At the start of the chapter, an excerpt of Agnes Repplier’s Times and Tendencies says that America’s religion and morality are all wrapped up in the idea that America deserves all its blessings. The scene then opens with Shadow driving Wednesday across the Midwest to South Dakota, in a Winnebago that Wednesday has bought. Wednesday comments on Mount Rushmore, calling it another sacred place of America where white people felt that they needed to build an excuse for people to visit. Shadow adds that he had a friend once who told him that the Dakota Indians climb Mt. Rushmore in order to pee on the presidents’ noses.
The chapter opener introduces the idea of American exceptionalism—the belief that America is special because it deserves to be, and it somehow will always be superior to other countries. Mount Rushmore was a sacred place for the Sioux Native American tribe, among others, before the land was made “public” by the American Government. Modern Americans still feel that this land is special somehow, but had to inscribe images of presidents on it in order to feel they could worship it, instead of just worshipping the land itself. The Dakota who pee on the president’s noses seem to be rejecting the man-made (and colonialist) changes to the land, rather than disrespecting the land itself.
After driving a while longer, Shadow tells Wednesday that a girl disappeared in Lakeside. Wednesday calls it a tragedy, but focuses more on the sadness of the question that used to be on the milk cartons that displayed missing children: “Have you seen me?”
Wednesday again can’t seem to care about the things that bother humans. The missing child question—“Have you seen me?”—resonates with Wednesday, who is trying to force the other gods and the humans of America to see him, and worship him once more.
Wednesday tells Shadow to exit the interstate, but finds a roadblock in front of them and a fleet of black cars behind them. Wednesday uses chalk to scratch a design on the Winnebago’s dashboard, then tells Shadow to drive the Winnebago off the road. Shadow reluctantly does so, as the Dakotan landscape dissolves around them. Wednesday tells Shadow to park the Winnebago, and he and Shadow walk into a strange version of the Dakota hills with bright stars overhead, though it is daytime. Wednesday laughs at Shadow for simply accepting all these fantastic events, but Shadow says that nothing has surprised him since he learned that Laura was sleeping with Robbie.
The roadblock and black cars seem to have been built by the New Gods in order to trap Wednesday and Shadow. Wednesday takes Shadow to the mythic dimension “behind” America, which can only be accessed by the gods. Shadow is starting to have some qualms about Wednesday’s plans, questioning his desire to take the top-heavy Winnebago off road, but he still follows Wednesday’s orders. Ever since Laura’s betrayal, Shadow’s whole world feels so unstable that no strange event seems out of place.
Wednesday and Shadow walk in silence, as Wednesday warns Shadow not to speak and not to get too close to the odd spider-like contraptions and shards of bone that dot the landscape. Shadow accidentally touches a bone and finds himself transported into the body of a policeman at the roadblock. The other policemen chatter about how odd it is that they lost the Winnebago that was coming down the road, but all Shadow’s policeman can think of is how badly he needs to pee. Shadow’s policeman, Mr. Town, calls Mr. World and tells Mr. World the bad news that the Winnebago got away. Mr. World says not to worry about trying to intercept the Winnebago later. Shadow’s own thoughts interrupt to think that Mr. World’s voice sounds familiar, and Mr. Town struggles to imagine why he would think that when he talks to Mr. World every day.
The spider-like contraption seems to be a monitoring device left by the New Gods, while the shards of bone act as conduits into the minds of different people and gods. The bone that Shadow touches transports him into Mr. Town’s head, as Mr. Town is trying to keep up the roadblock that Mr. World wants, while also ensuring that the human police don’t think anything strange is happening. The New Gods do not want humans to see magic, as that could spark belief in Old Gods once more. Shadow’s thoughts break into Mr. Town’s head when Shadow recognizes Mr. World’s voice, which he has heard once when Mr. World ordered the raid on the House on the Rock—but also because it’s the voice of Low Key.
Shadow snaps back into his own body as Wednesday removes Shadow’s hand from the bone shard. The two men watch the spider-like contraption light up green, then fade to blue, then red. Wednesday says it is now safe to speak. Shadow asks where they are, and Wednesday answers that they are “behind the scenes.” Shadow recounts his experience in Mr. Town’s head and Wednesday is happy to hear that the police don’t know where they are. Shadow begins to get a headache as they keep walking, so Wednesday gives him a sip of a sweet liquid to keep him from getting sick from being “Backstage.” Finally Wednesday tells Shadow to walk between two mounds of glassy rock and Shadow emerges back in the real world.
On Mr. World’s orders, the New Gods stop monitoring Backstage, the mythical godly dimension behind America. This place seems to be the magical foundation underneath America that can only be accessed by gods, and is not a place where mortals like Shadow should be. Wednesday gives Shadow what seems to be either ambrosia (a divine liquid from Greek mythology) or soma, the divine liquid from Hindu mythology, to help him tolerate the place. Yet there must be something special about Shadow, as he seems to be accessing Backstage in his dreams. Gaiman hints that Shadow is not entirely mortal.
Wednesday and Shadow walk down a hill to a mobile home where a dark-skinned man warns “two white men who lost their Winnebago” that they are on Lakota land. Wednesday snorts that the man, Whiskey Jack, is not himself Lakota. Whiskey Jack invites them into his mobile home, where Wednesday introduces Shadow to Johnny Appleseed, who is sitting at the table. Shadow says his name is Mike Ainsel, but Johnny corrects him. Whiskey Jack serves stew for them all while Johnny pours apple cider.
Whiskey Jack, also called Wisakedjak, is a trickster and friend to humankind in the Native American Algonquin, Menominee, and Cree cosmologies. Like Johnny Appleseed, Whiskey Jack is more of a culture hero used to teach morals or lessons, rather than a god. Johnny Appleseed, the culture hero named for John Chapman, was famous for planting apple trees across the Eastern and Midwest United States as well as advocating for conservation of natural resources. Whiskey Jack’s description of Shadow as white again highlights his racial ambiguity.
After they eat, Johnny Appleseed asks Wednesday why he is leading the old folks on a war path. Whiskey Jack comments that the New Gods have already won and that he doesn’t want to fight for another lost cause, like when the Native Americans continued to fight even after the white men had already won. Johnny chimes in that he wouldn’t be worth anything in a fight, now that people no longer believe in him after Paul Bunyan took over his place in the minds of the American people.
Whiskey Jack has already fought a hopeless battle, and does not consider Wednesday’s cause important enough to fight again. None of the gods that Wednesday visits seem interested in his war, most just hoping to survive themselves rather than get involved in a bloody battle. Even Johnny Appleseed, angry about the “fakelore” of Paul Bunyan—a cultural figure similar to Johnny Appleseed, but one that was partly made up by lumber companies—does not want to destroy the New Gods.
Whiskey Jack suddenly focuses on Shadow and says that Shadow is hunting for a debt he wishes to pay. Shadow thinks of Laura and nods. Whiskey Jack tells a story of Fox and Wolf, with the moral that the dead must stay dead. Whiskey Jack asks Shadow to tell him his dream, and Shadow explains about the skull spire and the thunderbirds. Whiskey Jack nods and tells Shadow that a thunderbird would bring Laura back, but that she is meant to stay dead. Finally, Whiskey Jack tells Shadow to come visit him again when Shadow has found his tribe.
Though Whiskey Jack admits that it’s possible to bring Laura back, there would be consequences beyond what Shadow is willing to pay. Unlike Wednesday, who goes for what he wants no matter what, Whiskey Jack follows the Native American tradition of advocating for balance above all. Whiskey Jack’s reference to Shadow’s “tribe” suggests that Shadow himself might have Native American heritage, which would help explain Shadow’s racial ambiguity and his unique connection to America itself.
Whiskey Jack asks Wednesday if he is going back for his “Ho Chunk,” the proper name for the “Winnebago” tribe. Wednesday says that it is too risky, and Whiskey Jack offers his nephew Harry Bluejay’s Buick in exchange. Johnny Appleseed then takes Shadow and Wednesday to find Harry. As they walk, Johnny explains that he once had a wife who was Choctaw but that she died, making Johnny go crazy for a bit. After walking for half an hour, the three men catch a ride from a Lakota woman. She explains that the Lakota call Whiskey Jack Inktomi.
Whiskey Jack highlights how modern American culture exploits Native Americans, taking the name of a tribe and using it for a motorhome. Adding insult to injury, the commercial product doesn’t even use the right name. Johnny’s grief after his wife’s death offers a parallel to Shadow’s situation, as Shadow feels like he’s going crazy from all the events that have transpired since Laura’s death. Whiskey Jack’s name among the Lakota tribe is Inktomi, another reminder that the gods have different names and even different characteristics according to what different groups of people believe about them. Yet Inktomi is still a trickster figure, maintaining the essential core of the god.
Shadow and Wednesday find Harry Bluejay at the reservation rec hall. Harry angrily explains that he is not Whiskey Jack’s nephew (as Shadow realizes that they have all been saying “Wisakedjak” this whole time), but agrees to give them his Buick. Shadow drives to St. Paul, with Wednesday sulking the whole time. At a restaurant, Shadow sees a paper and notices that the date is the 14th of February, though it was only the 21st of January when they left for South Dakota. Wednesday, still grumpy, grunts that they spent a month walking Backstage. After seeing Johnny Appleseed, Wednesday is very aware that America forgets even its own legends, much less the stories of the gods brought to America.
Though Wisakedjak may be a friend to humankind, he still expects humans to follow his will even when it’s inconvenient. Shadow has also had to sacrifice his time to Wednesday, spending almost a month Backstage, where time moves at a different rate. Wednesday is nowhere close to grateful for all that Shadow is doing for him, focusing instead on his imminent fading away if all people in America forget him. It is clear that Wednesday will do anything, no matter who it hurts, in order to stay present.
Shadow and Wednesday drive back to Lakeside, seeing notices about the missing Alison McGovern as they get closer to the town. Shadow buys the “Lakeside Reporter,” looking for news of Alison, but the newspaper is full of fluff human interest pieces. Back in Lakeside, Wednesday takes the car and leaves, while Shadow walks out to the lake to look at the car on the ice. There, he sees Marguerite Olsen and asks about Alison. Marguerite says darkly that she hopes Alison is dead, because the alternatives are worse. Shadow realizes that Marguerite is really talking about her own missing son Sandy.
Lakeside puts so much stock in being a “good” town that they even curate their newspaper in order to keep anything distressing appearing on the record. Marguerite, the only one who seems to still remember all the kids who have disappeared, obviously does not buy the story that Sandy ran away with his father. If Marguerite hopes that both Alison and Sandy are dead, she must be sure that there is something horrible lurking in Lakeside.
Through the month of February, Shadow spends his time taking long walks on the trails around Lakeside. He watches the wildlife and tries not to think about gods, or Laura, or strange dreams. Getting a haircut at the local barber one day, Shadow sees Chad Mulligan. Chad welcomes Shadow back to Lakeside and tells Shadow to consider a career in law enforcement if the job with his “uncle” ever falls through. Chad then changes the subject, asking advice about whether he should pursue a relationship with a second cousin who was recently widowed and may have a thing for him. Shadow tells Chad to go for it.
Shadow finally gets a chance at a normal life, growing into his “role” as Mike Ainsel and finding he likes the fit. Without the baggage of Shadow’s criminal record, Chad goes so far as to offer Shadow a job on the other side of the law. After all the talk of gods and battles, the small detail of Chad’s love life comes as a welcome respite from the tense situations elsewhere in the novel.
Shadow follows a trail out of town that leads him to a tiny graveyard. Laura is there, but she asks Shadow not to look at her because she now appears very obviously dead. Shadow’s time at the funeral home in Cairo makes him more comfortable with the dead, though, and he is able to admit to Laura that he misses her. Laura explains that she hasn’t been able to find him lately, as his presence only flares up for a couple of days all over the states. Shadow says that he has been staying in Lakeside.
Laura’s soul may be kept alive by the gold coin, but her body is decomposing exactly as if she really were dead. This is another sign that Laura really should accept death fully, rather than continue to lie that she is alive. Shadow’s presence seems to be hidden from Laura when he is in Lakeside, suggesting that there is something magical about this “normal” town after all—and this is probably also why Wednesday insisted that Shadow stay here to “lie low.”
Shadow and Laura begin to walk, and Shadow revels in how normal it feels to walk with his wife. Laura stops and says that she may be dead, but Shadow never truly seemed alive even when they were together. She goes on to chatter that she liked Robbie because he was actually somebody who wanted things. Shadow is hurt, and Laura apologizes, but she asks Shadow if he’s sure he’s alive. Laura then leaves, telling Shadow that he will see her again before the end.
In this moment, Shadow has practically everything he wanted when he was in prison—yet Laura reminds him that this is not enough. Shadow needs to figure out some long-term goals and desires so that he can start living purposefully rather than floating around as he did when he and Laura were married. Shadow dislikes that Laura went to Robbie in his place, but he does not contradict her, as Shadow seems to agree that he needs to become more fully “alive.”