Play American Style

Note: the vacation continues, but I’m finding time to post a bit about the fun we’re having. Hopefully I’ll find time to post again before returning to regular posting on August 2nd.

We enjoyed a superb weekend in southern South Dakota, visiting my sister’s family river house on the Missouri River/Lake Francis Case. As I experienced, I realized that this epitomized America at play in the early 21st century, and I wonder if it can last.

My sister, her husband and two kids (aged 17 and 15) spend most weekends down on the river, about 100 miles from their home in Sioux Falls. Their river house is nice; three bedrooms, a nice kitchen, two bathrooms, and a comfortable living room with Direct TV. The garage is huge because it has to hold their boat, a beautiful “Moriah” boat that can hold 11. They hook their boat to the Chevy Suburban, and then haul the boat to the boat launch nearby. Their river house is part of a small development near Pickstown, South Dakota, with small lots (people are right next to each other), and a little community.

The average weekend day involves heading out on to the river, usually to find a place on a sandy spot to stop the boat, and then swim, relax, drink beer, and cool off from the summer heat. The scene is gorgeous; the wide Missouri surrounded by small hills in a very sparsely populated part of the state, one feels really at peace.

My five year old loved it. What he loved most involved vehicles. On the boat, he sat up front, and kept giving the “thumbs up” to my brother in law to go faster and faster. Even on rough water with bumps that made me think I’d injure my spine, he was laughing and enjoying it, his sunglassed face looking forward as the boat sped ahead. Every now and then we’d make eye contact (too loud for much talk) and each grin at each other. This was FUN! Speed, water, wind! Then the swimming was great, and Ryan at age 5 learned how to drive a golf cart by himself. Golf carts are the mode of transportation around that mini-development, and though we had someone with him, he became very good at driving (announcing, “I’m amazing, I’m a magic boy, I can drive a golf cart with no driving lessons!”)

In the evenings as things cooled off, music blared from various garages as little parties popped up, beer and booze flowing liberally, people stopping by and socializing with others, sharing boating and the love of the river in common. We of course had 70s hard rock playing since that’s our era. The kids could roam around within reason, not fearing traffic, and knowing things were safe. They would meet with other kids, delight in staying up past dark way past their bed time, wired and excited by all that was going on (but conking out quickly when we could finally get them to bed). The last night, despite hot weather, we even made a fire so we could make smores for the kids. Some people headed off fishing, but most simply partied into the evening.

Monday morning it was clear this was mostly a weekend thing. People were heading back to Sioux Falls or northern Nebraska, leaving their boats, ready to come back the next week. The trash collector told us of how he was recovering from a rough weekend, heading to Canton, burning tires, and drinking beer. Before we headed back to Sioux Falls, we went over the nearby Fort Randall dam, and toured the historic area where Ft. Randall stood, back when the Sioux were losing this territory quickly to the invaders from the East. The Sioux are still here, on reservations or often on the fringes of society; the offspring of the Europeans play on the river.

It was a great weekend. Yet, as I sat there Sunday night, a rum and coke in one hand, a smore in the other (they don’t really go together well, but…) I looked around and had to wonder. This is play the American way. Fast boats. Air conditioned comfort, playing “wii” as virtual tennis players or bowlers when it was too hot to actually go outdoors. Driving a long distance for a weekend escape. Enjoying good food and drink. In the past, I just enjoyed the atmosphere and socializing. Now, though, I reflect that this kind of fun is made possible by cheap energy. Gas for the boat, for the car, the trailer; power for the lifestyle. Will we be able to sustain this? Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to criticize this way of doing things, far from it. It’s fun! But are we entering an era where economic change and more expensive energy will make this kind of weekend the stuff of memories, or scenes in movies about this era of energy abundance? Or can we find a way to keep it up?

After all, to get here we flew to Minneapolis, rented a car, then drove to Sioux Falls. The flat south western Minnesota countryside is marvelous, stopping by to look at old family cemetery plots in Madelia, Minnesota, heading by the old farm, no longer in the family, between Madelia and Laselle, stopping for a DQ meal in LeSeuer. I don’t know. But I think at some ironic level I enjoyed the experience more than I otherwise would have by recognizing that it may not be something to take for granted. It is a moment in history, one to enjoy, even as one comes face to face with the implications of the economic and political realities facing us.

Photos:

  1. #1 by Jeff Lees on July 31, 2008 - 19:46

    Sounds like you are having fun!

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