Blast from the Past Part II

Last week I took a stroll down Memory Lane.

Needing a mental break from two full days of work, on Wednesday I drove out to Ellsworth AFB, my home from 1983-86. Civilians aren’t generally allowed on military installations, but the South Dakota Air & Space Museum just outside the main gate offers a $10 bus tour of the base, complete with a visit to a Minuteman II missile silo. The lure of setting foot on base again was impossible to resist, so after checking out the museum – pretty cool in its own right, with an extensive collection of military aircraft outside and two hangars’ worth of historical displays indoors – I boarded the bus and settled in for the base tour.

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My tour guide, Garry, was great. He started out by asking if anybody had ever been out to the area before, and when I told him that I had lived on base for three years and had just moved back to the area to escape the crowds and high cost of living on the west coast, he informed me that his circumstances were nearly the same. He’d been stationed at EAFB until 1982, when he was transferred to California. After several miserable decades there, he came back to Rapid City six months ago. Said he’d been to all 50 states and this was his favorite place.

Garry and I bonded.

It was a real trip being on base again! It was like stepping through a portal and going back in time, even though most of the housing has been modernized. We drove right by Ohio Avenue, the street we’d lived on three decades earlier, and I learned the crappy duplexes we’d been stuck in had been torn down and replaced with beautiful new houses that have covered porches and garages. Garages, guys! We had to plug our car in during the winter because we didn’t have so much as a carport even. This generation of military families has it so much better.

Some things were blessedly unchanged. The movie theater was exactly as I remembered it, and the ponds we used to fish in were all still there. I swear, I had goosebumps while we drove around. It’s all still so surreal to me. A mere 14 months ago I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d be walking around Ellsworth AFB again.

The highlight of the tour was definitely the missile silo. It had been converted into a training facility complete with an actual Minuteman II inside, the size of which is just amazing. At one time 150 of these missiles were buried beneath the plains of western South Dakota, aimed at Russia and ready to launch on a moment’s notice. They were deactivated in 1991 and have all since been removed, but Garry did tell us there are currently 400 armed missiles in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. That ought to sober you up!

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Thank god we survived the Cold War without incident.

After the base tour and museum visit, I drove over to my alma mater, Douglas High School. Even though I did not graduate from DHS, I’ve always felt a much stronger kinship with that school than the one that gave me my diploma, Milpitas HS. Probably because I went to Douglas for three years and was only at Milpitas my senior year. All my best high school memories are at Douglas; I was a newcomer at Milpitas and hardly knew anybody. Anyway, I did stop by DHS on my road trip out here in 2011, but this time the gate to the football field was open so I walked around the track, absorbing all the feels. Again, so many memories came flashing back. Good ones. I was always happy living here, which I can’t say about every place I’ve been, that’s for sure.

The rest of the week – and weekend – were low-key. We set up folding camp chairs at Main Street Square on Thursday for a free Georgia Satellites concert. Remember those guys? One-hit wonders from 1986 with “Keep Your Hands to Yourself“? I can’t believe they’re still around.

Friday evening we played cards, listened to records, ate pizza, drank rum, and walked to the video store to load up on movies. The Sturgis Rally is in full swing now, and we didn’t want to venture out and deal with a million motorcyclists. I mean, they’re all over town; you walk down the street and see groups of five, 10, or 15 Harley Davidsons, one after another, roaring by. It doesn’t really bother me, but I also would rather avoid the traffic in the Black Hills. So we’ve pretty much sat around and watched movies all weekend. I envision a lot of Saturdays and Sundays like this when the temperature is below zero. Kind of a shame it was overcast and 75 today!

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Faded Past, Bright Future

One month from today, we’ll be rolling into Rapid City, South Dakota. Barring anything strange and unexpected, like a flat tire in the middle of nowhere or an alien abduction, of course.

How did we get to this point?!

Don’t worry, that’s a rhetorical question. The sun comes up, the sun goes down, and another day fades into history. I get it.

Emotions right now? A little scared, but mostly excited. This is the home stretch – the culmination of months and months of planning. We are now starting to scout out places to live, because Tara’s idea of winging it until we got there seems less like a spontaneous adventure and more like a recipe for disaster the closer we get. We’d really rather have something lined up, or at least a couple of viewings scheduled. That Super 8 Motel won’t be feeling as super after we’ve been there a week, I’m betting. Free maid service or not. So we’re scouting Craigslist, and there are quite a few possibilities. We’re looking at ’em all: apartments, townhouses, duplexes, and houses. It still amazes me how inexpensive things are out there, but then again, that’s what kickstarted this whole idea, isn’t it? Our current plan is to rent for a year while we get settled, square away employment, and figure out what part of town floats our boat the most. The future feels wide open, and we are both eager to dive in.


I recently dug through some old photo albums of my mom’s, from when we lived in South Dakota in the 1980s. Sadly, time has not been good to those pictures; they’re pretty grainy and faded now. Let’s just say I have a newfound appreciation for the digital age. Despite the poor image quality, they are still fun to look at. I thought I’d share a few of them here for posterity.

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Ohio Ave. – Ellsworth AFB

This is a shot of our street from the front yard. Look at all that snow! (I have to warn you – a lot of these photos feature snow. Go figure.) I hardly ever rode the bus to school, as it was only about a mile away; cliche or not, I was one of those kids who actually did walk to school in knee-deep snow drifts. The proof is right here! Sadly, these brick houses on base were torn down years ago, replaced by more modern structures. Can’t say I’m too surprised; they were old and drafty and did little to prevent the cold from seeping inside every winter.

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Jurassic Mark.

Here’s a shot of my me and my brother at Dinosaur Park overlooking Rapid City. This local attraction, located on Skyline Drive, opened in 1936 and is still there to this day, so contrary to popular belief not all dinosaurs have gone extinct. The views from up here are incredible; the vast, sweeping prairie opens up to the east, and on a clear day you can see 100 miles into the distance, including the Badlands. I am hoping when my brother Scott comes to visit we can recreate this photo.

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The family Truckster.

When my dad was assigned to Ellsworth AFB in 1983, after spending three years in Hawaii, he knew we needed a car that could handle those punishing South Dakota winters. So he went out and bought an AMC Eagle Wagon. She may not have been pretty, but boy could she handle the snow!

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No asphalt? No problem!

The great thing about visiting National Parks in the offseason is, you have them all to yourself. Especially when there are plowed snowdrifts 8′ deep on the side of the road, as evidenced by this photo taken in the Badlands. This is why the Eagle was the perfect car for us at the time. Sure, we had to plug the engine in to a wall socket on those nights when the temperature dipped below zero, but the car was reliable in all kinds of weather and never got stuck. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this vehicle – it was the car I learned to drive in, after all.

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Mitchell could double for Moscow.

One of the most unique attractions in South Dakota is the Mitchell Corn Palace. The building dates back to 1892 and is decorated every year in murals made from corn and other grains in a nod to the area’s rich agricultural history. The theme changes each year. The arena is home to concerts, sporting events, and rodeos, and naturally there is a Corn Festival. It doesn’t get any more kitschy than this, folks, but 500,000 tourists a year flock here. I can’t wait to take Tara!

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Pretty sure this was our family Christmas card photo.

This last photo has actually held up pretty well. We visited the Badlands many times during the three years we lived there, and personally I never tired of the stunning rock formations. The great thing is, every time you go, the place looks different. The lighting changes based on the time of day, season, and weather. During my visit there in 2011 on my road trip, I watched a magnificent band of thunderstorms march across the prairie, thunder echoing off the sharp canyon walls. And on the way back to Rapid City, I had to pull over to the side of the interstate during a fierce hailstorm. What a rush! When Tara learned that we had been just a few miles from the Badlands on our trip in October, she wondered again why we didn’t push on. Well, we were running out of time…and I knew we’d be back. Often.

Countdown: 29 Days

100 Days

Today is a momentous milestone. In exactly 100 days, we will be leaving the PNW behind and heading for South Dakota! Seeing that countdown timer drop to double digits tomorrow is going to be surreal.

We have slowly been preparing for the move, but that’s going to pick up steam very soon. Tara is talking about beginning to pack this weekend. Just items we hardly ever use, the stuff in the back of closets and in the far reaches of cabinets. But it’ll mark an important psychological start. What we have been doing for a while now is gradually stocking up on goods we won’t be able to find in Rapid City. I’ve got a box full of food and beverages tucked away.

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Yes, lots of salts. And vodka. That probably speaks volumes about my personality.

Since this is a new blog, I thought I’d take a moment today to talk about how we got here. I don’t mean in the birds-and-bees sense; I trust y’all know about that. More to the point, how – and why – we decided to leave behind Portland for a fresh start in Rapid City, South Dakota, of all places. If you’ve already read this, then you have some background. But no need to click on the link; this will be a standalone post.

It all began a long time ago, back when Ronald Reagan was President and MTV still played music videos…

My dad was in the Air Force, and received a new assignment that took us from Hawaii to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, just as I was entering high school. In the interest of keeping this as short as possible, I’ll sum up our three years there by saying my parents tolerated it, but I loved it. The Black Hills are spectacular. When we left in the summer before my senior year, I was basically devastated and begged them to let me stay, but that didn’t happen. We moved on to California, I graduated from high school and college, landed a job, transferred to the PNW, and never gave South Dakota much of a thought again.

Until 2011, when I took a solo road trip to Dayton, Ohio, another place from my youth. I had planned on staying two days in Rapid City along the way, but enjoyed my time there so much, I changed my itinerary and tacked on an extra day. Sorry, Cleveland – I had to give you up. I was quite impressed with Rapid City, surprised by its proliferation of cool restaurants, brewpubs, and quaint shops. Ohio might have been my ultimate destination, but Rapid charmed me the most. I famously wrote,

I was quite surprised to find a little slice of Portland in Rapid City: quaint coffee shops, a used bookstore, and this cool alleyway I stumbled upon that was decorated all over with graffiti and murals. I strolled through there, taking plenty of pics. Love it! I am enraptured by this place all over again, and want to enjoy every last drop of it while I can.

I can’t help but marvel, once again, over the beauty of this area…and abundance of natural attractions. I’ve often wondered if I could ever picture myself living in Rapid City again, and the verdict is in: yes, I could. I wouldn’t rule it out if the circumstances were exactly right.

Yet, I could never imagine how those circumstances would ever come together, and never seriously thought it would happen. Instead, Tara happened. We started dating a few months after that road trip, she moved out here, and we settled into a happy little life in the PNW.

Until we started looking at houses last year. Seriously looking, anyway. And quickly found that we’d been priced out of the market. While the exorbitant housing costs were the catalyst that made me half-jokingly suggest moving to Rapid City, they were really only the tip of the iceberg. The idea took steam once we talked about our growing disenchantment with the Portland area as a whole, and what once seemed like the most unlikely of scenarios, actually returning to a place that meant so much to me in my youth, became reality when we took a quick trip out there this past October and decided, over a plate of fried pickles – how very Mark and Tara of us! –  to roll the dice and make it official.

And now here we are, stocking up on salt and vodka, bringing home boxes from work, and contacting moving companies for quotes. It still feels surreal, and yet, this is as real as it gets.

Countdown: 100 Days