North Shore Notes

Are There North Shore Guinea Pigs?

Harry Drabik

I had a friend (now dead for decades) who used to say we were all AEC guinea pigs because the Atomic Energy Commission set its radiation standards after ill effects were discovered. He said this back in the day when the atom was our friend and nuclear energy was the nation’s hope for clean and cheap energy. Well, it was a good idea at the time and made GE and Westinghouse very happy and (for a time) profitable, until the atomic chickens come home to roost from places like Three Mile Island and then Chernobyl and more recently Japan made the point that it’s not affordable or safe when 10,000 years of radiation clean-up are part of the package.

At the time I wasn’t too fussed about being a guinea pig. In my younger mad scientist days, I was a firm follower of experimental test by trial and error. It was the more exciting way at an age when excitement was worth its weight in palladium as a counter to mind-numbing hours of school desk warming. The derring-do of experimental trials was an important part of youth. If three of us stood on the bank of the recently opened Partridge River in May and speculated about our chances of getting across, you could be sure to a moral certainty we’d all three be soaking wet, rock scraped, and shivering as we reviewed the delicious foolishness of our act from the opposite shore. I was a frequent guinea pig by choice and had no issue with my choices.

My friend and his wife were both considerably older. I didn’t hold it against them. None of us could help when we were born. If anything could have been done to correct one’s time of birth, I’d have wanted other corrections as well, such as being born into wealth and power as a leg-up in the world. Any case, I looked on those two older people as too cautiously conservative and set in their ways, while they regarded me as green and too frequently reckless. As combinations of people go, I think you’d say we were not unusual, and we were well-matched for countering each other’s inclinations toward either foolhardiness or carefulness. There is a price for too much of either; don’t I know it!

But back to pigs guinea. It was only in last week’s article I mentioned the puzzling rumble strips the MHD recently put down the center of Highway EAST of Grand Marais. At first I didn’t see the plan, but I do now. The centerline rumble strip would be continuous with interruptions within so many feet of a driveway or intersection where people would normally cross the line on purpose, as opposed to falling asleep or driving drunk. I had help figuring it out. This is where the guinea pig aspect comes into focus, because the system is clear when you look at MHD activity on the WEST side of Grand Marais, where the rumble strips are on the edge of the roadway with breaks for intersections and driveways. It’s perfectly clear except for why this concern for driver alertness switches from roadside to road center on either side of Grand Marais. Having lived here as long as I have, I can’t say falling asleep at the wheel is a particular problem either east or west of Grand Marais to require any special aid, let alone one that flip-flops from one side of town to the other. It’s like a test to see which version of the rumble strip will work best on the guinea pigs.

If the goal is to keep us guineas awake at the wheel, they needn’t have bothered because we mostly go home to sleep and almost never nap behind the wheel. Maybe in some Oklahoman or Montanan long-long vista a driver would get dozy, but driving Highway 61 along the North Shore isn’t sleep-inducing. If I need to be protected from something that’s not a problem, I’d suggest putting up leopard scares to prevent mauling by jungle cats. That would be equally useful.

I’d assume (could be wrong) the MHD wants to know how the guineas respond to the experiment, and I’m also assuming (likely not wrong on this one) they are keeping their distance from the experimented upon for the reason that though small, guinea pigs have teeth, meaning put in your rumble strips and then RUN! Running would be advised because facing anyone who has tried to pass while crossing a centerline rumble is apt to be colorful. I’ve been told my style of passing is illegal, but when I pass a car I like to get the job done. If they’re doing 50, I like to snap by at around 65 and slow down ten car lengths out. Accelerating across a centerline rumble is not fun, and you’d best use both hands in a firm grip and be prepared for the hellish distraction of ruinous vibration. I hate to think how this would be on a motorcycle. It can’t be good or even safe, so I’d question the wisdom of safety measures that cause more risks than they solve. Pavement is meant to be fairly smooth. Leave it that way. If I want a vibrator I’ll go buy one to use at home and not when I’m passing a car. That’s not complicated or unreasonable, is it? MHD, please leave the pavement undisturbed. If you MUST use the damned rumble maker, use it along the road edge instead of the middle.

There’s one final complaint from this guinea. A neighbor says he can hear people hit the strip from a mile away. That exaggerates, but a half mile does not. Road noise can be annoying enough without making it worse and robbing more of our silence. There may only be three nights a year we sleep in balmy comfort with windows open on what used to be blessed quiet and not the infernal growl of the rumble strip.