Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Last Blog Post Ever (Maybe)

Hurry up and read this, my final blog post of all time. Maybe.

If you’re reading this on December 22, 2012, it means it won’t be my last blog. At least, as long I don’t go through my longest-ever bout of writer’s block.

So if the world DID end on December 21, 2012, my last blog post is dedicated to all the awesome things I did in my life that I was scared shitless to do at the time:
  • Like becoming a dad. Twice.
  • Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Twice.
  • Feeding sharks at the aquarium at the Mall of America.
  • Climbing a mountain along the Continental Divide in Colorado with my two of my brothers/college buddies on the Fourth of July, and sharing a beer at the top.
  • Performing as a member of an improvisational comedy troupe in Iowa City.
  • Starting a newspaper from scratch while in graduate school.
  • Getting a piece published in the New York Times.
  • Parasailing over shark-infested waters in Mexico. (Okay, maybe they weren’t shark-infested, but I was too scared to find out.)
  • Swimming for a few miles with a stingray off the coast of West Palm Beach, Florida, while there for winter swim training as a freshman at Grinnell College.
  • Zip-lining over waterfalls in a Mexican rain forest.
  • Rolling my car (granted, I didn’t do this intentionally, but it’s still pretty cool to have walked away from it, and in fact to have continued to drive my car after it was pulled out of the ditch).
  • Living in Europe for a semester in college, when I had never lived outside my home state of Iowa prior to that.
  • Doing prank phone calls for the KRNA morning show in the late ’90s as “Hank the Crank.”
Yeah, I think that’s a pretty nice list to go out on. But I’m going to change my mind and keep adding to it if I wake up on December 22, 2012.

Feel free to share the favorite things you’ve done in your life before we go out in a blaze of glory tomorrow. Tootles! I’m off to go BASE jump off the IDS Tower.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Will This Be Enough?

At what point will we wake up and realize we need to do something differently?

After the tragic and indescribable horror that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, today, I don't know how anyone can say our system works and doesn't need fixing.

As you're likely aware, 27 people, including 20 school children, just kindergarten students at that, were gunned down today, before the gunman likely took his own life. In a close-knit, well-to-do suburb near New York City, did we finally meet the point where the extremists on both sides of the gun control debate, as well as the mental health community, can come together and find some solutions to the problem? 

That problem would be guns getting in the hands of people who are not mentally stable. People who would slaughter five-year-old children in their classroom, their safe haven, where they should be taking naps on cots, and learning to read, not meeting their maker while staring at the barrel of a gun.

I don't know the details of the shootings, other than the general story. I've been working all day, and have had barely any access to news reports. But as any of you who are parents know, it's hard for this to not cut you to the bone with pain. We've all dropped our children off at school or the bus stop, and not once does it cross our minds that it could be the last time we ever see them. But in modern American society, sadly, it possibly could be.

I don't have strong opinions on gun control. I fully respect the right to bear arms in principle. But I also know from living in the U.K. in the early 90s, in a city of 6 million people, that the lack of guns there made violent crime less of a reality than most cities in the U.S. I also am aware that the weapons used today were purchased legally by the shooter's mother.

I do have strong opinions on mental health care in this country. Namely how difficult it is for those who need help to obtain it. And how we're still a society who treats mental health issues as if it is something only weak people need. Mental health care is a vital component of health care, and we need to provide resources to every single person in this country who needs it. And we need to remove the stigma that goes with people seeking mental health help.

I don't purport to have any solutions. Any answers. I'm not an expert on either gun control or mental health issues. But I do know this much: our society has allowed something to go wrong for too long when it takes an event like today to wake us up. We've become inure to mass shootings at high schools, at malls, at crowded movie theaters. It took a classroom full of children who didn't even know how to spell "assault weapon" to get our attention again.

But let's at least take advantage of this opportunity to do something this time. Be proactive, not reactive. Find a way to prevent this tragedy from ever being repeated, politics be damned, to paraphrase President Obama from this afternoon. Again, I don't know what the solution looks like. That's not my job. But it is clear that the systems we have in place today do NOT work. So let's do something about it. Not in the next congressional cycle. Not next year. Now.

Will this be enough? I pray to God it is. Please, let it be enough.

Monday, December 10, 2012


So, here's the thing, MNDOT.

I criticize you constantly for your poorly designed roads that aren't meant to handle the traffic loads they do. And it is no secret that I loathe pretty much everything about you. From the fact that former Gov. Tim Pawlenty thought you were so unimportant that he assigned his Lt. Governor to be in charge of you rather than making it a full time position, to the fact that well, you have bridges collapse.

But if you REALLY want to get me going on your shortcomings, let's talk about the (at least on paper) essential job of snow removal in a state that is known for, well, snow.

I spent enough time in my car today to drive to Des Moines, IA and back. Or to Chicago. Or to Mitchell, South Dakota. But I went about 60 miles round trip. And I realize I knew what I was in for when I agreed to move to this state when my ex-wife told me she thought it would save our marriage.  But the one thing I wasn't ready for was stupid Scandinavian/Norwegian pride.

Growing up in Iowa, if we were hit with 16 inches of snow, we would look forward to a snow day. You know, stay home from school, drink hot chocolate, make a snow man to guard your snow fort. Go sledding. Have a snow ball fight. The things that normal people do in snow storms.

But here, in the Tundra, well things go on as status quo in a snow storm, because that's how they do. No delayed start for schools, unless you live in the rural areas. No snow days (my sons have never once experienced one - they were beyond irate after they switched school districts last year and their old school district had their first snow day in 20 some years). No closed businesses. No road closures. It's just another day.

That's in part because the first white people who settled this land intentionally picked a climate that was horse shit. "Hey Sven, if we build our house here, nobody will bother us, dontchaknow?" Even famous Minnesotan Prince knows this: "The cold keeps the bad people away."

And then over time, or perhaps just genetically, they got a giant chip on their shoulders about the weather. "Oh this is nothing. Remember that one time when we had 18 feet of snow and we still had to do our chores on the farm, oh yeah wasn't that crazy?"

In modern day Minnesota culture, it's a sign of weakness to admit defeat to Mother Nature. God forbid you change your daily routine because the roads are treacherous. "Just get your butt to work, Ole. Or someone else will take your job."

I had four customers at my store today. Four. Were those four customers worth risking life or limb, let alone wasting more than half of a typical working day commuting in a car, for? I'd argue not.

MNDOT knew for the last few days that a potentially big storm was coming, and would hit on Sunday. They also knew that it would be followed with a cold blast of arctic air, which makes putting salt on the roads useless. They also knew that Monday mornings are already horrible for commuting in the metro area on a good day, let alone when there is any form of precipitation.

Yet the roads in Minnesota tonight are probably worse than they were 24 hours ago, when the snow was actually still falling. Today, on both my drive to AND from work, I was met with roads that were sheets of ice, with ruts resembling what I'd imagine the open prairie looked like with wagon wheel tracks back in the day. This led to the average speed of traffic being somewhere between 10 m.p.h. and paint drying. I'm already planning ahead for the fact that my commute tomorrow will be just as bad, considering there's no way they'll get the frozen layer of crap off the roads in the next 6-8 hours.

So, MNDOT, and fine people of Minnesota, I have one simple solution to this problem. Swallow your damn Nordic pride. Today would have been a perfect day for schools to stay closed, for businesses to not open, for roads to be shut down. Let the fine men and women who make up the MNDOT road crews do their job, and everyone else can stay home and have some quality time with their family.

OR, the alternative would be, get your shitpickle f*ck fart snow plows out on the roads before the Monday morning commute begins and make them cleaner and dryer than a Baptist wedding reception. 

But to allow the roads to be treacherous, and allow people to go about their usual routine in those conditions, is just idiotic. It's not brave. It's not Norwegian machismo. It's plainly and simply stupid. 

And if this is too perplexing for any MNDOT snow plow drivers reading this blog post, then I'd like to ask you one simple favor: Could you please pick me up a job application? Because at least then I might get my snow days off.