Larry Bans and Tom Edelstein met crabby.
It was their first day of seventh grade, and the outgoing Edelstein turned around to introduce himself to Bans at the morning assembly at Highland Park Junior High in St. Paul.
"I know who you are," Bans whined, having done his intel.
It turns out that they were trying to date the same girl.
Neither ended up with the girl, but Bans and Edelstein ended up as best friends.
The kind who painted houses together in high school. The kind who roomed together at the University of Minnesota. The kind 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 tried to live out their "big song" from high school — "Old Friends" by Simon & Garfunkel from 1968.
"Old friends, old friends
Sat on their park bench like bookends"
It started 10 years ago when Edelstein had heart surgery. "I was blue and sentimental," he remembered. "And I said, 'Here we are turning 60, we gotta 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 piece of wood over the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park.
They've been "benching" every year since, save for one year of the pandemic and another when Edelstein injured his foot the day before the scheduled trip.
They've been to the Grand Canyon, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the fjords of Norway, among other spots, in search of the right bench.
They take turns picking the destinations, the old friends explained last month at Edelstein's realty office in Highland Park.
"He likes more exotic travels," Edelstein said of Bans. "And he's really a big-time hiker. Nature really speaks to him."
The buddies document their sightseeing-oriented bench trips with lots of photos. Each journey is commemorated in a hardcover book, which have ranged from 34 to 92 pages.
Their bench photos are not selfies. The ever-smiling pals ask strangers to snap the pictures.
"We walked into this art gallery in Santa Fe and there was a bench that was Native American, and it occupied the entire length of the studio," Bans said. "We explained the whole thing to the guy who owns the studio, and he takes the panoramic [photo]. That bench had to be 15 to 18 feet and it kind of curved around. I was there a year later. The bench sold."
On their trip to Zion National Park, a guide helped search for an ideal photo op. "This kid gets us to this rock in the waters of the Narrows," Bans remembered. "And he's in the water literally taking our picture and he says, 'This is so unique. I've never been on a bench trip.'"
The benches vary as much as the locales — from a wagon-wheel seat outside a restaurant in Jackson Hole, Wyo., to a natural resting place dubbed Clam Rock in White Pocket, Utah.
Not all the old friends' trips are about pursuing the perfect place to park their derrieres. They've 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 rendezvous for concerts in the States — Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, Chicago, Alabama and the Righteous Brothers, to name a few.
But the friends have never gone together to see Paul Simon and/or Art Garfunkel, coincidentally, two pals since grade school. Opportunities to see them perform are limited since Simon retired from touring in 2018, and this summer Garfunkel canceled a European tour because of COVID concerns.
Turning 70 in New York
This month, Bans and Edelstein have a bench trip planned to New York City. They want life to imitate Simon & Garfunkel's art:
Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be 70
Old friends, memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears
Both of them will turn 70 in late August. This time, for a change, they will be joined by Edelstein's wife, Randy, and Bans' partner, Debra Revzen, who produces the annual bench books. They've got tickets to "MJ the Musical," the Michael Jackson Broadway show, and reservations at some choice restaurants. But they haven't picked out an all-important bench.
They are contemplating a few spots. Central Park at 70th Street. Or by the 59th Street Bridge, in honor of S&G's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)." Or across the street from Simon's longtime Manhattan apartment. They'd like his advice.
"We're going to ask Paul Simon which bench and see what he thinks," Bans said with chutzpah and a prayer. "We want him to understand how influential his lyrics have been for us for many, many years."
And to see if maybe, just maybe, he'll snap the photograph of these two old friends on a park bench.