IN THE SPIRIT OF RUSS RINGSAK from David Edin, Merchandise Manager
Russ Ringsak was the truck driver and a writer for A Prairie Home Companion, but his involvement with the show goes all the way back to its humble beginnings. Russ was a player on the old Jack’s Auto Repair softball team and then advanced to being a researcher and providing Minnesota notes to Garrison when the show was in New York. And he drove the truck on tours. He usually was involved in choosing and editing the “greetings” section of the show, selecting obscure birthday or celebratory wishes and then picking which would get on the air and which would not. Russ was a blues guitarist and a biker and a former architect, and ahead of his retirement from the show, he had the opportunity to play one of the most famous trucker songs — “Six Days on the Road” — live on the show with Brad Paisley, who recently appeared on the American Revival show.
Russ was a kind man with a generous heart and a big smile. He somehow always managed to get the equipment needed to stage the show to the proper location week after week, through snow, sleet, rain or sunshine. He also managed to somehow arrange his thoughts about his weekly travels into a column that became a favorite on the A Prairie Home Companion website. If you have a chance, you can still read many of his columns here >>>:
And if you get a chance, pick up one of his books: Minnesota Curiosities (featuring obscure facts about Minnesota) or Semi True: Seasons on the Road with A Prairie Home Companion’s Resident Writer and Truck Driver. And so to continue the tradition, here are a few of my own random thoughts from the road.
It’s amazing the thoughts that traveled through my head while driving to Colorado this past week via the highways and byways of Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska — encountering sheets of rain in the dark of night plus wind gusts of up to 50 miles an hour pushing the rental van all over the road and simply trying to follow the lights of the semi ahead of me as we soldiered on state after state. My mind was focused on the project ahead, the show that I have come to love, and how I was looking forward to witnessing another full-on A Prairie Home Companion program, this one called an American Revival. This got me thinking about the division in our country and the importance of shows like A Prairie Home Companion. I often wonder if in today’s environment, we have too many options for entertainment and
activity. It used to be that people would talk about a radio show or a television show around the “watercooler” the next few days, often comparing notes and thoughts about what they heard or saw — shows like I Love Lucy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Dallas, Cheers, Seinfeld, all the way up to the first few seasons of American Idol, where programs easily had viewership numbers north of 20 to 30 million. Chatter among friends and foes focused on whether they liked the show or agreed with all the happenings or goings-on. Somehow, we seem to have gotten so fragmented that shows that appeal to everyone have disappeared, and top programs don’t seem to capture enough audience to seem relevant or generate buzz or pop culture excitement. Both television and radio seem to cater to a smaller, more targeted, more segmented audience, and thus, especially with politics, the broadcasts seem to focus on division. Shows like A Prairie Home Companion probably wouldn’t get made today yet were very successful just a short while ago. Shows like this draw people together. It truly gives one the chance to easily meet new friends since you begin with something in common and a topic you can build upon. Garrison had the right idea in beginning an American Revival — we can only wish for more!
The drive home was a reflection on the show itself, the people I met, and the friends I had the chance to reconnect with. A few dinners with people from past Prairie Home Companion cruises were a great opportunity to get to know each other more and catch up on our lives while having some great conversation and good food. I wish I’d had more time to give so that we could have had a few outside adventures. This group plus our core group of fellow working companions made the travel easy and well worth the trek.
I have been amazed by the number of people who told us that their Saturday ritual as a family was to sit down in front of the radio or hop in their car and listen to a two-hour variety show — many of the younger listeners simply stating that they were initially forced to listen to the radio show or the cassette tape stories but eventually they began to have an affinity for the show. A young man of 25 or so attended the show in Colorado as a tribute to his grandmother who had passed away three months earlier. She made him listen to the show and even picked him up for car trips on Saturday nights. As we spoke after the show, you could tell he was moved and enjoyed Brad Paisley, Elvin Bishop, and the full-cast
sketches. He was happy to share details of his road trips and his love for his grandmother.
I spoke to another lady who had traveled from Virginia and came with a box of tissues, since she said that Prairie Home was the “soundtrack to her life” — she’d been raised hearing the broadcast with her mother and father, often in the backseat of the family Valiant, and then passed that tradition on to her own
daughter. She too came in honor of her mother and told me that she had used all her tissues and sang out in joy during the sing-along.
Meeting people and having them share their stories is so rewarding. I hope to share a few stories of the new friends I made along the way in the newsletter on our social sites. This American Revival gives me hope for our country as it remains strong and full of great people. Here’s to meeting more of you in the
future. So let’s have another American Revival soon (I’ll put a word in with our host)! And then, thanks to and in remembrance of Russ, maybe I’ll make another column post or two.
Russ with the APHC Truck -
Get Books by Russ:
Minnesota Curiosities >>>
Semi True: Seasons on the Road with A Prairie Home Companion's Writer and Truck Driver >>>