Several years ago my husband, my daughter and I did a road trip from Vancouver Island to Ottawa to visit family. We made the decision to drive back to the west coast through the States, a drive that I had never done. It was a pleasant drive for the most part, until we reached South Dakota.
It was at Mount Rushmore that everything really fell apart. It was late in the day and we started to look for a hotel. Now, I should mention that this was about one week before the giant Sturgis, South Dakota bike rally. Every hotel, motel, and campground had doubled their prices in anticipation of the literally thousands of bikers that had already started coming through. None, however, had changed the prices on their signs. Hotels that were advertising rooms for $39 were in fact charging $80 or more. And those were the ones that actually had vacancies! We refused to pay the jacked up rates and in self-righteous umbrage, we decided that Mount Rushmore could do without our presence and we just started to drive.
Now, picture this. Two outraged adults in the front seat of a car completely lacking in aircon driving through South Dakota on the last day of July. In the back seat, with the temperature climbing, dwarfed by suitcases and camping equipment was my daughter getting closer and closer to heat exhaustion. To make matters worse, groups of Hell’s Angels complete with their insignia on the back of their leather jackets drove past us. It just added to our stress.
We kept looking for a hotel but of course we were driving in the direction of Sturgis and the prices kept getting higher. Finally, my daughter piped up from the backseat, “I don’t feel so good.” Reaching back and feeling her head, it was clear she was developing a fever. There was nothing for it but to find a hotel with air conditioning.
We spent the night at a rate of $98 in a very sketchy HoJo with barely sufficient air conditioning, but after a cool shower and a sleep, my daughter woke barely the worse for wear. Nick and I had spent the evening discussing our plans and after an early breakfast, we hit the road going north. We couldn’t wait to get back into Canada.
We crossed the border into North Dakota and stopped for gas. The gas station was at the corner of a 5-way intersection and as we pulled out onto the road we were sure that we drove off onto the right road. About 10 minutes down the “right” road we came to some road construction. We stopped and sat for 20 minutes in the 110 degree weather with (as I mentioned before) no aircon, waiting for the flag-girl to wave the pilot truck on. I won’t describe the whole painful drive, but just put these things together and you can imagine what it was like:
- 40 miles of gravel road
- no aircon = the windows fully down
- choking clouds of dust coming from the pilot truck in front
- continual stops along the way
- creeping along at about 20 mph
You can’t believe how grateful we were when we got off the road and drove into the next town. At least we were grateful until we saw the name of the town, Hettinger. Exactly the opposite direction we intended to go. Let me just say that the swearing that came out of my husband’s mouth was some of the most creative and original cursing I had ever heard.
He turned the car around and began to go back towards the construction, swearing all the way. Fortunately, I was peering at the map and was able to find a different route that would take us through the small town of Mott. The drive to Mott was silent and tense and when we arrived we all agreed that some lunch and a chance to relax before we went on would be a good idea.
The only place for food was a tiny diner called the Pheasant Café. It was about a third full when we walked in the door and all the chatter stopped as every head turned to face us. ‘Oh no,’ I thought to myself. ‘This is going to be bad.’ We made our way to an empty table amid the stares of the patrons.
The waitress came over with the coffee pot and poured coffee unbidden for Nick and I. “Coke for you hun?” she asked my daughter. “What are you folks doing in Mott?”
“We got a bit lost coming up from South Dakota.”
That was key. The man at the next table leaned over and said, “Hot enough for yah?” Another two men came over to see if they could give us directions. Everyone was friendly. More than friendly. It was a wonderful and unexpected surprise after the past 24 hours.
When we got home I realized that I hadn’t taken any pictures of Mott. I sent an email to the town outlining our story and how Mott had completely restored our faith in the kindness of small town Americans. I also asked if they had any postcards of the town and would they be so kind as to send me one. About two weeks later they began to arrive. For the next three months dozens of postcards and letters from Mott citizens telling me about their lives and families, all of which were grateful for my recognition of how kind their town was. I was confused until one writer mentioned that she had seen my letter in the town newspaper. I answered as many as possible.
Every country has people that are good or bad, honest or untrustworthy, but I will always remember the people of Mott as being some of the kindest and best the US has to offer.
Diane Cacciato Bio:
My name is Diane Cacciato, although I write and take photographs under my maiden name of Gallagher. At age 49 I completed and submitted my first novel, Greenwich List, and was published by Asteroid Publishing as an ebook. I am working on my second novel, La Bastarda di Santa Genevra (working title), and a photo show called “Living Between Two Islands”, the islands being Sicily and Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada. I am a wife, a mother, a teacher and a librarian. And recently I became a blogger.
Websites that confirm who I am:
and a new one that I am only just starting