Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Movie House Which Refused to Die

IMG_2114

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.

IMG_2105

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.

IMG_2112

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.

IMG_2113

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!

IMG_0261.JPGIMG_0262.JPG

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.

 

In a One Horse Open Sleigh, 1964

Christmas 1964 Cutter Ride.jpg

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: “There Must Be a Pony In There Somewhere”

(Note:  My Mom reminded me of this post I wrote last holiday season. There are a few more of you following this blog this year than last, so I thought I’d reprise.  If you like the story and think your friends would like it, click “share”. You’d be doing me a big favor, too. Merry Christmas!).

I spent last weekend at the Ancestral Manse in Forestburg, SD. As the house is directly behind the only year-round storefront in town, I can report that business was about average for a December Friday at Doren’s Bar. I drove into Forestburg in the dark (sunset this time of year occurring shortly after lunch), but was buoyed by a very respectable display of holiday lights. There was just enough snow to make everything white but not enough to get easily stuck. Temps were in the single digits, but tolerable due to the absence of the usually stiff prevailing northwest winds. Skies were clear enough to see the stars. A sliver of moon made it possible to hear but not see a flock of geese coming in remarkably low. I usually refer to Canada geese as “sky carp” for what I consider to be obvious reasons, but for a moment even I could muster up enough romance to think maybe they were coming in low to check out the colorful lights, too.

Like a sockeye salmon, it’s not unusual for me to feel the pull to return to my spawning ground when it gets close to Christmas. We moved to Minnesota when I was about two years old, but we always returned to my grandparents’ farms for Christmas. And I mean always. For 26 of my first 27 years we made the 300+ mile trip to do Christmas with both sides of the family. In fact the first 21 were in a row, stopped only in 1983 by a monster blizzard which left 10 foot snow drifts on the highways between Rochester, MN (where I worked) and Plainview (where I lived).

Each of those visits had both traditional ritual (oyster stew, the annual photo of my Grandma Linda, my mother and my bothers and me washing and drying dishes before opening presents) and unique memories (the hand-made Batman and Robin costumes sewn by Grandma for brother Bruce and me. I was Batman). However, there was one year that stands out for its unpredictability and sheer wonderfulness. And it had nothing in particular to do with me. It was when I was around 9 years old. After dinner and presents on my dad’s side we made the 15 mile trip through a generous but gentle snow to my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Robert Cope’s ranch. It was also home to my cousin Laurel, who is one year older than me. The Copes were unique among my extremely small extended family. They were Horse People. I couldn’t say for sure, but I’d make the bet that there were always more horses on the ranch than there were people. This, considering the combined number of horses on all of the farms of all of my relatives was zero, most definitely made them the Horse People in our little group.

Horses have always scared the heck out of me. In fact, I’m not terrible fond of any big animals. Frankly, the little ones don’t do much for me either. My total time on a horse amounts to less than five minutes of sheer terror. I’m not usually a control freak, but for me five minutes on a horse had all the allure and romance of a bungee jump, a car wreck and a plane crash all rolled into one. But I know Laurel loved horses. Much later in life when I returned to South Dakota, I caught a glimpse of the 2006 South Dakota State Park Permit on the windshield of a car. It’s a photo of a couple riding horses through one of South Dakota’s State Parks. Yep, that’s my cousin Laurel and her husband Manley.

Anyway, back to Christmas 1970 or so. The Cope’s house had a big rectangular picture window on the east side. There was a grass lawn extending out the gravel road that ran by the ranch, covered this Christmas with snow. As presents were distributed to four generations of family seated throughout the living room, the drapes on the picture window were closed. Presents were opened and thank-you’s exchanged. As everyone was basking the post-present afterglow, there was a rustling of sorts outside. Santa making a delivery, perhaps? Someone peeked behind the drawn drapes, and then turned around with a look of astonishment. Slowly the drapes were drawn, parting like drapes on a theater stage. The front lawn was brightly lit with two big spotlights. There was no wind, and the huge snowflakes falling against the black night sky made the 3D view through the picture window better than IMAX. There, tied to a post as big as life was a real, live PONY. SANTA BROUGHT LAUREL A PONY! It was simply the most amazing Christmas gift I had ever seen. Everyone in the room was mesmerized by this living, breathing, moving life-size shadow box. It was breathtaking.

Looking back, what made it all so memorable is that while the pony was a gift from Santa to Laurel, the moment was a gift to all of us. There was no jealousy, no “Laurel got a pony and I didn’t”. It was simply a magical moment, whether you were the one getting pony or not. Too often we judge our happiness against the happiness of others. We’re jealous of what they have, and mad about what we don’t, missing the point that the shared moment was the real gift.

Age and time may have embellished this Christmas memory, as age and time will do. No matter. I know where Santa comes down on the deal. And I always go with Santa.

Gazing At The Crystal Ball

Like many Americans I stayed up into the early morning hours on Wednesday to see with my own two eyes the crowning of Donald Trump as President-Elect of the United States of America.  When I did finally get to bed I had some of the most curious dreams ever. Upon waking I did my best to recall what I’d dreamt and attempted to write it all down.  I believe I was given some insight or vision, allowing me to see parts of our collective future.  It was either that, or the consequences of an over-indulgence of leftover Halloween candy waiting for election results.  In any case, a glimpse into our future….

1. It will be discovered that Donald Trump had some “inside information” a couple of weeks ago when proclaiming this presidential election had already been “fixed”.
2. On January 19, 2017, security staff at the White House are surprised when large trucks roll through the gates with a work order to install 30 ft. flashing gold and silver neon letters spelling “TRUMP PALACE” on the roof. In describing the esthetics of the Vegas-style sign, the President Elect sets some kind of record by using the word “great” 27 times.

3. Upon learning of Hillary Clinton blowing a double-digit lead in the last week of the campaign to a 70-year-old orange-haired former TV reality show star, Inventor of the Internet Albert Gore Jr. angrily revokes Hillary’s email privileges for the rest of her life.

4. Among the first calls of congratulation to President-elect Trump is from former President Bill Clinton.  While wishing Trump well, Bill whispers a “thank you” to Trump for saving him from “four years of being called the “First Man” and avoiding having his dating style cramped by moving back into the White House with Hillary.

5. Trump makes his next billion dollars collecting the burkas confiscated from muslim women deported by the US and selling them at a profit to every American woman who isn’t a “10”.

6. Following inauguration, the over and under is set at 10 months for Trump, bored and tired of being “answerable”,  leaving the US for a prolonged 36-month global vacation.

7. Reality Television, now redundant, fades into the sunset.

8. Now without O’Bama or Clinton to blame for all the world’s ills, Shawn Hannity suddenly leaves his Fox News rant show to open a wall-building business on the Mexican border with Arizona.

9. Trump bus buddy Billy Bush becomes White House Press Secretary. He later becomes wealthy inventing Kevlar-armored women’s underwear, and upon early retirement is succeeded as Press Secretary by Roger Ailes.

10. Having figured out they’ve been duped by The Donald, Trump supporters riot and burn down large chunks of the US. Seeing a business opportunity President Trump declares the entire country a total fire loss, files Chapter 11 bankruptcy on the entire country, uses the lost Gross National Product as a tax write-off, and with the proceeds moves to Europe and purchases Monaco.

Meca Leca Hi Meca Hiney Ho….

Making My Neighborhood Great Again

(Note:  If you like what you read, please share this post with your Friends.  If you don’t like what you read, share this post with your friends anyway, or with those idiots who support the other guy who you can’t STAND.  Thanks….)

Well, we’re down to about two days until this, ah, “unusual” campaign season wraps up and votes are cast. I can’t say for a fact the races will be “over” because election night in November 2000 just popped into my head, where I left election coverage at the AM 1500 KSTP studios around 12:30pm thinking the Bush/Gore election was wrapped up, only to slip into my jammies, hop into bed and turn on the radio at around 2 am only to find out things were far from over.

Anyway, I have been very hesitant to get involved online in the vitriol for a number of reasons. It’s not that I don’t have opinions. I have many. However, I used to follow and discuss this stuff on talk radio for a living in one form or another for almost 20 years. While I tried my best to keep the conversation substantive and civil, it got quite ugly to one degree or another every time.  After every election cycle I felt like I should open the Yellow Pages and find an exorcist to drive out all the demons.

All those elections, and talking to all those candidates, managers, party people etc., did give me a hard-earned education on the finer points of running negative campaigns. And if a race was the least bit contested, they ALWAYs turned negative to one degree or another. I wish I could say that education in some way makes following the current contests easier or more palatable…but I can’t. Knowing how the campaign blutwurst is made and distributed by today’s soulless campaign and media strategists doesn’t make it any easier to see it turn citizens in general, and friends and acquaintances in particular, so remarkably red-hot angry and at times hateful of one another. I feel uneasy saying this, but I find myself wondering which is worse for our society: The Blissful Ignorance of not participating in a democracy, or the Seething Anger of Participatory Ignorance amplified by the speed and ease of social media and on-demand nature of digital demagoguery? I also can’t shake the fear that the harshness of insty-commentary easily available on social media is going to leave a lot of open wounds  where once solid friendships once resided.

I’ll add only this: While Hillary/Trump is on the top of the circus poster and playing in the big tent, the place where you and I can make the largest political difference and improve society is in our place on the block where we live. Effort spent on being the best parents, children and neighbors we can be will have more tangible impact on our quality of life than any of the bread and circuses promised by party sycophants (WHO, by the way, are the same schlocks which gave us all the “choice” between Hillary and Trump). And once you have those ducks in a row, expand to your neighborhood school (even if your kids have moved on), or volunteer efforts on activities which grow spirit and understanding of people different from you but which most of the people on those campaign signs and TV commercials have abandoned or stopped funding. Things like art, music, history and other humanities. Scouting is great, too, as is helping with your local cancer walk.

So yes, vote on Tuesday. I’m planning on it. But remember long after the “winners” and “losers” are reduced to fuel for Cable TV news, your influence and effort is needed down the street, on your block and down the hall. That’s how we “Make American Great Again”.

“Take a Peek Inside My Brain…”

“Take a peek inside my brain where fishin’ tales are spun.
My psychedelic fish parade has only just begun.”

img_1782

A lot has happened in the 9 years since I moved back to South Dakota. Some of it has been personally difficult, some grossly unfair and some just plain terrifying. But much more of it has been very special, made that way primarily by some special and inspirational people. Among those people is a tall, gentle, terminally cheerful fellow with extraordinary talent and imagination. His name is Steve Bormes. Steve and wife Tova own a very cool retail establishment called Rug and Relic in the 8th and Railroad building in Sioux Falls (rugandrelic.com) It’s a gallery full of genuine Turkish rugs, antiquities and folk art that shares space for Steve’s artistic creations, which mix a crazy array of found items, lights and an imagination unlike any I’ve ever experienced.

A year and a half ago Steve was notified he had been chosen for a major exhibition of his art at the big gallery at the Washington Pavilion. He immediately went to work creating the most wonderful and whimsical creatures which would inhabit his “Imaginarium”. Last Friday my wife Joan, my Mom and I went to see the show and reception for Steve. The show was even more enchanting than I had expected, and I’d expected a LOT. It was like walking into a backlit giant aquarium with these fish/creatures suspended on wires or mounted to pedestals, all glowing from within with lights of all colors. The Little Johnson fish (pictured) are crafted from vintage Johnson outboard boat motor cowlings, grandma’s wire wisks for fins and airhorns off of a Peterbuilt for tails. There was chrome from 50’s cars, tail lights from a Caddy ambulance and on and on. It was especially neat to see the gaggle of kids who accompanied parents to this show. I can’t begin to guess what was going on in their little brains, but I bet it was neat

Full disclosure: On occasion I’ll hook Steve up with some interesting items I find in my travels. It was surprising and delightful to find a few of those pieces artfully repurposed within the Imaginarum. It reminded me of the day when I found the words to describe the difference in what I do with old junk for repurposing and what Steve does as an artist. I can look at a late 50’s Electrolux canister vacuum cleaner, or a giant steel sieve sleeve from a long-ago combine or some whirly roof ventilators off of an old barn and say, “These things have style and personality. Someone could do something neat with them”. Steve however, can look at the same pieces and say, “These things have style, and I’m going to do THIS with them.” This creative invention is born in Steve’s brain in a millisecond.

Enjoy the photos, but If you’re in the Sioux Falls area stop in and see the show in person, which runs until the first week in January 2017. Bring along some cabbage if you have it and take something cool home with you. And in the process I hope you get to meet Steve, because there’s only one and he’s it. JT

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.