News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Sunday, July 30, 2017

You can't take a wiz in South Dakota

Over the years since I moved to Aberdeen, I have traveled between there and Sioux Falls hundreds of times.  I often made the trip on family business in Illinois.  Then I made the trip quite frequently on professional and family business in Sioux Falls.  Currently,  we have numerous relatives living in Sioux Falls and many family gatherings to attend.

At first, I-29 did not go north beyond Watertown.  The completion of the Interstate was welcome.  Then U.S. 12 between Aberdeen and I-29 was made a 4-lane highway, which made the trip much easier and safer.  

In traveling, there is always the matter of having to relieve oneself.   Many of those trips between Aberdeen and Sioux Falls, particularly the ones involving professional business, were fueled by coffee early in the morning and late at night.  And when copious amounts of coffee are ingested to maintain alertness, there is the frequent need to eliminate it.  And when traveling with children, there are multiple needs.  

On lonelier by ways,  those needs can be attended to by simply pulling to the side of the road when there is no traffic and testing the drainage efficiency of a ditch or stepping into  a cornfield to help irrigate the crop.  Yes,  I know that's easy for males to say.  And I have taught young males, however, not to face into the wind.  But that brings up the need for convenient, safe, and sanitary places for conducting the necessary business of life.

South Dakota had rest areas on U.S. 12.  They were wooded strips where you

Not even these anymore.
could pull off the highway that featured a few picnic tables and a couple of vault toilets.  Vault toilets are a concrete building over a concrete septic tank over which there is, usually, a steel commode.  They are not very inviting.  They reek.  They are not very clean.  People, especially women, are very cautious about putting their posteriors in contact with the seats.  And the walls were decorated with graffiti that made one nervous about the kind of people you might encounter there.

One of these areas was at Bath and another at Webster.  There was also a public  vault toilet at an access area to Enemy Swim Lake at Waubay.  Late one October evening when returning from a meeting in Sioux Falls with a teacher from the School for the Visually Handicapped,  I needed to stop at the Bath rest area.  When I opened the latrine door, I jumped back about 20 feet.  Someone had rigged a dummy on the toilet seat for Halloween.  The Webster rest area became infamous when an old farmer stopped at it one night on his way home from a restaurant.  Someone shot him through the closed door while he was on the commode.  The murder was never solved.  Both rest areas were demolished when U.S. 12 was widened into a four-lane.

Now if you have to go while east bound during the 75 miles between Aberdeen and I-29 you have to hold it until you get to Summit at the junction,  unless you want to try a business or a ditch.  At Summit is what has grown into an unusually busy travel and truck stop which features big restrooms, a big convenience store, and even a food court, which includes a Caribou Coffee station so you can load up for your next stop.  

And that gets to the point of this post.  Between Summit and Sioux Falls were built two rest areas.  One, Hidewood,  is 15 miles south of Watertown.  The other south pf Brookings.   This spring the South Dakota Department of Transportation announced it was closing them.  They did.  But they also have closed the one south of Brookings, but have made no explanations for that.  I nearly always stopped at the Hidewood rest areas.  I have even been involved in meetings at the picnic shelters, when it was necessary to have face-to-face meetings and an exchange of documents for professional business.  The rest areas made convenient places for people in eastern South Dakota to organize quick meetings.  

But now as one travels I-29, there are no rest areas open between U.S. 12 and Sioux Falls, no public places to pee or simply pause to stretch the legs.  Apparently, some other people have noticed.   Reporter Bob Mercer has received comments from readers and a hearing is scheduled for the people who recommended and enacted the closings to explain them.  

Contrast South Dakota with neighboring states.  When I travel to Illinois, I am always happy to reach Iowa as  I drive I-29 and then onto I-80.  Rest areas are about 30 miles apart, offer wi fi, and are well-maintained.  Many rest areas have been upgraded to be almost luxurious.  South Dakota does not seem to understand the principle of hospitality.  The officials  talk about the money they save rather than the comfort and convenience of the travelers.  That is why travel in South Dakota is an arduous  task in which you are on your own in carrying out the necessary tasks,  while in other states  you are made to feel welcome and provided for.  

Frugality rules over hospitality as the prevailing value.  And that is clearly stated as you travel through the state.  Another way of telling travelers they aren't welcome and are a bit of a nuisance.  Message received.  


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1 comment:

Curt said...

I'll wager a dollar you'll never get one to admit it, but the people who voted to close the rest areas did so to force travelers to visit the commercial establishments along the routes ... a veritable "win-win" for disciples of "public-private partnerships".

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States

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