Why Treatment Beats Prison, and Why A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

What a sweet surprise today.  While opening Facebook I saw the following piece from Today’s City Pages website.  For those who don’t know, City Pages is the long-time surviving and leading alternative weekly in the Twin Cities.  The young lady in the story is Jenny, who happens to be the daughter of my oldest pal Jerry.  I know he’s proud of her, as are the rest of her family and friends.  And with very good reason.

http://www.citypages.com/arts/adventures-in-recovery-jennys-journey-from-addiction-to-law-school/437706493

To me, Jenny is a wonderful example of the great things that can happen when the stigma of addiction is broken.  Addiction is not a moral failing or weakness any more than are cancer or a broken arm.  Addiction is an illness that can be cured.  It is also one of the most devastating public health crises in the country today, costing us all billions of dollars, and costing us the lives of those we love most.  It’s also overwhelmingly common, touching just about everyone in one way or another. Yet in far too many cases it is treated  either like the proverbial crazy  aunt living in the attic; hidden away, not to be talked about, and something to be feared and ashamed of.,,or as a moral failure, a lack of character, and a sin.

Full disclosure:  I’ve been in recovery a few months short of 9 years, and am currently working as an Addiction Peer Recovery Coach at Face It TOGETHER-Sioux Fall   Every day I see broken people and families devastated by addiction.  I also see these same people and families get well and live remarkable lives. Unfortunately, there are still millions who want to punish addicts instead of helping them, and jail addicts instead of getting them the help than can make them well again  Jenny is a great example of what can and does happen when we work hard and have the support of those around us. She’s already changing lives.  And she’s just getting started.

Looking’ Out My Front Door

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Our work office features a wall of windows facing west.  That wall of windows looks upon Vern Eide Honda.  More precisely, it looks upon Eide’s side lot where the wonderful odd ball vehicles reside.  Here you’ll find vintage cars, late-model high performance special edition cars…basically anything that they take in on trade that doesn’t fit nicely into the traditional “used vehicle” category.IMG_2311

Today I couldn’t help but see these three beauties.  I’ve always wondered what it would be like to own an International Scout like these two, or an International Travel All, IH’s answer to the Chevy Suburban.  Back in the day, these, and IH pickups, could be purchased at your local International Harvester Tractor dealer. Farm operators might live many miles from an actual late-model car dealer, but your home-town IH dealer let you purchase and service your tractor, corn picker, haying accessories and your truck, pickup or in these two your Cro Magnon 4 wheel drive SUV.   I’ve always figured if you owned an old Scout you’d better know how to source scare parts and possess the knowledge (and perverse joy) in constantly fixing the vehicle, which pretty much put me out of the running from the start. Yet, the dream dies hard, and the lack of all that doesn’t kill the fun of imagining one of these parked outside.

The car below (and sitting about 5 spots away from the IH’s) is an early 70’s Mercury Comet.  I don’t know the official Ford name for that paint color. Calf Scour Yellow-Green is probably most accurate, although I can imagine the difficulty of getting that one through Marketing.  I’m not your go-to classic Ford encyclopedia.  (Frankly I don’t have to be, because I have friends who know as much or more detail of anything FoMoCo this side of Dearborn).  I think I’m safe in thinking the Mercury Comet of this era is the twin of the Ford Maverick.  Two doors are neat, but I’m guessing there’s little else about this model which evoked the word “COOL” back in the day.  Regardless, I like ’em, and I had a lot of fun in Comets/Mavericks, and as a teen in the 70’s, that Comet was infinitely cooler than…walking everywhere you wanted to go.,,

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The Movie House Which Refused to Die

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More from our trip to Sonoma CA:  As the days of the Mexican war came to an end and California was annexed into the US, the square where Spanish soldiers once drilled was turned into a lovely park, with businesses along the the perimeter. As white settlers and immigrants from Europe and the Far East  poured into California, the rich soils yielded great fortunes in cattle, crops and eventually the vineyards which would one day be among the worlds best. Among the families who prospered in the wine business were the Italians family  Sebastiani. Civic-minded Samuele Sebastiani, the patriarch of the successful family winery, thought there should be an entertainment facility on the square befitting Sonoma’s growing status and prosperity. In the early 1930’s he built the Sebastiani Theater, designed by famed theater designer James W. Reid. The show house featured a stunningly colorful neon marque which proudly trumpeted the talkie showing that week, or an upcoming stage show or musical review. The interior was ornately decorated, and all in all it was quite a showplace.

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However, as the decades went by, television and other diversions lessened the demand for a theater, which in the 60’s closed on Monday and Tuesday, and would cancel an evening’s presentation if there were less than seven paying customers in the house. The building began to crumble, and was eventually saved from demolition by local devotion and the now corporate Sebastiani Winery’s generous financial support. We went to see a movie at this historic venue (The current release “A United Kingdom”, which I recommend highly) and were very blown away by the new, state of the art sound and digital picture.

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We learned the theater regularly shows classic movies using the old 35MM projectors, along with quality live music presentation. You can even purchase three strands of either red or black licorice for just 25 cents (mix and match if you wish). The lobby was also covered by hand-drawn color portraits of the great movie stars of the 20s-30’s by a local artist during the depression, but not discovered until recently. We followed the moving with a knock-out dinner at The Plaza Bistro (theplazabistro.com) just a few doors down on the Square. I think that’s one of the reasons I like Sonoma so much. It’s a farm town with class, but little pretense.

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The Valley of the Moon

A few days ago Joan, my mom Joyce and I returned from visiting family in Sonoma California.   Sonoma is nestled in a spectacularly fertile, rolling and green patch of the planet roughly 45 minutes north and east of San Francisco. The indigenous Miwok Indians called the land the “Valley of the Moon” for the way each full moon lit like day the entire Sonoma Valley.  The photo above is of bro-in-law and host Steve and my mother in front of Sonoma’s famous “Valley of the Moon” mural just off the Square). The Spanish entered the area in 1835 looking for treasure, land and “heathen souls”to convert. Unfortunately for the proud and peaceful Miwok the Spanish proved most adept at spreading small pox, resulting in the convertion of a large number of the Miwok into corpses.

The Spanish made Sonoma the northernmost of their string of California missions.  Today the Sonoma Valley produces some of the finest wines in the world and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors for year-round fun and frolic. Napa, Sonoma’s neighbor to the east, is the more famous of the two. but that popularity has turned Napa into a city with city-type problems, an outlet mall, and, shall we say, a crabby disposition towards the tourists who park in their spots, take the good seats at the restaurants and generally make the place Wine Disney World. Sonoma, however, is still at heart a farm town of around 10,000 where feed stores and fantastic restaurants live comfortably side-by-side and just about anyone you meet while walking the town still smiles and says “hello”.  You also won’t  find a fast-food restaurant or Walmart, and the only chain store is Williams Sonoma because the famed kitchen and home store was founding in, well, Sonoma.  Although I no longer get to enjoy the fruit of the vine, I remember Sonoma wine as every bit as good as those in Napa, and in many cases, better.

IMG_2088 Joan and Mom, boarding at FSD

I’ve often said that the older I get, the fewer things I know “for sure”, meaning that as time rambles on, the know-it-all black and white brashness of youth gives way to the reality that life is constructed mostly of gray. I’m in my 56th year, and I can state with certainty I know the following to be true: 1) People hate change. 2) It’s never too cold for ice cream. 3) There is always room for a little pie. And 4) If you are ever given the option of having loving family live in Sonoma, have the good sense to say “yes” and visit them often. More bits of Sonoma history and trip tales to come.

Of Farm Shows, Gorillas and Life

deluxe-mountain-gorilla-costume.jpgIt’s January in South Dakota, which means its time for The Sioux Empire Farm Show, where for decades the makers and sellers of all things Ag put winter on the back burner and get together indoors to put on a show for those who farm and ranch for a living. For an afternoon you can leave winter and enter a world of machinery makers, seed dealers, tire merchants, makers of the latest hardware and software. Even if you’re not involved in production agriculture it’s a potent environment for learning.

The Farm Show has special meaning for me. It was 1984. The unemployment rate was somewhere between 8 and 10%. I had graduated college with honors the previous summer with no idea of what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be. Both of my brothers had coincidently found their way back to South Dakota that January, so I said “what the heck” and headed there myself with no job and no clue of where to start.

When I was 17 I worked weekends at a tiny radio station in Wabasha, MN. I hadn’t given radio another thought for several years, but while in college a string of circumstances found me as both a full-time student and a full-time commercial DJ. The radio job was open only because guy named Reid Holsen had left it. Reid ended up a few years later in Sioux Falls as Program Director at KIOV-FM 104.7. Reid knew a little bit about me from those Mankato days, and for whatever reason he saw something in me and gave me a shot on weekends. However, before I stepped foot in the studio I learned sister station KXRB had another opening of sorts at the Sioux Empire Farm Show. The gig was five days of wandering the Farm Show in…a gorilla suit. I don’t remember why the station had a gorilla suit, or how the gorilla fit into the promotional strategy of a pair of country radio stations, but there it was. It probably wasn’t much of a suit when it was new, and in January 1984 it was anything but new. The “hair” was matted, the rubber mask smelled something awful and the whole getup was HOT. My job was to walk around the show floor with my best primate amble, mess with people, hand out yardsticks with the station logos, and do it all without making a sound. For five straight days.

Here I was, a college grad with degrees in labor relations and economics, two successful years of full-time experience as an on-air radio personality on a #1 FM hit music station…in a gorilla suit for 5 days. I sweated off 5-10 pounds a day. I smelled. People verbally abused me. Someone actually taped a “Kick me” sign on my back. I was paid around $3 an hour. And I worked my butt off trying to be the best Farm Show gorilla I could be. I could have said no, been insulted, flat-out refused or quit… but I didn’t. I had agreed to do the gig for five days, and I did it in as professional manner as I could muster. If I was going to be a Farm Show gorilla, I was going to be the greatest Farm Show gorilla in costumed primate history.

The next week I started doing weekends on-air. In a few months I was hired full time, eventually took over the station’s morning show, and before leaving helped take that station to #1 in the market. At 25 I turned myself into a successful talk show host and program director in Rochester, MN, then moved to the Twin Cities and programmed one of the most celebrated talk radio stations in the US.  I left the glitz and money behind to return to South Dakota and a job in public service. I loved the work, and I know I made a lasting impact, but learned too late that challenging the status quo is not the path to longevity in public employment. At age 55 I found myself looking to start over.

Despite laws to the contrary, many people facing the job market in their 50’s or 60’s can tell you the soul-crushing frustration of being covertly considered too old, too expensive, over-qualified, under-qualified, etc. When I was doing the hiring I cared much less about age in favor of finding out whether or not a candidate had a little “Farm Show Gorilla” in them. If they did, it told me they’ll do whatever needed to be done, and do it with creativity and good cheer. Now I’m the one looking for an opportunity. If you have bananas that need peeling, I know my “Farm Show Gorilla” is still alive and kicking.

 

Farmin’ Is The Life For Me

It was my birthday last week.  Actually it is “our birthday”, meaning me AND my mom.  We were both involved in my birth, which I understand was a rather unusual and taxing ordeal, so the day is as much my mom’s as it is mine.

This year to celebrate we had lunch in downtown Sioux Falls at the Phillips Avenue Diner.  We both had the jambalaya, which as always was excellent.  If you think you can’t get excellent cajun/creole food in the Great Northern Plains, think again.

Afterwards we went to the 2017 Sioux Empire Farm Show, a gargantuan celebration of all things agriculture.  This year’s show was ginormous, taking up every room, every inch of hallway and probably every broom closet at the Sioux Falls Convention Center, Area, and Denny Sanford Center. One of the reasons for needing all that room was the unbelievable scale of modern farm equipment.  Below are a couple of examples.  My mother is in both pictures.  She’s around 5′ 1″.  Calling that green mountain a simple “grain wagon” seems somehow lacking, as is the “spraying rig” in the bottom photo.  If someone mentions the word “agribusiness” and your mind goes to a scene from the 70’s TV show “Green Acres” or even the moving “Field of Dreams”, you may be in need of an update.  It was a great way to spend “our” birthday together. Love you mom!

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In a One Horse Open Sleigh, 1964

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Today is Christmas Day 2016, and I was going through some family history files.  I came across this photo from Christmas Day, 1964.  We were out at the Matthews family place owned by my Grandpa Curley and Grandma Margaret Matthews, located about three miles east and   1 1/4 miles north of Forestburg, SD.  It’s the place where my mom and her two sisters did most of their growing up.  That’s Grandpa Curley on the far right, hood up and smoking’ a heater.  From left-right:  Aunt Shirley, my youngest cousin Susan, her mother Aunt Marge, my Mom, Cousin Laurel (with the pointed hood!), me, Uncle Harvey and my younger brother Bruce.   It was a crisp day with a gray sky but several inches of the freshest, whitest snow you can imagine.  There was also a bit of wind, exaggerated by sailing over the snow in Grandpa’s old cutter.  I can’t tell you a lot about the cutter, other than it was quite old and had been on the farm for decades.

I don’t know if it was the cold, the wind, the white snow or just the thrill of it all, but although I was a month short of four years old (and 52 years ago!),  I remember vividly the experience.  It’s probably my earliest Christmas memory, and quite arguably my best. Over the river, and through the woods….

Reprise: “Bust A Move”…

(Note:  I’ve been searching for some of my favorite blog posts fro the last year and reprising them if it makes sense.  Since many (most?) of my readers experienced some old-fashioned cold and snow this week, this post from October 4, 2016, seems appropriate.  Happy Christmas! JT)

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Spending time writing about winter outdoor activities got me thinking about the real-world adventures my indestructible running buddies and I attempted/found ourselves in the middle of/were stupid enough to try back in the day. Some of these events have never been described or recounted outside our tight little group, but I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out on all of them. Or at least most of them. I think.

The sport was simply named, “Drift-Busting”. Participants in town needed to be 16 and a licensed driver, although many farm kids started building their skills much younger. All you needed was a big US-built four door family sedan from the late 60’s through late 70’s. The early 70’s Chevy Impala and Ford LTD were ideal, although exotica like the “roomy” Plymouth Fury III, Buick LeSabre, Ford Country Sedan station wagon or Ford Ranchero or Chevy El Camino with extra weight over the rear axle added variety.

The ideal crew for Drift Busting included: 1) The Driver; 2) The Navigator, front seat passenger window who was the lookout for other cars and plows, snow-covered obstacles and law enforcement, and 3) An attractive and animated young lady front-seat middle to supply appropriate shrieks, support and laughter such as you might hear on a roller coaster or in a Steve McQueen movie. You went with just Driver/Navigator if circumstances dictated, but the “three wide” configuration was definitely preferred.el-caminobronco-under-tree

There were three disciplines in Sedan-class Drift Busting. The first was “Classic Drift Busting”, where during or after a big snow ( 6-7inches and up, but more snow and wind is better). you busted unplowed drifts right where God dropped ‘em. “Classic” tested your behind-the-wheel skill to keep from getting stuck or high-centered, and your ability to negotiate a mid-storm corner. The second was “Post-Plow Busting” where you could pick up speed on plowed streets before busting through man-made piles. The heart beat a little faster with this one. The third discipline was “Free-style”, with the car on an unplowed parking lot or playground that was paved and flat, had lots of snow, and fewer things to hit. Free-style tested your artistry with rear-wheel drive V-8 skids, drifting and a set of various consecutive circle-spins and overheated engines referred to collectively as “shitties”.

There were many good Drift-Busters, too many to mention, but as a Navigator my favorite pilot, hands-down, was Thomas P. Harlan. Today Tom is a high-powered lawyer in the Twin Cities, but back then he was a wild-eyed pilot of a classic Dark Olive 1970-ish Chevrolet Impala v-8 equipped four-door sedan. The car was sparsely optioned, but did have a solid AM radio allowing for a long-distance “Boogie Check” with John “Records” Landecker on 89-WLS Chicago. The secret weapon of that car is that it came pre-dented, so when Tom took it home with some fresh dimples no one was the wiser. If you measured pilots solely on driving skill, Tom was well above average but not a savant. His gifts were a total lack of fear, the willingness to thread even the smallest needle, and a happy-go-lucky cackle even in the face of certain disaster. Call it the “Luck of the Irish” if you like.

The demise of the rear-wheeled sedan, improved plowing techniques, fewer monster snow storms and a general distaste for such reckless activities make today’s Drift-Busting the winter equivalent of cock fighting, run by seedy gamblers swilling cheap peppermint schnapps and betting on strung-out adrenaline junkies piloting rusted-out Plymouth K-Cars. But I’ll remember when young princes like Tommy slung around that Detroit iron with a comely lass like Lou Ann Erickson or Susan Arnoldy in the middle, all of us singing “Sultans of Swing” at the top of our lungs, just for the fun of it all.

 

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