Last winter, Dorothea and I stay in Duluth for a couple of nights at the Inn on Lake Superior, our favorite place to stay in Duluth. They have a small, heated, outdoor pool on the third floor of their new wing. It is very pleasant to sit in the 104° F water and look towards the Aerial Lift Bridge. Stars and a moon are often added bonuses. Steam rises from the water; ice forms on the concrete deck around the pool.
Many times we have the place to ourselves. Occasionally there is someone else there. A mother and teen daughter. A young couple. Sometimes little is said beyond Dorothea’s usual, initial loquaciousness. Other times, a good conversation will get going beyond the “where are you from?” stage.
Last winter, we got going with two women from a small town in southern Minnesota. They both worked for the Department of Health. One of them was a techie. One of the topics of conversation was driving in rural areas, especially from the techie woman, who often had to drive long distances to remote health depart sites. Summer, winter, rain, snow. Somehow we got to the topic of people running stop signs, and how, out in the middle of nowhere, in the winter, spring, or fall, when there was unlimited visibility, that didn’t seem to be much of a problem. Just couldn’t do it in the summer after the corn had started to grow and reduced sight lines.
And a version of that happens even here in the city. I can think of a couple of times that I have witnessed someone running a red light of a stop sign. Once, a couple of years ago, it happened on the morning of the first day of school. I was stopped at a red light on Fairview at Summit, heading south. The light changed. But before I could even get my foot of the brake, a Volvo zoomed in front of me. Once, not to far from my house, I was driving in the deep residential area where each corner has a stop sign for traffic going in one direction, but not the other. I was on the street with the right of way as I approach the intersection. I was a second away from entering the intersection when a Cadillac, going at least 30 mph, ran its stop sign. A week or two ago, I was on my bike, making a left-hand turn at a four-way stop sign intersection, when a car coming up from behind me blew through the stop sign. And, years ago, I got T-boned by a Cadillac running a red light–I am here because the car I was driving was a Volvo–a beat up, rusty Volvo, but a Volvo.
In most cases when a car runs a red or a stop sign, there are no ill consequences. That wasn’t the case yesterday near here, where Snelling Avenue and Interstate 94 meet. An eastbound car came off the interstate, up the ramp, and, at full speed, ran a red into Snelling. It demolished one car, damaged several others, killed two people (so far) and injured nine, five seriously. Witnesses likened the collisions to a bomb going off.
Not quite as innocent as running a stop sign in a empty rural area. Though, now that I think about it, there was nothing innocent about Bill Janklow, former governor of South Dakota, running a rural stop sign and killing a motorcyclist a while back.
We initially became aware of the accident when we were returning yesterday from taking my sister-in-law to Milaca to pick up her repaired car. As we approached the exit, we were talking about whether we had enough time to get Liam to his six o’clock baseball game. He didn’t want to go. We saw a sign informing that traffic would be reduced to one lane several miles ahead. Though that didn’t seem like it would impact us, soon after, cars began breaking. At first I thought that because of that construction, other people were deciding to get off the interstate early, at Snelling. Then, just as we approached the exit, it became clear that there was some sort of commotion on Snelling. We saw two, three, four, five police cars on the bridge and at the top of the ramp. Then we saw that there was a police car at the bottom of the ramp, blocking it. So, the traffic back-up was caused by the police closing the off ramp. We figured a drug bust or a homicide. But it turned out to be the wreck.
Ours is such a car culture that we are somewhat thick about auto wrecks. We see them, we slow down, we are in them occasionally. But life goes on. I suppose that car bombings get to be that way too, in places in the Middle East where they happen most frequently. And I wonder why there aren’t more such attacks here, if there aren’t going to be more of them in the future. And, if there are, I imagine each of them being of the magnitude of the Snelling crash yesterday.
And I can imagine a bit further. The victims were taken to Regions Hospital. (Great name–formerly the Ramsey County Hospital.) It is a Level One Trauma unit, or whatever the terminology is. That is the same place that they took Thomas. So, I know what the inside of that place looks like too.