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Archive for the ‘driving’ Category

It’s winter in the Upper Midwest. And because December and January have delivered on their promises to bring snow and cold to Minnesota, many local friends and coworkers are now lamenting winter’s stranglehold on the Twin Cities.

I truly don’t mind that the mounds of snow at the end of the driveway are past my shoulder in height. And, I could care less that so far this year we’ve received an above average amount of snow from Mother Nature. Consider it her gift to those of us bold enough to live here.

Still, it’s amusing how weather conditions dominate so much of our day-to-day lives.

In the past 72 hours I’ve heard or seen a fistful of news packages about seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a condition caused, primarily, by lack of natural sunlight exposure. Like many forms of depression, a person with SAD can wind up unable to perform normal daily activities, like brushing his or her teeth. It’s a for-real disorder and I’m not making fun of it. We’ve all experienced those blah/blues moments…they just seem to peak in mid-January and February for those in the northern hemisphere.

Commute times to and from work are another sore subject. Just this Monday/Tuesday, the Twin Cities metro received between 3 and 5 inches of fresh snow. Of course it all fell during morning and afternoon rush hour periods. The result? Spin out accidents and traffic slowed to a standstill for practically 36 hours. Now a normal, non-resident might think most Minneapolites and Saint Paulville people would become used to winter driving conditions once February rolled around.

Wrong-o.

During this morning’s slippery-road-condition-commute I was witness to Escalade drivers weaving in and out of traffic like it was a July 4 weekend trip to the north woods. Plus, I wound up behind two different cars with rear windows completely covered in a layer of snow driving up 35W in the fast lane. Hellooooo snow scraper/brush thingy?!?! Let’s be a little courteous and try fixing the visibility problem before taking the car onto the freeway. Oh, if you have a rear window wiper built into your Toyota Rav4, turn it on for chrissakes!

Fortunately, in another 58-88 days the bulk of winter’s blast will be over and Minnesotans can start bitching about the humidity and high winds blowing in from Canada or North Dakota.

Come August, though, I’ll be eyeing my cross country skis and pining for fresh snow.

-end-

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Grumpy Old Man

I’m grumpy.

Maybe it’s me, but lately I seem more irritable. This is not a good thing given we’re entering the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons.

My mood exudes foulness for various reasons.

First, I’m getting old. At 45 I’m definitely in the middle-age-phase of life. Perhaps I’ve recognized my time is short on this earth. So little things like traffic jams and waiting in line at a retail store check out make my fuse burn faster. Plus, my body is breaking down in areas that mystify me. Twinges in my cervical vertebra; a plantar wart on my right foot thanks to the fitness center shower at work; a sty on my eyelid that refused to go away for months (sounds like I belong in a belltower, doesn’t it?). These medical issues never occurred to the old, young me and if they did, they didn’t last for weeks on end. Apparently reaching 45 also means maladies and conditions that, in many cases, should not be mentioned in writing. Thank God for WebMed.com so I can self-diagnose myself better than my Aunt Martha did back in the ’70s.

Secondly, my gorgeous wife and I are remodeling a bathroom in full DIY mode. We’re both competent, but we’re also learning that days quickly turn to weeks and suddenly the little master bedroom bath project is already a month old and we’re behind schedule. Add to it the war wounds of remodeling – cuts, bruises, sheetrock dust everywhere, and working in a small space with large power tools and only one tiny window for ventilation – and the thought of the project now makes me frown. Fortunately, my wife is my mood counter balancer. We’ve yet to have short words with each other over that little project. We just want to get ‘er done.

The other thing making me angry (at the present moment) is all the Christmas advertising that is invading my space. It’s not yet Thanksgiving, but every retailer in town began airing their TV spots in early November. As if I’m not aging fast enough, the Best Buys and Targets of the world want to rush past Thanksgiving and head long into the Christmas shopping season to make me older, faster. Ummm. No thanks. I’ll wait until after Thanskgiving before I start my Christmas shopping or break out the decorations. Why rush a good thing?

There. Now you know. I’m angry. Don’t cross me.

Or at the very least, don’t ride your brakes in traffic and make me curse you. After all, it’ll be Christmas…soon.

-end-

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It took the 11 years and four treks, but I’ve made friends with the North Shore of Minnesota – a stretch of Lake Superior shoreline, highway, infamous landmarks, and seasonal resorts.

Up until now, my travels that direction epitomized the word miserable. Few other places in the country boast about bad weather to attract tourists, but for those in Duluth and points north along the treacherous northwest shore of Lake Superior, bad weather is a piece of nearly every historical moment worth noting. For me, one late summer trip several years ago featured horizontal rain and high winds for two straight days. A second venture resulted in a foot of snow and high winds. The third trip, a late April getaway, included some sun, but the wind blew so fierce it might as well have been the Antarctic. This pattern seems to be the norm.

The vistas and opportunities to hike, bike and relax in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota are too numerous to ignore…and so away we went on Saturday to kick off Labor Day weekend 2010.

And brother, we hit the weather jackpot.

Two full days of “sunny and mid- to upper-60s farenheit” ruled our short getaway. On Day One, the lofty cotton-ball-esque dotted skies served as a personal tour guide as we hiked miles and miles of the Superior Hiking Trail – enough steps to make our feet, calves, knees and thighs tell us “enough.” If you haven’t stepped onto a piece of the 270-plus miles of this trail, add it to your bucket list. And while you’re at it, make sure to take the Lookout Mountain trail section for a scene unlike any other you’ll find in Minnesota.

That evening we ate and slept in Grand Marais. Our dinner bell rang at The Crooked Spoon, a crowded cafe on Wisconsin Street where the chef served up a wicked lamb tenderloin and the most beautiful leafy green salad I’ve ever seen. And while very much a tourist town, for a Saturday night, Grand Marais seemed very quaint and quiet overlooking a calm Lake Superior.

On a cloudless Day Two, Cheri and I biked the Pincushion Mountain trail, just a couple miles from Grand Marais off the Gunflint Trail highway. Leaving the town, this highway rises over 1,000 feet in just 2.5 miles or so. After completely wasting our legs peddling the mountain bike trail, I coasted back in to Grand Marais – nearing 40 mph on two wheels and barely turning the crank.

Another hike on the Superior Hiking Trail to take in Devil’s Kettle gave new meaning to late summer in Northern Minnesota. As we sat on the rocks of the Brule River watching the falls the color was unbelievable. From the rocks to the sharp dark walls of the river’s gorge to the green chlorophyl-laden shrubs and trees to a clear blue sky. Now that’s what being outdoors is suppose to be about.

Lesson learned. The North Shore may be unforgiving at times with its wind, driving rain and lake effect snows, but pick your moment and place and you can be pleasantly surprised by the gift of such a place. And you may, like me, make friends with a piece of America that you had for awhile given up on.

-end-

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It’s painful to watch. And sadly, if you drive, you’ve likely found yourself in a similar sitch. The video reminds us, when we’re behind the wheel of a two-ton automobile and freezing rain or snow come between the car and the road, we have no control.

Here in Minneapolis, the first real snow of the season brings out the crazy in residents. The Twin Cities received its first stay-for-the-season kind of snow fall on Friday. Three people died in weather-related car accidents that very evening after only an inch or so of snow covered the roads.

But as cooler temps worked their magic chilling the ground since mid-November, the snow no longer melts on contact. The tires pack it down, make it slippery and leave us all to our own creation…and demise, sadly.

It’s now Sunday morning and snowing again. Driving in snowy conditions requires expertise and attention.  Weather.com offers some suggestions for safe driving when it snows. Here are a few driving tips as a refresher:

  • Put away distractions. Cell phones, books, Big Macs and Big Gulps should not occupy your attention when driving in poor weather conditions.
  • Slow down. You’re driving a ton or two of metal making you the detonator of a gas-powered missile.
  • Triple the usual distance between you and the car in front of you. It could be driven by a 16-year-old numb skull with no winter weather driving expertise.
  • Don’t park along the street (note video above).
  • If the car you’re driving skids, steer into the skid. If the back of your car is skidding to the left, for example, turn the steering wheel to the left.
  • Apply brakes lightly when stopping. Don’t pump the brake and avoid pressing them until the wheels lock up.
  • Keep the headlights on, keep snow and ice off side view mirrors and refill windshield wiper fluid frequently.
  • Wear the seat belt.
  • Keep tires inflated to the recommended level.
  • Check tires for wear and tear. Replace tires before the snowy season, if needed.
  • Don’t assume the vehicle can handle any road conditions. A 4X4 on ice or hard-packed snow has no better traction than a tricycle.

Of course, the best advice of all: If you don’t have to drive…don’t. Why give the Grim Reaper your address and phone number?

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Idiots!

Three Minnesota legislators have lost their minds.

In a proposed bill authored by Republican House member Chris Delaforest, he and two of his “peers” suggest the drinking age in Minnesota be lowered from 21 to give those who are 18, 19 and 20 the ability to drink in bars. Their position is that  heck, since drinking is going on any way by kids in this age range, might as well let them drink legally in a bar instead of in the back seat of their car.

Bull shit.

I’m not suggesting minors don’t drink (been there, done that). But in light of recent instances right here in this state in which several college-aged minors (one celebrating her 21st birthday) literally drank themselves to death is proof enough for every individual with a brain that kids at this young age have no business legally bellying up to a bar and drinking.

Oh, but they’re old enough to vote and serve in the military. Why shouldn’t they be able to drink legally?

Military service and voting are far and wide different than ordering cocktails from Noon until 2 a.m. then getting behind the wheel of car and driving home.

Studies show the brains of young adults aren’t fully mature until they reach their late 20s. So why would a law maker think, feel or believe that giving these impressionable young people legal access to alcohol at age 18 is a good idea?

Idiots!

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‘Tis The Season

Merry Christmas. Today in Minneapolis two more families lives are wrecked because of some senselessness. Oh, it’s gonna be a Christmas to remember thanks to someone who got behind the wheel after drinking too much.

I drink from time to time. I also ride bike. And when I read something tragic, like a fellow cyclist getting struck by a car, I say a little prayer. I’ve never experienced a close brush with a motor vehicle while biking.

But on Tuesday night on the streets of Minneapolis, a drunk driver hit a bicyclist and kept on driving while he was stuck to the undercarriage of the car. She drove at 9:30 at night, without headlights and then crashed into another vehicle before the police could stop her.

This morning, the cyclist is dead (although the local paper hasn’t confirmed that at the time I’m posting this). And a 41-year-old woman is going to jail for killing a person while driving drunk.
Such a waste.

Here’s part of the story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

A woman who police say hit a bicyclist Tuesday night in northeast Minneapolis was due in court this morning to face charges of drunken driving and criminal vehicular operation. And charges could escalate if the bicyclist dies.

Edward Joseph Gorecki, 51, was on his bicycle about 9:30 p.m. Monday at the intersection of NE. Quincy and Broadway streets in Minneapolis when he was hit by a vehicle driven by a 41-year-old woman. He suffered severe head injuries and was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center.

His condition Wednesday morning was not immediately known, though Gorecki was in critical condition Tuesday with head injuries,  and a hospital spokeswoman said today he was no longer a patient there. At least two Twin Cities TV station reported that Gorecki died Tuesday evening, but neither Minneapolis Police nor the Hennepin County Medical Examiner were able to confirm that Wednesday morning.

According to police: The woman was driving without lights when she hit Gorecki. She did not stop at the scene, and dragged the bicycle 1½ blocks. She then hit another car at Broadway and NE. 2nd Street before officers could pull her over at 18th and Fremont Ave. N.

To all my blog friends and readers, have fun this Christmas season. Enjoy the spirit of the holiday. Drink if you’re into that sort of thing. But damn it, don’t drive drunk. Don’t be doling out misery to some other family just because you think you’re a smart fuck who isn’t “too drunk to drive.”

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Funny Thing About Winter

There’s a funny thing about Winters in Minnesota. It snows.

But residents here have short-term memories (must be that sub-zero climate that lasts for two months in January and February). They forget how to drive in snowy weather conditions. Even natives of the state seem to think their four-wheel drive SUV gives them special dispensation to drive normal speeds on the highway during near white-out conditions. (I love to see SUVs stuck in the road ditch after a good snow blows through town.)

On Saturday, the metro area got about six inches of snow between Noon and 8 p.m.  In that time there were more than 100 traffic accidents in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and more than 300 accidents state wide.

The best quote I found recapping the snowfall and accident totals came from a Minnesota State Highway Patrolman who said, “You can’t expect to leave 15 minutes late and arrive 20 minutes early when our roads are covered with snow and sleet.”

That sums it up people. When it snows, take it slow so you can enjoy the skis, snowmobile or sled when you get to your destination.

-end-

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