Don’t it Make You Wanna Go Home

I remember as a child listening to the Joe South hit “Don’t it Make You Wanna Go Home,” about how his hometown had changed, and wondered what Sioux Falls would look like in the future. Well, when I left here in the early 80’s we had less than 100,000 people, and while growing up the population was more like 60,000. Now it’s estimated at 160,000, and while the core of the city is the same, I am amazed at the blocks and blocks of houses, mini-malls and parks standing in places that were once fields, section lines, and open spaces.

One example is 49th street heading from Cliff to Bahnson. It was my jogging path (seven miles) in high school, and one section of it finds a railroad track on a slight hill. In 1976 this was a dirt road leading out of town with corn fields on either side. My friend Dan Taranik and I had a contest to see who could drive over the track the fastest. The steep incline made the car airborn, and when it landed if you had shifted the stirring wheel just a bit you could careening into the corn field. Up to 40 MPH our friends would ride with us, then we’d have to let them out and just the two of us go, to verify each others’ speed. I hit 65 MPH, barely keeping control. In a move that perhaps saved us from severe injury, Dan’s parents took away his car on an unrelated case, and by the next year we at 17 were mature enough to realize we’d been damn crazy.

That road is now paved, with parks, a church and houses on each side of the street. Moreover, there are houses and streets in each direction as far as you can see, all where fields used to stand. It goes on…49th was the very edge of town, now there developments past 70th street. Areas that were once miles outside the city are now simply part of town.

This shouldn’t surprise me. In 1977 I took a mini-course in high school called “A Week with the Mayor” (maybe in was 1978). A young city planner, Steve Metli (who I think stayed on the job through a recent retirement) drove us around town in a cool convertible and pointed to where the city would grow. I remember thinking “this guy is crazy, where will all those people come from.” As it turns out, I doubt he even realized how fast the population would take off! East, west, north and south, new schools, new malls, new homes have been built. Sioux Valley Hospital, renamed Sanford hospital thanks to a large donation, is hiring 8000 people to start a research center. The mood is reminiscent of the 1974 Sioux Falls bumper sticker “Things are Lookin’ Good, no Recession here.”

Yet as I seek out landmarks, a “Milky Way” that looks like it did back then, or the fact that “Midwest Welding” seems not to have changed, I find those constancies to be the exception rather than the rule. We went to Falls Park, which when I was in high school was rather run down. I always thought it a waste, the falls of Sioux Falls in a small, run down park near the state Penitentiary, stockyards and sewage treatment plant. Well, those other things are still there, but the park has been built up to be glorious, with an evening light show and landscaping that makes it a center attraction. And if the stockyards create an odor now and then, well, so what?

When I was growing up there was only one real “ethnic” restaurant – a Chinese place downtown, which is still there (Ming Wah). That expanded a bit by my college days, but now there is a plethora of possibilities from Ethiopian to Thai and beyond. While we had goofy golf and a few other activities, now there are waterparks, amusement parks and places to have fun. The minor League Sioux Falls Packers had to close it’s A league team when the old northern League folded, has been replaced by the very popular and successful Sioux Falls Canaries.

The Great Plans Zoo, which had old fashioned inhumane concrete cages and a cheap entrance area, has been replaced by a really well designed modern zoo, with a stuffed animal exhibit (when I was a kid these animals, collected by local hunters on trips around the world, could only be seen in part in a rather cluttered display at West Soo Hardware). In short, my hometown only exists in my mind, despite remnants I can still grab on to. Sioux Falls now is huge, expansive, and apparently still growing. The majority of houses seem brand new; only in the old part of town are the houses smaller and older. To be sure, I grew in a house built in the 1920s, 401 E. 30th. We walked by the house I lived at when I went to Kindergarten (305 W. 29th) on the way to a refurbished but still existent DQ on 29th and Minnesota. The playground at old Mark Twain School was redone, but the school still looked the same.

Strange, really. Every moment is fleeting, the town that now exists will be much different again as time passes. As a kid on my bicycle I explored every street and every part of this city, making it a point to go to places I hadn’t yet seen. Now that job would be a lot more difficult. But in my mind, I can still go to old stores like Fantles and Shrivers downtown, remember that ice cream cones at the DQ were 7, 10, 15, 20 cents, and the jumbo one for a quarter. The Sioux Falls I grew up in is still stronger in my mind than this city; Village Inn Pizza is still there, not a Crystal Casino. The Barrel Restaurant drive in, A&W Rootbeer, all the places I once knew. That’s one thing about getting older, suddenly one gets a sense of how things change and how time passes.

Onetime on my bike, probably while I was in high school, I was riding on the dikes of the SIoux River, and came upon a bridge — a four lane bridge spanning the river, with no road in site. What an oddity! I crossed it on my bike, and told everyone about this ‘bridge to nowhere’ I found. Now that bridge connects 49th street behind the malls (the west side of town, my biking path on 49th was way over on the east side), and is one of the most well traveled streets in town. Today we played with the kids at Sertoma Park, with a huge playground directly next to that very bridge — which definitely no longer looks new! And, while being a bit nostalgic can turn into a defiant “things were better then” stance, I prefer to look at it differently. Everything changes. Every moment in time, every landscape, every experience is unique and transient. Therefore, enjoy it, savor it, and bask in it. Time will take scene away, but the experience can never be stolen.

(Below is the bridge I came across back before the road was built…time changes everything…)

  1. #1 by Jeff Lees on July 31, 2008 - 19:59

    I know the feeling Scott. I grew up in Rhode Island, and we moved to Maine 11 years ago, and my home town is completely unrecognizable to me now only a decade later. But you’re right, everything does change.

  2. #2 by mohsen on August 1, 2008 - 19:54

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