Breakfast at the Hill City Cafe

Hill City

South Dakota

May 2015

Breakfast before our summit hike.  We like to get out early, which happens to be earlier than our hotel serves breakfast.  “Oh, you want the Hill City Cafe,” our desk maven tells us.  “My husband eats there all the time so it must be good.”  If it’s good enough for her husband, whom we’ve never met and know nothing about, then it’s certainly good enough for us.  She gives us driving directions that depend heavily on a knowledge of local landmarks, a knowledge which, of course, we don’t have.  This is the first time for both of us here in the little town of Keystone, South Dakota (population 339.)

After a drive of exactly ten miles, we find the restaurant.  We like to get an early start to our hiking because, well, we like to start early.  Also in these midwestern states, thunderstorms often come up suddenly in the afternoons.  Harney Peak, the high point of S D, our hike for today, is about a thousand feet above the rest of the world around here so if lightning is gonna strike, it’s gonna strike at the top.

Lisa and I are the first customers of the day at the Hill City Cafe.  It is six a.m., opening time.  I pick up the newspaper that is lying on the porch by the front door and carry it in.  A woman is busy behind a counter, doing all those things one does to get ready for a day of feeding people.  I hand her the newspaper, she shows us to a table.  I’ve always wondered, when every table is available, how do they pick the one for us?

Six tables, three booths, a counter behind which she is cooking, large animal heads displayed above eye level on several walls, another room in the back for more dining,  Come to think of it, there are large animal heads displayed above eye level on walls of just about every building we’ve been in here in western South Dakota:  hotels, restaurants, visitors centers.  And too, we find large sculpted animals in front of every building.  The wild, wild west.

Counter Lady scurries about, putting things over there that were over here, and bringing things from over there to over here.  She serves hot coffee to Lisa.  She pours a second cup and places it at another table, even though no one else is in the restaurant.  A minute later, in walks a gentleman who goes directly to the table where his coffee is waiting for him.  Not his first rodeo.  She hands him the newspaper saying, “That gentleman” — indicating me — “brought this in for you.”

We’ve already noticed in our two days here in the Black Hills that locals are extremely friendly while the tourists, not so much.

Our local coffee-drinker turns to us.  “Hey.  Where you from?”

“Pittsburgh.”  And then we wait for the inevitable, “I used to live there,” or “My cousin lives in the Steel City,” or “Go, Steelers!”  To our surprise, he says none of these things.  Instead he explains that if you are from South Dakota, you are called a South Dakotan.  “What are you folks from Pittsburgh called?”

Lisa says, “Yinzers.”

If you are from Pittsburgh, you are a yinzer, and you know it.  You might even be chuckling right now.  If you are not a yinzer, you must understand that Pittsburgh has its own dialect, called Pittsburghese.  When referring to people in the plural, or sometimes singular, second person voice, we will often say “yinz” as most people would say “you guys,” or something roughly like that.

“Yinzers?  Hmm.”  He moves on, asks if we are seeing the sights.

“Yep.  We’re tourists.”

“Oh, we don’t call them tourists here.  We call them visitors.

“Be sure to go to Crazy Horse.  You don’t want to miss that.”

Crazy Horse is a couple days in our future, but it is on our schedule.  “We will be sure to see that,” we assure him.

“Where you staying?”  We tell him we have a hotel in Keystone.  (In the lobby of this hotel, large animal heads are displayed above eye level on several walls, like everywhere else.)

“Yeah,” he says, “Keystone can get pretty crowded during the summer.  All that’s open in Keystone during the off season though is the taffy shop.  Used to be a big tin mining town but that’s done.”

Keystone has gone through a number of transitions.  It started, like all things, as nothing.  Then in 1875, gold was discovered and mining brought in the settlers.  Soon enough the small community grew into the town of Keystone.  Tin was discovered in the ground, as well as other metals, drawing more folks to the area.  Zealous mining nearly depleted the metals and the town declined.  Folks decided to carve Mount Rushmore (not animal heads, but heads) and with the addition of reliable roads, a railroad and electric power, Keystone boomed again.  Now tourism is the main industry here.  Or with a nod to our new friend in the diner, let’s call it visitorism.

After breakfast, Lisa and I are walking out.  He says, “You have yourself a good day today.”

“Yins too.”

In our car, driving away, we head toward trailhead.  Reflecting on our breakfast, Lisa says, “Very nice people around here.”  Yep.

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