Notes from lake wobegon

I’m back from the cyberdead!  I’m not actually home yet.  We’re enjoying our dinner-induced endorphin brainbath, vegging out in front of a Family Guy marathon in a south suburban Kansas City motel.

I did it.  I made that northbound wintertime trip I swore up and down (after 6 hours of driving literally white-knuckled through the entire state of Iowa one January) that I would never make.  I’m just surprised that it only took 9 years to renege.  The timing was all wrong.  Sure, the temperature starts to pick up a little from its winter lows in February…in Texas.  I mistakenly applied the same logic to Minnesota.  I was dead wrong.  Up there, it’s like Old Man Winter saves his best for last.  I wish he would DIAF.

It’s surprising which memories came flooding back verbatim (precious few) and which aspects I had completely forgotten.  You would think that I would’ve remembered my old stompin’ grounds of about 8 years like the back of my hand, but noooo.

Instead, my clearest navigational skills surfaced near the apartment we had only lived in for a single year.

I learned a few things.  The first thing that hit me was the sheer GRAYNESS of everything whenever snow is involved, even if it’s not currently snowing.  Starting early in our trip, just north of the Red River that separates Texas from Oklahoma, there had been an unusual amount of snow on the ground, and this coincided directly with the realization of how utterly GRAY everything was.  I couldn’t get over it.  If I would have taken a picture, there would have been no difference between the color and black-and-white modes.  Every object had been reduced to a spot somewhere on the grayscale where color should have rightfully been.

This whole “winter” thing is for the birds, but yet the birds are smart enough to take off until the temperature becomes slightly bearable again.  I also learned that not I, nor my partner, nor our truck, were properly winterized.  This became painfully apparent when Grandpa asked what temperature our truck’s radiator was set at.

I stared blankly. “Radiator?”

Northerners know the temperature their radiator can withstand like normal people know their blood pressure.

I didn’t even know you had to do such a thing.

And a block heater?  What was a staple in the Great White North had never once crossed my mind.

The down feather winter coat I had picked up almost as a novelty at Ross when the Dallas temperature hit the freezing mark suddenly transformed into this lifesaving hallelujah, and the single cold weather gear item I owned.  I learned that boots were not an option; my sneakers just didn’t hold up.  They kept me warm and dry all right, but the tread was nearly useless.  Snow is like cotton that won’t come off your friggin’ shoe.

I learned that it takes FOREVER to get anywhere in the winter, and my memories of traversing US 169 weren’t just my imagination.  It really does take longer.  For one thing, you can’t just turn the key in the ignition and go; you have to sit and let your truck warm up for several minutes, freezing your ass off the entire time.

For another thing, you don’t have a whole lot of visibility.  Even without six bookcases in the bed of the truck completely obliterating the back window, there is so much grime and mist and gunk all over the windows and the side mirrors that several times I had to roll my windows down, stick my head out, and look behind me to make sure I could make my move without killing anyone.

While we’re on the subject, here’s a McNugget for the day: if the weather is less than desirable, you’d best get your headlights on, even during the day, especially if you drive a vehicle that is white, black, silver, or any shade of gray.  Yes, I know you can see just fine.  This isn’t about you.  This is about ME SEEING YOU so that when I want to change lanes and I check my mirrors and don’t see anything, I don’t knock right into your invisible ass.  You see, when you don’t have your lights on, you blend in with all of the bleak, dim, depressing, gray scenery around you and I can’t tell if you’re there or not.  So, muster what’s left of your survival instinct and turn on your damn lights!

Also, a special word to the hot rods in the SUVs… here’s the deal: yes, I know you can go fast.  I know you’ve got a V8 engine and you just can’t wait to display your prowess.  I also know that you have 4-wheel-drive and that this makes you invincible.

Guess what: that’s a bad combo.  Excessive speed + a false sense of security (I don’t care who you are, 4 moving tires on ice turning too fast for conditions is not any safer than 2 moving wheels on ice) = a disaster waiting to happen.  As you careen out of control toward the ditch, please remember to dodge the innocent people in your path and take out only yourself and maybe a light pole.  Then some wrecker will come and pick you out of the ditch like a snow booger for a hefty price tag. ‘K?

OK, I can breathe now.

In other news, Grandparents get really excited when they know you’re coming.  It’s really neat to watch, and a really nice feeling.  I gotta hand it to them, they went **All Out**.  They caught wind of this gluten-free thing and started making interstate phone calls to various retired friends, making special trips to several grocery stores in search of Food I Could Eat.  They became Label Nazis on my behalf.  They were jazzed that I could eat Rice Krispies.  This sure was a switch for them, and I felt really bad to throw them a monkey wrench like that.  These are farmers-turned-welders-turned-carnies of German and Belgian heritage that ate wheat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Their generation didn’t encounter the 21st century crap our generation has been faced with, and so they can’t fathom that anyone would have a problem with a food that seemed so natural, so…American.  My grandparents were all-too-understanding, and never judgmental.  They didn’t try to push things on me that they knew I couldn’t have.  I brought a supplement with me that I could pop a couple capsules and cheat a little–or do damage control if I unintentionally took a bite of something that any of us forgot I couldn’t have.  I’m entirely grateful for the special consideration, effort, and respect they showed the whole time.

Seeing family and friends was priceless, it really was.  And it was worth the trip.  At the end, though, although I always feel like I never have enough time, it was time to start back home just the same.  I used to live in a cold place, with disgusting, grimy murk for at least 3-4 months out of the year, but no more.  (At what point was weather that bad and for that long ever acceptable?  My only excuse is that I didn’t remember the beautiful south that I was missing.  Funny, BTW, how many pompous northerners refer to us as the “dirty south”.  I do think they have a few facts backwards.)  It’s time to go back to my warm place, a place with temperatures at which the human species was designed to exist.  A place more compatible with our psyche and our souls.

I only wish I could scoop my family and friends and bring them with me, plunk them down in the middle of all this and say, “whaddaya think??” because I know they’d love it.

But alas, my extended family is too settled where they are and is getting too old to make trips elsewhere.  Some of my friends are lost causes, wearing their ability to stand the northern climate like a golldang badge, while others, well, I’m working on them bit by bit…


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