Larry Bans and Tom Edelstein met Crabby.
It was their first day of seventh grade, and the departing Edelstein returned to introduce Bans at morning assembly at Highland Park Junior High in St. Louis.
“I I know who are you,’ cried Bans, having made up his mind.
Turns out they were trying to date the same girl.
Neither ended up with the girl, but Bans and Edelstein ended up being best friends.
The kind who painted houses together in high school. The kind that hung out at the University of Minnesota. Those who vacation together even though they live 1,600 miles apart. And their mothers became dear friends, to boot.
To celebrate their long friendship, Bans, a urologist in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Edelstein, a realtor in St. Paul, have been trying to live up to their “big song” from high school – “Old Friends” by Simon & Garfunkel from 1968. .
“Old friends, old friends
They sat on their park bench like book bottles”
It started 10 years ago when Edelstein had heart surgery. “I was blue and sentimental,” he recalled. “And I said, ‘Here we are turning 60, we’ve got to start doing something.'”
So the old friends – whose birthdays are four days apart – took a trip together and, as a nod to Simon & Garfunkel, they were photographed sitting on a park bench. In this case, it was actually a natural bench—a patch of wood above the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park.
Since then, they have “sat” every year except for one year of the pandemic and another when Edelstein injured his leg the day before the planned trip.
They’ve been to the Grand Canyon, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the fjords of Norway, among other spots, in search of just the right bench.
They take turns choosing destinations, the longtime friends explained last month at Edelstein’s Highland Park real estate office.
“He’s more into exotic travel,” Edelstein said of Bans. “And he’s really a great hiker. Nature really speaks to him.”
Friends document their visit-oriented bench trips with lots of photos. Each trip is commemorated in a hardcover book, which has ranged from 34 to 92 pages.
Their photos on the bench are not selfies. Always smiling friends ask strangers to take their photos.
“We walked into this art gallery in Santa Fe and there was a bench that was Native American and it ran the length of the studio,” Bans said. “We all explained it to the guy who owns the studio and he gets the panorama [photo]. That bench had to be 15 to 18 feet and was somewhat curved. I was there a year later. The bench was sold.”
On their trip to Zion National Park, a guide helped search for an ideal photo. “This kid leads us to this rock in the waters of the Straits,” Bans recalled. “And he’s in the water literally taking our picture and he’s like, ‘This is so unique. I’ve never been on a bench ride.'”
The benches vary as much as the places — from a wagon wheel chair outside a restaurant in Jackson Hole, Wyo., to a nature rest stop called Clam Rock in White Pocket, Utah.
Not all old friends’ trips are about finding the perfect place to park their derriere. They have traveled to destinations on their bucket lists, including New Zealand, Banff and Patagonia, with side excursions to Buenos Aires, the Straits of Magellan and Cape Horn.
They also occasionally meet for concerts in the United States – Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, Chicago, Alabama and the Righteous Brothers, to name a few.
But the friends never went together to see Paul Simon and/or Art Garfunkel, incidentally, two friends from school. Opportunities to see them perform have been limited since Simon pulled out of the tour in 2018, and this summer Garfunkel canceled a European tour due to concerns about COVID.
I turn 70 in New York
This month, Bans and Edelstein have planned a bench trip to New York City. They want life to imitate the art of Simon & Garfunkel:
Can you imagine us years from now?
Share a park bench in silence?
How terribly strange to be 70
Old friends, memories brush those same years
Silently sharing the same fears
Both will turn 70 at the end of August. This time, for a change, they’ll be joined by Edelstein’s wife, Randy, and Bans’ partner, Debra Revzen, who produces the bench’s yearbooks. They have tickets to MJ the Musical, the Michael Jackson Broadway show, and reservations at select restaurants. But they have not chosen a very important bench.
They are thinking about several points. Central Park at 70th Street. Or from 59th Street Bridge, in honor of S&G “The 59th Road Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).” Or across the street from Simon’s old Manhattan apartment. They’d love his advice.
“We’re going to ask Paul Simon which bench and see what he thinks,” Bans said with chutzpah and a plea. “We want him to understand how influential his lyrics have been to us for many, many years.”
And to see if maybe, just maybe, he’ll snap a photo of these two old friends on a park bench.