Southern in: Keystone, SD


Southern in: Keystone, SD

Photo credit: Ben Hackney

Photo credit: Ben Hackney

We stopped for the sign that advertised $3 burgers and $2 beer, the kind of sign tacked to a white wooden building with a stuffed buffalo on the front porch. The sign that reminds you you’re in South Dakota and the only thing to quench the thirst developed over miles of dusty, rolling prairie land is a cold, cheap Budweiser.
If you ever found yourself in southwest South Dakota, you were probably there for a reason. It’s a tourist-frequented region of the state that’s not within an easy drive of any metropolitan area. Yet still many find themselves in this enchantingly void land. Most are children thrown by Dad into the back of minivans, or Germans, Asians, or Parisians by the tourbus load sharing visits to Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Custer State Park, Deadwood, Crazy Horse and maybe Sturgis.

Like most, we made the detour on a trip through that beautiful expanse of American landscape between Chicago and Spokane. Keystone, SD is set at the crosshairs of Badlands National Park and Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park and Rapid City. It is one of many forgettable towns on the tourist’s route to Mt. Rushmore or the Crazy Horse memorial.
The sign for $3 burgers was posted to the side of Halley’s 1880 Store. General merchandise, antiques and clean bathrooms were advertised, in addition to the cheap burgers and beer, of course. We entered on the left side of the porch, into a hazy antique shop where a 1920’s Birmingham Small Arms motorcycle sat by the door. On the right side of the room a man looked up from his game of billiards. “Can I help you?”

“Three dollar burgers?”

“What do you want on ‘em?”

As we neared we saw a young woman, leaned over her forearms on the pool table, and two men at a table nearby. The right side of the room was the spot for lounging—a modest bar on the back wall, the aforementioned pool table in the middle, a row of tables, a mess of bar stools strewn about the place, and near the porch, an empty corner stage. We ate beside the two older men because in a place like that, it would be rude to sit anywhere else. The burgers came with more beers all around and conversations ensued.

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Eventually the cook, server, bartender, pool shark, owner’s son and full-time operator of Halley’s Store (all one person) joined us and the old men. We talked of days past in Keystone and cold winter nights in the store when it was standing-room only around the wood stove. When the men decided it was time to get back to their wives, they handed the boss a fifty-dollar bill and told him to throw our check with theirs.

“Hell,” said one. “I remember what it was like to be young…and broke.”

I can’t remember any of their names when I think back to our lunch in Keystone, South Dakota. After we shook hands and the men left, we browsed the side of the store that was an antique shop. I can’t remember anything I picked up, anything my eyes gazed over. But I remember the indistinguishable smell of dust, the ancient creak of pine floorboards, the shuffle of boots across them. I remember cold beer and the explanation of punch lines to inside jokes decades of years old. I remember being a thousand miles away, and feeling like I was at home.

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1 Comment

  1. charlie edmonds

    Just read your letter thought it was pretty cool , I am setting here right now in front of the stove on jan 18 freezing my ass off in front of the stove the front side on fire back side like ice, I live here and trig is a very
    good friend like your story.

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