Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Wild, The Weird

"The polar bear has been rounded up and she has been returned to..."
"Contrary to earlier media reports, she was not wandering around the downtown area. In fact she never made it more than 10 feet beyond her enclosure."
"When we saw the pictures of the seal on Grand Avenue we knew we had a problem with our animals."
 "All the predators have been accounted for, but we're still not sure..."
"When we got to the SA we saw that the three of us were bleeding all over."
"There was the car standing on its end in the hole..."

Oh yeah, baby, that's what I'm talking about! Those are the reports kept me glued to the news station of MPR this morning, listening while driving, hurrying back to the car to catch the next bits, listening between jobs instead of, say, reading the good book I packed, or even taking a nap.

By now you've probably heard at least as much as I did about the storms and flooding in the Duluth area. Better yet, you've probably seen scads of photos and videos, where I only had radio and imagination to paint my pictures. But boy did they have a wild weather day. "Unprecedented" is the word that kept cropping up, along with the data to back it up.

Start with the rain. Nine to ten inches fell, in a less than 24 hour period. Closest in the record books was eight point something inches, and that was spread over 72 hours. When you build a city into the side of a cliff, rain matters. It all goes downhill and takes anything it can with it. Like parts of streets, or even whole driveways. Or maybe it leaves the street behind and undercuts everything supporting it so cars can drive in and disappear.

Roads and highways were closed all over the area, including the iron range. Three state parks were closed. I've been in two of them. Jay Cooke stands out in my memory for a wide shallow river strewn with boulders, which in turn were festooned with small green and red plants clinging to the cracks and displaying early fall colors. That was years ago. Somewhere in the house I have a box or an album with pictures of those rocks and plants. They fascinated me back when cameras used film and I had to pay for every picture I took. I still took a bunch.

Hwy. 210 runs through Jay Cooke, now closed due to what was earlier described as a washout and later as a sinkhole. Regardless of the name, every report agreed on the dimensions: 100 feet wide and 30 feet deep! That's not going to get filled in an afternoon's work by a road crew. I had to wait all day to hear the welcome news that the 30 campers in the park had been successfully evacuated.

During the 11:00 hour they did almost the whole hour on flood news. More severe thunderstorms were rolling through the area and there were a lot of progress/damage reports, road closures, what-if scenarios. Nevermind what had been on the program agenda for that hour. So I pulled over about a block off Lyndale and Franklin in Minneapolis, rolled the windows down to let air circulate (muggy but cool-ish) and save on running the AC and burning gas, while waiting for the next run.

It may not have been the best location.

A weird looking guy walked out in the street next to my car and asked me a question. I turned the radio off to be polite and to be able to hear him. "Is that car electric?" Huh? Why on earth would he think that? It's a simple ordinary Hyundai Accent and he's standing right next to the gas flap.

"No, it's not." I turned the radio back up. He crossed back to the sidewalk and disappeared into a nearby apartment building.

Two minutes later he was back. This time he stood right next to my passenger door. I had to turn the radio off again. He wasn't earning any points. I mean, if I was turning down a nap for this, I wanted to hear the program. He bent over to talk to me, giving me a chance to notice his eyes. The pupils were light grey, the first like that I can remember. His right eyelid had a vertical scar running full length in the middle, so when it was open it had an upward point. I wondered what kind of other damage he might have sustained.

He started to tell me about a job he had once with a guy who kept a metal barrel on his porch and in his truck, like I should know what he was talking about... and then he looked surprised and interrupted himself. "Are you drinking a soda?" He obviously saw the Coke bottle in my center console area. I'd just poured some into my plastic cup and had screwed the cap back on. "Don't you know that soda's bad for elderly women?"

Uh, say what? Elderly? Wait a minute there, fella! He didn't really give me a chance to answer, so I just grinned and lifted the cup and took a few swallows.

"Hey, aren't you afraid it's going to decalcify your bones?"

Obviously not.

"Did you know that Pepsi's got more caffeine than Mountain Dew?"

Since Mountain Dew is a Pepsi product, I didn't think that needed a comment. I just took another couple sips.

Right then my Blackberry buzzed. I had work again. I reached for it and he startled. "Uh, I gotta go somewhere." As he scurried up the sidewalk, I wondered if maybe he was afraid of contamination from the cancer-causing radiation found in cell phones. Taking another sip of my Coke, I turned the radio back on to catch more of the day's news and started the car.

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