- - Friday, August 23, 2019


While coming of age in the 1980s, young people witnessed numerous changes in technology, politics and many other fields. Yet the timeless task of facing one’s future was as daunting as ever. It was also quite funny.

In his new memoir, “Nights in White Castle,” sportswriter Steve Rushin recounts his senior year in high school in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota, his college years at Marquette University and his early career with Sports Illustrated. This book is a follow-up to his well-received “Sting-Ray Afternoons,” Mr. Rushin’s memoir of his 1970s childhood.

“Nights in White Castle” offers keen observations about the 1980s, with abundant references to movies, television programs and song lyrics. The title refers to the White Castle restaurant where the author and his friends would eat slider hamburgers, often a dozen at a time. The burgers were referred to as “gut bombs,” and other unprintable, disparaging names. French fries were a “box of nails.”

Mr. Rushin offers remembrances of his time on the high school basketball team when they went to the 1984 Minnesota State tournament, which gave the author his first taste of newspaper coverage of his achievements. He also describes his reticence to interact with girls or to assert himself while working part-time jobs.  

The book humorously describes how people adapted to the new technology of the day. When the Rushin household was wired for cable television, it quintupled the number of available channels, providing a view into a universe previously unknown. MTV, with its slick music videos, entranced that generation. The author discovered when several buttons of the cable channel box were pressed at the same time, it would provide a half-second glimpse of an adult movie. 

In addition to reminiscing about friends and school, it is also a family story.  His parents and siblings factor prominently into the narrative. His father is an executive for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M), which makes, among other things, audio and videocassettes, which kept everyone in the 1980s entertained.

His father kept his perch in an “Archie Bunker chair” and needed to have access to the television listings, which the elder Mr. Rushin referred to as “the schedule.” Not one for following pop culture, he humorously describes to his son seeing the singer Prince on a flight to Los Angeles with massive bodyguards in tow. When the author heads to New York for the first time, his father advises him on how to hail a cab, and the best route to Manhattan from LaGuardia Airport.

Of course, all the advice is ignored, with comical results. His mother made sure the kids had what they needed, was the keeper of old report cards and who would clean their rooms, asking the question — “Can I pitch that?” His mother also took a photo of the author leaning on a typewriter, which he hoped to use as a dustjacket photo on his future books.

Mr. Rushin demonstrates a flair for wordplay when describing a time he had a job selling popcorn at the Metropolitan Sports Center where he wore a hat with a button displaying $1.50, the price of the popcorn. He noted “I had a price on my head.” And when he accidentally dropped two chimichangas in a puddle, they  became a “tortilla flotilla.”

The address at his college commencement ceremony was delivered by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. During the speech he thought that if he could make a living as a writer, he and the chief justice would spend “the better part of our days in a robe.”

Looking past the minutiae of everyday adolescent and young adult life, Nights in White Castle is a story about dreams. It is the triumph of a kid from Middle America who idolized professional athletes, and as a journalist, interviewed them and covered their games. Knowing he had the maturity necessary to survive and thrive in New York and to succeed in his chosen profession was a sweet victory.

“Nights in White Castle” is the ideal bit of nostalgia for those who came of age in the 1980s. Mr. Rushin captures moments of that era with honesty and clarity.  Fortunately for the reader, he does not take the times or himself too seriously.  The result is an enjoyable look in life’s rearview mirror.

• Kevin P. McVicker is vice president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs in Alexandria, Virginia.

• • •


By Steve Rushin

Little, Brown and Company, $28, 320 pages

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