“Well, I’m not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short and the days too fast
The things you lean on are the things that don’t last
Well, it’s just now and then my line gets cast into these
There’s something back here that you left behind
Oh, time passages
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight”
– Al Stewart, “Time Passages,” title track from his 1978 LP
One time in the 80s when I visited Sioux Falls while living in Washington DC, I listened to Al Stewart’s “Time Passages” as the plane took off from the airport at 7:00 AM, with the sunrise in all its beautiful glory showing over the horizon. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a song more, as it mixed perfectly with the atmosphere. On this trip to South Dakota, the song took on even more significance as I pondered how profoundly different Sioux Falls is in 2010 than when I was growing up. The Sioux Falls of thirty years ago is still be there, but also far away (another line from the song — “I know you’re in there, you’re just out of sight), bits and pieces surfaced, but at times the city seemed strange.
Downtown Friday I looked around at the various stores. In a two block section of Phillips Avenue I spotted only one remaining from my era — Raymond’s Jeweler’s. In all of Downtown there were few businesses which survived since the seventies. The Ming Wah cafe is still there, and I was delighted to see the Hamburger Inn still in existence, but Fantles, Shrivers, Michaels, Burkes, Woolworths, the Nickel Plate, and all the standards from the past were gone. Skelly’s pub still stood, but Sid’s liquor store had vanished.
Simply, Sioux Falls has a new down town. The State Theater is there, but not showing films. The K-Cinema (not down town, to be sure) and Hollywood theaters are long gone. We went to a candy shoppe (I wish I recalled the name), and there we found old favorites. Candy cigarettes! Zotz! Small jaw breakers in the green 25 cent box! Bubble gum cigars! The kids got a kick out of asking for “another pack of cigarettes” and even got to the point where they were “pretending to be Michael Jackson,” smoking and drinking as they gobbled up MY candy cigarettes. But yet, even that candy store’s blast from the past showed how different the present is.
Then there is Falls Park. Sioux Falls has that name because the Sioux River has falls there, and they are beautiful. In 1968 I remember the road there being closed because of post-winter flooding (I was eight). At 16 I had my first kiss in Falls Park, at that time a neglected part of town. I always wondered why such majestic falls were not taken advantage of, and the answer was always “it’s too close to the stock yards and the penitentiary (state prison).” Finally the city has awaken to this beautiful gift and turned the park into a glorious large spectacle, with an evening light show, a tower to climb, and new roads and parking. Yet, even as it achieved what I imagined it should thirty years ago, I yearned to be there back in 1976 when I had my first kiss. Kathy Bingen, I don’t know where you are now, but I thought of you as I looked at this modern complex!
When I was five my mom told me I couldn’t go to Dairy Queen if I didn’t ride my bike without training wheels. I lived at 305 W. 29th in Sioux Falls, a block and a half from a DQ. I learned to ride that day, and still remember the cones (7 cents for tiny, 10 cents for normal, 15, 20 and 25 cent cones going up the ladder) and the sign for 15 cent hamburgers. Across the street was “Courtney’s Books and Things” where I went to buy the Laura Ingalls Wilder series of books, saving my allowance every week. And, when I didn’t get a new book, I went to Lewis Drugs on Minnesota Avenue and 36th to get a 45 RPM record. My first purchase was “Wedding Bell Blues” by the Fifth Dimension, and then “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. My barber shop was across the street. All of that is gone.
Lewis Drugs still exists — my mom works at one, but that old store is now their corporate headquarters. The Village Inn Pizza Parlor I used to work at is now a casino, across from the Western Mall, which has morphed into a furniture sales center. Back in 1978 I was riding along the Sioux River and came across a new bridge in the middle of nowhere. I rode across it, fancying myself the first bicyclist across this bridge in the middle of nowhere. Now it is a well traveled old 49th street bridge between Kiwanis and Louise avenues, with a huge playground and shops beside it.
I used to jog out from 49th to Bahnson in the Tuthill park region, going on a gravel road in the country. Dan Taranik and I would drive at high speeds over a rail road track that was elevated, making our cars airborne. Now it’s a totally built up residential area, no longer outside of town, but snugged in the middle, as Sioux Falls now stretches way out past 69th street. Grocery stores and residential areas now lay on places we would go out in the country to maybe “park” or shoot fireworks. When I left Sioux Falls was a city of about 80,000. I worked my last summer on an assembly line at Starmark Kitchen cabinets. We started work at 7:00 AM, I sanded or painted, and the day ended at 3:00 (no air conditioning). It was on the edge of town on Benson Avenue. Now that street has its own exit.
Sioux Falls is now over 160,000. In 11th grade I took a course called “A Week with the Mayor” as Lincoln High had a program getting students out in the community (I also did a week with the Argus Leader advertising sales folk — the paper is still there too). Rick Knobe was mayor, but one day a young city planner named Steve Metli took a few of us out in a convertible and explained his plan for the town — to help gray areas avoid becoming slums, and vast plans of growth. As he drove out on a gravel road he described future neighborhoods. Now, I see what could only have been imagined in the late seventies.
I heard that Steve Metli retired just a few years ago, and I guess he was successful. The town has no real slums, it’s grown in a way that still feels comfortable and where traffic flows well and neighborhoods are safe. At one point in the 90s it was Money magazines number one place to live. I look back at that convertible ride now and realize it was an honor to have a chat with the visionary who worked with others to bring about such a dramatic change to the city I grew up in. Malls and shops on the west side spread over what was once empty land — a massive 41st street expands out where we used to drive on a two lane highway to Wall Lake. As I contemplate the city I realize that this is what it’s like to grow old — to see the world change in ways one would have hardly imagined. But I am glad I lived in the Sioux Falls of my youth. As great as the city is now, it was a wonderful place to grow up. I wouldn’t trade that experience even for youth!