An Ode to Flyover Country

“We are moving to Sioux Falls, South Dakota,” my father said matter-of-factly.

I don’t think I knew exactly where South Dakota was, having spent my formative years in Denver, a truly wonderful place to live as a kid back then. I could obtain an occasional Coors beer—an exclusive adult beverage only available in the area around Colorado, where it was brewed. I could grab a train every weekend to ski. Life was good! No, life was great!

My family moved to Sioux Falls in 1966, the year I started high school, and left in 1969, the year I graduated. Our class was the first to spend all three years at Lincoln High, which had just been built.

Those years still provide my moral compass as a journalist and an educator.

This past weekend I was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Lincoln High, an honor indeed for someone who spent much of his time exploring the boundaries of teenage life in flyover country.

I thanked the committee who overlooked my smoking and drinking in the school parking lot, my suspension for fighting in the hallways, my arrest for car theft, and my protests against Vietnam.

I was one of the better students in the class of more than 600—technically No. 21 in the days when everyone knew everything about one another. No one got trophies for participation back then.

My main contribution at Sioux Falls Lincoln, however, was rock ‘n’ roll. I was the lead singer of The Trippers, a garage band before garage bands became vogue. We practiced in a basement because garages in South Dakota were too cold!

Along with other bands, The Trippers brought psychedelic music from the West Coast and rhythm and blues from Detroit. We traveled throughout South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota, playing small towns like Lane, a bump in the road of 25 people where hundreds turned out from the farmlands every Saturday to listen to rock music, to large venues where we played with Neil Diamond, The Turtles, and The Lovin’ Spoonful.

The Trippers had one recording, “Have You Ever?,” which made it into Billboard’s Top 100. Well, it made it to No. 99 for a week. The Trippers, a band of great desire and somewhat limited talent, were inducted into the rock ‘n’ roll halls of fame in South Dakota in 2010 and in Iowa in 2016. Here is a short video about the band:

In the 1960s, the radio provided the window on the world for the teenagers of Sioux Falls. KISD served up the top of the pops from The Beatles to Jimi Hendrix, with a lot of bubble gum in between.

It wasn’t an easy time. The 1960s almost tore the country apart because of war and race relations. Some of my classmates went to Vietnam. Fortunately, no one died, but many returned broken and unappreciated.

In a book I wrote a few years ago called “Flyover Country,” I told the story of the Class of 1969 and its students. The class produced doctors, lawyers, business people, and educators. It also produced criminals and con men. Many from the class died way too young. See https://www.amazon.com/Flyover-Country-Boomers-Their-Stories/dp/0761853324/

Most importantly to me, Lincoln High School sculpted me. It took a cocky kid from Colorado who wanted to be anywhere but South Dakota and made him into young man with an appreciation for people who didn’t complain about 100 inches of snow every winter or the vagaries of how the world treated them. If there was a job to do, it got done. If there was a neighbor to help, it got done. If there was a problem to fix, it got done.

I learned a lot about life in my three years in South Dakota. I learned about friendship and kindness. I learned about truth and trust. I learned about community and caring.

No excuses! No complaints! That’s what I learned in South Dakota; lessons I still hold dear today.

It’s also wonderful spending time with folks from flyover country. I saw an old friend, former U.S. Senator Jim Abourezk, a longtime liberal. He is an original. He and I don’t agree on much. But we can talk about politics as a discussion rather than an argument.

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 4.09.33 PM
Former U.S. Senator Jim Abourezk (right) and I have some apple pie in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

I even saw a man with a T-shirt for Reagan-Bush in 1984 at a diner in Sioux Falls. Imagine wearing one of those outside of flyover country! It was a reinvigorating visit that will help me deal with the insanity of urban politics in Philadelphia.

Here is an added bonus. My cover of Light My Fire at the induction of the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame: