Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Canada Day

Today - July 1 - is Canada Day. I realized that exactly five years ago, I was on a trip up into the Yukon Territory, and happened to be in a little town called Faro on the big day.

Faro was built in the wilderness around 1970s to serve a massive lead-zinc mine. Its population peaked at more than 2,000 in the early 1980s - but then the mine closed. It has reopened and reclosed a few times since (I think it was open on a limited basis when I was there in 2004), but the town never recovered. A few hundred people live there now; there is an effort to bring in wilderness tourism.

So, the town is a shell of its former self. When I was there, you could drive past dozens upon dozens of vacant, slowly deteriorating townhouses, apartment buildings and single-family homes, and boarded-up public buildings and stores. It was a little bit like Hoyt Lakes on the Minnesota Iron Range - but a whole lot more extreme.

Still, there were signs of civic pride. The town still maintained a golf course that wove among the homes all through town, and on an overlook near town was a park with a nicely tended sign that read "Faro Arboretum," and some displays on local plants.

I found out that there was going to a Canada Day celebration and stuck around town. I'm glad I did - it was a nice little slice of small-town Canada. First the local kids assembled to sing O Canada outside the school, and a crowd of 40 or 50 people assembled to sing along. Then they assembled for the parade on the road that looped all through town. The parade was short and sweet - the local RCMP truck, two fire trucks, an ambulance, another emergency truck, a decorated Gator, two decorated cars and eight to 10 kids on decorated bikes (see photo above).

The parade went on past scattered groups of spectators, then headed back the the school / shopping center area for a post-parade gathering. I'm pretty sure they handed out some prizes. A tent was set up, and I think there were more events planned, but I had to hit the road.

All in all, a nice first Canada Day for me - and one more reason for me to be a big fan of our neighbor (neighbour?) to the north.

More photos of Faro here.

Wishing I'd have been a better bystander

I've mentioned before the troubles I have with cell phone reception at my home. So, while on my way home last night I pulled into the parking lot of the Kenwood Super One shopping center - one of the last, best places to get a clear signal - to place a few calls.

I pulled into a parking space all by myself at the far end of the parking lot, near Arrowhead Road. On my third call, I was leaving a voice mail message when I looked up and saw a motorcycle - a super sports bike, a substantial, pretty nice one - driving in the lot toward Arrowhead, going very slow but weaving all over. And I saw a blue car in a designated driving lane coming generally in my direction - perpendicular to the motorcycle. Again, going very slow.

They got closer and closer - again, going like 5 mph - the cycle weaved sharply a couple times, and the rider - a college-aged guy with no helmet - laid it down and crashed into the front driver's side wheel of the passing car, maybe 30 feet from me. "Laid it down" is too strong a word - "fell over" might be a more apt description. Then the motorcycle rider got up and glared at the car. I thought to myself right away how that was just totally the motorcycle rider's fault.

So at this point I was still leaving my message. It was for a family friend I haven't talked to in a long time, whose mom is sick, and I was trying hard to maintain my composure and stay on-message as the surreal scene unfolded.

I was kind of bewildered and wrapped up the call as over maybe the next 10-15 seconds, the motorcycle rider went around to the passenger side of the car, opened the door and started saying / yelling something at the male passenger and female driver. My initial thought was that the two parties knew each other. In a momentary burst of extreme naivete, I actually thought, "well, that's not something a total stranger would do."

So I sat there, staring, jaw dropped. Then the motorcycle rider went back around, picked up his bike, wobbled on and started heading toward Kenwood Avenue. I snapped back into reality, got out and jogged to the still-stationary car. The driver got out. "Did you get his license plate?," she asked. Shoot! I could have, but I didn't. Now, in retrospect I don't totally regret not running out right away after the collision and getting it. The guy had just flung open that car door... had I run out and got his plate, he very well may have decked me. And I didn't know he was going to run until he was back up on his bike. But still, the whole thing happened so slow that I could have gotten it, and that bugged me.

Kind of charged with adrenaline and always ready for an exciting adventure, I said, "I'm going to go after him. I'll come back. Wait here." And I took off in my car toward Kenwood. The guy had a big head start, but I thought he might have pulled into a lot somewhere nearby to check his bike. No luck. I circled down Kenwood to Central Entrance, down Ninth/Eighth streets, around to College Avenue, through the UMD campus and back to the shopping center via Arrowhead - nothing. A few times I saw sports bikes parked in driveways, and circled back to get a better look, but they were not the one.

Back in the parking lot I left my name and number with the driver, and said I'd be willing to give a statement. We walked around to where the crash occurred, and I spotted a really nice, expensive Citizen watch on the ground - watch separated from wrist band, but still working - it had to be the bike rider's. I looked it over, thinking how awesome it would be if it were engraved, but it wasn't.

I left the watch with the car driver, then went off again for one more search. "Where would a college-age kid on a sports bike go after a hit-and-run accident?," I thought. For some reason, my mind returned an answer of: "Taco John's." So that's where I headed, to the strip of fast-food joints on London Road. I circled through there, back through the UMD campus and a few college neighborhoods - again, nothing. I went back home.

Later in the evening, I got a call from the police and gave a witness statement. I described what I saw, apologized for not being a better witness and closed by emphasizing again that this was totally the motorcycle's fault, and that the driver of the car was totally in the right. So I guess I was of some use. But I'm still wondering what might have been had I been a better bystander.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


I've been kind of swamped the past few weeks, so I've had to streamline my online efforts. So, I've shared a story at Perfect Duluth Day, and rather than duplicate it I'll just post the link here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Making a phone call: A travelogue

Phone calls can be a bit of an adventure at my house.

I have no land line - just my Verizon cell phone. Verizon's service was fine for the first two years I had it, so in September 2007 I signed up for another two-year contract. In December 2007 I moved into my new house. Problem.

Apparently I'm on the very fringe of Verizon's service area, and reception varies from day to day, or even minute to minute. Over time, I've established a progression of where I can go to get a signal.

Tonight, though, topped all previous calls in that it took seven tries (I think it was seven) to complete the conversation with a friend.

As with all calls, I started here:

Standing by the kitchen sink (sorry for the blurry photo). The old standby. For some reason - my guess is that topography allows a kind-of-clear shot from my kitchen sink a few miles to a distant cell tower - this one spot works about 75 percent of the time. Movement must be kept to a minimum, to avoid angering the cell phone reception gods into dropping the call. Step a few feet, and you're done for.

But the kitchen sink spot didn't work tonight, so I took the phone upstairs into the soon-to-be-finished bedroom:

It's high up in the air, and lags behind the kitchen sink only slightly in cell phone reception. It lagged again tonight, as the second attempt got dropped.

So, to the back door:

The third stop is to step out the back door. Get out of the confining walls of the house, and let the cell phone wave particles roam free, or do whatever it is they do. But tonight, another no-go. Third strike.

I closed the dog in the downstairs bedroom to keep her from getting into the kitchen garbage, and headed out to the big basswood tree in the middle of the yard:

This is another usually reliable spot, but gets bumped down the list for being outdoors and a good 50 feet from the house. Last summer I leapfrogged the first three spots and headed out to this tree when I got chased by a pit bull and called the sheriff to report it. I didn't want to get cut off while on the phone with 911 operators. But tonight? No-go.

Next stop: the kind-of-dying walnut tree:

This big tree stands at just about the highest point in the yard - by yard, I mean the grassy area of my property; getting to this tree doesn't require going "in the woods." This walnut is way out of its natural range; it was planted by the previous owners about 50 years ago. It's having some troubles now, maybe due to some drought conditions the past few years. In any case, it's another good place to try making a call. Before tonight, this was as far as I ever had to go to complete a call. Before tonight. The fifth try failed.

On to the back driveway:

The back driveway is kind of self-explanatory. It leads from the yard to the little town road at the back of the property. It's at about the same elevation as the walnut tree, and it provides easy walking to try to find a signal. I broke new ground in having to go there tonight for my sixth try. No good: I could never get a call to go through.

I was kind of running out of property at this point, and was in uncharted territory for finding a signal to tie up the loose ends of this call. I headed down the back driveway, turned left into the woods, went about 25 feet and walked up a short rise to this:

A fallen tree, suspended about three feet in the air. I grabbed some neighboring, still-alive trees to balance myself, and climbed up. It sort of wobbled a bit, but I dialed again and... success! The best signal yet. The conversation was completed, and I jumped back down and headed back to the house.

I'm thinking of switching to another carrier when my Verizon contract expires later this year.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The slaw dog

My favorite dish at a restaurant in the Northland is the slaw dog from My Sister's Place in Grand Marais. A few months ago I wrote an ode to the slaw dog for the News Tribune - and here it is. 

(Disclaimer: Normally I frown upon copying entire articles. But in this case, I'm the author, and I wrote the piece entirely on my own time and at my own expense, so I see no problem in including the story in its entirety below):

The slaw dog at My Sister's Place in Grand Marais.

Ode to the slaw dog



At a rocky, sun-baked opening along Isle Royale's Greenstone Ridge Trail on a hot, muggy summer day in 2006, my hiking party was hobbled.

My sister was sick - she could barely walk, let alone carry her pack. My dad was feeling fine, but he had a bad shoulder and couldn't take more weight. That left big brother - me - to carry double packs.

We set our sights for Moskey Basin, then descended out of the opening into the deep woods. We slogged along, brushing past dewy thimbleberry leaves; I lagged back, staggering every now and then under the added, awkward weight.

As our fun hiking trip devolved, for the time being, into a forced march, my mind wandered, searching for motivation to keep my legs moving. A vision filled my thoughts - a creamy, sweet, spicy, meaty, doughy vision that, like spinach to Popeye, gave me a shot of energy that helped carry me through.

The slaw dog.


A few days earlier, en route to the ferry dock in Grand Portage, we found ourselves in Grand Marais at dinnertime and randomly chose My Sister's Place restaurant. From their extensive menu of burgers, sandwiches and hot dogs, I chose the slaw dog.

I was intrigued by the combination of three of my favorite foods - hot dogs, coleslaw and barbecue sauce. My expectations were more than matched.

The homemade coleslaw is thick and creamy - it certainly doesn't drip off your fork. The barbecue sauce is tucked away underneath - and subtly evident when you take a bite. The hot dog is substantial - I didn't weigh it, but the menu says all the hot dogs are 1/3 pound.

The one shortcoming is that the bun, while good, just isn't big enough to fully contain all that filling - and it's hard to take a bite that encompasses all the flavors. More often than not when first digging in, you get coleslaw and bun, or just coleslaw. Tackling it with a fork and knife might be the best way to go.

But that's a minor quibble. Pair the slaw dog with french fries, and you've got a whole lot of good stuff on one plate.


We made it safely to Moskey Basin and, though my sister rebounded quite well, we cut our trip short by a few days to be safe.

As anxious as I was to dig in to another slaw dog, a return trip to My Sister's Place wasn't in the cards on our way back home. My longing had to go on for months, visions of slaw dogs popping into my thoughts every so often, until I finally got back up the North Shore.

Now, if I'm on a trip to, through or anywhere near Grand Marais, I stop in for a slaw dog. Not mealtime? Not a problem. The slaw dog is as good at 3 p.m. as it would be at noon or 6.

Sometimes, I pass through while on a camping trip - and the slaw dog is the perfect last meal before heading out into the woods.

If you get caught in a rainstorm and your tent leaks, or you didn't break in your hiking boots enough, or you find your only nourishment is undercooked ramen noodles ... just think of slaw dogs. They'll pull you through every time.

Cost: $7.50 (includes fries, soup or coleslaw)
Where: My Sister's Place restaurant, 401 E. Hwy. 61, Grand Marais (if you're coming from Duluth, it's on the far side of town)
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Sunday
Phone: (218) 387-1915

Monday, April 13, 2009

Historians = bad money managers

Between taxes and other life events, I've had occasion to sit down and really assess my finances the past few weeks.

One part of my "portfolio" is U.S. Savings Bonds, which were my grandparents' financial gift of choice. When I was growing up, every birthday and holiday brought a $25 or $50 savings bond, with occasional larger denominations. My grandmother could buy a bond for half its face value, and if you let is sit long enough (I think 10 years or so), it would earn enough interest to surpass the face value - a nice return, though taxes ate a big chunk out of it.

The bonds helped pay portions (far from all, but some) of my college tuition, my first used car, my first new car, my computer and my house down payment.

Each purchase required assessing which bonds to use out of the ones I had left. There were two that I never wanted to touch, for history's sake - they were the oldest of the bunch, issued on the day I was born; my late great-grandfather's name was on them; and the issuing bank had changed names twice - the "Marine Bank" stamp made me nostalgic.

So now, after all these years, they are two of the last three bonds I have left (the other was issued a month after I was born, and was kept for some of the same reasons).

When I checked on their value today, I learned that they have matured and are no longer earning interest; the cutoff was 30 years. So now I'm left to wonder why I didn't cash them sooner, and instead keep some newer bonds that would have kept earning 3-4% interest for a few more years. I guess a love of history and proper money management might not go together all that well.

But what's done is done, and given that earning nothing is better than most investments these days, I'm going to salt them away for later. Some day, I'll pull them out, look at that day-I-was-born, old-bank-name stamp one more time, and sign them away.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Random memory, Vol. 1

One summer day in high school, I was driving in a rural area near home and had a classic rock radio station on.

Given the lack of any homes or other cars, I threw caution to the wind and turned the music up really loud, even though - gasp! - the windows were down.

I kept driving and kept the music up as I passed, unnoticed by me, into a built-up area. 

I came to a stop sign right by a subdivision. Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" was playing very loudly on the radio. Then I noticed two early-high-school-aged girls on bikes in a driveway a few dozen feet to my right, staring at me.

Mortified, I shrunk a little in my seat, kept on driving and turned the radio back down.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pam just ate one of my socks!

I had not been to my "regular" laundromat in a long time, because ever since I bought my house, I have one of the greatest perks of all: my own washer and dryer.

But the dog started shedding a few weeks ago, and I was late in getting to the twice-a-day brushing, so tons of clothes and blankets in the house got completely infested with dog hair. A bad thing, when your dog is white / yellow, and all your jackets are gray and black.

Dog hair source (note shedded hair on blanket)

My little home washer and dryer could not make headway against this onslaught, so yesterday I took a huge amount of stuff to the laundromat I used in my renting days. I like it because it kind of feels "space age" - you use a card, not coins; the machines still are futuristic-looking compared to most other laundromats; it's quite clean inside; etc. I had not been there in more than a year.

This trip, I noticed that the owners had named all the machines - the washers were named after characters on "The Office," and the dryers were named after characters on "Seinfeld." I liked it. If only for a few minutes, it brightened an otherwise boring task. Going up to the washing machine, looking to see which one I got - hey, Meredith!.... it was fun.

I crossed my fingers as I loaded my clothes in, hoping the industrial-strength machines would clear the hair. After removing my stuff from the washers, my hopes dimmed - still lots of hair. But when the dryers started going - holy cow, they really did the trick! I'd pull out the lint tray periodically, and there would be mounds of dog hair that had been extracted from my clothes. I'd clean the lint tray, and more would be there the next time. Hooray!

Well, good for me, I guess. But... one dryer - the one that got my quilt and a couple of the dog's blankets - took the brunt of the hair onslaught. Sorry about all that, Uncle Leo.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Playing by the rules

My dad likes the hard candy called "Nips." The chocolate parfait kind. Little, individually wrapped candies that come in a cellophane-wrapped box.

Walgreens is the go-to place to buy Nips. It's not that they are cheaper there every day, but Walgreens offers the best sale prices on the candy, by far. Nips usually are about 99 cents a box; this week's Walgreens ad had a three boxes for $2 coupon - at 67 cents a box, that's just about as good as it gets.

When I see such sales, I'll check in with my dad to see how his supply is. If he's running low, I'll go out to buy some to bring the next time I'm home.

It can be tricky to find them. Chocolate parfait Nips are a hot commodity when they go on sale; more often than not, I'll go to a Walgreens and find the shelves cleared (there always are coffee Nips left, though. I like them, but my dad does not). Clearly, I'm not the only one in Duluth on the lookout for these sales.

In the past, Walgreens has had such deals with no limit on quantity. One time, at the old Miller Hill Mall Walgreens, I scored the jackpot - a super sale, and a freshly-stocked shelf of maybe 40 boxes of chocolate parfait Nips.

I bought them all. I stacked them in a shopping basket and dumped them out at the checkout. I think the cashier said something along the lines of "Somebody likes this candy." I replied, "Yeah, my dad is a big fan." I know she totally thought I was lying, and that I was in fact the Nips glutton. It troubled me for a bit.

This time, the coupon said limit six. I stopped by the West Duluth Walgreens. Cleared out. Then I went to the new Walgreens up by the mall. Tons - maybe a couple dozen boxes. But that coupon limit. Rats!

I should have just asked the cashier if she could just ring up four different transactions, or if there was some other way to get around the "rule." But, slave to obeying rules that I am, I rather sheepishly just brought my six boxes to the counter and left.

I ran a couple more errands. It was an hour later, I was in the area... oh, what the heck, I'll go back. I'm sure there will be a different cashier. Just in case, I put on my winter hat. I hadn't worn it the first time I went in. I thought it might make me harder to remember. Honestly, that's what I thought. I'm nuts.

The "disguise"

I walked in. The same cashier. Rats again! Well, it had been an hour... she probably had had 30 or 40 customers since then. I got six more boxes and took them to the counter.

"Back for more?" she asked.


"Yeah. It's a good price."

As anyone could have predicted, she clearly did not care about the six-box limit. She rang up the candy, and I headed home with 12 boxes of Nestle Nips.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


The subject of the previous post has been dealt with (gloves, Christmas light box, plastic bag).

The sink has been bleached and cleaned. The lint trap is replaced.

We're back in business.

Laundry night derailed

(Warning... kind of gross photo below)

I watched Lost tonight, then got ready to do laundry.

My laundry set-up is a bit unusual. The water from the first rinse is pumped into an adjacent sink, where it is stored and can be pumped back into the washer for a second load. If it's not needed, there is a little pump that pumps the water up into the outflow pipe out to the septic system.

On Monday I did one load of laundry, and left the unused water sitting in the sink for the past couple days.

Tonight I went down, saw the gray water and decided I didn't want to reuse it after two days, so I flicked on the little motor and the sink started to drain as I sorted clothes. After a couple minutes, I heard the suction sound that indicated the sink was empty, went to flick off the pump and saw, to my horror...


I knew there were mice in the basement - they had scarfed up some spilled dog food before I had a chance to clean it up, and thwarted my attempts to catch them in a live trap. I wanted them out... but not like this. My used laundry water became a water-filled pit of doom.

So I've hit the brakes on laundry night, and I'm stalling and stalling going back down there to deal with the carcass. I know it's just a mouse, but I'm squeamish about these things. I'm about to go out to the garage and assess my garden tools to see what might be the least-gross way to get this thing out of the house. Garden shovel into a box into the trash container outside is the likely choice.

I'll never be able to look at the laundry tub the same way again.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dreaming, Vol. 5

Last night's dream:

I am at home. I get a call. "You're going to be in a cooking contest."

Then I'm at a loading dock, with a crew of people unloading boxes of cooking supplies.

I walk in, and there are two identical kitchens set up. I think it was on a sound stage, so this may have been a TV event.

The other cook is already at work, and we have like an hour to put together the meal. How did he get a head start? Annoyed.

The meal is Italian. But wait, that other cook looks like the maitre d' from the Chinese restaurant in that famous "Seinfeld" episode. He's cooking Italian? But wait, what am I saying, I can hardly cook anything at all.

OK, I start looking through the cabinets. What, no pasta! I have to get to a grocery store.


That's it. Either the dream ended, or I just don't remember the rest.

Explanation: After some thought, I realized that I had left the radio on overnight. At 6 a.m., Minnesota Public Radio switched from the BBC to.... "The Splendid Table." I looked on the program Web site, and there was some talk of Italian food on this week's show.

But the maitre d'? That remains a mystery for now.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Random music notes

Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You" was released right about when I turned six - and I was obsessed with that song at that time.

I had a little radio - wooden box, cloth-covered speaker, metal knobs - in my room, and I remember being very excited when that song was played.

I'm not sure how long the obsession lasted, but even now, if that song comes on an oldies or light rock station, I leave it on.


Yesterday I sang along to "House of the Rising Sun" in the car on the way home and totally nailed it, or at least it seemed that way to me. And I've tried to sing that song a number of times before and it usually comes out as some terrible, strangled, wailing mess (no shock there - the song treads a very narrow line on that point).

But for some reason, and I don't know why, it really sounded good yesterday. Alas, no one was there to hear it.

Who is this for?

I've been seeing these billboards all around town for months:

Who is this aimed at? Does anyone really drive past these things and think, "I gotta get me some Canadian whisky!"? Well, I guess some people might - so is this sign just one big reinforcement for alcohol addiction?

I guess my thinking applies to all billboards that are not on major highways. I can see the return on promoting a McDonald's, or a motel, to people driving down the interstate. But these city-street billboards seem to me to be a totally ineffective way of getting your message out.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The good old days

A Wrangell boys basketball player puts up a shot just before halftime of the 2004 Region V Class 3A fifth-sixth place game against Haines at B.J. McGillis Gymnasium on the Mount Edgecumbe High School campus in Sitka, Alaska. The shot was good. (Andrew Krueger / Juneau Empire)

It's been only five years since I covered this tournament, but it seems like an eternity - for me, for technology, for the newspaper industry.

The Region V tournament was - and is - one of the biggest regional events of the year in Southeast Alaska. In addition to basketball, there is competition in cheerleading and dance, bands perform, etc. Hundreds of kids from cities, towns and villages, all in one place.

I got to cover the tournament three times - once each in Ketchikan (2003), Sitka (2004) and Juneau (2005). The first time, I was still shooting film; the third time, we were at home, so the Empire's photographers handled most of the photos. But in Sitka, I was armed with my digital SLR camera. I covered all the games in print and with photos.

Times were still pretty good for newspapers, but budgets were in place and I took cost-saving steps to make sure I could make the trip. I took an hours-long (possibly overnight - I can't remember) ferry trip from Juneau to Sitka. I slept on the floor of a friend's house for four or five nights. I walked more than a mile one-way back and forth across a big bridge from the main part of Sitka to the island where the gym was. And for my return trip to Juneau, I latched on to the Juneau students' chartered ferry and slept amid instrument cases and gym bags.

I covered all the teams - not just Juneau - and filed reports and photos for print and Web via my Mac laptop and balky dial-up modem. I'm afraid that the coverage area has diminished since I left. It's really too bad, because there were always great stories from the little outlying villages. It was fun being the "big-city paper," if only for a brief time.

I alternated between the press box and the sidelines, writing and taking photos. The gym was a converted World War II-era aircraft hangar, and it was LOUD for the big games. I'd have to concentrate amid the noise; once I got smacked by a T-shirt blasted from a cannon on the court during halftime (I still have the shirt). My last story, after the Saturday night games, was filed as the lights were turned off and the basketball court turned into a dance floor for a big end-of-tournament party.

Out of all the photos I took, I like the one above; it seems kind of Norman Rockwell-ish to me. I have better action shots, closer to the action, but that one just seems to offer more of the scene.

I've gone on to other papers, done cool stories, taken thousands more photos and still enjoy what I do. But I always have a bit of nostalgia for that particular tournament. It just seems like things were a lot simpler and more fun back then. It was exciting being the lone correspondent, sending back photos and game stories, rushing to meet deadlines. The good old days.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

OK, I could have prevented this. But...

Driving home tonight, as I made the transition from city to country, an SUV zoomed up behind me and tailgated me for a bit. I was going at or maybe a shade over the speed limit (55), which anyone who knows the area would know is, if anything, too fast to drive at night with so many deer around.

After a very short while, the driver zipped out into the other lane and gunned it, passing me as we rounded a curve - gentle curve, but still a curve. Idiot, I thought. Now, when I'm driving out at night and somebody passes me, I generally wait maybe 10 seconds before turning my high beams back on, to give them some distance. If they tailgate me and drive like morons, I might wait only 5 seconds - I'll give them a little distance, but I won't go the extra mile. That's what I did tonight. In retrospect, kind of a mistake.

As soon as I put the high beams on, the SUV - by now maybe a tenth of a mile ahead - braked. Big time. I hit the brakes. The SUV started going. I slowly started going. Then he braked again and came to a dead stop. I wasn't going fast, but I had to brake hard and swerve onto the shoulder. He swerved onto the shoulder in front of me. I swerved back on to the road. He swerved back on to the road. At some point in this, he had a shot at bashing me on the passenger side and I thought he was going to (his SUV was an old beater; I say "he" but I didn't get a look at the driver), but it didn't happen. Also at some point in this, I did turn off my brights. The SUV started going down the road again.

I followed - giving plenty of distance. OK, this was really dumb, but after giving that driver the normal amount of time - he was way down the road - I turned my brights back on. The SUV's brake lights went on again. I pulled over and called 911. The SUV kept going, passing someone up ahead while going up a hill.

I had his plate number, and I gave it to the dispatcher along with a description of the SUV and its direction of travel. She said if any squads were in the area, they'd look for it. About a mile down the road, I saw a sheriff's SUV in a bar parking lot. As I passed, its lights (regular, not emergency) went on and it started pulling out. I turned and kept going on my way down a different road. I'd like to think they tracked the guy down.

I'm fine. My car's fine. As the title of this post says, I could have prevented this. But...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My dog has sinned

Remember from the last post that Jehovah's Witnesses booklet that my dog knocked in back of the TV stand. Well....
That's the shredded remains of the first few pages. I'm on the fifth day of leaving my dog alone, out of her crate, for a full shift while I'm at work. When I got home tonight, I discovered that she extracted the booklet and gave it some good chewing attention while I was gone.

I found the rest of the booklet upstairs and relatively intact; she apparently carried it up there at some point during the evening.

I don't consider this a major breach of rules on the dog's part, so she gets a passing grade for the night. The only major incident so far was on the first day, when she pulled a Ziploc bag of dog food off the kitchen counter (I had forgotten it was there), tore into it and ate it while I was at work. Aside from that, I've discovered a few things (a boot, a glove) moved around to different parts of the house, but nothing - other than the Jehovah's Witnesses booklet - destroyed.

If they come back, I guess I can legitimately say, "My dog ate it."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I'm on their list

I was sitting in the recliner around midday earlier this week, reading a book, when there was a knock on the door. It startled me, because someone knocks on the front door of my rural home maybe once every two months, if that.

I didn't bother running around to the side window to see who it was; I just opened the door.

"Hello - remember us?"

"Oh, God," I thought to myself.


Let me go back a few months. It was sometime in late summer or early fall. There was a knock on the door. The conversation went something like this:

"Hello. Are you troubled by all the strife in the world, by the negative ads in the election?"
"Um... I guess."
"What are your hopes for the world?
"Um... Peace and prosperity for everyone?"
"Well, all that is possible and will happen when God returns. Are you ready for that day?"
"Um... I guess?"

Jehovah's Witnesses. This went on for about five minutes, with me too polite to ask them to leave, and them clearly too used to "Um... I guess" responses to be thrown off by my mounting discomfort.


A sidenote... I have nothing against Jehovah's Witnesses, or any other religion that respects my beliefs as I respect theirs. It's just that, well, my beliefs are kind of undefined, and I've always felt that I've got better things to do with my time than ponder the issue. And I certainly am not going to delve into the topic with strangers standing on my doorstep.

And a second sidenote... In my childhood home, we had a "front" door that was never used, and in fact was sealed up with insulation year-round except for the little window that allowed quite a view into the heart of the house. Our "back" (or, more accurately, "side") door was the one we always used. As a kid, without fail, the only people who knocked on our front door were Jehovah's Witnesses. When they came knocking and I was home alone, I hid. Sometimes, I got caught in the living room with no exit other than to use the hallway where anyone looking in the front door window could see me. So, I used military special-ops maneuvers to dash and roll and cower behind furniture and door jambs as I made my way back to the safety of my bedroom. Eventually they would give up, stop knocking and leave.


Back to my visitors.

It was a father and son. I did not take photos, but I think I have come up with two good representations by digging into my pop culture memory. The father looked like actor James Cromwell. The son looked like an autistic kid from New York named Jason McElwain who was made famous a few years back when he got in a high school basketball game and scored a ton of 3-pointers (that was back when I had ESPN and they played that story over and over).

The father (image from Wikipedia):

The son (image from Today Show Web site):

The son took the lead in the discussion, but he stuttered and stammered quite a bit. His dad was providing backup and assistance as needed. I guess the son was a proselytizing trainee. Eventually they asked if I'd like some literature. I said sure. They gave it to me and left. I set the booklets on top of the TV. They sat there for a couple months because I felt guilty about throwing them away.

Then, in November, I came home from running errands during the day to find a couple Jehovah's Witnesses brochures tucked in my front door. I overcame my guilt in about a week that time, and they ended up in the trash, too.

Then, the visit earlier this week.

"Hello - remember us?"
(Pause) A drawn-out, hesitant "Yeah"
"Did you watch the inauguration last week?"
"Are you hopeful about the future and what the president will do?"
"Um... I guess"
"What do you hope for in the world?"
"Um... Peace and prosperity for all?"
"Have you thought about all the wonderful things that will happen when God returns?"
And so on.

They asked if they could leave some literature again. I took it.

Only this time, before they left, the father said, "Read it over. Maybe we can discuss it in the future."

Oh, no. Do they have a list? It seems I'm on it.

Home during the day? Check.
Does not display a gun or sic the dog on us when we arrive? Check.
Takes our brochures? Double check.

So I face a dilemma. 

They are not hostile or pushy. If they were, I'd have no trouble telling them to please leave and not come back. But they aren't, and it seems wrong to tell them that. I haven't and will not invite them in the house, but to tell them to stay off my property seems unduly harsh.

Maybe I'll have to resort to my childhood special-ops maneuvers next time they come, and hope they go away on their own.

In the meantime, their latest booklet was sitting next to the TV until the dog, while snuffling around, knocked it off and in back of the TV stand. It'll probably be there for months.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dreaming, Vol. 4

Last night I dreamed (I think. I hope?) that I woke up, and there were doors slamming and footsteps in the house. The layout of the bedroom and house were different than my bedroom and house, so I'm pretty sure it was a dream.

In the dream, I pulled the covers up over my head and hid. That's about all I can recall.

Possible explanation? The dog has taken up nighttime residence on an old rocking chair in the bedroom. If she squirms around during the night, the rocker bangs against the wall.

Odd side note... when I got up this morning, I noticed that the back door was unlocked and slightly ajar. I'm usually really paranoid about keeping that shut and locked at night, though I'm sure that, in the course of bringing in some stuff from the car the previous evening, I forgot to close it all the way. But still....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cooped up

It hasn't been above zero here since Monday night. I haven't left the immediate area of my house since then - just twice-a-day walks with the dog (we've kept them short; even she doesn't really want to go out), going out to get the mail and take out the garbage, and a few other trips to the garage.

I wish I could say I've gotten a lot done around the house. I've done some projects, but not a lot. I did find out that my dog really, really seems to like Fritos. She's been clinging to her crate a lot again, but the sound of a crinkling Fritos bag (more so than other "food noises" - I tested) brings her running.

I'm a little worried about my car starting on Thursday when I'm forced to head into town for work. I think this is the coldest weather it has been in, and the battery is getting old. I guess we'll find out tomorrow.

Monday, January 12, 2009


The dog was gone Sunday morning. Someone must have been out looking for it and found it.

Anger at neglectful owners aside, at least they had the decency and cared enough to take it back home.

I don't know for sure who it belonged to. I have not seen any of the neighborhood's roaming black dogs, so I haven't been able to conclusively narrow it down.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Riddled with guilt

** Writer's note: upsetting post

When I'm out and about and see an animal in potential danger, I stop. I've moved turtles off to the side of highways, corralled loose dogs and called their owners, etc. 

So that's what went through my mind as I approached my house tonight after work. It was dark, and a car was coming from the other direction on my road - a relatively major thoroughfare, with speeds of 55+ mph. Right in front of my driveway, that other driver did something - swerved or slowed down - that drew my attention to... holy cow - there's a black dog right in the middle of the road!

No, I did not hit the dog - I was only going like 15 or 20 mph as I slowed to make the turn into my driveway. I passed the dog and saw it was eating road kill. I had to stop to let the other car pass before turning, and the dog looked right at me, then returned its focus to the dead animal (rabbit, I think). There are a few loose dogs that roam the neighborhood, and I recognized it as one of those; I wasn't sure who owned it.

I drove up the driveway and into my garage, and got ready to go out to the road to coax the dog into my driveway and out of danger. Wait, I thought - even with the full moon, I won't be able to read its tags without a flashlight. I'll grab the one out of the back of the car. So I spent a few moments digging around for, and not finding, the flashlight.

I gave up and walked out of the garage, and got about 10 steps down the driveway when... Oh my God, there's a truck coming really fast... it's not slowing down... I can't look.

There was a crash. The pickup truck kept going into the night. I knew, right away, that the dog was dead. The total silence - no yelps of pain, no whimpering - confirmed it. In the immediate aftermath, I couldn't bring myself to look at the scene.

Twenty, maybe 30 seconds, and I would have had that dog out of harm's way! If I hadn't looked for that flashlight! If I hadn't stopped for a burger on the way home! 

My head was spinning. I started shaking. I was on the cusp of hyperventilating. Still outside, I called my dad and asked him what I should do. I called the sheriff and reported it, and they said someone would stop by. All the while, I could hear other cars, maybe three or four, hitting the dog.

I went in and saw my own dog, tail whipping against the side of her crate, whimpering and barking, waiting to greet me. She needed to go out. I walked lock-step with her as she did her business, and got her back in the house ASAP.

I realized that when I called the sheriff, I had not actually seen that the dog was dead. So I steeled myself up, grabbed the house flashlight and gingerly made my way out to the road. It was about 50 feet down the road, mostly off to the side.

My neighbors across the street have a dog I've heard and never seen; they keep it in the back. I was almost certain it was NOT theirs, but I didn't know for sure, so I knocked on their door. It was after 10 p.m., but the lights were on and I figured they'd wonder about the sheriff's car anyway. It was not their dog. Two more cars hit the dog as I talked to them. It was night, the dog was black... I guess I can't blame them.

About 10 minutes later the sheriff came out. He looked, and there was no collar. He said someone would be by to pick up the body on Monday. It will have to sit out there all day Sunday.

I thanked him for stopping, and felt a bit childish for not being able to look for the tags myself.

I went back in the house. I thought about the times I'd seen this dog, and became pretty certain which home it belonged to. I don't know for sure, but I think the owners are the same people who had another dog, a yellow one, that got hit in front of my house one evening last summer. That dog, miraculously, survived - in part because I drove it to the vet. Its owner had been drinking and was too drunk to drive, so she frantically asked me to chauffeur the both of them into town.

So then I was getting angry. Those idiots! Didn't they learn their lesson? Didn't the sight of their one dog, trailing a mangled back leg last summer as we hustled it in to the vet's office, teach them anything? Apparently not. And, both times, I've been forced into dealing with the aftermath.

It was after 10:30. There was no way I was knocking on that home's door at this hour, given that kind of news and given that I wasn't 100 percent sure it was their dog. There was nothing else I could do.

I flopped down on the recliner, turned on Saturday Night Live (I needed something to laugh at, and, fortunately, it delivered this week), and petted the dog as she rested her head on the arm of the chair. After a while, I got down on the floor, and gave her a hug as she leaned her weight against me. I told her she was a good dog, as the sound of cars passing outside gave me chills.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Shooting pool

When I was maybe 6 or 7, my family acquired a pool table that got set up in the basement. It was an old, full-sized table, and I remember it having collapsible legs - basically, it was the pool table surface on top of two narrow, full-width-of-the-table rectangle "legs." I also remember being warned of, or being scared of (or both) it collapsing suddenly, so we were not supposed to go under it.

It converted into a ping-pong table, too. After a couple years, the basement was remodeled, and the pool table, sadly, was scrapped.

Outside of the home set-up, my first memory of pool tables was when I was maybe 8 or 9. My family was visiting my aunt and uncle in northern Wisconsin, and we went out to dinner at a bar / restaurant in a little settlement called Cayuga, along Highway 13. It was a local hangout, and there were pool tables, so we started playing. I was given the chance to break the rack to start the game, and I promptly launched the cue ball up and off the table, and it made (in my recollection) a huge crack as it smacked the floor.

I remember lots of people looking to see what was going on. I remember being kind of mortified. I don't remember much else.

Dreaming, Vol. 3

Last night's dream:

I was living in a dorm or apartment building of some kind. The building had a big, open common room where there were couches and ping-pong tables, and where the mailboxes were located.

For some reason, I had placed a bunch of possessions on one of the couches and was going back and forth between the my room and the common area. Maybe I was moving in or out.

I went to place some letters in the outgoing mail slot, and then gathered up some of the things on the couch. Another guy I didn't know was there, and he glanced at me, then picked up my sleeping bag (the really good one I have in real life) and started walking away. I thought that he thought that these were someone else's things, and that we both were making off with some loot.

"Hey, put that down. Are you trying to steal that?" I yelled.

He put it down, and kind of hurriedly moved away. There were others in the room, and I called out to them that the guy had just tried to steal my stuff.

That's all I remember.


After waking up, I felt kind of bad. I wondered if the unknown guy had been trying to help me carry the stuff to wherever it was I was going. I had just assumed he was stealing.

Should I feel guilty for rushing to judgment on someone who doesn't exist?

Power outage

The power went off tonight, somewhere around 6 p.m.

I'm obsessive about power surges ruining my computer - even though I use a protective power strip, I unplug even that when I'm not using the computer - so the fact that everything flicked off when I was online caused me immediate concern.

My house is in some disarray, but fortunately I remembered that I still had my winter storm survival pack assembled - and it contained a headlamp. I dug it out, checked around the house (the dog got scared and left the comfort of the recliner for the cocoon-like safety of her crate), and then did about the only thing I could do - bury myself under some blankets, turn on the battery-powered radio and read by the light of the headlamp.

I thought about how much my life requires electricity - especially in winter. No power means no heat (the furnace and space heaters are all I've got), no water (the well requires electricity, though I always keep some pitchers / jugs filled for these situations), no cooking. I think I can manually open the garage door, but even that would require some figuring out because it's attached to an automatic opener. At least my neighbors have a fireplace that can heat their house, so I know I wouldn't freeze in a prolonged power outage - though my house's pipes would.

After maybe 15 minutes, the power came back on... and a couple minutes later, it went off again. Another 15 minutes and it came back. It's been hours now, and no further issues.

I'm not sure what caused the outage - no snow today, relatively warm weather. In any case, the house is warm, the dog is back on the recliner and the computer seems to be fine.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I did a bad thing a year or so ago.

I watched "Duel."

Stepping back for a moment, I am a person who has issues with horror or suspense movies. It's not that I'm scared. Actually, if I watch one, I usually enjoy it. It's just that sometimes the disturbing characters and images contained within those films kind of stick with me, and, say, pop into my mind as I head into the dark basement.

So, "Duel."

Screenshot of the truck from "Duel" (image from Wikipedia)

I had heard of the movie before. Released in 1971, it was Steven Spielberg's first feature film. The basic premise is a man driving on a remote stretch of highway in the Desert Southwest gets into an ongoing brouhaha with an ominous, unseen tanker-truck driver (you see the truck, not the driver). The unseen truck driver keeps trying to kill him.

I caught it while flipping through channels, and proceeded to watch the whole movie. It was a good thriller. But then tonight, as I was driving home from work, it came back to me.

I was about to turn up Mesaba Avenue when a plain, unmarked semi came barreling up the boulevard. It was kind of jarring, because you don't often see full-size semis tearing up Mesaba, and because it was 1 a.m.

The truck had to stop at the next light, and I passed it in the left lane after the light turned green. I saw it in the rear-view mirror - anonymous, big... and "Duel" popped into my mind.

I found myself driving kind of fast, and actually felt a bit of relief when I made it through the light at Mesaba and Central Entrance - and watched it turn red before that truck could get through. I was safe... from what, I'm not quite sure.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Dog rivalry

I took Yukon for a walk down the gravel town road behind my property a few days ago. A little ways down the street is a house on the south side of the road, with an open field of untouched snow directly across the road on the north side.

As we approached the house, a big yellow dog started howling. It was tied up, standing in the driveway in the below-zero morning cold. It quieted down a bit while we neared, and Yukon tentatively stepped toward it (though because it was tied up on private property, I wasn't going to let them meet up close).

Just as she stepped forward, the yellow dog launched a massive barking salvo. Yukon jumped back and skittered away down the road. Here is a file photo of Yukon running:

Well, the walk was an out-and-back, so we had to pass by the house again. Right as we got to the driveway, the yellow dog started barking again. Yukon stopped, looked at the tied-up dog, and then leaped out into the open field across the street, jumping and bounding in circles through the snow in full sight of the other dog. She jumped back over the snowbank into the street where I was waiting, and we continued on our way.

It kind of seemed like an "in-your-face" moment aimed at that other dog. Maybe there is some attitude to go along with Yukon's insatiable appetite.

Friday, January 2, 2009

My own mini-"Friday the 13th"

One of the things I like about going back home to West Bend to visit is that I know my family's land and the surrounding area well enough to walk it on a dark night without a flashlight. There is a plot of about 12 acres of woods I can traverse - on or off-trail - on a moonless night, and another several hundred acres surrounding it in which I know all the trails by heart. It's something I'm quite proud of - and it's something I'm working on at my home in Duluth.

Even with all that knowledge, though, there still is a sight that puts a tinge of fear into my mind:

It's a motion-sensor light atop a shed maybe an eighth of a mile from the house, at the far end of the yard, on the edge of the woods. Its purpose is to light the way if you need to get something out of the shed at night, but every so often when I'm home alone - and it happened again while I was visiting earlier this week - the light flicks on when I'm in the house.

"It's just a deer," I always tell myself. And there is a 99.9 percent chance it is just a deer that tripped the light. But there's always that one-tenth of one percent chance that it is a homicidal maniac skulking around the woods on a dark night, or a lone mountain lion waiting to pounce should I go out to investigate.

I was never a big fan of the Friday the 13th movies, and I've only seen bits and pieces of a few, but looking out the kitchen window and seeing those bare light bulbs flick on in the distance, when I'm home alone, on a pitch-black night.... it always makes me think of those films.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


I've read stories about Great Lakes shipwrecks in the 1800s in which the cargo from the doomed vessel washed ashore, providing a windfall of loot for people living in lakeside communities. As the stranded ship broke apart on a reef offshore, residents would gather on the beach to collect whatever boxes of cargo floated in on the waves.

I visited my hometown over the holidays and was reminded of incidents from my childhood that were kind of the same. I grew up on a rural highway that curved along the shore of a lake, with houses on one side and the lake on the other. The road proved difficult to navigate for someone not paying attention or driving impaired, and a few times some unfortunate sap ran off the highway.

The biggest "incident" happened one evening at dinner time. Our kitchen table was in front of a big patio door that looked out over our yard down to the road. If you were driving west near my house, the road curved a bit to the south (to the left). If you did not make the subtle curve and went straight ahead, off the road, our small "school bus stop" shelter was dead-center.

That's exactly what happened on this summer evening. I probably was 6 or 7. We heard a crash, looked out and saw a car crashed into the rock wall of our garden down by the road, with the shattered wood remnants of the school bus stop strewn on and about the car.

To make matters worse, for us kids at least, is that during summer vacation our school bus stop was used to store all of the inflatable swimming toys for use at the lake across the road.

My memories are a bit hazy, but I remember the whole family running down to the road to see the crash scene, the sheriff coming, etc. The guy was not injured, and had either fallen asleep or was drunk (again, hazy memory). What is clear in my memory, though, is that my brothers and I picked up all kinds of auto parts off the guy's car. We each had our own boxes where we put cool stones, deer antlers Italicand other stuff found in the yard - and to those we added tail lights, bits of grille, maybe a hubcap, etc. We were kind of like those Great Lakes settlers of the 1800s - this treasure trove of cool stuff had fallen into our laps, so we gathered up all the stuff we could get.

I'm not sure what happened to the bits and pieces of wreckage from that particular incident, but when I was home earlier this week I discovered, tucked away in a corner of my room, two other random pieces of cars I had collected around the same time:

On the left is a taillight from a circa-1978 Plymouth Volare that I picked up after some kind of car-jumping or monster truck event at the local Ford dealer. It was one of the wrecks that got crushed during the event, and afterward I scrounged around and picked up the taillight. Around the age of 6 or 7 or 8, I really liked Plymouth Volares because I thought the name sounded cool: Vo - lahr - eh. That may have been just about the only reason to like a Volare.

On the right is a burned-out headlight I snagged from our family's circa-1979 Plymouth Horizon. My dad commuted 60 miles a day in it for the better part of a decade, until it was replaced with a 1988 Dodge Shadow (which years later became my first car). One cold, snowy December night, we were due to visit my great-great aunt in Milwaukee, and our van was in the shop. So, our entire family of six crammed in the Horizon for the 30-mile drive to the big city. I think I sat on the center console between the two front seats. We survived to continue our scavenging ways.