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Driving Cross Country: A Pitstop in South Dakota

Crime scenes, mountain lions, and a masturbating man are a few things a mother wouldn’t want her child to experience in her life. However, within one day I have faced all of these things and more.  My whole life I have been told to live life to the fullest and always find something to learn from any situation, good or bad. Well, in May of 2016 I was given the opportunity to make lemonade out of the lemons life gave me on a cross-country trip of a lifetime.  My friend Allison and I flew from New Jersey to California to drive with our other friend Maeve cross-country back home to the Jersey shore. We shared an unforgettable experience and many great laughs, but life threw a few curveballs along the way that not even Babe Ruth could hit.

As anyone could imagine California is great and picture perfect, but after spending a few days there we embarked on our journey home driving through Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon.  Within a few days, we made it to Colorado to spend a night with Maeve’s friend Grace. As we woke the next morning, we ate pancakes and bowls of fruit for breakfast with Grace’s family. For only knowing them for one day, they made us feel like we knew them for a lifetime and that we were apart of their family. After finishing our breakfast, we packed the car and began our journey from Colorado to South Dakota, and unknowingly embarked on the craziest car ride I will ever have.

The day started at 9 a.m. when we left Grace’s house. As the hours ticked by and the gas trickled down, we decided to stop at a rest stop to fill up the tank and buy some snacks for the road.  As we are waiting in line to purchase our snacks, a woman barrels through the doors and starts yelling at the cashier “Are you alright? Once I found out, I had to come see you!” Naturally, I think the woman is just a little bit crazy and just wants to gossip with her friend. However, the cashier said, “I’m fine.  Steve is a little shaken up because he was the one working the night the man shot someone!” Now in my head, I’m thinking, “Did she just say there was a shooting here the other day?” I looked at my friends and the horror that was written on their faces only confirms my inner thoughts must have been true and there has been a shooting at the gas station I was currently at.  Thankfully we were next in line and rapidly paid for our things, ran to the car and sped off.

At around 4 o’clock we stopped at a Chick-fil-a for dinner after spending two hours in traffic and driving through snow, rain, and hail.  To say it was a crazy and unsafe drive is an understatement. We didn’t stay long at Chick-fil-a because we caught word there were four tornados in Denver, while we were in Denver!   After leaving Chick-fil-a and a few hours of driving later, we eventually made it to Wyoming unharmed by any tornado.

Now, I’m not sure if it was the quietness of the car or the enticement of the open road, but as we pass the beautiful sign welcoming us to Wyoming, Allison unknowingly is driving at ninety miles an hour and passes a cop as if she’s not going three times the legal limit. The officer kindly lets us off with a warning and gave us a tip to go no more than five miles an hour over the speed limit up north.

By 11 pm, Maeve is driving, Allison is in the passenger seat and I’m in the back seat trying to read a book with a flashlight.  As we’re driving through the Black Hills, which is a wildlife national park, we feel like we’re in a horror movie. The winding road is endless and you can never see what is beyond the bend of the curve in the road.  To make the situation worse, we had no cell phone service, it’s pitch dark, and we were the only car on the road for miles. As I’m reading, I jump with fear because Maeve started screaming and when I looked up I saw an owl with the wingspan the size of me trying to fly away before we run it over.  Our hearts are racing, it’s so dark, and we almost ran over a huge owl. And just as our heart rates were back to normal, everyone starts screaming again, because there is a mountain lion on the side of the road staring at us with its yellow eyes that could pierce anyone’s soul. About a half hour past all of our small meltdowns and driving through our own personal hell, we finally reached our motel.  

The first hotel we made reservations at wasn’t open when we arrived, so we had to book another motel about 5 minutes down the road.  It’s a quaint little motel with two floors and a good-looking manager. At around 1 a.m. the manager gave us our room key and as we walked up the stairs to reach our room I see the door is slightly cracked open. Now in my head, I’m thinking, “That’s funny, usually the doors are closed when you first go to your room.”  I thought maybe I’m reading the room number wrong and this isn’t our room, so I swipe the card thinking a red light would appear declining the card, but I got a green light. Now I know this is my room, but why is it open? I ever-so-gently creak open the door and to my horror I see a middle-aged man, in the bed I’m supposed to be sleeping in, masturbating.  Yes, you heard me and I, unfortunately, heard him and his wall echoing moans. At that moment I was actually not shocked. Based on the day we had, this would happen to us. It was the cherry on top of our huge sundae of a bad day. I quietly shut the door back to its original placement, scared if I made noise he would come chase us, and we made our way back to the manager screaming and laughing. As we ran down the stairs laughing and horrified at the same time we finally get a new room, only four rooms down from the sinful man.

Early the next day we left in a heartbeat.  We did not want to be in that motel a minute longer.  We saw Mount Rushmore within one hour and quickly embarked on our six-hour drive to my Uncle Scott’s house in Sioux Falls.  On our way there, however, I got pulled over for doing five miles an hour over the speed limit. Clearly, the cop from Wyoming lied to us.  This officer went as far as to take me out of my car so I could sit in his while he wrote my ticket. I was so surprised I had to sit in the car with the officer, so I tried my best to get out of it.  I flirted with him and complimented him on his 10-gallon hat and yet I was still given an $85 ticket. Meanwhile, Allison drove ninety and only got a warning. Still, there is nothing like being pulled over by a cop to end your time in the dreaded state of South Dakota.

Every time I tell this story everyone asks if I’m okay and how I should never go back to South Dakota again, and trust me I won’t.   South Dakota was an awful experience but it was also the best. I mean, walking in on a masturbating man? It’s so funny; it sounds like it should be made up.  

The laughs my friends and I shared because of these horrific and terrifying events bonded us even more than I thought was possible. I’m glad I have these experiences to share with others because it makes me realize that I’m following the words I was taught: live your life to the fullest and always find something to learn from any situation, even if it is a masturbating man.


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I am a senior studying broadcast journalism at Boston University
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