Tuesday, August 10, 2004

RED STATE POSTCARD There's a subconscious battle being waged in Aberdeen, South Dakota--between Main Street and the interstate; between a tight little grid of old brick buildings and the big box architecture of national retail chains.

It's a battle being fought, of course, all over the country.

But surprisingly, in Aberdeen the downtown business district is holding its own:

(Photos by Willow Lawson.)

Looking south down Main Street, past the Aberdeen Community Theater.

Main Street sports a diner, an independent coffee shop and a community playhouse. New buildings have sprouted up among the older structures, and the historic Alonzo Ward Hotel, currently undergoing restoration, is said to be slated for a condominium conversion.

The avenue also happens to be home to both Tom Daschle's re-election headquarters and the Silver Dollar strip club.

In short, it's got a little something for everyone.

In a state obsessed with highways, who would have thought that a city of 24,000 would be able to maintain an attractive, viable downtown?

It isn't the only surprise South Dakota has in store for coastal visitors.

Somewhere along Highway 12.

There's The Corn Exchange, a Rapid City restaurant, serving up food that gives New York's top-tier kitchens a run for their money.

There's the charming Hotel Alex Johnson, with its illustrious history and heavy Twin Peaks vibe.

There's the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site--an honest-to-goodness decommissioned nuclear missile launch facility--which the National Park Service has quietly opened to tourists.

And there are the Badlands, with views every bit as magnificent as those found at the more popular national parks.

The Badlands, with your humble narrator in the foreground.

True, cell phone service is worse than spotty. (Or so I'm told.) And an unscientific survey of the state's three largest cities yielded not a single for-sale copy of The New York Times.

(Also worth noting: caffeine-addicted, Starbucks-dependent visitors are advised to bring their own coffee, or to suffer the consequences.)

George Washington--from an angle his handlers didn't want you to see.

But, that said, the state's got a lot more going for it than city dwellers would expect based on South Dakota's place--or lack of place--in the popular imagination.

My enthusiasm may wane come November--South Dakota backed President Bush 60% to 38% in 2000--but for the moment, I heartily recommend a visit.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.