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Today, South Dakota farms are addressed based on their distance from Wyoming and North Dakota.
Today, South Dakota farms are addressed based on their distance from Wyoming and North Dakota.

Hang a Left on 438th Street

May 19, 2014

When or how or why it happened, I do not know. Perhaps it was while I was asleep, or when I was brushing my teeth. It may even have occurred while I was improving my mind by watching reruns of "Baywatch."

All I know is that, not so very long ago, I was living at the intersection of two plain old gravel roads, complete with a pair of stop signs that most drivers didn't even see as they raced by at the speed of Nolan Ryan's fastball. But today I live at the corner of 438th Street and 310th Avenue. Or maybe it's the other way around. Thanks to this new Rural Addressing System I was able to move, sort of, and I didn't have to spend weeks digging in grocery store Dumpsters for boxes to pack stuff in.

While I am profoundly grateful for that, I have decided that this situation represents more; it is an opportunity for a new career. Some men hope for high public office, or great wealth. Not I. My ambition has always been to be a chronically crabby, suspicious, complaining, guaranteed-to-see-the-worst-in-everything whiner.

This rural addressing business could be just the issue I need.

My mentors in this new career are those guys, found in nearly every donut shop, cafe or tavern, who complain constantly about everything. From their perches at the bar or counter they nurse a cup of coffee or schooner of beer for hours while eavesdropping on the conversations around them, ever alert for opportunities to let others know this (town, county, state, nation, world) is going to hell. Since they invariably know everybody, and have opinions on all subjects from commodity price supports to whether the high school basketball team should use a zone or man-to-man defense, they are never silent for long.

Incidentally, I hope no women are offended by my excluding them from this group. Let's be frank. Women simply don't have what it takes to be negative for decades on end. Either that or they have sense enough not to do their complaining in front of strangers. Whatever the reason, constant public complaining seems to be almost exclusively a male pastime.

My whining colleagues and I have a rich history in these United States. Back in 1776 our grumbling forefathers were heard to mutter, "Independence my @#%&*! What did those fools think the British were going to do? They'll get us all killed! And whose idea was it to make Washington a general? My %$&#@* horse could do a better job!"

And so on. With every political turn and technological development we were dependably, loudly and profanely there, declaring this or that would not work. We never actually halted anything; most of the time we could be seen in the country's rear view mirror, fuming and sputtering and vowing, "You'll never find any of that electricity stuff in my house!"

In the great engine of progress, we are the sand.

Which brings me to the Rural Addressing System. Was there ever an issue more in tune to the needs of complainers? Think about it. It requires us all to learn something new, which is one sure strike against it. For another, the whole scheme is figured by how many miles your section line road is from Wyoming (going east-west) and North Dakota (going north-south).

Does that sound like a system ordinary people would invent?

If you were using something equivalent in your home, and a guest asked if they could use the bathroom, you wouldn't tell them, "It's right down the hall, last door on the left." No, no, no. You would say, "It's 50 feet east of the garage and 4 feet north of the bedroom."

Or if you needed to tell someone how to get to your farm you'd tell them, "Go to Wyoming, and when you're 127 miles away from North Dakota, hang a right. Then go 391 miles east and you can't miss us, a white house with green trim. If you hit Minnesota, you've gone too far."

I just hope I'm not too late. All of the good lines have probably been used a million times already. "Some $%&#@ bureaucrat in Pierre with nothin' better to do!" And, "What a bunch of @&*%$# foolishness! A waste of taxpayers’ money, all them %$#&@ signs! Ain't but one $%*&@# place out that way and they need two dozen signs to tell you how to get there!"

There's still probably room on the lunatic fringe, but I'm not up to speculating about how the Rural Addressing System is part of a CIA plot. Since I'm a novice I will probably stick to some basic grumbling about the cost, followed by the tried and true complainers anthem: "Well I'll be %$#&@ if I ever use it! I'll get my mail at the post office!"

Luckily, it's not far from the donut shop.

Editor’s note: This article is revised from the May/June 1996 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.


07:55 am - Tue, May 20 2014
Ed said:
How perfect you are with this whole idea. I used to live 3 mi S and a half west of my town not anymore. Now i'm half way between 421st and 422st on 218th.
06:23 pm - Wed, June 4 2014
Joyce said:
The title grabbed me! I traveled west on 304th, hung a RIGHT on 438th, and took the first driveway on the RIGHT. Got me home for years.
07:56 pm - Sun, February 19 2023
Dan Jacobson said:
It's way smarter than the statewide system in N. Dak.
And in fact they should have started one axis at 500, not both at 100.
That would eliminate any possibility of getting them switched.

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