Everybody has a history and a story, and this is mine.
I was born in 1970 on Long Island, New York. I've always felt that being a "New Yorker" gave me permission to occasionally swear and raise my middle finger more than some might expect. My brother was born four years before me, and actually went to kindergarten on Long Island, so he has more memories of life near the big city than me. Our house was, apparently, pretty cool and sprawling with a screened in patio and big rock in the front that the local kids would spent hours upon hours upon hours climbing up and jumping off (obviously this was pre-internet, pre-X Box, pre anything shiny and blinky. I don't think rocks get the attention they used to). My only memory of our time in New York was seeing the Barnum and Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden; looking down there were tigers, looking up was the magnificent cascade of roof beams connecting to a middle circle. Pretty cool for a two year old.
Honestly, though, that's the extent of my memories of life in the Big Apple. In some ways I wish we spent more time there so I could remember Central Park, the buzz of traffic, etc., but dad decided to leave his posh job at ITT and start his own documentary film production company in Minneapolis (for a bit he kept an office in NYC, but only for a year or two).
So in 1972 we moved to Minnesota (or I should say my parents moved back to Minnesota -- both are from the southwestern corner of the state), into what I consider the greatest location a kid could ever grow up: a sprawling brick house built in 1955 on the banks of the beautiful Minnehaha Creek. Our house was on the edge of the property line near Minneapolis, allowing me to go to the high-demand Edina school system while still being able to walk one block and catch a bus to downtown.
Usually dad drove to his office in his enormous station wagon (for a while he had the style with fake wood panels on the outside ... totally awesome) but mom and I would ride the #6 bus. I must have rode that bus 500 times in my life, going through Linden Hills, skirting Lake Calhoun, riding Hennepin Avenue through Uptown, going by the Walker Art Center, finally turning into downtown and dropping us at the corner of 8th and Hennepin. As a result of those bus rides, I have a crystal clear memory of Minneapolis in the 1970's. Dad's office (his company was Vibrant Films, Inc.) was on the corner of 8th and Hennepin, a multi-room space with a projection room, an editing room, a reception area, and a big office for him to think in, all for $200 a month.
Downtown Minneapolis at that time was far more interesting than it is now. Near us was the "E" Block, now a failed urban rejuvenation of empty storefronts (in the 1990's some political dweeb thought it would be a good idea to bulldoze the whole block and give it to the likes of Hooters, Hard Rock Cafe, and Starbucks) but in the early 1970's it was full of interesting bars, "entertainment venues" (strip clubs), and diners. Moby Dick's was the most notorious bar (dad gave me sage advice as we walked by it, "Jason, never go in a bar that doesn't have windows." Good stuff for a six year old to know!). The Best Steak House always smelled interesting, and Shinder's was the go-to magazine and newspaper stand in the city. I spent a lot of time in Shinder's (always curious what was behind that swinging door that said "18 and older only" and seemed to be popular), and often looking at newspapers from other cities and feeling intellectual (as intellectual as an eight year old can feel).
Eventually, after a day of downtown adventure, I would go back to the office and we would all pile into the station wagon for the fifteen minute ride home. Soon after I felt the car going downhill on southbound Xerxes Avenue, I'd feel dad turn right onto our dirt road dead end and I'd get excited about an evening of adventure in Minnehaha Creek.
From the age of 2 until we moved when I was 13, I constantly waded in that creek, only fifty feet from our front door, sometimes catching frogs or crayfish, sometimes floating half a mile downstream in an inner tube and walking back to do it all over again. Snapping turtles would wander onto our yard to lay eggs. Wildlife was abundant, especially if you consider stoned canoeing hippies a form of wildlife.
A large park was nearby (York Park), ensuring options for a bored child with a bike, and every winter the city graciously built an ice rink in that park. I never learned how to skate well, but would have hours of fun running as fast as I could, collapsing into a ball, and seeing how far I could slide (or, if opportunity presented, how many hockey players I could knock down).
The park also had one of the prime hills in the area for sliding down in the winter. Most winter weekend afternoons during my youth consisted of walking to the park with dad, who always brought a thermos full of something warm and interesting smelling (he never shared). He would seem to get happier as the day wore on, and never complained about the cold. Go figure.
Two blocks away from home was Don's Quik Shop (now the incredibly popular Pizzeria Lola) where a kid could go and buy too much candy and eat most of it on the way home (it was always good to finish it before getting home, else you risk the need to put a chocolate bar in your front pants pocket, inevitably forgetting about it and resulting in a long conversation with mom a few days later about the struggle of laundry. Ah, the struggle).
Starting in the late 1970's, Don's was one of the first places to have videogames. I'd find any quarters I could around the house, bike up to Don's, and hang in the back room playing Wizard of Wor, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, and Pac-Man until I would suddenly look outside and see how dark it was. Once I was there so long my parents nearly called the cops to report me as a missing child (or maybe they actually did ... I've kinda repressed that day in my mind). Looking back, if I saved and invested those quarters I'd have a mansion, a pool, and maybe a Ferrari or two.
As I grew up a bit (and by grow up I mean double digits; my 10th birthday was a big one for me) I started to explore the world a bit more on my Schwinn modified single speed dirt bike hybrid. Lake Harriett was nearby and most summer afternoons, if I wasn't playing in the creek, I'd bike up to the lake with a dollar tucked in my socks to enjoy some popcorn. Looking back, I feel bad for the workers at the refectory when they would say "That'll be 50 cents kid" and I reached down and pulled out a sweaty, drippy George Washington and handed it to them. But at the time I thought nothing of it (and come to think of it, neither do I now). If I was feeling particularly flush with maybe five dollars to spend, I'd bike to Broder's Deli and get a quarter pound of imported prosciutto and a pound of fresh pasta for dinner that night. Twenty years later I found myself at a lunch with proprietor Molly Broder and shared that story, and she remembered this strange kid (me) who would always bike to the store and insist on the imported prosciutto instead of the domestic offering, citing "it just tastes better!"
That creekside house means a lot to me, but we were renting it so there was no chance of passing it along to the next generation. If the owner of 5400 York Avenue South ever wants to sell, let me know. I'll figure out a way to buy it.
In 1983 we packed up and moved to an enormous house on an enormous lot in southwestern Edina, near the Braemar golf course. The whole neighborhood was full of pretentious people that never really warmed up to anybody but those that were like them (and we weren't like them) and I slowly started to form my opinions of suburbia. Living in this area from the ages of 13 to 18 was extremely influential, and taught me that having neighbors nearby, whom you know by name and have a chat and a laugh with once and awhile, is extremely important to a good life.
For those not familiar with Edina, Minnesota let me put it in perspective: this was the fancy place, with fancy people, who drove fancy cars, and lived fancy lives. It was the beacon of rich suburbia, and my classmates in school had last names that I recognized from lawyer ads on TV, or advertising companies, or "Minnesota's richest people" lists.
My family moved to Edina in 1972 for one reason and one reason alone: the school system. At the time it was so clearly the best school system in the state, and my parents took our education seriously. But in some ways we never fit in, mainly because we never had much money. We rented our houses and there was always financial tension in the air. While our neighbors would pull up in a new Mustang Convertible, we drove a used VW Bug or a big old Ford station wagon with some rust on the rims.
Edina was also a bubble of culture, fearful of the outside world. I had one black friend, who also happened to be the one black guy in the school. The outside world was scary to many in Edina (and still is -- I recently did a wine tasting near my old house and when asked for suggestions of where to buy some wine I mentioned three great wine shops in the city. "Anything around here?" the host asked, "We really hate driving east of Highway 100. It's the city you know."
But it wasn't all bad on top of the 2.5 acre hill that I diligently mowed every week. I carved trails in the woods. I used our old fence panels from the former house to build a fort that mom and dad didn't know about for a couple of years. ("Shirley, what the hell is that thing in the woods? Looks like a cabin!" is what I think I remember my dad saying on a winter day when he finally saw it.) I planted a great garden, mostly consisting of corn and green beans. And I spent time growing up during that all important stage in life. In that house is where I spent the ages of 13 to 18, going from ten speed bike to moped to car.
I went to Edina High School, which was just short of a mile walk away (uphill both ways, literally, for the peak of the hill was at the halfway point). Living just a bit too close to the school to include me on the bus line, but far enough away to make for a trek, made for great memories of waking early and walking in the snow. Of course I hated it at the time, but have grown to appreciate the memories. School started at 7:30am, so I had to be out of the house at 6:45 for the walk. That meant wake up at 6am, shower, dress, and heat up breakfast (mom cooked me bacon and french toast every day before she left for work, as well as making my lunch -- the same bundle of food every day for twelve years of school: a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread, a pile of Pringles potato chips, two Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and occasionally slices of apple). Because mom was an early bird and was out of the house by 6:00am, I usually never saw anybody in the mornings before leaving for school.
The more I think about, the more I enjoy the memories of that walk to school for 7th-10th grade (by 11th grade I had my driver's license and a car, so the walking of course stopped at that point). The crisp air, the shortcuts through people's backyards and through the woods, the sunrises. It was glorious, healthy, and a great private time to think.
My first job was at the Braemar Golf Dome, about a mile or so from our house. It was the first indoor driving range in the state if I remember right, and my job was to push all the golf balls into a corner, then shovel them into five gallon buckets. Glamorous it was not, but it was fun to get paychecks. That job led to working the summertime at Braemar Golf Course, where I was in charge of maintaining and cleaning the golf carts.
One moment from that job stands out. A golf cart was not working, occasionally stopping unexpectedly and not starting up again. I didn't want anybody to use it, so I parked it toward the back of the garage and left a note on it that said "defective." About two weeks later we had a meeting of all the "cart boys" and some ass who it turns out was my boss's boss or something like that held up my little note and said in a demeaning and gruff tone "whoever wrote this note shouldn't be working here because they don't know what they're talking about. Defective means it came from the factory not working. So who wrote this?" It was my first instance of a boss being a jackass, and I didn't say anything. Feeling bad, I simply stopped going to work at the golf course but years later I realize it was an important moment for me, for it fused the idea in my head that I don't need to work for people who I don't respect.
The following summer I got another job, this time at Putt-Putt Golf on 494 and Penn in Bloomington (and occasionally at the other one on Lake Street behind Nora's restaurant). That was my job for two full seasons, and it was a glorious job to have as a teenager. I was in charge of the entire miniature golf course, working either 9am-5pm or 5pm to 1am. We popped good popcorn with real butter, I was outside, music was on, I had responsibility, and I got paid well. I dearly wish I had photos of the place still (it was demolished in the early 1990's to make way for a grocery store). I have very fond memories of working the evening of July 4th, sitting on the 18th hole by myself (nobody was at the course) and watching three different fireworks displays in three cities, while eating popcorn and drinking a Coke. It was a perfect job for the summer of 16 and 17 years old.
More coming soon.