Are you mindful of other drivers? This was posted on a digital traffic sign above Interstate 15 just north of Pocatello, Idaho. I saw the unique public inquiry on our last leg of a two-week road trip just two hours from home. We were driving home from Great Falls, Montana where my family and I spent a week. We spent the previous week in Chicago, Illinois. The question caused me to reflect on those two weeks since most of the time was spent in travel.
First destination: Chicago, Illinois. The trip took 32 hours one-way over rail via California Zephyr. We spent a week walking the streets of the Windy City and taking advantage of public transit. We road California Zephyr back to Salt Lake City, Utah where we rented an SUV and drove due north through Idaho to our second destination: Great Falls, Montana. Unfortunately, due to lack of time we took I-15 straight up and did not drive through Yellowstone National Park via Highway 89. We’ll schedule that for another trip.
I was excited, albeit nervous about the train ride. I had never ridden a train before and the prospect of spending 32 hours in a confined space on Amtrak was not appealing. It turned out, however, that there was plenty of space to stretch my legs and a variety of things to see and do to occupy my time. I met a lot of very polite people, some more friendly than others. I found it interesting that some people who annoyed me originally became friendly toward the end of our journey. I was also amused by the number of nameless people who waved at us from their rubber rafts, automobiles, front porches, fields, and streets as we passed by on the speedy, silver locomotive.
Chicago lived up to its reputation. We had a blast. I even got hustled on the Magnificent Mile by a street beggar. He offered to shine my shoes and when I had only $5.00 to spare he followed me for two blocks harassing me for being a cheapskate. Bystanders kindly shewed the man away seeing that his aggressive behavior was bothering my children. It was a learning experience to say the least. We took the kiddies to Lego Discovery Land in Schaumburg, IL. We made several trips on foot to the Lego store in downtown Chicago. We spent a day in Millennium Park then finished the trip with an evening on Navy Pier watching fireworks. The city truly did not sleep. Aside from the striving shoeshiner many of the people we encountered were helpful and kind.
My experience in Chicago was memorable. My favorite part was the pizza. We visited Giordano’s on Prudential Plaza several times to eat Calamari and true Chicago style pizza. Magnifico! The atmosphere was friendly. It’s amazing how food can make people so happy. It’s no wonder business meetings and family events incorporate food.
The ride back on Amtrak was no different from the first. A family with teenage children befriended my children and a single toddler who was riding solo with her mother. The teenagers entertained the little ones while the adults took advantage of much-needed rest. The ride back seemed shorter. Go figure.
The drive to Great Falls, MT wasn’t nearly as long as the trip to Chicago. It was unfortunate that we missed Yellowstone, but the drive through Butte, MT on I-15 was gorgeous. Majestic gray stone mountains with picturesque views of Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pines and the Missouri river carving out the landscape below. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nKEZxfHwTA&feature=related A 90 foot statue named Lady of the Rockies overlooked Butte as a reminder of hope. It was a sight to behold.
Great Falls is almost three times the size of my home town in Central Utah, but it maintained a small, home-town feel. It reminded me of Idaho Falls in many respects with its urban landscape and country charm. Great Falls offered a specialty that I hadn’t partaken of before-Huckleberry. One could buy Huckleberry everywhere. I flavored my soft drinks with Huckleberry. I ate Huckleberry jam. Wal-Mart even sold Huckleberry bark candy.
Speaking of Wal-Mart, I met some down-to-earth folks while shopping that I was certain must have been part of a Fundamentalist LDS faith or a branch of Quakerism. It turns out that they were Hutterites. I later discovered that National Geographic Channel filmed a series called, “American Colony: Meet the Hutterites.” They have a fascinating lifestyle. They are certainly mindful of each other.
Our trip home was uneventful and peaceful. Fellow motorists were careful and cautious. In fact, our entire two-week journey traveling halfway across the country and back was relaxed until we drove into Utah. I would like to reiterate my opening statement. Are you mindful of other drivers? Why are Utahns such bad drivers? It turns out that Utah is smack in the middle when it comes to worst and best drivers in the United States. According to Allstate Insurance Company‘s eighth annual best drivers report, Salt Lake City, UT ranks #72 out of 200. That’s not too bad unless you compare it to Omaha, NE which has over twice the population and ranks well below Utah weighing in at #45. By the way, #1 is the best and #200 is the worst. Any guesses on the worst? Washington, DC ranks #195 with a relative accident likelihood of 112% when compared to national average.
Idaho ranks #2 for best drivers in the nation. Perhaps it can be attributed to strategic reminders such as digital highway signs like the one I saw that read, “Are you mindful of other drivers?” Perhaps we become too distracted and forget that driving is a full-time job. Perhaps we become too self-centered when we climb into our metal cages and head out on the roadway. Regardless, we forget to think of others, so please, next time you decide to change lanes will you be mindful of other drivers?
FYI According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle accidents (MVA) are among the top 10 causes of death in the United States. The number of MVAs in Utah is staggering. Death due to MVA in Utah ranks within the top 5 causes of death. Utah Legislature recently updated Utah Code and the Medical Examiner’s Act to include all MVAs under the Medical Examiner’s (ME) jurisdiction. This act took effect officially July 1, 2012 as before the ME examined only MVA deaths regarded by law enforcement as necessary for forensic examination. Now all deaths caused by motor vehicles will be reported to Utah Office of the Medical Examiner.
- Great Falls bans cell phones for drivers (billingsgazette.com)
- Amazing Train Rides That Will Dazzle Your Kids (redtri.com)
- “The Short Day………” – Great Falls, MT (travelpod.com)