Wednesday, February 26, 2014

MN vs SD smackdown.

During my life thus far (sorry, that sounds more pretentious that I mean it to), I’ve only really lived in two states: South Dakota and Minnesota. I spent three months in Colorado and three months in Louisiana, but that doesn’t count as REALLY living there. South Dakota has been my home for the majority of my life: from the time I was born until I went to college (18 years), and again when I moved back from Minneapolis until we moved to Luverne (almost two years), not counting odd summers back in South Dakota while I was in college. I lived in Minnesota during college (four years) and again in 2010 (almost two years), and we’ve been living in our house for almost seven months. That gives me close to twenty years in South Dakota and around seven in Minnesota.

Though they’re neighbors, South Dakota and Minnesota are worlds apart. Over the years, I’ve noticed the differences here and there, but especially now that I have to do adult things like register my car. As you would expect, each state has good qualities as well as bad. So which should I be more proud of: my roots as a South Dakotan, or my new status as a Minnesotan? Like the logical list-maker that I am, I cobbled together a list of pros and cons for each state. Let’s see which state comes out ahead!

Minnesota

PROS
gay marriage!
Way at the top of the Minnesota pros list is the fact that gay marriage is legal here. I am indescribably proud to live in a place that gives equal rights to everyone, gay or straight. Lots of love to Minnesota.

same day voter registration
Minnesota also makes it nice and easy to vote. When I lived in Morris, I was able to vote in the 2008 presidential election by registering on the same day – same thing for the gubernatorial election when I lived in Minneapolis. When 2012 the presidential election rolled around, James and I found out (too late) that South Dakota was not so nice. We had missed the registration deadline, but we waited at the polls anyway to see if there was any way we could vote. There wasn’t. I know it’s our fault for not doing our research beforehand, but same-day registration is nice, and it makes a lot of sense – if you want people to vote, that’s a great way to increase your numbers.

Minnesota nice
I’m sure you’ve heard the term “Minnesota nice” before, and you’ve more than likely experienced it as well. It’s that extra politeness that comes with being a Minnesotan. Most Minnesotans shy away from conflict and just want everybody to get along. (This is not true of every Minnesotan, but on the whole, they’re a friendly bunch.) South Dakotans are pretty pleasant, too, but “South Dakota nice” is not a thing.

nobody has anything bad to say about Minnesota
When I went to college in Morris and told people I was from South Dakota, I almost always got a sneer and a “hmmm.” South Dakota carries a bit of a stigma with it; it seems to be Minnesota’s white trash cousin. I never got that kind of reaction when I told people in South Dakota that I was going to college in Minnesota/buying a house in Minnesota. The most I got from them was, “Ohhhhhh! Minnesooooooota!”

I feel like I’ve gotten somewhere now that I live outside of my home state
I’ve talked before about my hesitance to move back to South Dakota after spending time in Denver, New Orleans, and Minneapolis. Coming back to my home state kind of made me feel like I never left – like I never got out and did anything. It’s silly, because I know that I did get out and experience life outside of South Dakota, but it felt like I still had a whole lot more to see before returning. I still feel that way, but now that I’ve officially put down roots in Minnesota (I feel like buying a house qualifies as rooting), just crossing the state line makes me feel like I’ve expanded my horizons just a little bit.

cool drivers licenses
I’m going to be totally honest with you: one of the major reasons I gave the ok to buy a house in Minnesota was the fact that I could finally get one of their cool driver’s licenses. Have you ever felt a Minnesota driver’s license? If you haven’t, you need to find a Minnesotan right now and ask for their license. It’s SO COOL – they’re bendy! And they’re way better looking than the South Dakota licenses. What can I say; I’m a bit shallow.

famous Minnesotans
Minnesota is the birthplace of all sorts of famous people, including artistic giants Prince, Bob Dylan, and F Scott Fitzgerald. Can you name anybody famous and awesome from South Dakota? Me neither.

Twin Cities, Lake Superior, etc
Minnesota is a huge state: almost 87,000 square miles (thanks, Wikipedia!). There are so many neat places within Minnesota: you’ve got cool cities like Minneapolis and St Paul, beautiful forests, a kick-ass State Fair, 10,000 lakes (including a Great Lake), and tons of state parks. South Dakota is a smaller area than Minnesota (around 77,000 square miles – thanks again, Wikipedia!) and has significantly less to do. South Dakota’s major attraction is the Black Hills, which is gorgeous – but that’s only one part of the state. The rest of the state is pretty devoid of attractions. There are state parks and my favorite lake ever (Lake Poinsett), but when a giant drug store counts as a major tourist destination (I’m looking at you, Wall Drug), you know it’s really stretching.

the Twins
I’m not a huge sports person, but I do love the Twins. Baseball is a sport I can actually follow, and I love to go to Twins games at Target Field. I’ve only been to a handful of Twins games over my lifetime, but I’m pretty sure they’ve won every single game that I’ve attended. Maybe it’s just me. South Dakota doesn’t have a baseball team, so most South Dakotans tend to root for the Twins. Plus, Joe Mauer and have the same birthday. Extra points for the Twins.

MPR
I can’t tell you enough about how much I love Minnesota Public Radio. A lot of what I love comes to MPR via NPR, but some of it is pure MPR – like Paul Huttner the weather guy and Stephanie Curtis the movie lady. Even though I live quite a ways away from Minneapolis, I love hearing the Minneapolis news stories. Every once in a while, they’ll throw in a Worthington area news story, which is just a little closer to home. Friends, you can always find my car radio tuned to MPR.

special stuff
Lastly, a whole bunch of special stuff has happened to me in Minnesota. It’s where I went to college and met some of my dearest friends – not to mention my husband. This is where James and I bought our first house, so you can say that Minnesota is our first real home. That definitely counts for something.

CONS
Minnesota is expensive
Prices in Minnesota don’t vary that much from South Dakota as far as retail goes – Minnesota doesn’t charge a clothing tax, which is nice. However, when it comes to actually living here, you pay an awful lot more. Upon moving to Minnesota, I went from a 0% income tax (SD doesn’t have state income tax) to a 7% income tax. The price to register my car tripled. I’m trying to tell myself that the extra money I’m paying to live in Minnesota goes toward good things, like keeping the roads in good shape and  housing homeless animals (hopefully) and doing my duty as an American citizen, but it’s tough to remember that when you’re writing out fat checks to the IRS.

boring license plates
I am unusually observant when it comes to license plates. It comes from years of playing the license plate game on road trips: you count how many license plates you can find from different states. I’ve seen an awful lot of license plates in my day, and Minnesota plates fall on the boring side of the spectrum. Two blue stripes and a faded picture of a lake? Zzz. Minnesota does have some decorative wildlife plates that you can get, but they cost an arm and a leg (see: expensive).

I say my os weird now
In the Midwest, we have a distinctive inflection. You won’t notice it until you spent time in another part of the country: it never really hit me that I had a crazy accent until I went to New Orleans and everybody told me so. Back then, my accent wasn’t too bad… it took buying property in Minnesota to really transform my accent. Take a look at this book review video from the library: pay attention to how I say the word “show.” You don’t get much more Minnesotan than that.

Garrison Keillor
Minnesotans are WAY into Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion. Listening to MPR comes with the hazard of being stuck with A Prairie Home Companion, and I’ve given it a shot – and I just do not think it’s funny. I don’t think it’s a generational thing – there are tons of people my age who love it. My dad, on the other hand, is in the same boat as me, so maybe it’s a South Dakotan thing. We’re Scandinavian Lutherans, too, but Garrison Keillor is just not up our alley. Not much can make me change the station from MPR, but A Prairie Home Companion can.

South Dakota
PROS
cheap!
Compared to South Dakota, Minnesota is on the spendy side. In South Dakota, there is no state income tax – cha ching! I’m not sure what the tax on a new car is in Minnesota, but South Dakota didn’t charge me too much when I bought my car. Getting your car registration renewed is also pocket change compared to Minnesota.

easy to do everything
In South Dakota, there are very few hoops you need to jump through to get things done. We weren’t yet married when James wanted to put me on his car insurance, but James had to do next to nothing to get me on his insurance. Way back when I was in driver’s ed, all it took was a week of classes, a short written test, and about three hours of actual driving time before you got your learner’s permit at age 14, which magically turned into a regular driver’s license at 16 (no additional testing required). James has informed me that getting your license in Minnesota is significantly more difficult. When I made the switch from my SD license to MN (the bendy license!), I had to take a written test, and THAT was a lot of work for my lazy South Dakota self.

Black Hills
While South Dakota is lacking in the statewide attractions department, the Black Hills is definitely somewhere you want to go. It’s just beautiful out there with its forests, caves, and rugged landscape – much different from the flatlands east of the Missouri. The Black Hills is also home to tons of state history, and you’ll find all sorts of Old West-type things to see and do. And yes, there’s Mount Rushmore, and it’s probably something you should see once. My recommendation? Dinosaur Park! It’s a park full of concrete dinosaurs, and it’s where James proposed to me in June 2012. Not everyone gets a proposal surrounded by giant concrete dinosaurs.

cool license plates
While I am less than thrilled with my new Minnesota plates, the transition is even harder because I loved my South Dakota plates. Not only are they more colorful and have a better design, but you can tell where the car owner is from depending on their license plates. My old plates started with a 6, so you knew I was from Brookings County. Any plate starting with a 1 was likely a resident of Minnehaha County. When I lived in Minneapolis, I loved being out and about and seeing someone with a South Dakota 6 plate. We were county-mates, after all! (Well, they were my parents’ county-mates, anyway.)

speed limits
South Dakota has higher speed limits than Minnesota, which is awfully nice. I drive on the interstate from Minnesota into South Dakota for work every day, and when that speed limit goes from 70 to 75, it feels like I’m flying. On the other hand, when I’m going home from work and cross from SD into MN, slowing down from 75 to 70 feels like a dead crawl. The state highways are the same: in South Dakota, you can drive 65 mph. In Minnesota, they slow you down to 60 or 55. Why, Minnesota? Why?

special stuff
Like Minnesota, South Dakota holds all sorts of memories. This is where I met many of my closest friends (thanks to high school), and many of them still live in South Dakota. James proposed to me in South Dakota (Dinosaur Park!), and we got married in South Dakota. So yeah – South Dakota is pretty special.

it’s my home state
No matter where I go, I’ll always have an attachment to my home state. I was born and raised in South Dakota, and so were my parents… and their parents… and their parents. When my great grandparents hopped off the boat from Scandinavia, South Dakota is where they settled. So no matter where I live, deep down, I’ll always be a South Dakotan.

CONS
redneck
South Dakota can be a weird rednecky place – depending on what part of the state you’re in, you might hear people speaking with southern accents. You’ll see lots of big pick-up trucks, and once in a while, you’ll even see a Confederate flag bumper sticker. (I don’t get it, either. They know South Dakota is part of the North, right?) You’ll see tons of bad tattoos here (my brother Mitch and I always hit a bad tattoo goldmine at the Brookings Summer Arts Festival), and people love country music with a burning passion. But it’s all part of the charm, right?

Sioux Falls drivers
I’ve already written a blog post about Sioux Falls drivers, but here’s what’s wrong with them in a nutshell: they don’t use their blinkers, they change lanes without looking, and they just generally drive however they want and everyone else can get out of the way. Drivers in the rest of the state aren’t like this – there’s just something about Sioux Falls. I have had more near-misses on the roads in Sioux Falls than anywhere else – and that includes living in Denver, New Orleans, and Minneapolis.

the only major metropolitan area is Sioux Falls
Don’t get me wrong: besides its drivers, Sioux Falls does have a lot going for it. It’s got some neat waterfalls, an awesome library (not just because I work there – it really is a great system), and it does its best to bring in cultural events and restaurants. The problem with Sioux Falls is that it doesn’t seem to have its own identity. It’s chock-full of chain restaurants and whenever there’s new development, it seems like it’s a duplicate of something that’s already here (like the third WalMart that the city would like to build). Minneapolis, on the other hand, certainly has its own personality with scores of unique restaurants, bars, and shops, not to mention the lakes and parks. There are parts of Sioux Falls that have these same kinds of neat establishments, but there’s still not as much character as there is in Minneapolis. I know that comparing the two cities is like comparing apples and oranges, but I can’t help it.

politics
South Dakota has little liberal pockets, but overall, it’s a red state. SD has goofballs like Kristi Noem roaming around, and I would be positively stunned if South Dakota approved gay marriage on its own. But at the same time, almost all of my wonderful South Dakotan family and friends would vote for gay marriage. Until the rest of the state catches up, I’ll count on them for my warm fuzzies.

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Here I am at the end of my list. Both states have their ups and their downs; no place is perfect, after all. As far as which state is better, my conclusion is just what I thought it would be: I just can’t choose a favorite. While I think I made the right choice by moving to Minnesota, South Dakota will always be someplace special. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

top ten Tuesday: Simon and Garfunkel songs.

Last week, I told you all about my all-consuming Simon and Garfunkel obsession. I told you about how I had every album and how I still know every word to every song. I told you about how, even after all these years, hearing Simon and Garfunkel can still set my heart a-flutter.

So how’s this for a follow-up story: I have chosen my top ten Simon and Garfunkel songs for you. Some of them are sure to be familiar to you; some may not. But let me tell you: for a dyed-in-the-wool Simon and Garfunkel fan like me, choosing just ten songs to include was rather difficult. Without further ado (because I know you’re itching to find out what my choices are), I present my top ten Simon and Garfunkel songs!

Blues Run the Game
“Blues Run the Game” is not a very well-known Simon and Garfunkel song. I stumbled across it years while digging through the internet for whatever obscure Simon and Garfunkel mp3s I could find. (Fun fact: “Blues Run the Game” was on one of the very first CDs I ever burned.) Like many Simon and Garfunkel songs, it’s pretty melancholy, but that’s always part of the charm. I played this song for James not too long ago, and he – being the music teacher that he is – had all sorts of comments about how they were obviously talented singers because listen to those chords and pop music today is way simpler than what they’re singing. And even though I had absolutely nothing to do with it besides hitting the “play” button, I couldn’t help but feel a swell of pride. After all these years, I still love it when someone has something nice to say about Simon and Garfunkel.

Benedictus
As you probably know, most Simon and Garfunkel songs were written by Paul Simon himself. However, “Benedictus” is an arrangement of a piece from the 1500s, and it is GORGEOUS. Simon and Garfunkel’s voices blend effortlessly together, and it never fails to give me goosebumps. “Benedictus” is from their first album – Wednesday Morning, 3 AM – which was more or less a flop. However, it is one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel albums. The songs highlight their voices like no other album. While many of the songs on the album are covers, the handful that are written by Simon are beautiful and haunting. The covers, though, were carefully selected to play to their harmonies, and besides one or two, the covers are all fairly dark. “Benedictus” is one of the exceptions: their vocals are gorgeous, and you can just let them wash over you.

Kathy’s Song
I’ve talked about “Kathy’s Song” before (top ten love songs), but I can’t help but bring it up again. “Kathy’s Song” was written by Paul Simon for his girlfriend, Kathy (duh). She was living in London while he was in the United States, and of course, he missed her. When I first heard this song more than a decade ago, I thought it was magnificently lame. However, as the years went on, it grew on me, and I realized what a beautiful and sad song it is. I am not one for love songs or poems, but this one could make me swoon. Simon sings stuff like “the only truth I know is you,” which, come on, could make anybody melt.

The Only Living Boy in New York
True story: for one entire summer, I listened to this song every single day before I left for work at the ice cream shop by the lake. It was during the reign of my Evil Boss Lady, so I needed a little boost of Simon and Garfunkel to get me going. “The Only Living Boy in New York” is the sweetest song, especially when you know the back story. This is from Simon and Garfunkel’s final album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Their friendship was on the rocks at the time, and most of the recording was done separately, as Garfunkel had (foolishly) decided to try his hand at acting and was filming Catch-22 in Mexico. “The Only Living Boy in New York” is sung by Simon alone, and it’s for Garfunkel and how his life is going to be just fine – and how, despite everything, Simon will be there in New York when he gets back.

Cecilia
\Yep, I’ve talked about “Cecilia” before too, but I absolutely cannot pass it up. It’s a song about a slutty girl named Cecilia: “making love in the afternoon with Cecilia/up in my bedroom/I got up to wash my face/when I come back to bed/someone’s taken my place.” (Fun fact: my mom sang this in high school choir. Never mind the lyrics, I guess!) It’s so peppy and upbeat, even though something crappy just happened. And Cecilia is clearly no prize, but they sing “Jubilation!/she loves me again/I fall on the floor and I’m laughing.” Seriously: why would he WANT her back?! Logic aside, it’s a brilliantly catchy song, and it was on the “must play” list for the DJ at our wedding. (And you know what? The bridal party all knew the words. Best wedding ever.)

I Am a Rock
“I Am a Rock” is the first Simon and Garfunkel song that I truly loved. It’s so different from their other songs – Simon and Garfunkel songs tend to be either melancholy or peppy and goofy, but “I Am a Rock” is uncharacteristically angry. It’s about a man who is a tad bitter and would rather be left alone, and he’s obviously got some issues: “I have no need of friendship/friendship causes pain/it’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.” Yikes. However, at the very end, the song takes a shift from angry to sad: the tone changes as Simon sings, “and a rock feels no pain/and an island never cries.” So really, he’s a sad and lonely guy pretending that he doesn’t need anyone. In that last five seconds, “I Am a Rock” really tugs on the old heartstrings.

Wednesday Morning, 3 AM
“Wednesday Morning, 3 AM,” as you may have guessed, is from Simon and Garfunkel’s debut album of the same name. Like “Kathy’s Song,” I didn’t realize that I really loved “Wednesday Morning, 3 AM” until years after I’d first heard it. The song is about a young man who is saying goodbye to his girlfriend as she sleeps – he’s robbed a liquor store, and he has to leave before the police come looking for him. Again, sad and haunting. Happy endings just aren’t Simon and Garfunkel’s thing.

The Boxer
“The Boxer” was right on the heels of “I Am a Rock” as one of my early favorites. I would hear bits and pieces of it on the radio during my mix-tape recording sessions, but I didn’t hear the whole thing until I finally bought the greatest hits album. It’s been high on my list ever since. “The Boxer” touches on some familiar Simon and Garfunkel themes, primarily loneliness. It’s not their only song about being homesick (“Homeward Bound” being the most notable), but it’s the one I always thought of when I was in Denver, and New Orleans – far away from my family and friends. (Side note: Mumford and Sons have a spectacular cover version of “The Boxer.” You should check it out.)

Mrs Robinson
Ok, have you seen The Graduate? If not, you must rent it immediately – especially if you’re a recent college graduate with little clue as to what to do with your life. If so, you’ll know that a.) it’s amazing, and b.) the soundtrack is made almost exclusively of Simon and Garfunkel songs. Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft) is the older woman who seduces young Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman – LOVE HIM), and it is just perfect. “Mrs Robinson” was originally called “Mrs Roosevelt,” and it was a song that Paul Simon and written and didn’t particularly care about. When Mike Nichols (the director) approached Simon and Garfunkel about the soundtrack for The Graduate, Simon changed “Roosevelt” to “Robinson,” and a hit was born.

The Sound of Silence
This was Simon and Garfunkel’s first number one hit: it was the song that made them who they are. Simon wrote it in the aftermath of the JFK assassination, and it was originally released on Wednesday Morning, 3 AM with simple instrumentation. The song was – without Simon and Garfunkel’s knowledge – overdubbed with electric guitars, bass, and drums, and it was then that it became a huge it. “The Sound of Silence” is one of those songs where you can hear the raw emotion in both voices, and you can’t help but feel the same passion.
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So there we are: after much deliberation and careful thought (and a few tough decisions), I have narrowed it down to my top ten Simon and Garfunkel songs. But be warned: just because a song isn’t on my list doesn’t mean I don’t love it. There are so many other wonderful songs out there: “Old Friends,” “Song For the Asking,” “You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies,” “A Most Peculiar Man,”… the list of songs that I love but didn’t include goes on and on. If you find yourself smitten with Simon and Garfunkel, I would definitely encourage you to listen to some of their lesser known stuff. You never know what kind of treasures you might find.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

let's talk about Simon and Garfunkel.

It's almost Valentine's Day: a time of love and mushy feelings. So I found it rather appropriate to talk about one of my great loves in life. Are we talking about James? Nope (but he is pretty great). Nor are we talking about some long-lost boyfriend of mine. So what are we talking about? 

Simon and Garfunkel.

Yes, that’s right: I was totally and completely obsessed with a folk duo from the late 1960s/early 1970s. Let me take you back to the very beginning…

When I was a kid, my parents listened to a whole lot of country music. I was fine with it… for a while. I eventually figured out that – wonder of wonders! – there was more out there than just country. While I started off listening to pop radio (which is what you had to listen to in order to be cool, which was of utmost importance), I found that my preference was oldies radio.

It was the late 90s/early 2000s when I switched to the oldies, and the first thing I did was make a whole ton of mix tapes. I had a radio/cassette player in my room, and I would tune it to the oldies station as I went about my day. It was always loaded with a blank cassette tape, and if I heard a song I liked, I would dash over and hit “record.” This resulted in me having tons of recorded songs without their beginnings. I also had tons of duplicate songs because I either a.) couldn’t remember if I’d attempted to record it before, or b.) was trying to get more of the song than I’d previously managed to record. It was kind of a mess.

But it was through this mix tape recording process that I was first introduced to Simon and Garfunkel. The song that was playing “Scarborough Fair,” and I was entranced by the haunting guitar and the way the two voices weaved perfectly together. I snapped out of it long enough to record a portion of the song onto one of my cassettes.

As I continued through my oldies mix-tape phase, I managed to record a number of other Simon and Garfunkel songs without actually realizing that they were Simon and Garfunkel songs. “Mrs Robinson” made it to a mix tape, and so did “The Boxer” and “The Sounds of Silence”: the biggies. It wasn’t until I heard a DJ read their names at the end of a set that I finally knew that Simon and Garfunkel were the two whose music I had been admiring all this time.

Once I knew their names, my research commenced. I had recently become the proud owner of a CD player (well behind everyone else, but better late than never), so I had allocated some of my precious allowance money for the purchase of CDs. I was about thirteen at the time of my budding interest in Simon and Garfunkel, so I had to beg a ride off my parents in order to get to the WalMart CD section. There, I bought my third-ever CD: Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits.
I know you're curious: my first two CD
purchases were the Beatles' 1 and Styx'
greatest hits.
The greatest hits compilation that I bought contained twelve songs, and I recognized about a third of them from the radio. The rest of the songs opened up a whole new world for me. I had never heard anything as beautiful and mournful as Art Garfunkel’s voice, and Paul Simon’s lyrics and melodies were so powerful and raw. When you’re thirteen, you think your life is really hard, and I felt like they GOT me. (I can’t tell you the number of times I listened to “I Am a Rock” in fits of teenage angst.)
They had angst down pat.
It didn’t take long until I knew the lyrics to every song on that greatest hits album, and I was thirsty for more. I had utilized our painfully slow dial-up internet and had done my research: I learned that Simon and Garfunkel had released five studio albums, and I was on a mission to acquire them all. And one by one, I did. The most elusive of the albums was the very first Simon and Garfunkel studio release: Wednesday Morning 3 AM
They released it back when they were young and super adorable.
It wasn’t much of a hit at first, but the song “The Sounds of Silence” first appeared on that album, which – once it was remixed with percussion and more guitars – skyrocketed up the charts. But I had to have it. We were in Rapid City for some reason, and I stumbled across a copy of Wednesday Morning 3 AM in a bin at some now-defunct music store in the mall. I wish I could describe the absolute joy I felt that day… a joy which increased tenfold when a previously unreleased Simon and Garfunkel concert from 1967 came out on CD. Oh joy! Oh rapture!

After I had collected all the CDs, I moved on to the LPs. I had asked for a record player that Christmas, and I joyfully used it to play my mom’s old copy of Bridge Over Troubled Water. There was something about listening to Simon and Garfunkel in their original format that made it seem just a little bit better. (Maybe I was a fourteen-year-old hipster, but, you know, minus the skinny pants and ironic tattoos... so not really a hipster at all.)

By this time, I had developed a full-blown obsession. Any mention of Simon and Garfunkel would set my heart all a-flutter. 
And pictures like this - where they are so cute but still have
 that troubled genius look about them - just fanned the flame.
The summer after my fourteenth birthday, I began working at a small ice cream shop on the lake not too far from where I lived. The owner of the ice cream shop (who was the GREATEST) kept the radio on oldies, and I mentioned one day that I really liked Simon and Garfunkel. From that point on, whenever a Simon and Garfunkel song came on the radio, he’d serenade me. What a great job.

However, when you’re a fourteen-year-old in the year 2001, and your favorite band broke up on 1970, you are by far in the minority. A couple of my friends listened to Simon and Garfunkel from time to time, as did one of my cousins, but no one had the deep and abiding love that I did. So no one was really interested in talking to me about the individual albums and which songs totally spoke to me and so forth. That, my friends, is what led me to chat rooms.

That’s right: I went to Simon and Garfunkel chat rooms.

In that Simon and Garfunkel chat room, I met all sorts of people across the world who loved Simon and Garfunkel just as much (if not more) than I did. This was the conversation that I’d just been dying for – all Simon and Garfunkel, all the time. Now, when most fourteen-year-olds go to chat rooms, it’s not Simon and Garfunkel that they want to talk about, but I – needless to say – was not your normal teenager.
Most teenagers' favorite bands do not look like this.
It was through this chat room that I met my friend Sue. Sue and I initially exchanged messages through this chat room, and I found that she was by far the most interesting and pleasant person to talk to. We eventually began exchanging direct emails and talking about more than just Simon and Garfunkel – I remember her being completely amazed that I was only fourteen, as my grammar and punctuation suggested someone older. (That was the ultimate compliment for a budding grammar aficionado like me.)

The story of my friendship with Sue is an interesting one that deserves a blog post all its own, but allow me to give you the shortened version: Sue and I both loved to write, and we ended up writing some Simon and Garfunkel fan fiction together. You read that right: Simon and Garfunkel fan fiction. We’d choose a goofy Simon and Garfunkel photo and take turns writing chapters in a story about it, and we’d incorporate lines from songs as often as we could.
I'm fairly certain this was one of the photos.
The stories were crazy and off-the-wall, but we had a blast writing them. I still have every one of them saved in a binder at my parents’ house.

A couple of years into our correspondence, Sue came to visit me in South Dakota. We had a wonderful time, and it took until I was 22, but I eventually made it to see her in Connecticut. Sue and I still write to each other on a regular basis, and we exchange Christmas gifts every year. So who would’ve thought that a venture into a Simon and Garfunkel chat room almost thirteen years ago would evolve into a long-lasting friendship?

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, my Simon and Garfunkel craze continued full speed ahead. I tirelessly sought out articles, interviews, and pictures. Oh, the pictures – I had a GIGANTIC Simon and Garfunkel picture folder on my parents’ computer, and it took up an awful lot of space on that old Gateway laptop. My room was covered in printouts of those pictures, along with a poster that had come with one of my CDs.
This is the one - and it's still there!
And there were the videos! The Brookings Public library had an old VHS copy of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1981 reunion concert in Central Park, which I checked out ALL THE TIME. Thanks to PBS, I eventually caught an airing of that concert on TV and was able to get a gritty recording, which I watched until my ancient VCR ate the tape. I watched The Graduate because its soundtrack was predominantly Simon and Garfunkel music. (A blessing in disguise: The Graduate is still one of my favorite films.) I scouted the old SNL reruns on cable and dutifully recorded any episode in which either one of them was a host or musical guest. Sue sent me copies of some of Paul Simon’s solo concerts, as well as a movie that he wrote, produced, and starred in (which wasn’t very good, but it was better than anything Art Garfunkel was in: see below).

Oh, and did I mention that I’d developed a major crush on Art Garfunkel? 
But not present-day Art Garfunkel: mid-to-late 1960s
Art Garfunkel. That makes it a lot less weird.
Whenever I heard him sing "Bridge Over Troubled Water," I was weak at the knees. I began gathering all of Art Garfunkel’s solo albums, and even though I knew they weren’t very good, I was still smitten. I requested an autographed photo from his official website, and when it arrived (inscribed “to Calla” and signed “with love”! SWOON!), I was practically giddy. At one time, Art Garfunkel decided he wanted to be an actor (hahaha!), so he was in a number of fairly terrible movies, all of which I sought out and watched.

Of course, Paul Simon had a much more successful solo career than Art Garfunkel did, and I collected his albums, too. I loved Graceland, and I still think that that the “You Can Call Me Al” video with Chevy Chase is one of the best things ever.

This Simon and Garfunkel mania went on for – and I swear I’m not exaggerating – YEARS. In 2003, it was announced that Simon and Garfunkel would be going on a reunion tour. The last time they had done a concert together was 1981. 1981! I HAD TO SEE THEM IN CONCERT OR ELSE I WOULD POSITIVELY DIE.

Luckily for me, Simon and Garfunkel were coming to St Paul. However, they would be there on a Monday night: October 27, to be exact. That meant missing some school, which might be hard to get past my parents. When I pleaded my case, I was surprised to find out that my parents were totally ok with me missing some school to go to the Simon and Garfunkel concert. Mom and Dad may not have known just how obsessed I was with Simon and Garfunkel, but they certainly knew how much going to this concert meant to me.

Mom, my friend Sarah, Sarah’s mom Sharon, and I would all go to the concert together. Sarah was on the internet as soon as the tickets went on sale, and even though they were something like $100 apiece (a hefty amount for a sixteen-year-old like me whose only employment was in the summertime), it was money I was happy to spend. The four of us went to St Paul and saw Simon and Garfunkel at the Xcel Energy Center, and I was walking on air.
Yep, we got the t-shirts.
My passion for Simon and Garfunkel inevitably cooled – I don’t remember when, but I eventually realized that there’s more music out there than just Simon and Garfunkel. Don’t get me wrong: just because my obsession downgraded to just a strong appreciation, that doesn’t mean I ever stopped listening to them… it just meant that I listened to more music than JUST them. When it came time to write my senior thesis for high school English, I said to myself, “Self, what do you know more about than anything else?” Simon and Garfunkel, obviously.

Now, here we are: more than a decade has passed since my Simon and Garfunkel craze reached its fever pitch. But a good deal of it has still stuck with me. When I had my radio show on KUMM, Simon and Garfunkel songs would make frequent appearances on my playlists. I can still tell you all sorts of weird facts about Simon and Garfunkel and their songs. (Did you know that Garfunkel was a math teacher? Did you know that they found out “Sounds of Silence” had hit #1 when they were smoking pot in Simon’s car? Did you know that "Mrs Robinson" was almost a throwaway song called "Mrs Roosevelt"? I could go on.)
Did you know that there are some
truly bizarre Simon and Garfunkel
pictures out there? Thanks, Google.
Simon and Garfunkel will always hold a special place in my musical heart. Even today, when someone mentions them, I am filled with a weird evangelical zeal and I MUST TELL THE WORLD how wonderful Simon and Garfunkel are. Their harmonies still give me the chills, and my trusty iPod is fully stocked with every single Simon and Garfunkel song. And you know what? I still remember all the words.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

let's talk about driver's ed.

I’d like you to think back to your younger days – specifically, those days when you were too young to have a driver’s license, but old enough to know that it was something you desperately needed. The days of driver’s ed.

One thing you should know about South Dakota is that it’s ridiculously easy to get your learner’s permit. At least, it was easy twelve years ago when I was about to ascend into the ranks of motor vehicle operators. In South Dakota, you can get your learner’s permit at 14. I guess the DMV figured that you’d been driving farm equipment since you were old enough to reach the pedals anyway (which is totally true – in my case, since I was eight), so you might as well get a license already.

The easiest way to get said learner’s permit was to go through driver’s education. Not only would it result in cheaper insurance for your parents (whose good side you wanted to be on, because what good is a driver’s license if your parents wouldn’t let you drive their car?), but it meant that you spent less time having to drive with a parent and that you could avoid the DMV road test when you turned 16 and got your regular license.

Most schools offer driver’s ed as a class during the school year: but not Arlington. We had to sacrifice a chunk of our extremely valuable summer vacation to be in driver’s ed. It was held at the school, so even though it was June, we still had to drag ourselves back to the classrooms and try to focus.

My memory may not serve me correctly here, but I recall us only having three full days of class and two half-days. The rest of the two half-days was spent with the driver’s ed teacher taking us in threes and having us drive around town. After that initial week, we each were assigned two three-hour driving shifts with the driver’s ed teacher. However, those shifts were shared with another student, so you only ended up driving an hour and a half each time. Then, if you did well enough on your written test and in the car, the teacher would sign your little form, and off you went to get your learner’s permit, which would magically turn into a restricted permit in just three months’ time.

So here’s your summary: a few days of classes + about three hours of driving + one state with easy-peasy driver’s ed requirements = instant license.

Of course, it didn’t seem so easy at the time. You had to get up SO EARLY (probably 7? I know, what a tragedy) during the summer and sit in a stuffy classroom for DAYS, and then you had to drive around in an old white Buick clearly labeled “student driver.” SO EMBARRASSING. Luckily, you didn’t have to worry about any of your friend seeing you because they were all in driver’s ed right along with you.

I remember very little about the classes themselves, except that they were in our FACS (Family and Consumer Science to the layperson) classroom and that we spent more time watching videos about horrific traffic accidents than actually learning about traffic laws. I also remember eating ham and cheese Lunchables in the gym for lunch. Clearly, my brain doesn’t prioritize very well.

The written test came at the end of these days of classes, and that was a lengthy multiple-choice exam that I passed with something like a 95%. If you passed the written test (and I think we all did), that meant that we could actually take the car on the road.

The initial driving portion consisted of only about fifteen minutes of actual drive time. You, the driver’s ed teacher, and two other students got in the car and proceeded to cruise around Arlington. No big deal.

The outside of class driving was when things started to get serious. The driver’s ed teacher wanted you at the school at something like 7 in the morning so you’d miss all the traffic (and I use “traffic” in the loosest sense of the word. We’re talking rural South Dakota, after all). My driving partner was from Volga, so I’d have to show up in Arlington and spend an agonizing fifteen minutes in the car by myself with the driver’s ed instructor while we went to pick up my co-driver.

Day One of driving had us tooling around Brookings. Brookings was significantly more intimidating than Arlington: unlike Arlington, it actually had stoplights. We learned about changing lanes, and we practiced gliding into parking spaces in the WalMart parking lot. Day Two was solely about learning how to drive on the interstate. If we made it through those two obstacles, we were awarded with a license.

Our driver’s ed instructor was a weird guy. During one of our driving sessions, he had us stop by his house so he could pick up something he had to return to WalMart (which is how we ended up doing our parking practice at WalMart). He would eat sunflower seeds the WHOLE TIME you were driving, and he’d spit the shells into this gigantic plastic cup. He never emptied said cup, so each time you were in that car, the pile of spit-soaked sunflower seed shells had inched a bit closer to the brim. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but it was disgusting. This instructor would also sing along to the radio, which was distracting all on its own. To make matters worse, he had the radio tuned to the pop station, so that meant that he was singing along to the likes of Britney Spears. If you’ve ever been a fourteen-year-old trying to drive through Brookings for the first time while a middle-aged man sings “Oops I Did It Again” in falsetto, you know how uncomfortable I was. If not, then consider yourself fortunate.

All that, though, had the desired end result: I got my learner’s permit. After three months of driving only with a licensed driver in tow, my learner’s permit became restricted, which meant that we could only drive between the hours of 7am and 8pm (which – I think – has since been changed to accommodate for early morning practices and games that run into the evening). Then, at 16, I headed back to the DMV to trade in my green coded restricted license for a red coded under 21 license. (It was blue when you were 21 – unless you had a CDL, and then it was yellowish-brown. Aren’t you glad to have all this vital information about now-defunct SD drivers licenses?)

That red non-restricted license was a godsend. It meant that my friends and I no longer had to worry about getting home before 8 – we could go to the movie that started at 7! We could drive to Sioux Falls and not have to leave by 630! (Not that I was brave enough for that when I was 16, but it was nice to have the option.) We could do anything! SWEET, SWEET FREEDOM!!!!!

It wasn’t until I was out and driving with my restricted license (and later on, my regular license) that I realized just how much driver’s ed didn’t cover. For example: I got my very first ticket at 14 when I made a left to park. We didn’t learn that in driver’s ed, but that wasn’t a good enough excuse for the police officer that pulled me over – I got a hefty ticket and even lost my license for 30 days. (Since it was a restricted license, they took it away if you did anything wrong.) But on the bright side, I’ve never made that mistake again!

My lack of a real driver’s education course became even more obvious when I talked to my friends and family from other states. My cousins in Colorado told me about how they had to log something like 30 hours of daytime driving and 20 hours of nighttime driving with their parents. James (who grew up in Minnesota) told me about how he and his brothers would set up cones in their driveway and practice parallel parking. Parallel parking wasn’t covered in my driver’s ed – there may have been a picture of it in a textbook, but we certainly didn’t have to parallel park. That would probably explain why there’s so little parallel parking in Sioux Falls, and when there is, why people are always parked with either  their wheels on the curb or with five feet in between the curb and the car. I didn’t actually learn how to parallel park until I lived in Minneapolis and it was a requirement for survival. Yes: I was 22 years old before I could parallel park.

My gaps in driver’s ed knowledge also came to the surface when it came time for me to trade in my SD license for a Minnesota one. Minnesota requires out-of-staters to retake the written test in order to get their MN license. I took one look at the practice tests and almost died. To say that Minnesota is more comprehensive than South Dakota is a horrendous understatement. I studied for days, and even then, I only passed by one question. But in my defense, the test asked things like “How many feet should be in between your car and a bicycle when the bicycle is riding next to you on a city street?” Who knows that stuff anyway??

So anyway, that’s my driver’s ed story. Hopefully you got a better education than I did – or, at the very least, I hope your driver’s ed instructor didn’t care for Britney Spears.