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People just love to talk about the weather - mostly to complain about it. It’s either too hot, or too cold; too rainy or we’re in a drought. It’s too humid or too dry; we have too much snow, or we don’t have enough. Even when the weather is perfect, we gripe: “It’s too nice outside and I’m stuck inside.” No matter the weather, we do love to complain!
The weather across the Midwest has been very cold lately, much colder than normal and it has people grumbling. I’ve heard threatening comments: “The first person I hear complaining about the heat this summer, is going to get it!” I don’t know what “it” is that they’re going to get, but I am reasonably sure “it” isn’t good. I like the cold weather.
A couple nights ago, around 11:40 p.m., it was -29° outside when I decided I was going to take my two-mile, daily walk. Not outside of course, I’m not crazy. I would walk on the treadmill in the unheated three seasons room. Okay, maybe I am crazy.
I put on my long sleeve flannel shirt, a stocking hat and a pair of gloves. After setting the speed to four mph, I started walking. The brisk, cold air helps to clear my mind; allowing me to reflect on things that are important.
Since this room is not heated, it sometimes builds frost on the inside of the thermal-pane windows. That’s been the case during these frigid days. While I was walking, I noticed the frost and the patterns created. It mesmerized me, drawing me into deep contemplation.
As a whole, the frost looked like a bouquet or floral arrangement of sorts. The more I looked at the frost pattern, I was finding things like flowers, tall reeds, cattails, a palm tree, mountains, birds, feathers, faces, a ghost, a crab, a cross and more. It was like gazing at the clouds on a summer day and seeing images within them. I saw both reality and illusions.
It was a beautiful walk, albeit a little cold, I really enjoyed it. I’m telling you my friends, there is magic in these days of bitterly cold temperatures. Find and appreciate the beauty before it goes away.
By 6:20 the next morning, the temperature had dropped to -35°. I needed to go outside for more firewood and to see if any of my cars would start. I put on a warm, hooded coat and a stocking cap as well. I grabbed my gloves, then my dog June, and I went outside.
When I opened the door and stepped outside, the frigid air hit me in the face. More so than cold, I found it refreshing; crisp with a crackling snap - like the first bite from an apple fresh off the tree is Washington state! With each breath the air chilled my lungs and the opening of my nostrils felt like they froze. I wasn’t going to be outside long without more protective clothing, so I got right to my tasks.
The snow was past crunching under my feet as I walked, it actually squeaked in a way I had never heard before, but this was the coldest air I had ever been in. I put the key in the ignition of my truck and turned it. Wow! The truck started right up. Next, I started the van and the car. They all sat idling in the frozen driveway, squawking, moaning, growling and making all sorts of new noises. Apparently, cars like to complain about the weather as well. I loved it all. The sounds, the feel; it all made me feel very alive. Somehow, the thrill of that morning made we want to experience yet colder conditions
I had often heard people tell stories of the temperatures on the north shore dropping down to -40°. It seemed the people weren’t complaining, but almost bragging about the cold. Their stories intrigued me and were part of the attraction that led me to eventually move here. I do love this cold weather season, partially because I have experienced the contrast.
In late August of last year, I was in Mesquite, Nevada. Melissa called to give me a heads up. “The high in Mesquite, today is expected to be 116° at 3:00 p.m., so if you can do your business and get out of town before then, that would be best.” She knows I am not a big fan of the hot weather, and I appreciated her tip.
In Mesquite, I helped a man named Dewey, set up his new Scamp. It was hot! 113°. That’s hotter than any temperature I have ever experienced. It was so hot, I would sweat just standing still in the shade. I took slow breaths as the air felt heavy in my lungs. When I was done helping Dewey, I needed to stop by the grocery store to get a few things for the trip home.
It was all my air conditioner could do to cool break the extreme heat in the cab of the truck on the short drive to Smith’s Grocery. I parked and stepped out of my truck. The scorching heat rising from the black asphalt parking lot nearly took my breath away, yet all the other people were walking about like the heat was no big deal.
On my way inside, I caught up with a lady and asked her, “Excuse me, ma’am. Is this weather hot?” “Not really,” She replied, “Why?” I explained, “I’m from northern Minnesota, and it seems really, really hot to me.” She giggled a bit, “It’s not too bad.” Somehow her easy composure made we want to experience even warmer conditions.
I’ve heard stories about Death Valley, Arizona; they say 125° is not uncommon there. It seemed the people weren’t complaining, but almost bragging about the heat! Their stories intrigued me. I’ve never been any place that hot. I had a desire to go to Death Valley, to experience such heat; I even started monitoring their forecast to see if I could catch such a hot day. Now granted, since I’m not a huge fan of the heat, I would probably just drive there, step out of the truck, maybe walk fifty feet or so, then get back in the airconditioned truck and say, “There. I now know what 125° feels like.”
I started thinking about what Dewey, told me back in Mesquite, when I was trying to show him how to light his water heater: “We don’t use water heaters here in the summer.” “Why not?” I asked, Dewey explained, “The cold water coming from the city water works has been sitting in big tanks out in the sun. It’s already hot.” I’d never considered that. In contrast, our northern climate sometimes requires us to thaw water pipes in the winter. The differences are vast and interesting.
As much as I enjoy the season of extreme cold in Minnesota, and the thrill I felt just to experience such extreme heat as that day in Nevada, I must admit, spring is always welcome and fall? Fall is just the best!
I consider myself blessed, that in the past five months, I have been able to feel both the hottest and coldest temperatures I’ve ever experienced. The hottest being 116° and the coldest -35°. That’s a 151° spread in temperatures. While that may seem like a big difference, if you divide that number by 2, it would seem I’m living life at an average temperature of 75.5° and that’s pretty nice by anyone’s standards.
Tom can be reached for comment at Facebook.com/tompalen.98
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I will openly admit, I am not the most technically savvy person in the world. As a matter of fact, I might even describe myself as somewhat technically challenged. Even with this flaw, I can be quite well organized without the aid of modern devices. The other day was a good example.
I needed to go to Superior, Wisconsin, to have my truck’s transmission serviced, then on to Duluth, to run other errands. With a pen and a scrap of paper, (the back side of some solicitation that came in the mail) I made a list of everything I needed to do in town. Arranging my tasks according to my route, would avoid any back-tracking, making the most efficient use of my time. The list was compiled and I was on my way. Mighty proud of myself, I asked, “Who needs apps?”
The first stop was the Hammond Street Liquor Store, just barely in Wisconsin, on the south end of the High Bridge that spans the twin ports harbor. I wanted a case of New Glarus Moon Man; a delicious brew only available in Wisconsin. The next stop was Dan’s Feed Bin, to get a fifty-pound sack of sunflower seed for the birds. Dan’s is such a cool place; it’s an old-fashioned feed store. You go inside, place your order and pay at the counter, then take a small piece of paper out to the dock where hired hands will gather and load your order into your vehicle. Old fashioned service for sure!
A half-mile away, I dropped the truck off at Superior Dodge. They told me the work would take about an hour and a half. I planned to walk down a couple blocks further to the antique and thrift shops and use this time to find a unique table or stand, upon which I would set the new television I was going to buy – item four on the list. With temperatures in the single digits and a fair amount of wind, the walk was chilly. I zipped up my coat, pulled my hat on snuggly, put on my gloves and started walking.
About ninety minutes had passed and I didn’t find anything that suited me, so I walked back to the dealership. They told me my truck wasn’t ready yet and to have a seat in the customer waiting area. Another thirty minutes later, the service manager came to see me. He had an uneasy look on his face. “We ran into a little snafu on your truck.” he said. I smiled and repeated, “A snafu? That is not the news I wanted to hear, but I guess it’s better coming from you than to hear that from a surgeon.” We shared a good laugh, then he explained, “One of the bolts on your transmission pan broke off. The mechanic is trying to drill it out now, but it’s going to be a bit longer than we anticipated.” There were all kinds of things I could have said, but I knew getting upset wasn’t going to correct the problem any faster. I smiled and replied, “Good. It will give me time to catch up on my emails.”
I opened my iPad. The messages were hard to read. That’s when it occurred to me, I forgot to put my contacts in today! No problem, I increased the text size, and was able to read them just fine. When I finished my email, I started looking at Facebook to kill time. I wondered how much longer they would be with my truck? I had several more errands to run.
About an hour later, the service manager was heading my way again. I glanced at the clock; four p.m., the mechanics are ready to go home and I could tell by his expression, it wasn’t good news. He sat in the chair next to me; that’s never a good sign. “Here it comes.” I thought to myself, “Be cool. Stay calm.” He sighed and said, “He’s having trouble getting the broken bolt out. Your truck isn’t going to be done today.” Oh boy! Here we go!
I took a deep breath, then firmly told him, “I live 65 miles from here, and my wife is not going to be happy if I call her to come get me.” “No problem,” he said, “I’m going to fix you up with wheels to get home.” Immediately, I had visions of a rusty 1993 Dodge Intrepid with a bad muffler and windows that didn’t roll up all the way. I was quite surprised and pleased when he told me he was sending me home in a Jeep Grand Cherokee. He gave me the keys and asked, “Are you familiar with the keyless ignition?” I had a good idea how it worked, but the uncertain look on my face caused him to begin explaining.
“As long as the key fob is close to the car, like in your pocket, just press the brake pedal and push the start button and you’re set to go.” he said, “Okay.” I answered, trying to remember what he told me. “Also, you don’t have to use the keyless entry. As long as the fob is in your pocket, just put your hand on the driver’s door handle and it will unlock. Pull the handle twice and it will unlock all the doors.” I was trying to take this all in, when he handed me the fob, saying, “I think you’ll like this car; it’s right outside the back door.” “I’m sure it will be an experience.” I said, as I thanked him and walked toward the back.
As he said, just outside the door was a beautiful, dark grey, Jeep Grand Cherokee. “This can’t be a loaner car, it looks like new.” I said, while looking for the “unlock” button on the fob, to see if this Jeep would chirp. I remembered he said to just pull the handle and it would open, so I tried it, and the door opened. “Hmph,” I thought to myself, “I’ll bet somebody left this car unlocked.” I sat in the driver seat, pressed the brake pedal and pushed the start button. The motor fired right up. “Hot dang! This is it!” I said, while looking around admiring the beautiful interior. After fastening my seat belt and adjusting the mirrors, I was on my way to Duluth to look at televisions.
I noticed, leaving the dealership, both the leather seat and steering wheel were quite comfortable for such a cold day. It didn’t take me long to realize the seats and wheel were heated. Not far down Tower Avenue, they were becoming really heated. I looked, but could not find a button next to the seat to turn off the heaters. Not wearing my contacts was certainly not helping. My backside was now getting hot – uncomfortably hot.
I pulled into a gas station and stopped the car so I could focus and look more carefully. I still didn’t see any switches. I opened the door, almost knocking down a man that was passing between me and the car next to me. While I had his attention, I asked him, “Sir, would you happen to know how to turn off the heated seats in this car?” He laughed at me, then leaned inside, over me, to take a look. It was rather awkward; I tried to suck in my chest and pull back deeper into my seat to avoid touching him. Where the radio is in my car, this Jeep has a big screen with all sorts of stuff on it, but without my contacts, I couldn’t tell what any of that stuff was! The man quickly gave up. “I have no idea. This is a lot fancier than my ’06 Chevy pickup. Maybe you should have asked your salesman before you bought a car you couldn’t figure out.” Not appreciating his attitude, nor wishing to explain, I just smiled and said, “Thank you for looking.”
I stood up and looked around, not knowing what I was going to do. I noticed the car parked next to me was also a Jeep Grand Cherokee and about the same model year. A young man, probably in his late twenties, was walking toward the other Jeep. “Excuse me, sir…” I said, then after briefly explaining my situation, I asked, “Would you happen to know how to turn off the heated seats?” He chuckled, walked over my way, leaned into the car for just a second, pressed a button or something, then came out and said, “There you go. They’re off.” I thanked him, got back in the driver’s seat, and headed to Best Buy in Duluth – quite comfortably too, I might add.
When I got to Best Buy, I was immediately confused by the number of TV’s available. We bought our last TV new, more than ten years ago, and man, have they changed since then. I guess they’re calling them “Smart TV’s” now, which worried me because I was just starting to figure out the remote control on the old one, and now this new one is “smart?” Lord help me! Fortunately, I found myself dealing with a very knowledgeable and patient salesman. He helped me find the unit that suited my needs and demonstrated how user-friendly the remote control was. He made the purchase process quite easy.
After loading the new television into the Jeep, I made a couple of real quick stops at stores that were nearby, then started for home. I was starting to worry if this new car was going to make it all the way home. Every time I pulled up to red light and stopped, the engine died. But the weirdest thing, when I took my foot off the brake, the engine restarted again, by itself. I swear, I was hearing that creepy music from Jaws that alerts you something really bad was about to happen. I was committed to getting home at this point, and said a little prayer: “Dear Lord, please help this clunker get me home safely!”
About fifteen minutes into the trip home my tushy was hotter than a Texas asphalt driveway in August. I don’t know what that guy did to turn off the heated seats, but I apparently did something to turn them back on! Wowsers! I was still over an hour from home and too embarrassed to stop and ask for help again. I decided to just tough it out and keep going. To make the situation a bit more tolerable, I drove down the highway in six-degree weather with the windows open.
It wasn’t long before I bumped something on the steering wheel and the car started talking to me. “There are no phones currently connected.” said the Jeep. “Of course, there are no phones connected,” I responded, “I didn’t connect any. Did you?” The Jeep didn’t answer my question, but instead gave me more directions. “Please say a command. You can say the number that you would like me to call starting with the area code; for example, say, ‘call, 800-555-1212’” I was confused. “I don’t want to call anyone.” I insisted. The Jeep kept talking, “Or, you could say, ‘Call John Smith, or Call John Smith at home.” “Who the heck is John Smith?” I questioned. The Jeep asked, “Would you like me to call John Smith.” “No!” I hollered, I don’t know John Smith and I certainly don’t want to call him!”
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one confused, the Jeep said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Would you like to make a call?” Argh! “No, I don’t want to make a call,” I was frustrated, “I want you to be quiet!” Between the car that would not stop talking, the wind rushing in the windows and my bum being near a temperature that could result in spontaneous combustion at any moment, I was nearing my wit’s end. Then the Jeep said something to the effect, “If this is an emergency, say ‘call 911’ and I can get help on the way.” I immediately shut up.
Fearing any use of the numbers 9-1-1, or any response at all might cause the Jeep to have authorities dispatched my way, I kept quiet. No police officer would believe I owned, or even had permission to drive this vehicle, which I couldn’t figure out. I would go to jail sure as anything for stealing a car. I bit my lip and started pushing buttons on the steering wheel like a mad man. If accidentally touching something on the wheel is what started this insane conversation, certainly I could inadvertently hit a button to stop it as well. While pushing various buttons, I silently prayed, “Dear Lord help me.” Well, as usual, God heard and answered my plea. He sent me a messenger.
All of the sudden, a preacher’s voice came blaring through the radio. He was hollering and shouting about hell and damnation; fire and brimstone; talking about the bad things men do on earth, then began reciting the ten commandments. I swear he got louder when he declared, “Thou shalt not steal.” I began weeping and cried for mercy, “I swear I didn’t steal it! The man told me I could drive this car home.”
The preacher was talking about demons and evil spirits. I began recalling how the car would shut itself off and started again on its own, and I started thinking, this vehicle is possessed! “We may need an exorcism here, Pastor!” I said. The preacher kept preaching about the fires of hell. The seat kept heating up, my hands were getting hotter and sweating on the steering wheel and I, frankly, was getting concerned! I started digging in my pockets and looking for a basket to make a sizeable contribution. I pushed more buttons, but never could get him to stop, so I heard him out the rest of the way home.
When I finally turned on the road to my house, I rolled the windows up, lest my neighbors should hear this commotion and all come running over for the 9 pm revival meeting. In the driveway, I pushed the button to stop the engine, but the preacher kept going. “Enough!” I said to the radio, “If you haven’t got me saved by now, you’re not going to!” As soon as I opened the door, he quit talking. Whew.
Though the car and the minister stopped running, the headlights stayed on, for which I was grateful, as they lighted my path to carry in the new TV. From the house, I looked out the window and waited until the lights on the Jeep shut off. I chuckled to myself, thinking, I never even turned those silly lights on – they came on, on their own. I was happy about that, too, because I am sure I never would have figured out how to turn them on.
I went to the bathroom sink where I put in my contacts. Ah, that’s much better, I said to myself as I pulled from my shirt pocket, my list for the day and reviewed it. “Beer? Check. Birdseed? Got it. Truck to the shop? It’s still there. TV stand? Another day. New TV? Done. New socks? Got a six-pack. Dog food? June is happy.”
Maybe I’m not very tech savvy, Perhaps I am a bit technically challenged, but I smiled as I looked at my old-fashioned paper list. “Ha! This is all the technology I need.”
I started a new list for the next time I have to go into town. The first thing on the list is, “Put in your contacts!” The second item was “Go get your truck back.”
Tom can be reached for comment at Facebook.com/tompalen.98
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I had just fueled the truck in North Dakota and wanted to get back on the road home as soon as possible. The ramp to I-94 east was on the far side of the overhead bridge. To get there, I had to go through one of those intersections with a lot of lanes from every direction. The traffic light was yellow and I knew if it turned red before I got through, I was going to be there for a while. Being in a hurry, I thought about flooring the gas to make the light, I had a clear shot ahead of me, but a cop car in the next lane to my left, made me feel like pushing the matter was a bad idea, so I stopped. The squad car also stopped.
June was standing on the armrest between the two front seats, looking straight out the windshield. Her head was further forward than mine. I noticed the cop was looking my way, probably admiring June. The window on the passenger side of the patrol car was going down, the officer was definitely trying to make eye contact with me.
I lowered my window and said, “Hi!” The officer asked, “What’s your dog’s name?” I thought it was a rather odd question from a police officer, but I answered, “June.” “June?” She repeated. “Yes, June, like the month.” I confirmed. June, hearing her name several times, practically crawled into my lap to see if this stranger might be offering her a treat.
I was trying to push June back to her seat when the cop spoke said, “Hi June. Tell your driver I noticed he isn’t wearing his seatbelt, but if he fastens it right now, I’ll let it go - this time.” I looked at the cop. She was smiling as she gave a couple tugs on her shoulder strap, making her point clear.
I pushed June to the back and told the officer, “June said to tell you, thank you!” I clicked my belt, the officer gave me a friendly wave, the light turned green and she proceeded forward. I’m sure I could have beat her off the line, but felt since she gave me a break, I would yield to her.
June was quick to correct me, scowling, “That is not what I said. I told you to ask her if she had any treats!” “She didn’t have any treats, June.” I assured. “How do you know? You didn’t even ask?” June protested. “June! She’s a cop, not a bank teller. She didn’t have any treats!”
June curled up on the backseat and pouted. “You didn’t even ask...” she muttered. I turned left to the on ramp and continued on the interstate driving home - with a long way to go.
Hours later, I pulled into the Two Harbors, Minnesota, branch of North Shore Federal Credit Union. I was using the drive thru to make a night deposit, on my way home. June went nuts, thinking someone inside the building should send out a dog treat in the drawer. I tried to explain, “The credit union is closed. No one is in there to send out a treat” June wasn’t buying it. “Knock on the window. Maybe they just stepped away for a moment.” She said. “I’m not knocking on the window. It’s almost two a.m. With my luck I would set off an alarm or something. No one is here. They stepped away for the weekend!” June curled up in the backseat and pouted. “You didn’t even try...” She complained.
Every place I stop, June thinks and expects, someone is going to give her a treat through the drivers window. To make her feel better, I’m going to call Tanner, the branch manager, in the morning to inquire, “Any chance of putting some dog treats in with the night deposit envelopes? Asking for a friend, of course.”
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I read, somewhere, driving in a Minnesota snowstorm is a guessing game at best; you don’t really know if you’re in your lane, driving on the sidewalk, or across a lake! Truer words were never spoken, at least not between October and May in northern Minnesota. The secret is knowing your limits; when you can handle it and when you should consider staying off the road.
The other day I was in Wisconsin, homeward bound on Highway 53, a four-lane road. With over 100 miles left to go, it was pushing midnight and I was heading into a snowstorm. A storm the weather forecasters promised to be a big one. The roads were getting slick but the visibility was still good, so I kept going.
Posted speed limits become irrelevant in such conditions. Other driver’s on the road have a wide range of driving skills and a 65 miles-per-hour speed limit certainly does not mean it’s safe to drive that fast. There’s an old saying: anyone going slower than me is an obstacle; a hazard on the roadway. Anyone going faster than me is a maniac! I was meeting both.
I was comfortable running at 50 mph, keeping a safe distance behind the car in front of me, who was doing about the same speed. Ahead of him, there were some slower moving vehicles. He was approaching them too fast. I felt something bad was going to happen, so I slowed down, backing way off. He changed lanes to pass the slower cars, but one of them had the same idea at the same time. They played bumper cars, bouncing off one another and spinning out. It appeared no one was hurt, so I drove on.
A bit later a semi, probably doing 60 or 65, passed me. Some cars were only doing 35 mph. I thought they were going too slow, but if that is the speed where they were comfortable and felt safe, so be it. I just hoped these “hazards” would be home and off the road soon. If that semi flies up behind one of those cars going that much slower, he’s not going to be able to stop. I thought to myself, “What a maniac!” The snow was coming down heavier and visibility was falling with it.
Sometimes, when it’s snowing really hard or if you’re behind a semi, or worse yet, a snowplow, you end up in a complete whiteout. With no visibility, you find yourself guided by the taillights of the vehicle in front of you, because they are the only thing you can see. Not knowing who you’re following, this can be dangerous. You need to be careful.
In the distance ahead, as I was nearing the city of Superior, a barrage of flashing red, blue, and amber lights from emergency vehicles put on a colorful show. The usually intense, harsh lights were defused by the falling snow, blending the colors together softly, creating an image that looked like a dancing, colorful cotton ball. Danger lurked ahead so I slowed down.
When I got closer, I saw a semi tractor-trailer had veered off the highway into a deep ravine. The shoulders of the road were higher than the top of his cab and sleeper. The big rig was upright and it almost looked like he intended to drive there. A large box straight truck with tandem rear axles was in the same ravine right behind the semi. The second truck didn’t drive nearly as far into the ditch because the semi’s trailer stopped him.
Considering the poor visibility, I would imagine this was one of those cases where the second truck was in a whiteout, only seeing the taillights of the first. When the semi careened off the road, the second driver, with blind faith, naturally followed…right off the road.
Again, I am not going to criticize the second driver. I have been in similar situations in a line of cars where each driver was following the red taillights of the vehicle in front of them. We were all driving with blind faith totally dependent on what the lead vehicle did.
I gave a few toots on the horn as I passed the big sign: “Minnesota Welcomes You.” Yay! Only sixty more miles of this nasty stuff, then I would be home. The snowstorm was becoming more intense and driving conditions were deteriorating. If the roads were this bad on I-35 through Duluth, I could only imagine what Highway 61 would be like: a two-lane road that parallels the lakefront going toward my house.
I heard my wife’s voice telling me, “Go to a motel. Stay in Duluth tonight.” Uncertain of the highway conditions ahead, I followed her advice with blind faith. I could safely drive home in the morning once the snowplows had a chance to clear the roads. Afterall, the secret to driving in a Minnesota snowstorm is knowing your limits; when you can handle it and when you should consider getting off the road…sidewalk, or lake.
Tom can be reached for comment at Facebook.com/Tom.palen.98