I have travelled for work for years. I have covered at various times Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kansas, and Nebraska. I have eaten in every type of restaurant, diner, drive-in and dive you can name. For 30+ years I worked out of my car. I had learned to carry a cooler and snacks with me. But since I arrived in Pine Ridge I have eaten more gas station food than I had in the rest of my life. There are few choices of food in the area. The nearest sit-down restaurant is an hour away. There is 1 fast food joint in town, Taco John’s, which is always busy. Most of the small towns in the area either have no choice of food or limited choices. Often time we must stop at a gas station to get any services. In many of the towns the gas station is also the town store, and a public bathroom. Most offer hot food. Corn dogs, burgers, roller hot dogs, pizza slices. If you are lucky, they may have hard boiled eggs, fruit cups or other “prepared” foods. Sometimes your only choices are cheese curds and beef jerky!
During the summer I always carry at least a case of water in the truck. Usually in a cooler on ice. Many times, I have come upon someone who is walking, and I can offer water once I came across a family with a flat tire. They did not need my help with the tire, but they did take me up on my water. I also carry popcorn and peanut butter in my truck.
Life is different on the rez, things I used to take for granted, I now understand to be privileged. It is a privilege to have a choice in gas stations, grocery stores and other services. To know that is something happens help is not far away. Here we must be self-reliant and help each other. If someone goes off the road in snowy conditions, you stop and help. If someone’s car breaks down, you offer a tow.
Earlier this year we had a gentleman pull into the parking lot of the center having hit a deer. His fender and bumper were bent into the tire. I turned to one of our Job Corp members and asked if he had an idea. Within minutes the pressure was off the tire and the gentleman was on the road. The people I have met have impressed me with their ingenuity. This is mostly out of necessity they do not have a choice.
One day I was in my clergy shirt and collar I was on the way to a funeral. I had a tire blow out. Within minutes 2 gentlemen stopped to help me change the tire, one who pulled over and the other drove out from his house on an ATV. Once I got a replacement tire, another local mounted the new tire for me in his garage.
I have seen the local people come up with solutions I never would have thought of. They adapt and change and make things work. I am blessed to know some incredible people out here and my life is better for it.
I invite you to try a gas station corn dog. It is really tasty when you are hungry.