Sunday, December 12, 2010

Minnesota in December - Lovely

It's always exciting when Minnesota makes the national news for a snowstorm. This weekend's blizzard caught the attention of the major networks even before the Metrodome collapsed, which worked out perfectly for all involved, since it not only gave new stadium proponents an argument, but also created the best metaphor for a franchise's season in the history of the NFL.

New York City really hasn't seen any snow at all yet, aside from a flurry, but it will certainly arrive soon enough, most likely the day I'm flying back to Minnesota in a few weeks. I certainly don't miss Minnesota winters. It's not just the snow and it's not just the cold - it's when the snow and the cold combine forces to create misery and hermits. As an indoorsman who never went ice fishing, skiing or snowmobile riding - winter is basketball season, for watching, if not playing outdoors - I never enjoyed the activities that keep many Minnesotans sane from November through April.

In New York, snowstorms don't affect me because I never drive in them. That was always the worst part of storms in Minnesota, knowing that life and the games do go on (unless there's a roof collapse). In a regular storm you still have to drive. And, occasionally, even when no travel is recommended, you find yourself on the road, squinting and gripping, cursing and praying.

A few memorable storm moments:
* When I worked in Worthington, my friend John learned of a prime position outside of town for sledding. We planned a late-night excursion, fueled primarily by a love of sledding, but perhaps by some liquids. John drove us in his red jeep. The sledding was fine. Unfortunately, John's jeep didn't make the trip back to Worthington, at least not with him behind the wheel.

Somehow, after parking on the side of the road, he moved the wrong direction and got stuck, then compounded the problem by attempting to power out of the snow, causing even more damage to the beloved red vehicle. We were now stranded on a cold winter night. Fortunately, we had thought ahead and brought a cell phone from the newspaper office and called a co-worker t0 retrieve us. I'm not sure what we would have done without the phone. Cannibalism? By hour three that might have been the best option and then it would have been one-on-one combat, winner take all. John's a great cook. If he would have prevailed, he probably could have prepared a delightful meal out of my frozen limbs. But I was more athletic, so might have had an edge in the actual fight. Thankfully it didn't come to that, although the winner might have had a hell of a book deal out of the situation.

* My friend Mike didn't have a car at St. John's, which was fine. He didn't really need one. But one night in 1996, he visited his girlfriend on the St. Ben's campus, a few miles from Collegeville. A bad snowstorm hit the area that night. Also that evening, my roommate hosted a small party in our tiny dorm room.

Late in the night, Mike called and asked me to fetch him. The school had shut down the buses between campuses. His girlfriend served as an RA and was not allowed to have boys stay overnight. Mike now had to flee, in the same conditions Miss Beadle sent the children home in during the tragic Little House episode. He called me, asking - again - for my chauffeur services. Anxious to leave the dreadful party, I climbed into my faithful Beretta and made the short drive to St. Ben's. The snow-covered roads proved challenging, yet my dedication to friends knew no limits. I collected Mike and we slowly headed out of town. As I told Mike about the festivities in my dorm, I approached a stop sign. Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, I didn't stop. I blame Chevy's engineers. The Beretta slowly - slowly meaning about 2 miles per hour - slid past the stop sign and into the intersection. We hit another car in a collision that proved more pathetic than dangerous.

After the collision, I told Mike I had a beer or two back in the dorm room. Thinking quickly - almost as if he'd done this before, or at least seen it on an episode of Law & Order - Mike volunteered to say that he was driving. What a guy! What a friend! But I couldn't let a friend take the fall, even if it was his fault that he didn't have a car and even if it was his fault that he missed the last bus. I didn't think the beer would be an issue for whatever law enforcement member happened upon the sad little scene. The driver of the other car had a bad night. As a tow truck approached, he told us that the same truck had just pulled them out of a ditch. Which made me think: Okay, I'm at fault, I slid through the sign. But this guy just went into the ditch and now couldn't avoid a car going two miles an hour. Where are his winter driving skills?

Making the evening even stranger, his girlfriend - a passenger in the car - emerged, looked at Mike and told him she danced with him at a "barn dance" freshman year. She seemed like a lovely gal, but Mike gave the impression that she wasn't the type of girl you'd want to remember dancing with. They chatted, I spoke with the boyfriend, the police came, took their report, didn't even care about the condition of either driver and we went back to campus, where I spent the night listening to my roommate vomit while I contemplated how to tell my parents about the accident. God damn snowstorm. The story has a happy ending. The accident didn't cause my insurance to go up. And, perhaps of a bit more significance, Mike married that girl - Jodi, the one he visited that night at St. Ben's, not the girl in the other car - and they now have four kids. Mike also has his own car.

* Freshman year at Worthington Community College. The men's basketball team hosts powerful Minneapolis Community College in a key January game. A blizzard shuts everything down, the town and the interstate. Minneapolis ends up stranded in town for days. But the game goes on. We played in front of, perhaps, 10 fans. We won the game on a miracle shot at the buzzer, as our blonde, gangly 6-9 center hit a 15-foot jumper on the baseline while falling out of bounds. This is one of three sporting events of mine that my parents missed between 1982 and 1995. Still haven't forgiven them.

* A year later, I worked part-time at the Worthington Daily Globe. During the high school basketball playoffs, I traveled to Windom, about 30 minutes away, to cover a game. I drove over with my college coach, Mike Augustine. Terrible storm again. The games probably should have been canceled. On the way home, we stopped at a Hardee's for some drive-through ham 'n' cheese sandwiches. Again in my trusty Beretta, I pulled out onto Highway 60, which was four lanes for a few miles outside of Windom. I couldn't see anything but snow, while Augie consumed his meal next to me, completely oblivious to the road conditions. I wasn't completely sure I was on the right side of the road. Christ, could I have been going the wrong way on the four-lane? Thankfully, they put up big signs - like this one - that say WRONG WAY! I saw it and, after making sure there were no other cars coming - there weren't, since there were very few people dumb enough to be on the road that night - I turned around and had us in the correct lane.

* Three years ago we visited my parents in winter. February, I believe. One weekend, I decided to ride along with my dad from Janesville to Marshall, to watch my nephew's basketball game. Bad storms that day. Of course. Louise begged us not to go. She thought like a normal, rational person: There's a snowstorm, why would you drive two hours to watch a basketball game? We thought like Minnesotans: Why would we let a few flakes and a bit of wind keep us from watching a basketball game? Only a South African raised in the sun would consider these conditions dangerous. We headed out and discovered that the roads were worse than anticipated. Phone calls to my sister in Marshall proved unhelpful. Weather's great, she'd say. Roads are fine. Meanwhile, we couldn't see the road or any cars in front of us. Yet we plowed forward, thinking, maybe, just maybe, the South African knew what she was talking about. Eventually, after driving for a few hours at about 30 miles per hour, in conditions not fit for humans or vehicles, we turned around. This was a bad one. With my dad driving, I had to roll down the window to look out so I could tell him how close we were to the ditch. But we made it. We pulled into the garage and walked back into the house. My mom sat at the dining room table, happy to see us. Louise? She had taken to bed, convinced she was now a widow. She was overjoyed to see us, yet unhappy that we ignored her advice. But again, what's a South African know about driving in the snow?

* At the end of 1993, my cousin Matt had tickets to a Timberwolves game. I had to come from Worthington and would meet him and a couple of other friends in Janesville. From there, we'd drive to the Cities, first stopping Burnsville to pick up a girl Matt had been courting for months. The plan went into disarray when I went into the ditch with the Beretta just outside of Mountain Lake, more than an hour from Janesville. No cell phone then, of course. I managed to make a call from the office of the tow truck folks. My car was fine but I arrived in Janesville about two hours later than scheduled, putting a dent in Matt's love life and our plans to watch the whole Timberwolves game. Matt cursed me out the entire ride up to Minneapolis. I cursed him out as we drove aimlessly around Burnsville, searching for the house where the girl of his dreams lived.

"How can you not have directions to her house?"
"How could you go into the ditch?"
"Even if I hadn't gone in the ditch, we'd still be driving around looking for her house."

We finally found it and her. Impressing her even more, we made her drive into Minneapolis, since none of us had much experience driving in the big city. Certainly a low point for our collected masculinity. She proved a good sport and drove us to the Target Center, where we arrived late in the second quarter of the Timberwolves-Rockets game. I'd like to say this story had a happy ending, too. But the Timberwolves lost the game. And, eventually, though I'm sure it had nothing to do with our late arrival or our demand that she taxi us around the Twin Cities, the girl told Matt it might be better if they would just be friends.

He probably still blames my driving. I blame the snow.


Dad said...

There was one basketball trip we should not have have made, to Fort Dodge Iowa. I-35 was solid ice and flashing emergency lights for 75 miles. Somehow we made it down and and back without needing our own emergency lights.

Shawn Fury said...

I remember that game. And losing by about 45 points, which made it even more worthwhile. The fog drive was a good one, too.

Jerry said...

I notice the Beretta is mentioned a lot - could it be the car was cursed? And I am not sure 'trusty' is a word I would sue with it.

Mike said...

The Beretta was cursed (minus me having my first date with my wife in that car and living happily ever after). Just remember, I had nothing to do with the incident in which a dog ran into the side of the Beretta while you were driving in St. Joe.

Lisa said...

I always wanted your car. Guess I should be lucky that I didn't have it - didn't need the "luck" that came with it. And the roads were just fine 3 years ago in Marshall. I think you are stretching the facts just a bit about the bad weather! Ha! Snow and ice and wind just make us tougher. Oh I forgot I did drive your car back to Janesville on Xmas from Fulda and it broke down in Windom. Spent the day at the shop in town. I was trying to leave early because of storm coming. Ended up driving in the storm. Good ol car.

Shawn Fury said...

Oh god I forgot about the incident in Windom. Christ, the Beretta was a bit cursed. That's when the alternator died and Brandt ran through the car dealership for hours. I forgot to mention another classic Beretta one: Driving from Saint John's to Mankato to watch the 1997 tournament game between Maple River and JWP. The drive should take a bit over two hours. Was nearly four hours because it was pure ice all the way down. Got to the game with about a minute left in the second quarter (JWP won).

The Beretta was awesome, she just had some difficulties here and there. But started no matter how cold it was outside. And was great for picking up chicks. Well, in theory.

Most of these incidents revolve around basketball. Huh.