Bloomington’s own shares memories of growing up here
Steve Rushin discussed his latest book, Sting-Ray Afternoons, with the assembled crowd at Minneapolis’ Magers and Quinn before catching the final act of Billy Joel’s concert at Target Field on Friday night.
Rushin, a 1984 Bloomington Kennedy graduate has been one of the top writers at Sports Illustrated for the last three decades decided to reflect on his experiences as a youth growing up in the South Brook neighborhood in central Bloomington a short jaunt down 90th Street from Bloomington Ice Garden.
“People love it,” Rushin said during a recent interview about the early reactions to the memoir about growing up in the 1970s. “What I’ve learned is that the experience people have in their youth isn’t bound by geography. I’ve talked with people from Texas … Australia that had similar experiences in a similar backyard, playing garage ball or football in the front yard but of course it resonates with the people of Minnesota.”
Rushin was born in suburban Chicago, the middle of five children and was three when his family moved to Bloomington.
The precise date, July 20, 1969 is etched in his memory since it is the day Neil Armstrong landed on the move. The family made the trip up Interstate 94 in two days with a layover at the Water Park Capital of the World, Wisconsin Dells. They watched the moon landing from the hotel room and realized from that point forward that anything is possible.
The idea to pen a memoir came about after finding the newspaper from the day he was born, September 22, 1966, and reflecting on how different life was at that time. “A six-pack of beer was 69 cents, only 489 people were at the Yankees-White Sox game at Yankee Stadium,” the father of four and member of the Kennedy High School Hall of Fame explained.
Rushin’s use of the English language not only paints a complete picture of what it was like to score a touchdown in a game of football in the front yard or get that strikeout in garage (a variation of baseball played in the driveway using the garage door as a backstop) but connects those who grew up in a different time.
We had street hockey games regularly interrupted by parents returning home from work, think Garth and Wayne from Wayne’s World yelling “Game Off!” to clear the way for the car or truck followed by “Game On!” to signal the restart.
Music stokes the memories unlike anything else. Rushin introduced his oldest daughter to 1970s era music thanks to the satellite radio in family car as they drove around their New England community.
“Watching my own kids’ reaction informed the writing,” he explained. The fears and anxieties in the 1970s were of the monsters in the basement variety whereas Rushin noted his son lying in bed counting the bug bites from the day. “Back then, parents put on (tanning) oil not sunscreen and Bush Lake was our beach. We didn’t have a cabin up north so my world was limited to Pick-Quick, Lincoln High School and prestigious West Bloomington,” Rushin said with a hint of sarcasm behind the word prestigious.
“It was cool to grow up where the Twins, Vikings and North Stars played,” he explained as he once worked in the concession stand at Met Stadium in 1979. A place where teenagers were in charge of making popcorn, (heating or reheating) hot dogs and sealing cellophane over cups of Coca Cola. He recalled walking through the crowd at Kenny Rogers concert as a concessionaire barking to the crowd during one of his ballads: “I was shouting ‘Get your popcorn here!’ while he was singing ‘Lady’.”
He also worked for some time at the local Tom Thumb and put in one-and-a-half shifts at Bennigan’s near Southtown (corner of 35W and 494). “I got to see all of it,” he said of his early working days.
A proud, and practicing, Minnesota sports fanatic, Rushin’s favorites growing up included Rod Carew and Allen Page.
Rushin and friends would try to imitate Carew with a cheek full of chew using lunch meat in place of tobacco.
“A big hero of mine was Alan Page,” he explained. “I loved him as a kid and it was blind luck that I chose (someone who would go on to such tremendous success in retirement).”
Page was known for “no autorgraphs” for a period of time. Rushin had an opportunity to meet Page during his formidable years when he slept over at the team hotel near Met Stadium the night before a game day. A friend’s dad was employed at the hotel. Rushin’s purple 88 jersey had Rushin on the nameplate instead of Page and he received an autograph.
“I told him this story and he was very relieved to learn he gave me an autograph,” Rushin said of reliving the story to Page.
“People look at me like the Minnesota whisperer,” he said. “As a Vikings fanatic, living and dying with them, pessimism is part of growing up in Minnnesota,” Rushin said of the four Super Bowl losses in the 1970s continuing on to the 1998, 2001 and 2009 NFC Championship games. “I grew up in the Bud Grant era where spiking the ball or heaters on the sideline was just something they didn’t do or have but there were Whiskey flasks in the stands.
“It would be nice to win a Super Bowl one day and to do it at home would be tremendous,” he added.
Another question he fields often at signings is why the book isn’t longer. His reply: “I wish childhood was longer, it’s the nature of life, but unfortunately you have to grow up and move on.
“The book ends going into the teenage years about 13-14. There might be another book leaving high school and home but that’s a much more painful period.”
Follow sports editor Jason Olson on Twitter at @SunSportsJason.