Sports on the Fourth, and Other Family Games

John Gilbert

Xavier Bussey of the Huskies beat a Thunder Bay pickoff attempt.  Photo credit: John Gilbert
Xavier Bussey of the Huskies beat a Thunder Bay pickoff attempt. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Nothing is more American than the Fourth of July and baseball. Unless its Fourth of July and a major music festival right here in Duluth. We’ve got the Duluth Huskies at home all this week, which is handy, and Fourth Fest at Bayfront Festival Park is followed by the always-special fireworks display. And Saturday, Trampled By Turtles takes over Bayfront.

The Fourth of July is prime family time. We’re going to gather everybody back at the old homestead and just enjoy being together. Both of our sons — Jack from the Twin Cities and Jeff from Bellingham, Wash. — will join Joan and me to put some good times in our memory banks.
Every holiday has its merits, and while the Fourth of July has its patriotic heritage, it has evolved into a low-key, low-pressure date where the most exciting challenge might be whether I’ll char the brats beyond recognition. Primary for us is to attend the Trampled by Turtles concert Saturday. Always a highlight of summer, nothing can beat the energy when the high-speed-alt-bluegrass gang gets together at Bayfront.

Rickey Reynoso fired a pitch to help the Huskies break a recent skid.  Photo credit: John Gilbert
Rickey Reynoso fired a pitch to help the Huskies break a recent skid. Photo credit: John Gilbert

July 4th and baseball also go hand-in-hand, sharing the traditional date. When I was a kid growing up in Duluth, I used to look forward to the Major League doubleheaders that would be scheduled through the both talhe American and National leagues on holidays.
In  Duluth, we have the Huskies, and before you go to Wade Stadium, brace yourself to simply enjoy a nice summer night at the ballpark. The players are all college guys, many Division 1, and all the teams put their collections together, with the players billeted with area families. So far, this has been a tough season for the Huskies, if winning is the objective. Good games seem to blow up on them, and bad games usually find the opposition loading up on runs at the Huskies expense.

One game last week ended 21-0. Not good. Others were also lopsided, and the Huskies are currently fifth in the five-team Great Plains Division of the Northwoods League. Nevertheless, it’s worth the trip out to Wade because amid some strange plays and goofy circumstances, there are some great plays. Go to Wade relaxed and prepared to just enjoy the entertainment for what it’s worth, and you will find some. The concession food is definitely upgraded, too.

Of course, there are some great specialty shops around town. Do not miss Love Creamery out on 19th Avenue West and Superior Street, where homemade ice cream is threatening to take over the world! All kinds of unusual combinations of flavors — how about curry-cashew-coconut? Works for me — enliven Duluth’s best food block. Love Creamery is located right next to the best deli in town, which is next to a new Mexican food place, and across the street is OMC Barbecue. There are a couple other good little eating places down the street, so you could eat whatever you can’t resist and never have to leave the block. 

We might make it down to Bayfront on Thursday, the actual July 4th, but our plans are uncertain on that count. If the family gathers for a few extra days this week, there are a lot of alternative things to do and see. Especially this year. There’s the annual game of “Find the Washout,” whereby you try to maneuver through the minefield of rough pavement without breaking an axle or blowing a tire, to see if you can tell the difference between normal streets and that closed section of Superior Street from Lake Avenue to 3rd Avenue East that is completely torn up.

A couple of new family-drive treats are to go out for a drive and play “Find the Rotary,” or to drive back and forth on London Road out east toward the North Shore and count the cars stalled by the new stoplight at 60th Avenue East and London Road.

A Rickey Reynoso pitch led to an easy ground out when he literally sawed the bat  off on impact. Photo credit: John Gilbert
A Rickey Reynoso pitch led to an easy ground out when he literally sawed the bat off on impact. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Definitely family attractions. We often cut across north of Duluth to miss the downtown and I-35 construction, and head west to Midway Road, cruising south either to the freeway, or to another route to Cloquet to visit Gordy’s for a blackberry shake. Midway is a perfect artery, because in the hundreds of times we’ve driven down it, rarely do we run into anything resembling traffic. Pick a crossroad, and observe it for a while, and my guess is that you will have to wait a long time before you spot a car waiting to enter Midway Road while another car comes down Midway.

For those who haven’t confronted a roundabout, it is just what it sounds like: a solid center, with the roadway circling it, generally with two lanes. You boldly, or cautiously, venture into the flow, planning ahead for whether to exit at the first chance (a right turn), at the second chance (advancing straight ahead), the third exit (a left turn), or the fourth exit (effectively, a U-turn). The adventure is whether people in the roundabout flow yield to newcomers or whether those entering are patient and courteous about waiting for a gap.

It was a stunning surprise to me to come across a traffic roundabout, or rotary, right there on Midway Road, and is it Maple Grove Road? The infrequent cars hoping to enter or cross Midway will be able to merge into and out of the “flow” of traffic. Such as it is. If the idea is to slow down cars that might be speeding on Midway, OK. But to ease congestion? My theory is that it’s preferable to have traffic before you talk about congestion. Maybe the plan is to have a trial area where they can boast about never having a single accident or injury at that roundabout intersection.

Now I hear that they are considering putting a roundabout in at the intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Jean Duluth Road, just above Northland Country Club. That is a busy intersection, with quite heavy loads of traffic almost all through the day and especially at rush hour, morning and night. But it does flow well. My opinion is that a traffic light that stays green for Jean Duluth except when a car arrives up Glenwood, and then the signal would automatically change to a 30-second green, while the Jean Duluth traffic stops briefly. Much better than everybody from the three high-traffic lanes at the intersection all having to stop and go at the 4-way stop signs.

Meanwhile, just at Grandma’s Marathon time, the stoplight was turned on at 60th and London Road. Our whole lifetimes, 60th has been a fairly busy artery and London Road accepts a steady flow inbound from the North Shore, or outbound to the North Shore. But it’s been manageable for the traffic coming down 60th to be regulated by stop sign. I’m wondering if the traffic engineers spent any time driving back and forth through the intersection, before the light, and after.

I drove in off the North Shore, crossed the Lester River Bridge, and stopped, about 10th in line westbound, at the light, which was red for us. Cars poured off 60th and headed up the Shore, and I looked ahead at an oncoming stream of cars as far as I could see, all the way around the bend at 53rd. So when I got the green and started moving ahead, I also decided to count how many cars were in the unbroken stream oncoming. My counting reached 62. That means the steady flow of 62 cars were all stopped at the logjam created by the red light.

So many drivers are trying to get ahead that they go up on Superior Street, then come down 60th. That works pretty well, except that when your light is red, traffic is backed up all the way to Superior Street. However, when you get a green and everybody goes, it probably only takes two full light cycles to get all those cars into the flow. Still, coming down 60th when there was no traffic one evening last week, I  stopped at a red light when — amazingly — no cars were coming from either east or west. An electric eye regulating the long greens on London Road would seem preferable.

Maybe they could put roundabouts in to replace the absolutely crazy 21st Avenue West exit mess on Interstate 35. Word is, they are going to tear that whole things up and build it right. Another thing we can celebrate on the Fourth is that we’ll all live long enough to see that tangle of interchanges worked out.