Column: Lakeville to Albert Lea and back every day

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 15, 2006

Garret Felder, Staff Intern

The world is full of little quirks, unsolved mysteries, and unexplainable happenings. Puzzles that have no real reason, factual backing or scientific theory bring out the curiosity in all of us to the point we all could be cartoon monkeys in a children’s book with a Man in the Yellow Hat.

Yet as many of my colleagues would joke that my writing career has been one of those unexplainable phenomena that shouldn’t happen, I also noticed many of these other unanswerable enigmas during my trips from my home in Lakeville to the Albert Lea Tribune for the last 17 days.

While most of my family and coworkers told me I had so much time to think during my two-hours worth of driving to and from the office each day, I found myself not thinking about the day’s tasks or issues at home. Instead, I pondered some of the complex riddles outside my car windows that I am sure most Albert Lea citizens have wondered about during a trip to the Twin Cities for a Twins game or music concert.

But this is not a rant against some of things I simply have not figured out. It is more a question of how they exist to be the way they are. I am sure others, young and old, have pondered these same quizzical points, but if not I guess I am a clueless city slicker like Billy Crystal. Either way, you can pick your verbal poison for this writer, but this is about a couple of the oddities I saw during the ride every day on Interstate 35.

1. The Medford Outlet Center

Outlet malls seem to be the craziest gimmick. They definitely benefit the smaller towns surrounding the mall during the Christmas and back-to-school shopping seasons. Still, the only thing they are really good for is making a small town’s name bigger on a state map.

Medford really has nothing other than the string of outlets and neither does Albertville &045; another town north of the Twin Cities that also has outlet stores. But in all honesty, just how many people driving from Iowa to the Twin Cities for the Gophers vs. Hawkeyes football game approach Medford on the interstate and say, &8220;Ooh, an outlet mall! I could really use 10 pairs of Jordan basketball shoes in size 15 from the Nike Factory Outlet!&8221;?

Only my brother-in-law, an Iowa State graduate, Cyclones fan and connoisseur of basketball shoes, would do so to miss a game of the team he the hates most.

So just put it this way. If a town has its fancy welcome signs at the top of an interstate’s off-ramps, then obviously there is diddly for a traveler to enjoy there except for the oversized Ralph Lauren outlet store.

2. Cabelaville

How did Cabela’s evolve into its own little village? The giant outdoors department store sits a mere few miles from the Owatonna exit, yet I recognize the mammoth warehouse as the welcome sign and landmark of the city.

For starters, unless you drive by early in the morning like me, the parking lot is always packed with an array of cars, trucks, semis and boat trailers. The shops of the Medford Outlet Center could only dream of getting crowds like that every day, but the shop owners would probably have to sell their souls to the shopping gods to even come close.

Adding to the outdoor sports store’s attractiveness to customers, other companies and restaurants have built around the enormous, green-roofed depot and transformed the area into a truckers/outdoorsmen haven. Besides having a Kwik Trip truck stop, a Wendy’s, a Timber Lodge Steakhouse, a Famous Dave’s, a couple of hotels and a leather shop, Cabelaville also has a Russell Stover candy store. Just in case Bronco Bob the semi driver has a hankering for some milk chocolate truffles while ironically hauling Slim-Fast products across the country, Cabelaville has him covered. In short, Cabelaville basically turned into a Central Station bigger than most Olympic villages.

Stretching the village idea a little further, Slumberland Furniture set up shop &045; in a large way &045; in the village marked by two bronze bull elks. Try imagining the big game hunter who pulled into the Kwik Trip wearing an orange hunting suit and said, &8220;Hey, I could use a new queen size mattress for my guest room!&8221; If you can, make sure he also buys some camouflage sheets.

3. U.S. Highway 14 from Mankato to Rochester

Here’s just a little ditty about road planning. Why does U.S. Highway 14 split up around the city of Owatonna? It starts out north of Owatonna from Waseca, and then travelers must get on Interstate 35, head south of town to get back on U.S. 14 to go east to Rochester.

If the road does not run straight through, then don’t label it the same numbered highway. I’m sure so many travelers have wondered where they were going because their maps showed the highway as a straight shot from Mankato to Rochester. In hindsight, these cartographers have probably misguided hundreds of lost travelers to Albert Lea with their deceitful road blueprints.

Wait! Maybe the split is a good thing thenŠ

(OK, so that was a little bit of a rant.)

4. Steele County State Patrol troopers

Lastly, law enforcement sometimes is just quirky no matter where you go. I am sure this statement could ring true for all counties in Minnesota or in the nation, but I am just going off a daily experience.

Why do State Patrol officers in Steele County whip out of the median behind you like you’re doing 90 mph when you are calmly in the right lane with the cruise set at 70 mph? You aren’t speeding, but they fishtail out of their &8220;gunning&8221; position as if you were racing like the late Dale Earnhardt from Owatonna to New Richland with an F-17 jet engine mounted to the rear bumper of your car. Seems crazy I know, but that is the kind of response you get.

To top it off, the trooper pulls up beside you in the left lane to either A. stare at you in hopes of luring you into a staring contest where if you win the trooper cites you for an obstruction of justice, or B. dart his/her eyes around your car, searching it like you were transporting illegal immigrants from Mexico (even if you are going south) in the trunk of your Geo Metro.

Trust me, once you’ve experienced The Staredown, you’ll definitely be laughing and thinking the trooper could have been stunt doubles for the T-1000 robot of &8220;Terminator 2.&8221;

(To my friends of the State Patrol: If you are looking for me because of the previous possibly offensive comments, I’ll be living in Yemen starting tomorrow. Just look me up in the Yemen Yellow Pages and give me a ring.)

In summary

So there they are. I am sure there are plenty of crazy questions I have missed, but my stint with the Tribune was only 17 days. But after noticing all the oddities on my daily venture to Albert Lea, I realized a valuable lesson.

We are all curious about something, but no matter how much we know, there will always be things we simply don’t understand. For certain times, it’s just better to know nothing.

And when that State Patrol officer pulls you over after The Staredown, then that would be the opportune time to show it.

(Tribune intern Garret Felder’s last day was Wednesday. He is a senior in journalism at Minnesota State University in Mankato.)