
Kinda felt like I was prostituting myself. But it worked. One company that had cancelled agreed to pull in a different person and proceed with the interview as scheduled. The other, not so much. But I was able to connect with another individual I wasn’t supposed to meet with until August and arrange an impromptu meeting, so in essence, I saved the day.
Or rather, days. Plural.
I get that things come up. But when half your interviews cancel at the last minute, after you’re already on the road, it’s pretty disheartening. Tara asked me why we bother with in-person interviews. Why not just do a phone call or Zoom interview? she wondered. That’s a fair question. I explained that, with an in-person interview, you establish a stronger connection with your subject. You pick up on non-verbal cues better. You develop a rapport. As a writer, I am able to craft a more personal story after a face-to-face meeting. Take the folks in Mitchell, for example: I met with a group of six. Wasn’t expecting that, but they were super prepared. Shared a company history with me and we had an excellent back-and-forth session. It was all very off-the-cuff. Wouldn’t have been nearly the same over the phone.
Shit happens. You just have to roll with the punches. I told my supervisor I deserved a big, fat bonus for my resourcefulness. I was half-joking, but not really. I worked my ass off to make this trip worthwhile despite the unexpected setbacks, and it paid off.
Being 15 minutes from downtown Sioux Falls, I took advantage and grabbed a hot bowl of pho on my lunch break. This morning was rainy and cool; I was actually awakened by thunder, so a comforting bowl of soup sounded delicious.
Spoiler alert: it was.
After lunch, I drove an hour northwest to the tiny town of Howard, South Dakota. I’d never even heard of the place before, but it was cute AF.
I’m really impressed by the rural communities I’ve visited, on this trip and previous ones. The people in these towns are always full of pride and resilience. Life on the Northern Plains is often filled with adversity, but they band together and overcome these hardships. I saw lots more storm damage today in the small towns I passed through: uprooted trees, damaged grain silos, caved-in roofs. Yet everybody was cheerily going about their business, fixing things up, and waving to me as I drove past.
Midwest Nice. It’s a real thing.
And I have to say, visiting these small towns smack-dab in the middle of nowhere—places that I’d never otherwise have the opportunity to see—is far and away my favorite part of the job.
Tonight, I’m holed up in my hotel room. When I checked in, the clerk recognized my name. Can’t say I’m shocked; I’ve stayed here so often in the last year, I almost feel like a part of the staff.
As far as rooms go, it’s pretty nice. The bed is fantastic. I have a nice work area. And there’s a hot tub, which I have most definitely taken advantage of.
Tonight, I’m classing up the joint. Wine in a flimsy plastic cup, with a sandwich from Pickle Barrel. Go ahead and be jealous. It’s okay.
Tomorrow, I’ve got an interview in the morning, then I’ll basically be working from my room the rest of the day. Oh, and I’m planning on hitting up the sushi joint I fell in love with on my last trip. Can’t believe I’ve waited this long to go back.
Friday, I’ve got the five-hour drive back across the state. But I’ve been putting in overtime after hours, so I should be able to turn around and head home for a long-ish weekend when I get back.
Catch you on the flip side!