Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Wall

I’m skipping tomorrow, for various reasons, but picking up over the weekend, during breaks in other writing duties.

Most of what I could say about Wall Drug has already been said. Though Badlands National Park is near, Wall Drug is a tourist attraction — mecca — in its own right, maybe even outdrawing the Badlands. After all, the Badlands may be beautiful, but it’s an austere beauty, and you can’t shop there (except at the lodge gift shop).

Wall Drug, on the other hand, surely has more gewgaws, gimcracks and knickknacks within its many walls than all the rest of South Dakota, with maybe North Dakota thrown in. I’m not about to mock the place. I stood in awe. By rights, Wall ought to be a dusty, sluggish little town just east of the Black Hills. But no. In August anyway, it has as much retail activity as many regional malls in populous MSAs: swarms of people swarming through each of its many aisles, fingering the floor-to-(nearly)-ceiling items, spurring the constant beep-beep-beep of the registers.

Wall Drug isn’t one store, of course, though it’s — sort of — under one roof. It’s a warren of stores: standard souvenirs, clothes, jewelry, books, even a drug store (go figure). It has photos and painting and signs and oddities all around—read the Roadside America article. Its cashiers have nametags that also tell you the person’s place of origin, and two out of three seemed to be summer workers from the former Soviet bloc. (I encountered this at Yellowstone, too, and I asked a lass from Bulgaria about it, and she said, “Three months work, one month travel.”)

I was able to spend some time in the bookstore, and was pleasantly surprised. It isn’t a large place trying to carry every title the way Borders or B&N would, but a small store with an excellent selection, especially about the West.

We had lunch at Wall Drug, for there is a sizable food service there. High time, I thought, to try the buffalo burger. It was OK. Practically the same as regular beef. The doughnuts are also famed, at least the maple-coated ones. They were OK. Well, food isn’t why people go to Wall Drug. And why do they? I know why we went: because it’s there.

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