First Date

by mia hinkle

The first time I ever saw Karl was in late January 1981. He was watching the Super Bowl in the basement of my parents’ Chanhassen home. My sister, Holly, was married to the Road Manager of the band Karl was with and had invited them over to watch the game. The Wright Brothers played a lot of venues in Minneapolis over the years, but this time they were midway thru a weeks-long engagement at the Carlton Backstage Lounge. 

I was 26 years old and could not have cared less about the Super Bowl. Truth is, I couldn’t tell a Raider from an Eagle if you held a gun to my head. I had planned to be out all day and I assumed the band would be long-gone by the time I got home from tending to my horses: fixing fence, chipping ice out of the water tank, hauling bags of grain and bails of hay into the barn. It was the kind of hard work that made my fingers freeze while sweat ran down my back and steam rose from my tuque.

In my memory, I came in through the garage and scurried up the stairs to see what my mom had rustled up for supper. (Karl’s memory of this moment is different; you’ll have to ask him.) On the family dinner table at the top of the stairs were the leftovers from a delicious game-day spread my mom had prepared. I was starving. As I changed my barn clothes and washed up, Karl made his way upstairs to the table and was visiting with my mom. I later learned that he too could not tell a Raider from an Eagle.

I’m not sure I even said “hi” as I sat down, grabbed an entire turkey leg and began to devour it like I had been stranded on a desert island, turkey grease running down my chin. In no time flat, only the bone remained and I headed off to bed, Mom trying to be polite enough for both of us. The fact is that my false impression of those guys was that they thought they were big shots, celebrities, or some such, and that was enough to make me want to stay clear.  

Fast forward to July 1981, the band was back in town for a few weeks. Holly kept asking me to come out and watch the band, saying they were really good and that the place was sold out every night. I kept turning her down as I had no interest in hanging out in some smokey bar listening to some country band. Then one hot day she invited the band members out to Chanhassen for a picnic and fun at the Lotus Lake beach lot. Holly remembers that they tried to water ski and they had canoe races (which Holly and Tim lost big time as their canoe spun in circles). Karl remembers that I came to the beach in a purple off-the-shoulder swimsuit (I have no memory of this). Later in the day, when the party moved back to the house, I remember walking into my bedroom to see Karl sitting on my bed, dressed in his dead grandfather’s black polyester dress pants and a long-sleeved plaid shirt buttoned up to the collar, sweating like crazy, a giant fan blowing in his face, trying to cool down.  He looked absolutely miserable! I convinced him that it was cooler outside and I asked if he’d like to go with me to feed the horses. Conversation came easy to us and at one point he asked if I liked movies. It was opening week for Airplane and Raiders of the Lost Ark so we decided to go see the double feature at the Mann France Drive-In Theatre. We talked and laughed and laughed and talked some more. We later learned that not everyone laughs at every line in Airplane. But we did. I think we both were beginning to suspect that we were soulmates destined for each other.

Over the next couple of weeks, we had a few more dates on Karl’s days off.  Our first official date was to see some comedy and improv at Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop downtown Minneapolis. I wore a pretty lavender sweater, tight white pants, high heels, and a dainty pearl necklace I borrowed from my sister, Solveig. I must have been fussing about being in a hurry — I was going to school full time, working full time, and taking care of my horses where I had them boarded. I was stressing about what I should wear and generally being a snappy grouch trying to get ready. When Karl arrived, I remember my mother taking him aside, gently grabbing him by the lapels and speaking into his face, “Have fun. And by the way, she is a much nicer person if you feed her.”

We arrived at Dudley Riggs early and stopped at the concession stand where, for some weird reason, I choose a large Dr. Pepper. Probably because I was still starving. As I went to sit down, I lost my grip and the entire tankard of Dr. Pepper ended up in my lap. On my foxy white pants. I am not kidding! The enormous cup was completely empty. There I sat in sticky brown liquid and ice. I remember thinking, “If he still thinks I’m cool after this debacle, we really ARE meant for each other.”

Later that week we visited the top floor of the Foshay Tower where there happened to be an exhibit about UFOs, Area 51, and aliens from outer space. Again, we both found this fascinating. Or maybe we just found each other’s company fascinating. Either way, we had a great time.

I remember we went to the Skyway Theater downtown to see newly released Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. As we neared the top of the escalator, there was a young man on a ladder changing a light bulb. Out of the blue, Karl stopped and pointed at him, shouting with his great big voice, “Hey look out! That guy is stealing light bulbs!” I thought it was hilarious as patrons throughout lobby all turned to see the thief in action as we casually sauntered by.

Well, I know you’re dying to know if I ever went out to see the band perform at the Carlton Backstage. The answer is YES, and yes, they were really good! Holly was right. Even though my day was packed from 5 o’clock in the morning til my head hit the pillow at night, I would go to the club every night to listen to the band. One night after the show we went out to get something to eat at Hotel Sofitel on France Avenue. I remember thinking it was so fancy. For dessert I ordered cheesecake. He ordered Peach Melba. When the waiter set them down, I longingly looked at Karl’s more delicious choice. He caught the look in my eye and quietly asked, “Do you want to trade?” as he switched plates. Just one more sign that he was the one for me.

The band’s three-week engagement dragged along for the rest of the guys whose families were back in Indiana. But it flew by for Karl and me. And when they took off, there was a great big giant hole in my heart. A couple of weeks later, I made a road trip to Indiana to see him. The band sold out the Murat Theatre downtown Indianapolis, along with other engagements that week. All good reasons to get all gussied up and hang around backstage. This time it was even harder for me to leave, but I just had a couple of months before graduation, so back to Minnesota it was, the hole in my heart even bigger.

It had been quite a summer! But as August was drawing to a close, the love of my life was off playing music in Las Vegas and I was still stuck at home. Then very early one morning (I was heading off to school and Karl hadn’t been to bed yet) the phone rang. He asked me to marry him. I said yes. And that was that. We were married on December 21 and I moved to Indiana on Christmas Day 1981.

We had our first date in July, proposal in August, honeymoon in October, reception in November, and our wedding in December. The rest, as they say, is history.

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