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We need to set an example

Published: Friday, May 9, 2014 11:14 a.m. CST

Note: The following are the reflections of a Newton-to-Des Moines commuter written last Friday.

For three long days I laid in bed with this massive head cold. Coughing, sore throat, sneezing – all of the classic symptoms that keep you from working and playing. I could write a book about being home, basically alone, for three rainy days. Much can be learned about one’s property in particular when there is nothing to truly occupy your time.

Thursday was my day back on the road. My assumption was that Thursday would come and go with very little to notice on the daily commute from Newton to West Des Moines. I was still in a fog from the cold and this wasn’t exactly spring weather. It was ‘misting.’ You know –— when tiny water droplets sort of go hang gliding.

Three or four days of rain had occurred along my stretch and Thursday turned out to be a pretty good lesson in topography. Most of the standing water along the road was in Colfax and Altoona. The South Skunk River looked like the Rhine compared to last week. The minor flooding in The Toona looked to be construction-related.

I expected the Des Moines River at I-80 to be harboring clusters of uprooted trees south toward the dam but I was wrong. It looked to me like a 15-inch beagle could have walked across it. Skunk up, Des Moines low … Seems kind of inconsistent.

There was a wonderful display of randomness awaiting me Thursday morning near the jail, just west of the East Mix-Master (of course I don’t call it that — I call that ‘the part where you go to Minnesota’). Look, cars on this road at this time of day, during this time of year don’t really stick out. Wind blades, wind towers, manufactured homes, Army convoys, semis with partially-clothed reality show stars — that all sticks out. Cars — not so much. Then I saw it, the car.

It was a mid to late eighties Oldsmobile Cutlass. It was the same color as the one from the movie Fargo. And it had Minnesota plates! The driver didn’t resemble two villains from North Dakota nor did I get the impression they were struggling car retailers hatching a ransom scheme.

I began replaying parts of the movie in my head — like when Mrs. Lundergaard gets kidnapped. That’s just unforgettable in my view. Then I wonder how many people the Olds would have to pass for someone else to think of the Cohen Brothers classic. Truckers are probably more routine-oriented. My guess is they have their favorite radio programs, focus on the task at hand, and try not to hit anyone.

Two trucks nearly collided on the way back to Newton Thursday. It was right in front of me and the cause was a big traffic jam I had just heard about on the radio. I knew it was coming, but it didn’t make sense to bypass it with 163. Stop and (very little) go traffic from Mitchellville to almost Colfax. This is pretty rare indeed. Thankfully it wasn’t one of those tragic wrecks. It looked like a road crew was steam-cleaning the right lane, even though that can’t be right.

Regardless, it was hindrance. Plus it sadly allowed the commuter to actually see what lies in the median of the great highway. While at a snail’s pace by Mitchellville I noticed: an antler, a lighter, a glove and WAY too much random garbage. I can understand the headlight plastic, the tire scraps and the deer bones but how could there possibly be so many bottles, cans, random little trash bags, etc.? It’s troubling to me that in 2014 people are still heaving litter from cars.

As a lifelong boater and canoeist (what a terrible word) I have always picked up trash on the water and I’ve encourage others to do so. That’s not so easy on the interstate though. I don’t even see environmentalist groups out doing this; only low-flight-risk offenders.

Either way, jailers are not the answer. It’s cultural so as with everything else in our world of learned behavior, we need to set an example that people in a civil society know better than to sling a Mountain Dew bottle out a moving vehicle.

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