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Judge Vardigan

Summer 2002
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South Dakota

Texaco I-90 Truck Stop
Exit 332 to Mitchell, SD, right off the ramp
(same exit as Corn Palace)

At truck stops coffee is a law, not a drink. A steaming cup was on the table before I sat down. A word here about coffee from Agent Cooper of "Twin Peaks": "This is -- excuse me -- a DAMN fine cup of coffee. I've had I don't know how many cups of coffee in my life, but this is one of the best." If it hadn't looked insane, I'd have mouthed these words to an imaginary dining companion across the booth from me, possibly a lady holding a log.

Around me sat a colorful mix of bikers headed to the Harley rally in Sturgis and tired-looking motorists and truckers. The two guys next to me smoked wearily through their mustaches, looking just over one another's shoulders, never speaking. That was great.

I had bacon and eggs and hash browns, hearty and delicious, four cups of damn fine coffee (setting off a long string of goddamn bathroom stops), and then apple pie with ice cream, in the "On the Road" tradition. A few words about pie here, from a pie eater wiser than me (again from Twin Peaks):

"I plan on writing an epic poem about this gorgeous pie!"
-- FBI Chief Gordon Cole (played by David Lynch)


Leaving Mt. Rushmore. Forever.Route 16 Diner
417 Main Street
Hill City, SD
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This is one of those cookie-cutter diners that serves passable standards under glaring lights over silver-lined formica tables and black and white checked floors. Marilyn Monroe and Elvis pictures on the wall. You know the retro score.

I had a burger and fries and strawberry milkshake and tried to recover from Mt. Rushmore, which I'd just fled. Record crowds bumrushed those old faces that day, thanks in part to the Harley rally. 15 minutes was about all I could take (see photo), and 10 of that was spent driving 'round and 'round the parking structure. Yeah, there's a parking structure! Flabbergasting. There are times during a long trip when you feel defeated, and this was one. What's that line from "White Noise"? "They're taking pictures of taking pictures." Something like that. Well, that's Rushmore. In my opinion, you're better off at the Crazy Horse monument, just 15 minutes down the road.


Still life with creamers.Belle Inn
Where Highways 35, 85, and 212 meet
Belle Fourche, SD
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The picture here says it. Dim light, booths, enough tiny creams to last the whole coffee decanter they give you, and then some. I can't say enough about the decanter. I know, it's neat to have the waitperson (especially one named Flo) come over and say, "Little warm-up?" and pour the coffee for you, but sometimes they're busy and your cup goes empty for longer than you'd like. The decanter puts your coffee in your own hands.

Bacon and eggs. Four strips of really thick and greasy bacon, and fluffy hash browns unlike the kind you get at, say, Sparky's in San Francisco. Know the difference? There are two types: the stringy, dry, frozen-seeming kind, and then the fluffy, shredded variety, moist with butter or oil. These were perfectly the latter. Belle Inn was a serendipitous discovery and the ideal good morning to my trip's best day of driving, all the way up Montana's Highway 212 where the sky is big, the roads are empty, and the antelope play. 212 meets up with I-90 at the Little Bighorn battlefield, which I recommend to anyone driving in these parts. (Big thanks to Carolyn Morado for the 212 tip!)

Oh, I also had some pie at Belle Inn (peach this time), even though it was 10 in the morning. To close this entry, some last fond words about pie:

"When you die, if you get a choice between going to regular heaven or pie heaven, choose pie heaven. It might be a trick, but if it's not, mmmmm boy."
-- Jack Handey


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