Dakota: (n) a former territory in the United States—in 1889 divided into North Dakota and South Dakota.
I spent nine days in the Dakotas.
I only did it once.
Please don’t misunderstand—my singular visit does not portray my feeling about the region.
I just don’t think anybody there liked me.
I’m sure that’s not true—it isn’t like I saw them head over heels in enthusiasm, dancing in the street about anything.
My grandpa would have said they were “sturdy people.”
You’d have to be. Lots of storms. Regularly over a hundred degrees in the summer and below zero in the winter months.
A rural atmosphere.
Close-knit groups, many well aware of each other or even related.
So about five days into my visit, I became a bit paranoid about the treatment I was receiving. I asked one of the sponsors who brought me in for the concert series what was up with the populace.
Interestingly enough, he didn’t say, “Well, what do you mean?” Or, “They seem fine to me.”
Instead, he replied, “To be honest, these people have been alone, abandoned, unnoticed and even made fun of so often that they can’t imagine why anybody from the outside world would choose to come into their area unless that person was an escaped convict or a fraud.”
I crinkled my brow and replied, “So what you’re saying is, they think I’m trouble because I came to their state.”
“They figure if people had a choice, they would never visit.”
He nodded his head.
So I went to my concert that night and tried to address this dilemma with the audience. I would like to report that my dialogue made all the difference in the world.
But it didn’t.
They seemed to resent the fact that I was aware of their insecurity and preferred me to shut up, get back into my van, and travel on to more appreciative places.
Still and all, I managed to learn a lot about Mount Rushmore, and also the Battle of the Little Bighorn, with General Custer, which happened right over the border in Wyoming. Matter of fact, I took a couple of hours and read up on both things so I would seem knowledgeable.
It did increase my conversations by a few more sentences. But then they froze up and once again nervously stared at me.
If I may draw a conclusion:
Perhaps one of the worst things we do to people is make them feel “less” because we don’t think they live where there’s “more.”
What I uncovered in my journey to the Dakotas was this:
There are children born—therefore there are people having sex.
There are radio stations—so music does penetrate the silence.
And the grocery store was filled with all sorts of meat, from cow to bear to rattlesnake. So someone likes to hunt and eat.
If you work at it, you can find things you have in common with almost anyone, anywhere.
(Pass the steak sauce.)