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ON THE RES – SIOUX NATION

As an Englishman who emigrated to America from a mining and mill town in the North of England, where, according to John & Paul, there are 10,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, I never thought I’d be lost on a lonely road in South Dakota 20 years later.

© Blackstone Edge Studios – Ford Pinto

Heading toward Spearfish in my Ford Pinto, I found myself suddenly mesmerized by the Crazy Horse monument…

Crazy Horse - South Dakota

…There I am – wandering off the highway, greeted by a slew of double wide trailers with two or more beat up cars on blocks in their yards. Every one of them is engulfed by grass that’s desperately trying to camouflage the vehicle graveyard from the tragic landscape. Maybe there is some county code that states with 2 or more vehicles on blocks, you get $10 off your property taxes.

The sun sets; darkness falls and all I can see are a million stars, twinkling,or laughing at the Lost Brit.

“If I drive any longer,” I think, “I’ll end up in Saskatchewan.”

I consider stopping and knocking on one of the trailer doors, but not only do I see beat up old trucks on blocks,

Truck Graveyard © Blackstone Edge Studios Photo

…but also vicious dogs consumed with rabies, throwing themselves against chain link fences bearing their drooling teeth. I know I couldn’t make it to the front door without being confronted by a double barrel shotgun staring me in the face.

“Is this where the Bloomsbury Set is meeting?” I’d ask…

Or… “Tea and biscuits anyone?”

“Good Evening,” I’d say in my best ponced-up British accent. “I’m from Blackburn, Lancashire. I’m not part of the BLM, Department of Indian Affairs, or the FBI. I’m taking a census to ascertain chain link fence usage in the area.”

The minute they hear the word census, cartridges would come flying at me in slow motion. No, not a good idea.

Ahhh, at last! A church with a light on. Not St. Paul’s, but a small wooden building surrounded by a cluster of pickup trucks  like bees on a hive.

“Here for the meeting?” someone asks.

Native South Dakotan - Dispatch Rider US Army ©BSE Photo

He pushes a flask of coffee in my hand. “Follow me,” he says, then turns and points ahead. “All the answers you are seeking are beyond that door.”

I detour to the bathroom first, in case this is going to be an ESTian-type meeting.

The guy at the door is still waiting for me when I come out. He guides me through the door. I blink, eyes smarting, throat burning as I choke on the sooty smoke reminiscent of my days growing up in the industrial North.

Lancashire Coal Mine

Blimey, the place looks like a Blackburn Jazz Club, where I couldn’t see the musicians, only hear them through the smoky haze wafting over my warm beer.

A booming voice breaks through the smoke: “Maybe our guest would like to open the meeting.”

Uh…Oh… I’m not sure what kind of meeting I’ve stumbled into. It ain’t a tupperware party.

Yep, I was saved from mad dogs and 12 gauge shotguns. I was lost, but I’m not sure yet if I am found.

I take the big black book they hand me and start reading aloud from it.  Before I can finish, the room erupts in a cacophony of verbal attacks.  I can’t fathom what they are arguing about, but it all seems to revolve around the foreman at the local factory, who has a strange name. To tell you the truth, they all seem to have very odd names. From what I can gather everyone in the room is either for or against the guy with the strangest name. Some having been fired and rehired and others who have not.  The meeting is really heating up now, hauling towards a cathartic moment on an unstoppable wave of fury and anger.

Then, out of the blue, someone chimes in, “Let’s have our guest speak. We’ve never had a white man speak here before.”

Suddenly, it all falls into place… A plaque on the wall reads “Pine Ridge Reservation.” The sign floods my mind with pictures of me growing up in England, going to the Picture Palace, where I drank in black and white films as my Walls Ice Cream dripped down my sticky fingers, watching Burt Lancaster all tanned up, riding ponies without saddles and talking of firewater. Or Natalie Wood running wild in my favorite cowboy flick – “The Searchers.”

I take a long Thespian-Type Pause, thinking out will stream soliloquies worthy of the statues of Byron, Keats, or Dylan. But no! Instead I ask lamely, “How come there are no signposts on the Pine Ridge Reservation?” I glance around the hazy room. Everyone in the group has the same quizzical look on his face.

Some guy pipes up. “We’re the Sioux Nation. Only White Men need maps.”

The room breaks into thunderous laughter. “The Englishman needs signposts!” they roar.

“”Call me OGALEESHA,” says the man who handed me the coffee flask.

“One Who Wears a Red Shirt to you…,” explains another.

“Once you’re on the Res, ” continues Red Shirt, “You’ll never leave.”

“Why would you?” says a third.

The laughter subsides and the group returns to its main topic: The Factory Wars.

I drift into a sleepless coma. I have visions of never leaving the Res, forced to ride bareback ponies with spines like chainsaws, where every bone sticks up your bum.

Pinto Ponies ©Blackstone Edge Studios

The meeting comes to a close. I stand around, trying to figure out what to do. A police officer among the group sees my plight.

“Don’t worry,” he says, “I’ll guide you off the Res.”

They all cluster under the church light and wave a warm goodbye.

“Come again, any time. We’ve got places you could stay!”

The policeman gets into a beat up old Chevy Duster with a light on the top. It looks like a relic from the old TV show, “Car 54, Where Are You?”

Car 54 by New Frontier 08

He waves me over, “Just follow me, it’s about 18 miles to the highway.”

As I stand by his cruiser, the policeman’s dog sticks his head, which is about the size of a hippopotamus, out the window and barks viciously.

“Don’t worry, he’s trained to bite wolves, not Englishmen,” he says, with a laugh.

And on that note, he takes off, and I have to run like a bat out of hell to reach my Ford Pinto before he disappears into the night.

I feel like I am at the LeMans Racetrack, hurtling through the Badlands.

I can see truckers’ lights in the distance as he waves me on ahead. The police dog sticks his head out the window again and tries to take a bite out of my back light as I pass Car 54. In my rear view mirror, I see the Res Policeman snatch up his speaker, and give me a big goodbye, “Come back any time!” he says, his words floating eerily across the Black Hills.

Angry German Shephard by Josh Plueger

Finally, I am away, mixing in with the big rigs that are carting TVs, plastic pipes, and kitchen cabinets to American city markets. All the stars vanish, killed by the most powerful American force – commerce.

I drive for what seems like hours, before signs for Spearfish suddenly appear. One main street with a couple of motels. I decide against the tacky Teepee Motel that gives S&H Green Stamps

Teepee Motel gives S&H Green Stamps - ©BSE Photo

…and go for the cheapest one for the night.

How bad could it be for just one night?

The plastic glass between me and the clerk is as thick as a Fort Knox door. You have to talk through the tiny drilled holes. It’s so nice to converse in this fashion about the various services the motel offers. “Leave your shoes out for a free shine, mints on the pillow, fine wine list.”  But for $39.39, cash only, no credit cards or checks accepted, and no change provided, I won’t get much. In fact, I am forced to root around in my car ashtray to come up with the exact amount. There’s no chat about the weather or what time the Spearfish Symphony Orchestra will be playing Rachmanioff’s 5th Concerto. Just commerce.

The woman behind the plexiglass has a strange oddity. One eye looks at you; the other sideways. I am not certain which one to address as I count out my change and shove it through the two-way drawer. She pushes a miniscule bar of soap back in return, which I swear has already been used at least once.

The key comes next, but seems to be attached to a 2×4 that gets stuck halfway through the drawer. I pull; she pulls. It’s like sawing a log together. I am thinking of singing a sea shanty to match the rhythm we have going.

‘Hold it!” she says. Next thing she pulls out a hand gun with a barrel that could go into the next state. She uses its handle to pound the drawer open, but without luck. Then, without warning, she stands up, poises her feet as if she is at the fairgrounds ready to ring the bell with her hefty weight, and gives the drawer one big wallop with the butt end of the gun, and the whole damn thing comes off its hinges and lands at my feet, key, slightly splintered 2×4 and all.

She points the gun through the hole and asks me politely to PLEASE put the drawer back.

Never one to question a barrel pointed in my direction, I quickly reseat the drawer and thank her kindly.

As I walk to my room, I notice my Pinto is the only car in the parking lot. But no matter. I’m so tired, I could sleep on a clothesline.

I can’t find the light, so I just throw myself on the bed, clutching the used soap, and lie there thinking, “At last I’ve made it.”

"I reach for the bedside lamp."

I kick off my shoes, grope around for a pillow and feel a big lump next to me on the bed. I reach for the bedside lamp, and discover a man dressed in a suit and tie, lying alongside me on the bed.

I fly out the door, screaming, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” but not a soul appears.

I gather my courage and peek back in the room, but the man hasn’t moved an inch.

I walk back to the office, knees shaking, and stand in front of the plastic opening – again. The woman with the gun looks at me nonplussed.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “Only one bar of soap per night. No substitutions.”

I lean toward the pinholes, slowly saying, “Excuse me, marm… But there is a dead salesman in my room!”

Her wayward eye moves to its right location. She leans into the pinholes, and I can see her breath fog up the plastic.

“Oh, God! Not another one,” she says, and pulls back the drawer.

When I look down, I see she’s stuffed the $39.39 in the drawer and pushed it back at me.

I take the money and return the miniscule bar of soap, which I’d been clutching so hard it’s nearly split in two.

I scurry back to the Pinto and think, “If I hurry, I might get back to the Res before everyone is asleep, mad dog included.”

(After 20 years on the road, I was inspired to make a singing homage to the hardworking salesmen, who populated America’s motels. Go to “There’s A Small Motel” video on our Sinatra site – located beneath “I Thought About You.” Listen HERE.)

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