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The Observer paper 12/26/14

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Black Friday takes new meaning

A lot of people celebrate the day after Thanksgiving by rushing to big box stores for bargains. They wrestle each other over the latest iPad, and scare store employees spitless with their stampedes toward the video game section.

I celebrated Black Friday by driving 75 miles over the Blue Mountains to go to work. As I began climbing Cabbage Hill, a six-mile, 6 percent grade on the west side of the range, I was just finishing up my daily meditations. “I will be enthusiastic, energetic and empathetic today,” I was saying to myself. “I will be the most 3E person in the room. Or at least I will be a little enthusiastic.”

Only the E in enthusiasm turned out to be more of an EEEEEEEEE. I had hit black ice. Before I knew it, the Prius Snow Leopard was sliding. The warning system in the car began buzzing to tell me the obvious. It is a helpless feeling. The car fishtailed one way. Then another. I tried to remain calm. Stay off the brakes. Be gentle with the steering wheel. The car fishtailed again. Then again. Finally, I regained traction.

I was shaking but OK — and wishing I had brought along an extra pair of underwear.

I continued driving up the mountain, thankful that at those glorious hours of the morning, around 6 a.m., I had the road mostly to myself. After the slide, I noticed that the pickup ahead had also slowed to a crawl. Both of us had decided we had done enough Olympic ice skating triple Salchows (pronounced “sow-cows) for one day.

Before I left the “beach condo,” my wife and my’s modest duplex in Milton-Freewater, one-half hour earlier, I had checked the Oregon Department of Transportation’s TripCheck. It had given the all-clear sign. Now I knew differently. I felt I must warn other drivers. If I could prevent one accident, it would be worth it, and I didn’t want a wreck on my conscience. It had enough to think about with the 3 Es. 

Not knowing who to call, I pulled over and called Wonder Woman, my wife of two years, back home, and asked if she wouldn’t mind getting out a warning.

Unluckily, after the slide, I still had almost 50 miles to drive. Now I was wondering how much more black ice I would encounter. I took it easy, really, really easy, but I usually drive less aggressively than most drivers going over the Blue Mountains. I would rather get to my destination in one piece than sooner. The work will still be there, and I will do my share, and on time. And display the 3 Es. Or at least one of them. Sometimes.

Finally, after many more twists and turns in the road, and ups and downs, I arrived to a glorious sunrise in La Grande. At work, I turned on my computer and looked up TripCheck. At 6:30 a.m. they had updated Cabbage Hill and Meacham to “spots of ice.” Too late for me, but at least the other drivers had a warning.

I may not have scored the latest iPad or video game on Black Friday. But I did get a chance to go to work and enjoy life yet another day, or year, or decade, or longer, depending on the vagaries of the Unaffordable Care Act, Social Insecurity, the sunset industry of newspapering and how well I manage to display the 3 Es, or one of them. 

You never know what challenge or joy is around the next corner. Sometimes you slide a bit. But if you can, keep marching ahead with enthusiasm, energy and empathy. Or at least with enthusiasm. Some of the time.

Contact Jeff Petersen at 541-963-3161 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Jeff on Twitter @lagrandenewsGo.


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