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The Long Way Home

Anyone who knows me knows that driving much west of Lutsen sends quivers through a particular sphincter. For months, I knew I’d be driving to Rochester last week. I’d cancel, though, if the winter weather were threatened.

Last fall, I was in Duluth for a PET scan. The reader of the scans called the results equivocal and recommended another scan in six months. The doctor who referred me was alarmed, as the equivocal spot was near a vital organ. Since I was once again more “complicated” than his practice wanted, he strongly referred me to Mayo for treatment options.

Mayo called in November and offered appointments for lab work and a PET scan on April 2, and a consultation on the morning of April 3. I hate winter driving, so I figured the weather would be good in April.

Book it.

As the last weekend in March dragged on, weather reports were positive for the drive. I didn’t even pack long underwear or a winter jacket. On April Fools Day, I left Cook County and headed to Carlton for a night with my family. My first appointment was at 10 a.m. the following day in Rochester, so I entered I-35 at 6:15. I’d planned a leisurely 3-hour drive, a walk around downtown, and being early for my appointment.

Then, about ten miles south of Carlton, snow began falling and didn’t stop. A rush hour through St. Paul is always a pain, especially with falling snow. Despite the snow and the traffic, I made it to Rochester with time to spare. I searched for an open parking space. After two ramps indicated “Full,” I turned onto a side street and spotted an open meter. The meter did not accept nickels, dimes, or quarters. It needed a phone app called “Park Mobile.”

So, on a windy, cold morning in Rochester, I struggled to download the app and figure out how to pay for three hours of parking. Not exactly sure where I was, I looked at my watch and took off to find the hospital. I arrived at the lab at exactly 10 a.m., a bit out of breath and worried because I forgot to lock Miss Daisy (the Chevy).

The late morning scan went smoothly, and I headed out to find the car. I pride myself on knowing where I am and what direction to go. When my cousin and I were kids, our grandad took us out into the woods for a little walk. After covering some ground, he stopped and asked, “Do you know how to return to the house?” Then he left us. We finally got back to the house some 48 hours later.

After that, I learned to always know where I started so I could return without the discomfort of being lost in the woods or downtown Rochester. Increasingly frantic texts from Park Mobile said my time was running low, and my meter had expired, so I struggled to find Miss Daisy.

Before giving up the search and finding a friendly cop, I bought a three-dollar coffee at Caribou, got my bearings with the map on the Park Mobile app, and finally found her. Though I forgot to lock the car, Rochester is Minnesota Nice. No one stole my suitcase. For my 7:45 consult the next day, I got down-town just before seven and parked in one of the many ramps. I knew the Gonda Building well — I’d been there many times before—but I wasn’t sure how to get there from the ramp I was at.

With time to spare, I decided to walk outside to smoke a pipe instead of taking the skyway.

With 15 minutes to spare, I was breathing easy when I got to the Gonda Building, my destination. I strode through a metal detector. My pocket knife and leatherman, always with me, aren’t allowed in the building, so security gave me two options: bring them back to the car or he would throw them away.

The problem: I had no idea how to return to where I parked and get back in 15 minutes. But I tried. Frantically searching for a way into the skyway, I eventually found the car, dropped off the offending tools, and hurried back to Gon­da–just in time for my appointment.

Dr. Kwon was as new to me as I was to him. After reviewing my medical history and the scans from the day before, he thought we could watch and wait for four months and do the whole PET scan and blood test thing in August.

I agree. There shouldn’t be a chance of snow between Grand Marais and Rochester in Au­gust, right?

Getting lost, on the other hand…

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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