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The Long Way Home

Last Friday, I wrote, “Indecision may, or may not, be my problem,” a line from the late Jimmy Buffett.

That prompted an email from a fellow Par­rothead who reads the Northshore Journal over in Brimson. He may or may not have had his

Hush Puppies on when he wrote to me.

The email related a story about him work­ing in a clean room at a computer chip lab in Wisconsin a quarter century ago. He mentioned a couple of the pranks employees there would play on each other.

The story reminded me of working at the Cornelius Company in the 1970s.

After a few years of working the evening shift at Advance United Expressways, I took a day job at a manufacturer because day jobs were rare in trucking. I would miss getting to the terminal at 1600 to hear the night shift teamsters in the locker room dissecting that day’s episode of “Young and the Restless,” but not much else.

As the new “Traffic Coordinator,” I didn’t know what to expect from the people I’d be working with. It seems playing pranks on each other keeps the soul-stealing tedium of corporate America at bay.

During lunch breaks, I played three-hand­ed cribbage with two of the inside sales guys. They had to stay near their phones, so we ate and played at their desk.

In the fog of my memories, one was named Alan and the other Mark. Both were good at their job, as I recall. Mark was overly energet­ic, sincere, and eager to please. So, a magnet for pranks.

Putting cellophane tape on the earpiece of his phone receiver was popular. Jumping to his phone to answer a call, he’d explode in frustration when he couldn’t hear anything. The rest of us, watching from a safe distance, exploded in laughter.

Often, we’d cruise the parking lot looking for cars of those we wanted to prank. Turning the wipers and heater fan to high and the radio to its loudest, all would turn on when our victim started the vehicle. If we stuck around to watch the result, we exploded in laughter.

You can’t do that with today’s cars. Cornelius was also my first experience with a union strike. Our factory workers were on strike for almost a month. Because my collar was white and we weren’t shipping very much, one of my assignments was patrolling the plant inside on nights and weekends—a dark and lonely job.

Working in the office one weekday, I got a call from the front desk that a truck driver was causing an altercation with the strikers, and I needed to cool things off. We received inbound shipments at a warehouse company in town to avoid antagonizing the pickets. Being the cowboys that steel haulers were, this driver didn’t know about that option.

Immediately, I ran outside and saw a flatbed load of steel coils, a nice Peterbilt, and a raging man brandishing the biggest revolver I’d ever seen. He screamed that he would deliver this load here and now and shoot anyone who got in the way. The strikers had coalesced into a tight formation to keep him from entering the lot.

Stepping between these two was one of the scariest things I’d ever done. Assuring the driver he’d be unloaded at the warehouse just a few miles away, he settled into a simmering rage and left the scene.

The strikers were still grumpy with me, but it all worked out. Thanks for sending me on this memory trip, Brimson.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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