Monday, April 12, 2004

Over the same terrain 

James describes the drive between Minneapolis and Fargo (his hometown):
...once you clear the great urban smear that extends 40 miles west, it�s you and the highway. Nothing to see; move along. After St. Cloud come the Expanse - 70 + miles with only two towns of any note, Melrose and Freeport. The latter has a smiley face on the watertower. I�ve always wanted to stop by. I never have.
Central Minnesotans all know Charlies, the cafe in Freeport that beckons those who cannot wait for the Chain of Chain Restaurants in Alexandria. It recently changed hands. The food is relatively non-descript, as is the town but for the churches. Indeed, as you roll up that road you get churches that dwarf places like Albany, Freeport, not to mention the mega-chapel at St. John's in Collegeville. But after Freeport comes pretty much nothing before Alex, and after that a few lakes and fade to Fergus.

I make the same drive as James; rather than parents to visit, I see my son who goes to college in the Fargo-Moorhead area. (At least for now; if his grades don't improve I expect my first experience in boomerang child-rearing.) I bought a new car last fall with a CD changer so as to survive that drive. Even so, when you drop the kid off or leave him for another month or so, it's hard to come back.

Coming back is hard. After Alexandria the traffic inexplicably thickens. Before you get to Alex, it�s light. After Alex the road has five times the traffic. I can only guess that most of middle Minnesota funnels through Alex to hit the highway into the city.

The result? Well, sometimes you�re in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Sometimes you�re doing 80 MPH. Tonight I was in bumper-to-bumper traffic that went 80+ MPH for 95 miles, and if you don�t think that�s a harrowing experience, well: try it.
I do, and it doesn't bother me very much. Many people here in St. Cloud commute in either direction, Alex or the Cities, and they talk about courtesy speeding. It's not the level but the variance of speed that is dangerous, and regular drivers know to fall into the speed that the traffic moves and not fight it. It's like a lightening-fast invisible sheepdog guides us down the road. Lane changers are frowned at, as well as those who tailgate.

As to funneling through Alex, well, for those of us in the know in St. Cloud, Alex is easier to get to and has as much water and golf as Brainerd. Brainerd has the Blue Ox? Well, Alex has Big Ole. Lots of traffic after Alex, James? The people have spoken.