The air was warm, and dry, and smelled faintly like cow manure and freshly bailed hay. The sun radiating off of the black asphalt made it seem hotter than the mild temperature would suggest. From the rental car lot outside the terminal of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport Ben could faintly see the huge farmhouses, made small by their distance from the airport, perched on corners of massive farms. Thousands of acres of well-kept farmland insulated the farmers from one another, and from everyone else. Welcome to South Dakota.
Glancing at the tag hanging alongside the remote key entry and car key, Ben Tremmor saw his name listed just above the make and model of car he had rented. As he squinted against the noon sun in search of his sedan, spotting it near the back of the lot, Ben wondered how long he would be able to continue traveling under his real name. His heart raced as he began to stride in the direction of his car while pondering his exciting future plans.
Big changes, grand opportunities and lots of danger cluttered the way forward for Ben, and this mission was the first step. Ben found the silver rental car and deposited his black, polyester, gym back in the trunk before climbing in.
A neat little care package, including a city map, flyers for local dining and accommodations, and a handful of peppermint disc candies, was stuffed in the cup holder to greet Ben. How quaint, he thought. The car was immaculately clean, as most rental cars are, and the detailer who cleaned the car previously had even thought to spray the new car smell scent under the seats. The dashboard and door panels were covered in pretty plastic, faux wood, trim.
Ben regretted not having extra time to explore the small city of Sioux Falls. Around one hundred and sixty thousand souls lived here. That was not even a tenth of the people who lived in the Bronx borough of New York City that Ben called home. Even from his limited encounter with locals at the car rental desk, where he was smiled at and socially interrogated by the attractive attendant, Ben could tell things in South Dakota moved much slower than he was used to. But Ben didn’t have time for slower.
Ben turned the key and the six-cylinder purred to life and one of the trite, formulaic, country music songs that have been so popular lately wafted out of the satellite radio. After a moment of fussing with the onboard GPS system in the rental, and shutting down the radio, Ben was pulling into sparse Minnesota Avenue traffic, headed North towards Interstate 90. Even though it was the lunch hour, traffic was pretty light, compared to what Ben was accustomed to. No one was honking or screaming at other drivers, or zipping across four lanes of traffic to grab an exit. Everything seemed rather neat, and polite. The pickup truck to car ratio was much higher than Ben knew in New York, and yellow taxi cabs were almost non-existent here.
The vast flatness of southeastern South Dakota unfolded as Ben rolled along the perfectly straight interstate highway. Tiny farmhouses dotted the distant landscape, flanked by massive barns and silos. Even though the farms along the road were, in fact, giant agricultural corporations that produced countless tons of various goods, Ben was able to maintain the illusion of quaintness; the lawyers and bankers behind the farm corporations were not a part of the landscape. It reminded Ben of an old video game when the landscape was simply copied and pasted over, and over, again.
Spring was yielding to summer bathing everything in soft, nourishing sunlight. Everything seemed to be coming alive. A fitting metaphor, Ben thought. He had spent nearly two months chasing down leads that eventually withered and died. A confident feeling filled his gut today. Ben didn’t put much stock in luck, but whatever the feeling was, it was a good one.
The farther West Ben traveled the fewer signs of civilization Ben saw. After about an hour of heading West, Ben exited North onto a smaller highway road. He did manage to find a McDonald’s when his exit came along. One large coffee and he was headed North to DeSmet. The urge to roll down the window and turn up the radio was almost overwhelming. Ben felt good.
Highway 34, which gave way shortly to Highway 25, was straight and flanked on each side by beautiful farmland, just like the interstate had been. Everything there was measured in a one-mile grid. If you were on 432nd street headed North, 433rd street would reliably turn up exactly one mile away. It trivialized given directions, Ben thought. It was amazing how spread out everything, and everyone was. As someone who grew up in a massive city, it was somewhat shocking. One town Ben passed boasted a population of twenty-eight people. Why even bother to count them? Ben wondered. But he knew well how important it was for the government to know everything about everyone, at all time. He knew this too well, he mused.