This column was published June 10, 2023 in the Manhattan Mercury.
With the exception of nine months in 1978, all my life has been spent in Kansas. At age 20, I spent those outlying nine months in the Twin Cities, and that period of time was to provide a foundation for what was to come.
This week, I found myself back there for a professional conference and took advantage of the opportunity to drive down Lake Street, aka Memory Lane.
My time in the Twin Cities, or “the Cities,” as I came to refer to them, adopting the local colloquialism, was driven by twin goals. Broadcasting technical school and love. I was nuts about a girl from the Cities I had met in Kansas and followed her home. My old man was preaching, “find a life’s direction” and leaning on me to enroll in the four-year plan.
College was scattershot. Brown Institute was a cruise missile. Brown taught announcing, diction, pace and pronunciation, the rudiments of journalism, sports play-by-play, commercial production, advertising and airtime sales. Most importantly, the Brown curriculum brought interconnectivity of each disparate part that made the whole of successful small-market radio and TV stations.
I didn’t know it then, but the girl and tech school were intertwined. I was beginning to develop a life skill of balancing competing values. It was a perfect storm of ambition, wanderlust and romance.
Three classmates and I would gather each morning before class at McDonald’s on Lake Street next door to the school. As a play on a Brown diction exercise, I called it, “The arches which are, were, and shall ever be golden,” and it stuck.
Home was a three-story Victorian near Powderhorn Park. My housemates were fellow fledgling broadcasters, a dude tossed by his wife from suburban domesticity and one guy with criminal leanings, who always seemed to be one step ahead of the law. We occupied six separate bedrooms with a shared kitchen and bathroom. I caught on early that it paid to be the first one up; the hot water lasted long enough for about half a shower.
It’s a stone’s throw from the intersection where George Floyd died. Walk the streets and sidewalks of south Minneapolis today, and the social justice activism vibrations are palpable. The energy that motivates the area today is aimed at changing a culture.
Nostalgia causes us to view the past in an overly positive light, and we tend to remember people and places from our past in static terms. In that sense, Thomas Wolfe was right, you can’t go home again. But you can return to the physical spaces, reminisce, relive the glory, the heartaches, and acquire a new perspective of the same place. It’s a homecoming, in the sense of adding substantive emotional and intellectual heft to experiences and actions of decades gone by.
I packed a lot into those nine months. Learned the basics of an industry, relationships, snowmobiling, and disco. Appeared as an extra in two feature movies. Met actress Annette O’Toole for whom I would carry a torch for years. There was also an alcoholic blackout, a flashing neon warning sign of addiction, switched off by denial.
Nine months in, the girl would throw me over for a Stallone wannabe. “Stay away from her or you won’t have any teeth to broadcast with.” Okay Rocky, you win. Tail between my legs, I would retreat home to Kansas to lick my wounds and launch a career.
Brown Institute would become Brown College, move to the St. Paul suburbs and eventually close up shop in 2016. Where once it stood, now stands a bank and a Walgreen’s. Diction has given way to direct deposit and diuretics.
McDonald’s remains in the same exact space right next door, albeit transformed from the Mansard roof/red brick block architecture to the sleek, flat roof McModern style.
Like the arches, the memories are, were and shall ever be golden.