Shoppers and Bikers and Bitches, OH MY!

I woke up Sunday morning with a minor dilemma of sorts: I wasn't quite sure where the hell I was going to head that day. Out in the mid-mid-middle of the mid-Midwest, the spectacular attractions get a little farrer and fewer betweener and it's a good idea to have a general plan about what's within striking distance and where you'll be headed after that. I was unsure of my quarry though, drawn as I was by the siren song of an enormous biker rally, yet afraid of that many people in one place.

I called my friend Sharon who hales from South Dakota and solicited her advice. "Sharon," I said, "I have this idea that the combination of Wall Drug and bikers might be worth the 3 hour drive, but I'm a little afraid to head out to a town the size of Round Rock that is expecting 400,000 of its closest friends this weekend." Sharon gave me an answer I didn't expect, "Just GO. It's definitely something to see and you'll probably never get another opportunity as good as this to be there. Good reasoning, but I still had visions of gridlock and crowding beyond anything I could possibly tolerate. I opted for the middle ground and chose to head off to the world famous souvenir mecca, Wall Drug and then decide then and there whether to continue on to the big rally in Sturgis.

Sometimes my days have themes, and I'm not aware of it until later. Sunday's theme was rampant American consumerism (she says pompously while sipping her latte and typing on her laptop). As many souvenir stops as I've made in my travels, I have to say I haven't ever seen anything the SIZE of Wall Drug. It's not a store, it's a complex of buildings (dare I even say a nonlinear strip center?) and every bit of it is about selling the great American tourist the great American souvenir. Want a jackalope? Go to the jackalope section where you can select from nappy ones and bunny fur ones and tiny gold ones that are perched atop a round flask of genuine gold flakes. Stuckey's on long term steroids! In addition to every conceivable piece of cheap tourist junk, the place was also swarming with bikers of every size, age, gender and shape making the experience even more surreal. Look over there! ZZ Top is shopping for rubber tomahawks!
I walked around in a stupor of sorts, eventually stopping at one of the many snack bars to eat a chili dog in celebration of the day's yet-to-be-discovered theme. Then I did some power shopping which resulted in a fine array of new items for my dashboard altar. As I waited at the register for my plastic moose and miniature Mount Rushmore and pink gun/holster set to be wrapped up, the very friendly cash register attendant chatted me up about where I was headed next. When I told her I was toying with the idea of heading to Sturgis, she uttered the fateful third repetition of the same sentiment: JUST GO! That was it. Three people had told me the same exact thing and it was high time I started listening.

As I drove toward Sturgis, the streams of motorcycles were becoming so thick I began to see them as flying monkeys, headed to the Wicked Witch's castle to see Alice Cooper and John McCain and buy t-shirts. The bandana count was beginning to skyrocket.

My strategy became to see if I could possibly find a hotel room in Rapid City (a major city about 25 miles from Sturgis) . I stopped at the Motel 6 on the interstate just for the hell of it and sure enough, they had a few $100 rooms left! I heard the bikers behind me saying that the highly scarce rooms in Sturgis were going for $350 or more so I took the room in a heartbeat and started plotting about how to get into town with as little fuss as possible.
All the worrying I'd been doing, however, was unfounded. For an event of its size, the Sturgis Rally is amazingly well organized and easy to navigate. I was able to drive right down to the Main Street area, park three blocks away from all the action and move around without issue. I wasn't sure what to expect (since I still wasn't aware of the day's theme) but what most impressed me after several hours of walking around was how damn easily we are compelled to spend money in this country. The rally has all sorts of competitions and shows and musical performances, but it's really pretty much all geared to relieve people of as much of their money as possible while they're visiting. The entire city turns into an outdoor shopping mall full of t-shirts, sunglasses and motorcycle and anti-authority gee-gaws of every flavor. As I walked along, I became very grateful for the ethic that Burning Man has put in place about not allowing any vending on site. I shuddered to think what kind of booths would cover the Black Rock desert if money were allowed to change hands there. Ewwww.

I spent several happy hours walking around, absorbing this strange new environment. The people watching was fabulous (including the biker fashion bonanza) and there were plenty of amazing bikes to gawk at if you got bored with the people.

The amount of money rolling around that town at any given moment probably exceeded the GNP of many third world nations. Combined. I did my part for the economy, selecting some BAD ASS sunglasses and a biker chick t-shirt. I wasn't about to come all this way and let American Business down.

As I was headed back to the car, on my last half block of the experience, I fell straight into a vortex of participation that made the reason I had come to Sturgis well and truly clear. What happened isn't really for general public consumption, seeing as how it was of a somewhat adult nature, so ask me about it one day and I'll be happy to tell you in person. With appropriate hand gestures, naturally.

I threaded my way through the sea of drifting bikes back to my humble $100 motel room in Rapid City, being careful to navigate the marshes of motorcycles parked in the motel parking lot when I arrived. I tumbled into bed dazed and satisfied. Wow. Wow...

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