It had been a long day on the road by the time I hit the traffic roundabout at University Drive and Fifth Avenue South near the St. Cloud State University campus last week. That must be why I ended up going round and round the circle like an old-fashioned wind-up clock with a bad spring.
During the South Dakota Festival of Books last weekend in Brookings, I moderated a panel discussion on "Restoring Civility to Democracy.'' The panel included a former legislator, long-time lobbyist, retired Supreme Court justice and university professor and administrator. I've known each of the panelists for quite a while, and each has the ability to turn a quip quickly along with the discipline for measured, thoughtful conversation. They're the sort of folks who listen to learn and understand, rather than listening only to prepare a retort.
About a quarter-century ago, a kid named Matt Cecil joined me in Pierre to report on the Legislature. Matt was a Brookings native who had recently joined the Argus Leader staff in Sioux Falls. I worked for the paper in Pierre, so session was part of my regular beat. Back then, the paper sent a second reporter for all or large parts of each session. For two years, that second reporter was Matt.
Newspaper reporters sometimes are accused of getting facts wrong, but if you had to learn a little bit about a lot of things in a five-minutes interview on deadline, maybe you'd cut them some slack. Having said that, most news reporters I worked around were sticklers for facts. An error in print drove them bonkers. One guy, the first time he committed an error and had to write a correction, said he was changing his name and moving to the Bering Sea Wilderness area. I felt bad for his error, but I liked his choice of hide-outs, a place most of us had never heard of.
During one of the Legislature's frequent discussions about the future of small schools a number of years ago, I suggested to a couple of the leaders that they create a foreign-exchange program between big cities and ranch country. I'd written a campaign story sometime earlier about the differences in geographical sizes of legislative districts. A legislative candidate out west, I wrote, starts a campaign day by making sure the gas tank is topped off. A legislative candidate in the big city starts the day by making sure the shoes are laced up tight.
In my school days, if a kid finished an assignment ahead of the other kids, a number of teachers would let that student spend the free time reading. The teacher would, that is, if the student had not only finished the assignment but also checked the work. I liked those times a lot, first because I have always greatly enjoyed reading and second because reading was twice as much fun when I did it during a class period. Maybe it helped me become a better student, too, knowing if I did the work correctly and without dawdling, I'd be rewarded with reading time.
If you've read the legend of King Arthur and Camelot, you're aware that leaders haven't always been chosen by public vote. Arthur became king when he received the sword Excalibur. The Lady of the Lake had been holding the weapon aloft, waiting for some passerby to display just the right array of leadership qualities. Merlin, a magician (and doesn't every campaign team have at least one magician?), told Arthur to pluck the sword from the Lady of the Lake's hand and become king.
It's Labor Day weekend, and if you have Monday off, you can thank Matthew Maguire. Or maybe you should thank Peter J. McGuire, I'm not really sure. I went to what should be a reputable source — the U.S. Department of Labor's website. I came away with doubt.
South Dakota held state fairs before it became a state. The State Fair, which opens Thursday and runs through Labor Day in Huron, started in 1885, its history says. Folks called it the territorial fair in those days. Well, sure. Can't call something a state fair if there's no state.
I got to wondering the other day if Thomas Wolfe, the novelist from the early part of the 20th Century, ever rode a bicycle.