9:30 p.m. June 25, 2006
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — I do the majority of my road trips alone, so a blog is someone for me to talk to while driving my car. Plus, the blog never asks, "Are we lost?" My bloggin' around will be more personal than the Detours travel column I've been doing the last 15 years or 190,000 miles ago.
I'll try to share the music I'm listening to, the food I'm eating — generally in the car — scenery and the sudden roadside attractions that always seem to fall my way. Today at the Sioux City Canaries minor league baseball game I bumped into John Kouris, the team's new director of promotions. He's a former Chicagoan who performed at Second City, in '96 and '97, he played football at Notre Dame and was last seen reading poetry with Sergio at Weeds before moving out to South Dakota.
He takes chances.
That's what a good road trip is about.
I also want to solicit responses from readers that will help me find my way. I've never been to South Dakota before. It feels like Iowabraska to me. My beaten-down Cubs pal Mike Reischl has already suggested Wild Billy's Tombstone in Deadwood and Al's Truck Stop on I-90 in Oakton, S.D. Earlier tonight I wandered by a bar called the Arrow Lounge in downtown Sioux Falls. The brick dive bar had a big neon arrow above the door pointing inside. I wanted to go in, but I had to get back to my Sleep Inn here to begin my blog.
A few things to get out of the way before I salute John:
1. I drove to St, Paul, Minn., over the weekend to do a couple of stories [one on pie], then drove five hours southwest to Sioux Falls. The single best phrase I heard on radio that entire time was on Bob Dylan's XM radio show, where the theme was marriage. He called the nine-time married Zsa Zsa Gabor "one of the mechanisms of evolution." I think Dylan's show is heavily scripted, but that line wasn't. Some other interesting St. Paul news is how the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves is leaving its flagship station for country station BOB (KLCI). Can you imagine the Bulls on a country station?
2. What's with this list from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about "The 10 Most Dangerous Foods to Eat While Driving."?? 1. Coffee, 2. Hot soup, 3, Tacos, 4. Chili, 5. Hamburgers, 6. Barbecued food, 7. Fried chicken, 8. Jelly or cream-filled doughnuts, 9. Soft drinks (?!), 10. Chocolate. Wimps, wimps, wimps. What about sushi? Or fondue? The only dicey meal on that list is barbecued food. In '91 when I did Route 66 all the way, I stopped for some ribs outside of Oklahoma City. I was by myself and it was a true challenge to eat, drive winding roads, wipe my face and push the scan button on the radio when Garth Brooks came on.
One of the best things John Kouris is up to is leading fans in a sing-along, act-along to the Village People's "YMCA." Lots of ballparks do that, but the Canaries are blessed to have the Dowrummel Village Senior Citizen retirement center out beyond left field [where former Cub Chad Hermansen was stationed Sunday afternoon for Sioux Falls]. So a few times a year Kouris recruits a few 80-something residents from the village to lead fans in the Village People standard.
This is why I love minor league baseball. The people at Sioux Falls were so hospitable in making this weary traveler feel at home. They even gave me a Bob Barker Bobblehead doll from last season. Barker grew up on a South Dakota Res. Not surprisingly, the team is owned by Mike "Fun is Good:" Veeck. A couple months ago, the major league St. Louis Cardinals wouldn't even return my phone calls. [In my mission statement, I forgot to say I will not rant, which many bloggers do — this isn't a rant, it's the truth.]
So Kouris, 32, was working the stands on a sunny afternoon with his dog Payton — named after Walter, not Manning, as he pointed out. The Jack Russell terrier hails from Humboldt Park. Kouris' wife Lauren was communications director at Zanie's and one of her co-workers had a litter of Jack Russells. Sunday was "Dog Day Afternoon" here. "I was working as a grant writer at the American Heart Association in downtown Chicago," said Kouris, whom I never met. "I was a server at the Signature Room. I was a restaurant reviewer for the Reader. "I was bored with grant writing. I wanted to get back into sports. I read an article on Mike Veeck when his book 'Fun is Good' came out. So I wrote him a letter in December 2005 that said when I was a kid growing up in Northwest Indiana, his dad [Bill] and Harry Caray and Mike Royko were guys I aspired to be like. I told Mike I wanted to get back to my party roots. I asked him to help me do that. I asked for advice."
Kouris' father was a referee at the 2006 Rose Bowl. After Kouris and his wife visited his father over the holidays, they returned to their Ukrainian Village apartment. Still no word from Mike Veeck. "The next day, the first day back at work I got a call from the Sioux Falls GM," Kouris said. "He said they had a position for me. So we flew out that weekend. Here. Never been here [laughs]. I didn't know where I was. I like to say we're in the Plains, but this is definitely the Midwest. In mid-January I quit my three jobs and moved here. Didn't tell anyone. Sergio doesn't even know I'm here."
MORE TOMORROW WHEN I GET TO RAPID CITY, S.D.