Things That Are Awesome About South Dakota, Episode 1

This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to my home state, South Dakota. The population of South Dakota is just over 800,000 or roughly one quarter of the Twin Cities metro area. But, what South Dakota lacks in people, it makes up for with awesome. In my latest trip home, I remembered South Dakota is awesome because…


South Dakota Has Drive-Thru Liquor Stores

A Whopper value meal is one thing — a fifth of whiskey is quite another.

Considering the effort police across the country put into enforcing drunk driving laws, a drive-thru liquor store seems nothing short of counterintuitive. Then again, who walks to the liquor store? South Dakota’s liquor stores say, Hey, it’s cold out. You keep your F150 running and we’ll take your order at the window.

Thanks, South Dakota.

South Dakota Bars and Restaurants Go Smoke-Free — Finally

Bar owners across South Dakota went fetal Tuesday night after a statewide smoking ban passed with 64 percent of the vote. Many seem sure that a smoking ban surely spells doomsday.

Fear not, South Dakota. In fact, I’m one of many customers more likely to go and spend my money at your establishment now that I won’t require a Hazmat suit to enter.

Most of the fear is anecdotal. South Dakota bars and restaurants offer video lottery, which has generated about $100-100 million in annual revenue for the state since 2002. South Dakota receives 50 percent of the money video lottery machines take in, so as soon as anything threatens their popularity, the immediate concern shifts to how South Dakota make up that money?

Let’s not jump off the ledge here. South Dakota is still South Dakota, and speaking as someone at prime bar-going age, business will be fine. What else is there to do?

When Minnesota passed the Freedom to Breathe Act in 2007, small-business owners and smokers alike thought it would put bars across the state in a chokehold. I tended bar at a high-volume college bar before and after the smoking ban went in effect. Anecdotally, I can say customers — even smokers — overwhelmingly preferred the smoke-free environment. In fact, I more frequently saw the same costomers on consecutive nights.

The Minnesota measure was passed to ensure employees are given a healthy workplace. A few weeks before the ban went into effect, I was forced to see an ear, nose and throat specialist after working four nights in a row. I had a wicked throat pain, which I thought was strep, but it was mid-summer, so it seemed unlikely.

“You must work at a bar,” the doctor said. “I see this all the time. You’re lucky that ban passed. I would tell you to find another job.”

I made more money as a bartender in college than in any full-time big-boy job I’ve held since graduating. I feel I was a good, hardworking bartender. The fact I’m not a smoker shouldn’t disqualify me or anyone else from working in hospitality. Every employee, no matter the job, should have the right to work in a healthy, safe, controllable environment. Accidents can happen — miners get trapped, firemen get burned, cashiers get robbed. Employers must take responsibility  to ensure these instances are few and far between. In that vein, is eliminating smoking really that difficult? If it’s protecting your employees — especially those who are on a company health care plan — isn’t it worth it?

According to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 17 percent of adults in South Dakota smoke. Last year, WebMD ranked South Dakota as No. 26 among states with the most adult smokers. At best, one in every five customers is asked to smoke outside.

Don Rose, a family friend and owner of Shenanigan’s Pub in Sioux Falls, was the leading voice of opposition to the smoking ban. His argument was that of a small-business owner who wanted the freedom to choose whether or not smoking be allowed in his establishment.

In a Monday interview with KELO-TV in Sioux Falls, Rose said:

“You take all, the bars in Minnesota are hurting, North Dakota are hurting, Montana are hurting. I get letters every day … I know that the state is preparing a budget they’re gonna be revealing in December that’s gonna show a 20 percent deficit in video lottery income. They’re planning on this.”

The elephant in the room is, of course, the recession. Name any sector of business that isn’t struggling right now. The other point of contention: Fargo and West Fargo are the only cities in North Dakota where smoking is banned from bars and restaurants. The rest of the state allows smoking bars. Finally, should South Dakota be relying so heavily on video lottery? If what Rose said is true, the budget will be short about $20 million from decreased video lottery income. That’s not a number to balk at, but hardly crippling to the South Dakota state economy. Yet, I wonder how the smoking ban — or smoking, in general — affects the cost of health care in South Dakota. Anyone?

(I completely respect Rose. As far as I know, he’s not nor has he ever been a smoker. He’s a very savvy business owner who only wants his rights left alone by the state. I get that. I also know he cares for his employees. I sincerely hope this doesn’t harm his business at all. I suspect it won’t.)

I swear, bar owners of South Dakota, your businesses will be just fine. Just wait for Thanksgiving weekend, when folks like myself return home. I used to despise meeting up with friends at the bar, but now, I’ll be the one leading the charge. I doubt I’m alone.

And please, don’t act like the smoking ban is difficult to enforce. In today’s Argus Leader, one bar owner said, “People are just going to stay home. The same thing is going to happen in the bars. I can’t see spending five bucks for a drink and then standing outside to smoke.” The same owner said she would tell a customer its illegal, but she wouldn’t call the cops.

If that’s the case, if a smoker is happier to stay home, maybe the problem isn’t the smoking ban — the problem is your establishment. And if you’re not willing to respect the law, maybe you should turn over your liquor license.

Rejects Revel in Minnesota’s Misery

My good friend Jake (left) is a Minnesota graduation and current grad school student. I am a Minnesota reject.

Let me preface this post by saying I was rejected by the University of Minnesota. I was the over-involved high school student who thought a litany of extracurriculars would compensate for a slacktastic GPA. I ended up attending Minnesota State University Mankato and I’ve been holding a grudge against the maroon and gold for eight years strong.

That said, I still wish they would’ve let me in. That’s why I wore a Gophers t-shirt and temporary tattoos (for like 14 minutes) while tailgating at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. My girlfriend and I had intended to see the game — Minnesota vs. South Dakota — but chose to watch the game from a bar neighboring the stadium.

Famously, the Gophers lost to the Coyotes, a I-AA team that just might be the second-best in South Dakota. I played high school football with guys who turned their nose up to USD, yet it was Vermillion’s own who won 41-38. Before halftime, the temporary tattoos were long gone and my shirt was inside out. I was the obnoxious guy at the bar who cheered a little too loud for the opposing team. Luckily, Gophers fans have a firm grip on reality and I managed to avoid any haymakers.

Minnesota is a fine institution, but sort of like that friend you love to see fail. The team, especially coach Tim Brewster, has been lynched by the local media and fan base for what’s got to be the most embarrassing loss in team history. Darren “Doogie” Wolfson, in his blog for the Star Tribune, wrote:

When your players skip out on “Hail Minnesota” at the end of the game; when the TCF Bank Stadium crowd for three straight appearances — remember the vitriol from the Illinois & South Dakota State games — turns extremely ugly on the coach and the program; when some of Brewster’s biggest supporters on the local rivals.com site and gopherhole.com turn on him; when it’s hard to figure out if the team is any better today compared to when Brewster took over; when Brewster said the program was “light-years” ahead of when he took it over; and when Brewster called this his most athletic team to date, it’s time for a change.

Off-the-field incidents? They can be sort-of excused. Recruiting violations? The same. But a loss to South Dakota is inexcusable.

Here’s the thing. Many argue sports media are too hard on college athletes. They are, after all, young men who are bound to make mistakes. When they win, however, college athletes are steeped in praise, showered in rewards, honored like humanitarians or noblemen. When they win, we treat them less like college athletes and more like heroes and saints.

What keeps the scale from tipping? Criticism. Bold, harsh, relentless criticism. That’s why I don’t feel bad for Minnesota, Brewster, athletic director Joel Maturi or the team. Sooner or later, the program will be back in the Top 25. For now, they hardly seem worthy of their new $500 million stadium, let alone a healthy chunk of the West Bank that might better serve as parking lot. For now, Minnesota is like a drunken Goliath, and the USDavids have no problem taking them down a notch.

So, even though I put on my Gophers shirt Saturday morning and pretended I had some attachment/connection the school, the reality is I couldn’t have been happier to see them lose. I’m sure there’s hundreds of Minnesota rejects who feel the same way.