Our Montana correspondent’s fiancé recounts ‘nice’ drive to DuluthRoy Wahl, who is engaged to Duluth expat Bernadette “Bernie” Nordman, the Budgeteer’s “Montana correspondent," with a few theories about "Minnesota nice."
By: Roy Wahl, Budgeteer News
Editor’s Note: Author Roy Wahl is engaged to Duluth expat Bernadette “Bernie” Nordman, the Budgeteer’s “Montana correspondent.” The two will be married this fall at the Haunted Shack in Morgan Park.
Bernie asked me to fill in this week, so I guess that we are stuck with each other for the next few minutes — maybe less if you want to avoid my sometimes-long-winded stories.
We recently made a trip from Montana to fight the Duluth freeway and get some wedding stuff ironed out. It is about a 14-hour drive across progressively greener country. It wasn’t the changes in landscape and greenery that caught my attention the most, however. I noticed some interesting peculiarities in driving habits along the way that introduced me to a whole different kind of “Minnesota nice.”
Montana, contrary to popular belief, does have speed limits. It is 75 on freeways and 70 on the back roads. There are some areas that they drop the speed limit, but, overall, the speed limit is pretty liberal. In addition, tickets are pretty cheap. A ticket for doing 90 in a 75 mph zone will set you back $20 but won’t show up on your insurance if you don’t get another one too soon. That should keep everyone from speeding in Montana, eh?
I like having a pretty open speed limit, for the most part. It makes it easier to get across the state in one day. It does have its drawbacks, though. Montana has a bunch of drivers that aren’t very nice, especially not Minnesota nice. They will speed up when you try to pass them. They might be doing 65 mph behind a big truck going up a hill and I might be doing 85 to pass them both. The discourteous driver suddenly changes lanes, sprays some loose gravel onto my windshield and forces me to apply the brakes so as to not wreck into him. I then tuck in behind the truck for a while until I get another opportunity to pass. This is pretty much how it goes in Montana. Everybody thinks that they are Mario Andretti or something. Fortunately, most of the driving through Montana for our trip was along the freeway and relatively uneventful.
We finally got out of Montana and hit the long straight stretches of North Dakota highway. The speed limits are still pretty good, but the fines go way up.
Many North Dakota drivers play the silly passing games that we see in Montana, but they add a new twist to the game: They start to pass and then slow down when they get into someone’s blind spot. Then they ride there for a few miles as if they are afraid to go all the way around. They do speed right back up as they cut right in front of the person that they pass and toss some gravel up to chip some paint.
Someone should remind them that it is OK to stay in the passing lane and get far enough ahead of the car they just passed before tucking back in. When traffic is really light and nobody is coming up from behind, it is OK to be courteous.
I don’t know how many of these rolling roadblocks I saw on our trip. It was a bunch of them, though. We stopped for a nap about halfway there and got back on the road the next morning. It was a beautiful day for a drive, and we weren’t in a big hurry because we estimated about seven hours drive time would get us to Duluth. We started seeing more and more cars with Minnesota plates as we approached Fargo.
I may be wrong, but I think that some people in North Dakota register their cars and trucks in Minnesota. We saw plenty of Fargo-based business vehicles with Minnesota plates. We finally crossed the border at Fargo and onto the never-ending highway repair job that they call Moorhead. Year after year we see those orange barrels along that piece of the highway.
We could have stayed on the freeway all the way to the Cities. It would have taken longer and not have been as pretty of a drive though — at least that’s what the Garmin and the trip planner (aka Bernie) said. We decided to go through Detroit Lakes to get to Duluth. We crossed the border at Moorhead and took the northeast route toward Duluth. This is where I learned how nice Minnesota drivers can be.
The speed limit is quite a bit slower, but there didn’t seem to be too many troopers patrolling the roads. The speed limit is about 55 or 60 mph and, by Jove, there were bound to be some nice people going about 2 mph slower than the speed limit almost the whole way. I tucked in behind a few of these cars for just as long as I had to. It was after riding behind one of these Minnesota pace cars for about 20 minutes that I learned about a whole different kind of Minnesota nice.
Our pace car had guided us through a nice stretch of highway that had just enough traffic and limited sight distance to force about 20 cars to back up behind me. In Montana, people would have just passed me up to fight for the right to be the first person to pass our little old pace car lady. I was really surprised; I rode a good five or six car lengths behind our leader for about 20 minutes and not one person tried to pass me. Instead, they rode my tail like a well-trained pack horse going up a narrow mountain trail. They were close enough to eat off of my bumper, and I could see what they were thinking in my rearview mirror. Anyway, I finally got an opening for about a half-mile stretch of road. I accelerated to 75 mph, moved into the passing lane, got well around the nice blue-haired lady who had so nicely helped us all behave ourselves and gracefully eased back into the right lane. I slowed the car down a bit to avoid any unnecessary contributions to the Minnesota government.
I checked my mirror a few minutes later and noticed that not one other person went around her. That’s when I came to a whole new revelation: While many Minnesotans are too nice to go around you, they sure will snuggle up close to you. I think it might be their way of just saying hello.