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Piling up vs. piling on

So what do you do when you get some fun winter weather — maybe a dash of ice with just enough temperature to keep things interesting? You get on the road and drive, of course!

My mission was yet another remodeling adventure. This time I took along a taste consultant for some advice on cabinets. It was my mother. My contractor recommended a stop at Home Depot to see what they had in comparison to what the local lumberyard carries. We decided we would head to Rochester, seeing as how the relatively boring trip on Highway 63 wouldn't include nearly as many icy slopes and curves as the trip to La Crosse. Oh, sure, we could have taken the more scenic Highway 52 route to Rochester, but flat and boring seemed like a better route this particular day.

As we made our way around the outskirts of Rochester, I was a bit surprised by how much traffic was moving. The road wasn't packed by any stretch of the imagination, but it was still busier than I expected. All three lanes of Highway 52 on the west side of Rochester were full of cars. It was one of those frustrating days when things won't warm up enough to really melt, but they will stay just slick enough to be a problem.

Just as we came to the interchange for St. Mary's Hospital, a green SUV began to enter the freeway. Pretty standard stuff. Everything in front of us was clear, so there was plenty of room for the SUV to get on the road ahead of us.

As the 30-something Soccer Mom driver moved from the entrance ramp to the inside lane of traffic, Jack Frost came up and smacked her upside the head in a huge way. A simple merge into traffic was wishful thinking on her part. Her SUV suddenly went sideways. And by sideways, I mean it skidded in a clockwise motion while also moving from Lane 1 to Lane 2. The rest of the motoring public on northbound 52 came to a stop at that instant. Soccer Mom did not finish with a one-lane maneuver. Nope, she went all out. Maintaining the momentum of a spinning top, she kept rotating clockwise as she made the rather bold move of using all three lanes of traffic for her little merge maneuver. Physics finally did her a favor and she came to rest just a couple feet from the concrete median.

By the time she was done with her real estate grab, she had completed a 540-degree rotation. She went across three full lanes of flowing traffic, gave everyone at least one or two looks at each corner of her vehicle, and still managed to avoid eating the concrete wall. It was truly impressive. I fully expected to see Bruce Willis, or Sean Connery, or at least Jim Rockford hop out of the passenger side of the SUV. None of them did.

Just like in a good Wile E. Coyote cartoon, everything was motionless for a couple of seconds while the “dust” settled. Three lanes of traffic had come to a completely synchronized stop. Everyone collectively looked around to see if what just happened really just happened. No dings, no dents, no broken glass, no need for a 911 call. This was the kind of event that was executed so successfully that even the East German judge would have given the driver a 9. But it was January, and there was no obvious damage, so none of us got out of our comfortable vehicles. We all sat there and did our best version of Minnesota Nice, acting like nothing had happened as we went on with our lives without making a fuss.

Try that traffic maneuver in Manhattan and see if you get the same non-response from the crowd.

That's why Kevlar was invented . . . and sells so well.

Soccer Mom sat there for a second or two, got her collective wits regrouped, figured out what her exact geographic placement was now that the Auto Ice Capades was over, and then casually proceeded to take off like it was just another trip to the store for her. At the time, she was probably less than one full car length ahead of us in the center lane. To our right was an older guy in a Buick. (Not to be redundant or anything.) To our left was a younger couple in a minivan. (Again with the redundancy.) As we all processed what happened and decided to get back into the flow of things, Mom looked to the right and made eye contact with the old guy. In perfect synchrony, they gave one another a thumbs-up! It was an excellent summary of everyone's collective thoughts at that moment in time and that scene.

Oddly enough, as traffic began to take off once again, all three lanes pretty much gave Soccer Mom a wide buffer zone. No tickets for tailgating in this group! She was OJ in the Bronco and we were all giving her plenty of room at 40 mph.

A couple more exits down the road, Soccer Mom hung a right and exited the freeway. Successfully. Without a show. We were going past her as she moved over to the exit ramp. At that very moment, completely unprovoked and unrehearsed, my dear mother leaned forward, looked out the passenger side window, caught the attention of our entertainer, and did what many of us a couple exits back wanted to do, had it not been for the traffic tie-up it would have created.

She applauded.

From way downtown, Elsie knocks one out of the park and lets Soccer Mom know her audience loves a good show. That's why I don't take her along when I sell hay.

Guy No. 2

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