I Wish I Was in Dixie

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. After spending the Fourth of July week in Charleston, S.C., I did NOT want to come home. After all, home is where the bills are, the responsibilities and all the other UN-fun stuff.

Don't you love living in the fantasy world called "vacation?" You get to drive a nice car - usually nicer than what you have at home , you can eat out all the time, sleep in, stay up late, and when you need money, you just reach in your pocket and there it is! Need more? A quick trip to the "magic ATM machine" will replenish your pocket so the good times never have to stop. I really did not want to come home.

I like The South, and I don't mean southern Minnesota. When you live in southern Minnesota and you want to experience good Žshing or crystal clear lakes or forests instead of Želds, you head Up North. And going hand in hand with Up North is The Lake. Every Thursday or Friday all summer long in southern Minnesota you can hear two phrases:

1 - "What are you doing this weekend?" followed by

2 - "We're going Up North to The Lake."

Note: an acceptable variation of #2 is "We're going Up North to The Cabin at The Lake."

Me, I like going Down South. I like grits, biscuits with gravy, peaches that taste like peaches, sweet tea, moon pies and saying "all y'all." I like Spanish moss, live oak trees and a growing season longer than 65 days. I like seeing little green lizards running up the palmetto tree outside the front door of my hotel and the little Žddler crabs who edge out of their holes in the sand at low tide. I like crepe myrtle, azaleas, magnolias, ßowering dogwoods and the way your internal tempo slows down after a few days and soon you're walking and talking more slowly, but never quite as slowly as the locals.

Each trip is a learning experience. We are always scouting for our perfect place, that place we never want to leave, so we always have our eyes and ears open for subtle nuances in speech patterns and phrases. This trip, one thing I learned is that you do not put someone on hold when they telephone. I was rather surprised, too, since I have been putting people on hold my entire life. Not in The South. You "park" them. Several times I heard a receptionist telling her boss that he had a caller "parked on line two."

One day during our vacation we took the short drive up to Moncks Corner and then found our way back along the country roads to the Mepkin Abbey. I asked the Trappist monk who was our tour guide why the cicadas sounded a little different, and without missing a beat, he told me it must be their southern accent.

Something else you notice about South Carolina right away is their highways do not have paved shoulders. The state highways, not the interstates. The interstates have a paved shoulder on the right side but not on the left. The state highways just have a little grass and then a ditch so you'd better hope the ditch isn't too wet if you need to pull over.

Driving in Charleston was not an unpleasant chore as I had feared it would be. Signage was very good; you always had ample warning and time to change lanes to get where you wanted. If you need to change lanes because you accidentally got into a turn lane or missed a sign, you just turn on your blinker and someone lets you in! Southern Hospitality put Minnesota Nice to shame. They are either used to tourists and people who don't live there year-round, or it's just instinct.

We were down at the wharf in Charleston one evening and stopped to talk with a man about Žshing techniques and what kind of Žsh they catch off the dock. We thought it was criminal when he opened his cooler, took out some nice-sized shrimp and cut them up for bait! When we asked him how he could afford to use something so expensive for bait, he looked puzzled and said they only cost $2.50 a pound! He told us where we could buy shrimp so cheaply, too, and we Žled that information away for next time. Because there WILL be a next time. Yes, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.


Copyright ©2002 Mike Zimmerli All Rights Reserved

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Constantly Yours

You can run, but you really can't hide. You can cry, whine, complain, wheedle, plead (and even a few other synonyms) but you cannot escape it. It is change, my friend, and it is inevitable. Someone smart once said one of the few constants in life is change. He was correct.

Not the coins-that-jingle-in-your-pocket type of change, either. I'm referring to the life-altering type of change. If we were rabbits, this change would be a hungry-but-patient tomcat that waits for us to become absorbed in a particularly tasty leaf of lettuce and then pounces! Yeah, it's that much fun.

Oh, it's not all bad. Change is often good, hopefully it brings an improvement. It's like software upgrades. You get rid of some bugs, but then you get a whole new set to contend with.

Our daughter has been through a metamorphosis this summer from high school to college student; from "just a kid" to working young adult; from just a girl from northern Minnesota to a world traveler; from pedestrian to car owner; from daughter and child to being her own person.

She has weathered changes in her life before, and I anticipate she will come through all these changes just Žne, too.

She is enjoying the freedom of car ownership. She bought her mother's car, so we know it's a good one, and we know its history. Even a good used car is still a used car, and we know that some day she will be hit with the shock of a mechanic's bill for services rendered.

The change impacts us, too, since we don't see nearly as much of her as we used to. It makes it a little harder to stay current with everything when you're not chauffeuring her to school events.

Her world became both a smaller and larger place this summer when she went to Poland for two weeks on a church mission trip. Suddenly the world extends beyond the state borders. She's seen the edges of our nation slip behind her from 25,000 feet in the air and experienced the culture shock of being in another country where visas and passports and papers are a way of life.

She maintains contact with the Polish youth she met through email and IM instant messaging. You can have real-time conversations with someone on the other side of the world. It's truly an amazing age we live in.

When she was two we moved from southwestern Minnesota to Grand Rapids. The wind always blows on the prairies of that part of the state, and consequently, when the Žrst snow fell that winter straight down she said the snow was coming down the wrong way. She was used to seeing it come sideways. We all were. We all had to become accustomed to measuring snowfalls in feet instead of inches.

When she was Žve, her class at Van Dyke Elementary was too large and needed to be split into two classes. We heard about parents who were resistant to the idea of having their child moved not just to another teacher in another room, but to another school building (Phillip Murray). They feared their child would be devastated by this sudden change they hadn't anticipated.

When the principal asked us how we felt, we told him to ask Becca. He did, and she gave it some serious thought (as serious as a Žve-year-old can). Then she asked the most important question she could come up with: "Will they show us where the bathrooms are?"

Her question put it all into perspective for us. We were imposing our fears onto our children, but she went right to the really important stuff.

This fall she started at ICC. I don't think the location of restrooms was at the top of her list of concerns. She was more concerned with where her classes were located, where to park, Žnancial aid (that was a biggie!) and how to balance school, work and work-study. After only a week, she was sailing along like a veteran.

I heard her talking with her mother about the people - some old friends, some new - in one class: "There's Jake, and Jon and Brandon and Mindy É and this really hot boy!"

Now I'm the one worried about change!


Copyright ©2003 Mike Zimmerli All Rights Reserved

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Another Winter of Discontent

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't like snow and cold. So what am I doing in northern Minnesota??? Biding my time, that's what.

The first snowfall of the season is extremely depressing and extremely stressful. Depressing mainly because in this part of the world it usually comes way too soon.

I would love to have the actual seasons follow the calendar. Winter doesn't actually start until December 21st, but in northern Minnesota you can almost always count on seeing snowflakes in the air in September. Snow that sticks to the ground - if only for a day or two - usually intrudes on my enjoyment of fall colors in October. By Thanksgiving we usually have a base of snow and people have begun venturing onto the ice in search of perch, crappies and walleyes through little holes while sitting on overturned pickle buckets.

The first snowfall makes people insane. They lose all common sense when they get behind the wheel of an automobile. The sight of snowflakes in the air seems to send them round the bend and over the river and all the way out into the woods, somewhere past Grandma's house. They either creep along along at a pace that makes snails look peppy, or they go even faster than they would on dry pavement. That's the one I really can't figure out.

Why does a normally stable person think he/she is impervious to harm when they are behind the wheel of a car? Especially when they have been placed a frozen road with a layer of ice on top and a layer of thin snow on top of that? There's just something inherently wrong with that picture. And put someone in the driver's seat of a pickup or suv? Get back, Jack! Now they're really equipped to do damage.

It makes no sense, but it happens every year. It has happened every year since we moved here in 1987 and I have yet to see any signs that it will ever get any better. If anything it gets worse. Bigger, faster vehicles with more safety features give people a false-sense of security. It's my goal to never find out whether my air-bag works, not how much it costs to have it reloaded.

By December, things have usually calmed down a bit. People have become accustomed to snow on the road and either respect it more or their reflexes improve. Or maybe I get a little better at spotting them coming and am better able to get out of their way. Or the herd has been thinned a bit, and it's the good ones who have survived. Or they've abandoned their vehicles for snowmobiles so they're not limited by having to drive only on the road.

From mid-November until sometime in February you may see temperatures above freezing, but only about five times! It is not uncommon to have high temps for weeks on end that only reach the teens and mid-twenties. And then in December and January, we can - and traditionally DO - have stretches where the temperature never gets above zero! We're talking about high temperatures of ten-below-zero. And that sounds enjoyable to who?

One winter, when I was working at the radio station, we experienced a long cold-snap in January. A truck driver from California, born and raised in that balmy state and driving up from the southern states via I-35, heard on the radio that temperatures overnight would be in the -30 to -40 degree range. He assumed it was a joke. He decided that no one would live anywhere that conditions were truly that way. He was un-schooled in the ways of life in the frigid white expanses of northern Minnesota, so he also didn't know his diesel fuel mix was wrong for the cold temperatures predicted overnight.

He pulled in to the moving company parking lot next to the radio station in the middle of night and hunkered down for a bit of rest. Having the wrong fuel mix allowed his diesel fuel to gel, causing the engine to die. Soon he had no heat, and, having come from California, no warm clothes along, either.

About 6 o'clock the next morning, after I had already been at work for about a half-hour and the coffee was hot and it was a completely normal day at the radio station, came a knocking at the door. (No one knocks at the door! It's a business!) The radio station did look like a house from the outside, and every once in a great while someone knocked because they don't know any better. So I went up and here stood this frozen trucker, asking if he could use the phone and come in and warm up.

I took him downstairs to the lounge with the hot coffee, a couch, bathroom and a phone. He nearly froze to death fifty feet away from these same amenities all night long, not realizing the station was a 24-hour station, staffed all night. It took him about an hour to warm up and stop shivering. We helped him as best we could through the day, taking him to WalMart so he could buy some winter clothes, and then getting him in touch with a service garage that would come out and help him get his truck started again and the right fuel mix put in.

His last words to us were, "I'm going back to California and I am never coming back to Minnesota again. You people are nuts to live here!" There was nothing to say in reply. Clearly, we are.

So why do I stay? Spring, summer and fall are beautiful here, but as winter is all too long, the other three seasons are all too short. I long for a growing season long enough to ripen tomatoes on the vine. I want to believe the groundhog when he says spring is coming soon. Here in northern Minnesota, winter is just hitting its stride by the beginning of February. I have seen snow in May and frost in late June. A friend was supposed to have his high school graduation (end of May, right?) outside, but it was forced indoors by a blizzard! Why do I stay?

It is not a rhetorical question. It is one my wife and I have voiced more times than we care to count. The answer we have come up with is: we are not staying. We are biding our time, enduring until we can escape. The nest is nearly empty, with just the two of us and our college-student daughter, who we usually see a total of about ten minutes a day. We are still providing her with a base-station until next spring. But after that, we hope to make our great escape.

First we'll have to sell the house. And next we're going to have a big rummage sale and sell everything except the snow-blower. Then we'll strap it to the hood of the car and start driving south and we won't stop until someone asks what that thing strapped to the hood is. Then - and only then - will we know we have gone far enough south.


Copyright ©2003 Mike Zimmerli All Rights Reserved

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