“Floss the ones you want to keep.” Cross stitched and displayed in the waiting room of my childhood dentist office, this sentiment loosely reflects the philosophy Kevin and I hold when it comes to attending events and visiting local businesses. I’ve lived the majority of my life in small towns, but my idea of luxury and leisure time has always surpassed the general offerings in such areas. This isn’t to say I’m conceited, but just that, for example, when I was in fifth grade I wanted to go a dog show, and since there wasn’t one in my town, I hosted my own.
My dad is the kind of guy who digs his heels in when going to something new, but then afterward he’s the first to say how much he enjoyed himself and how he’s looking forward to the next outing. Most small town populations are like him, but they don’t have me to drag them along or out of their comfort zones. Many people are simply just content with drinking their tasteless Folgers coffee in the morning, going to work and then flopping down on the couch to watch the hours tick by. There are plenty of fine folks, however, who are interested in shaking things up and experiencing the everyday in a new way.
When I lived in West Virginia I had some friends who opened me up to countless possibilities for enjoying one another’s company. We had an adult bicycle gang that rode around our tiny town enjoying the sites while learning about history or playing a large-scale game of Clue. These friends also planned, practiced and premiered the most amazing puppet show I’ve ever seen—in an apartment spare bedroom. Guests sat on pillows, and were transported to the mesmerizing handmade world of a young girl pursuing her dreams in the shadows of a Gaddafi dictatorship. It has been years, a graduate degree and a new career in education since I’ve entertained the idea of entertaining others in my new home of South Dakota in such a creative and intriguing way as my community in WV provided.
Kevin and I are going to London for a few days this July enroute to Croatia for our honeymoon. While researching things to see and do, I stumbled on a website outlining a variety of “pop up” events ranging from dinner at a five-star chef’s flat to a day of “adult primary school” complete with recess cocktails. Kevin found a live-action participatory Great Gatsby party experience where you dress in 1920s attire and spend a few hours at a mega house party where different rooms depict parts of the famed novel and you have no idea whether or not the person next to you is an actor. Suffice to say, there are places where people are pushing the envelope when it comes to entertainment, and they’re doing it in a way that ignites the senses while building relationships and creating memories.
So when the Pierre Young Professionals group posted online about a progressive dinner, we knew it was something for which to check out calendars. We’re big fans of visiting local hot spots, but sometimes it isn’t easy to know where to look, so that was part of the allure of this event—we’d get to sample food at some local food joints we didn’t even know existed.
The evening started at the American Legion parking lot in Pierre where nine of us boarded a small charter bus. Planning ahead for some riding downtime, many of us brought beverages, and it was a delightful end to the last day of school to sip some Prairie Berry Calamity Jane on the thirty minute ride to appetizers in Blunt, SD. Driving through Blunt last weekend, my friend and I tried to spot the Medicine Creek Bar and Grill, but we didn’t know it was attached to the backside of the only gas station. In 2014 Blunt had a recorded population of 366, and plenty of these folks had the chance to turn their heads to see the “bus” of people coming through the door last Friday. Newly remodeled, the Medicine Creek Bar and Grill doesn’t have tap beer or Blue Moon in a bottle, but the selection of appetizers rivals many main-stream commercial chains. Our group fit nicely around a round table with a large lazy susan. Cream cheese jalapeno poppers have gained popularity around the country in the past few years, but I think chislic is still just a South Dakota thing. Deep fried chunks of lamb or beef, it wasn’t my favorite delicacy the first time I tried it but Medicine Creek changed my preconceptions. We took turn spinning the lazy susan around just as the person seated next to us was aiming a toothpick at a plump hors d’oeuvre, and the event organizer’s keys were handed to me on the DL (down low) as we left the bar… even though most of us had at least met before, our camaraderie was already starting to build.
On the way to Onida, another small town 20 minutes from Blunt, the bus chatter increased and we were sharing ideas on visiting Medicine Creek Grill again soon to try the prime rib special we’d seen listed for Saturday nights. The event organizer said he’d initially planned on us dining at a different restaurant, but he didn’t realize it had closed. Life sometimes proceeds in a way that we don’t realize something is gone until we start looking for it. Never fear, however, since Kalin’s friend did have another suggestion on where to get a good salad in Onida. “Well, I don’t know if it is good, but it is the only place in Onida that serves a salad, so I guess you’ll have to go to Brewster’s,” his friend reported. The first person off the bus logically went to the front door of the building, but as per South Dakota norm, it was locked and it was clear that everyone enters via the side entrance. The loft-like space had a pleasant atmosphere and the ceiling beam decorated with various signatures certainly had a story to tell. The salads were simple but tasty, and we again decided this was definitely a place to venture back to. While there were only a handful of tables to view our fleeting presence, we were fold that we’d missed the early evening retiree rush.
Wine glasses were filled yet again, and we toasted to great ideas and grain bins. The final two stops were ones we all frequent, but part of the delight was being served choices many of us agreed we wouldn’t likely select on our own. We paraded through through Pub 34 to the small private dining room and enjoyed our choice of a grilled chicken sandwich or a hamburger. Kain said he’d been given the choice of a side, and green beans made a perfect pairing. We told the waitresses they could join us on our way toward dessert, but they declined and sent us on our way after helping us snap a picture and surely answering other patrons’ questions about the group that entered with a purpose and left fairly quickly.
Dusk was descending on the Missouri River as we settled down at our table at Drifter’s. Kalin was worried that we wouldn’t make our time schedule, but despite savoring the blackberry peach bread pudding a la mode, we made it back to the Legion by 9:45.
All in all, the event was a success. The bus and stops could have accommodated a group twice our size, but when putting something new like this out there, we had to start somewhere. Too often I think the demise of innovative ideas isn’t peoples’ displeasure with an experience, but good intentions with no fruition. “Oh, that sounds lovely, but…” “Maybe next time!” This morning I went to our local grocery store even though it is slightly more expensive than Walmart, I stood in line at the new coffee shop and I purchased the greens with weird names that no one was touching at the farmers market. I wish I had more time to bring some of my own unique ideas of life, but I don’t want to wake up one day to realize that I’ve wasted my days by punching the same old routine like a time clock to find that when I do have time or money to go out for a unique community experience to hear, “Oh, that place/event? It was pulled years ago because no one took the time to keep it.” We make the world we live in, and saying “not today” can sometimes have as much power as “I’m in.”