A Glimpse Into The Fever Dream That Is South Dakota

My wife and I spent about a month trapped in the Rapid City area of South Dakota, living out of our van. During most of our stay we slept five feet from the railroad tracks, parked in a mechanic’s lot between a halfway-house and a homeless Mission. Yeah, we met some characters.

The entire month was a series of interactions with kind, strange, and occasionally terrifying people.

The “living in our van” part was part of the plan. We are one of those annoying couples who decided to quit our jobs and see the world. If it makes us any less annoying, you should know that our van is a 1993 Ford Econoline and that we can’t stand up inside of it.

This is unrelated to South Dakota, but why are all the Instagram van-life influencers so damn perfect? You see a picture of a 30-year-old dude doing a handstand in front of his antique VW bus on the beach, and then you figure his limber athleticism, unwrinkled face and supple complexion are the result of his worry-free lifestyle.

Then you find out he’s actually 55 and just quit his high-powered corporate job last month. Where do these people come from? Meanwhile I’m hobbling out of my van with my face crumpled up in a permanent sort of full-body squint that I do in response to any sunlight at all.

I was waiting outside a gas station for my wife when a man with the classic “I-once-killed-a-guy” teardrop tattoo asked if I needed his spare change. I thought that was a deeply moving message about humanity, except that I didn’t need help at all. I’m just an annoying millennial doing absurd, stereotypical millennial things like living out of a van for fun, and I happen to look like shit in the process.


The point is, our van needed a new transmission, and we were trapped in Rapid City.

The whole month was a bit of a fever dream for us. Don’t get me wrong: we met some great people and had our good times, but the vibe in Rapid City is really strange, particularly when you camp out on the railroad tracks.

The time came at the end of our stay for our mechanic to install our new transmission, but the van needed to stay on the lift overnight. We didn’t feel like sleeping 10 feet in the air inside of a locked garage, so we needed a place to bunk for the night.

One of the mechanics, Ted, was kind enough to offer his yard for us to camp in. Seriously, super-nice guy. We ended up ordering pizza as a thank you and had a pretty great time. Then he started hitting his THC vape.

Things got a little strange after that.

We were a few beers in when Ted started hitting his vape, and that was when I started to feel like the sober guy at the party. People say THC is a mild drug, and I think it probably can be. I’ve also had enough conversations with heavy pot-smokers to know that it can easily loosen an already tenuous grip on reality.

Ted started talking about his visions.

It was all very American Indian themed. Rapid City sits near a bunch of Indian Reservations, so the culture is very present there. Among other things, Ted insisted that many nights he heard wolves, chanting and war drums and he knows that he is having a spiritual experience.

Look. Ted is a nice guy and a gracious host. And I don’t have a problem with spirituality in general. But I’m also kind of a dick, and I can’t help but chuckle at a white dude in the suburbs hallucinating tribal music.

So all night I’m glancing at my wife with the message in my eyes, “This will be great to make fun of in the morning.” I told you, I’m a dick.

The night came and went, and the next morning we were finally back the road.

We couldn’t wait to escape our Rapid City purgatory, but before leaving we made one last stop at the UPS store to pick up a package, which happened to be near Ted’s house. We had another good chuckle at Ted and his hallucinations.

And then I heard Drums. BUM bum bum bum, BUM bum bum

Wolves, howling.

Chanting. Heya-heya-heya-heya

What?! Did I inhale Ted’s second-hand smoke? I wheeled around and spotted the source.

An Indian man sat shirtless on his front porch, sipping a cold beverage that I’m sure was appropriate for 8 in the morning. Next to him was a massive boombox, blasting tribal music for the whole block. Well within range of Ted’s house.

I waved.

He waved.

And we drove away from Rapid City.



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John Joseph

John Joseph


Poultry farmer and part-time handyman. Now I write on the internet.