An ironic death

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Two weeks ago Julia and I took the road from the cabin to Longville and back and noticed that they had put up a new sign at each end of the curvy, hilly treacherous part, where you drive dangerously high above bogs and wooded kettles with no guard rail and there is one blind curve after another. Of treacherous roads I’ve been on, I’d say this bit of rural highway ranks about … 10 thousandth, but I’ve driven thousands of kilometers in the Congo, so the comparison is not really fair. Anyway, the signs are large like the kind that might announce the entrance to a national forest or the boundary of a state … bigger than the signs at county or town boundaries and smaller than the sign for Yellowstone Park … and they read “Winding road ahead.”

Amanda’s family called this whole stretch of road, not just the part between the cabin and Longville, but the whole 30 mile distance from the main highway to the Woman Lake chain, the “curvy road” because it’s, well, very curvy. I took to calling it the “windy road” (pronounced “wine dee” and having nothing to do with wind or wine) for no particular reason. Now, I guess, we’ll have to call it the “winding road” because that what it officially is.

Actually, only that one part is winding, and the rest of the road comprised more of numerous right angle turns as the road pursues the edges of the squared off parcels this state is divided into. But the officially, state sanctioned and sign-posted “winding” road is qualitatively different, and I remember pointing this out to Amanda a couple of years ago.

“You know this part of the road,” I said as we were driving, turning back and forth, down the windy part of the curvy road.

“Ah, yes. We’re on it. This part of the road. What about it?”

“This is like New England.”


“Every road in New England curves back and forth like this, winding around hills and bodies of water. Unlike the rest of the curvy road, which is just turns that follow old land ownership changes, this part of the road is sinuous, and follows a complicated hilly and bog-pocked landscape. See how the curves are organic, like topo lines on a map, not right and left turns like the rest of the road.”

“Oh yeah, thanks for pointing that out. We have to go to where you grew up some time so I can see the properly winding roads”

And, verily, this bit of road is very different than rural roads generally in Minnesota, as far as I know. Sinuously, naturally, organically curvy. So, I suppose the big ugly yellow signs are appropriate, although I have come to resent the number of hyperbright glow in the dark signs that have been put on the roads in these parts. There are times when I have to turn off my high beams because the back-splash of light form thirty or forty mostly redundant signs and markers is blinding.

Indeed, the state had put up all new arrows and markers along the winding road, marking the curves so they could not be missed by anyone who was awake, even in a heavy snow. Until, of course, the snow, if a bit wet, covers all the signs with a quarter inch or more of frigid opacity.

So the road was curvy, and now extra well marked, as of about three weeks ago, which brings us to Tim Murphy.

Tim Murphy was one of the 271 people who live in Longville, Minnesota. He retired from his job as a Minnesota State Trooper a couple of years ago. Of special note is the fact that Tim was on the protective duty for Governor Arnie Carlson back in the day. Arnie is one of those old fashioned Republican Governor types. If you listen to him today (and he is a frequent commenter on our local news stations) you’ll hear him express shame at the modern day Republican party. Not as much shame as the old time Democratic Farm Labor Governor Anderson who also comments now and then, but still… Today, Arnie would be a centrist Democrat. And, he speaks highly of Officer Tim Murphy, noting that he was especially friendly and nice and did his job well.

After his retirement from the State Trooper’s, Tim Murphy served as Chief of Police of Longville. I’ve read all the news reports of Tim’s death, and his obituary, but none of that material mentions this fact, yet it is certainly true (I’ve confirmed it with the City of Longville Government.) I don’t know why this is the case.

Anyway, the other night, Tim was down at the Docksider, a tavern located in the middle of Longville, early in the evening. I’ve never stayed for more than a moment in the Docksider. It is one of the handful of Longville Establishments I’ve always meant to give a try to, but since the family I married into had already been there/done that (and it didn’t stick) the opportunity has never come up. I have poked my head in, but never to stay for a beer. Anyway, Tim was at the Docksider and until he headed out around eight in the evening.

Tim pulled his Ford Pickup out of the diagonal parking between the Docksider and the Turtle Racing Arena, and headed south, in the general direction of where I’m sitting now at the cabin, and when he came to the curvy-winding road he made the first few turns OK, but not the next one. At this point most drivers are going about 50 and slowing to 35 or so at the curves, so I’d guess he hit that turn at about 50 but went off the road, crashing down the hill and running head on into a reasonably stout tree (and by now everyone around here knows exactly which tree it was). The sad fact is that Tim was not wearing a seat belt, so he died.

I’ll wager Tim was as annoyed as I am with the overdone uber-bright reflective warning signs and markers that have become as common ’round these parts as walleye on a rock pile. I wonder if he was being annoyed at the signs when he lost control of his pickup. He was probably thinking that was a really bad place to put a tree. And, there is this added irony: Tim was a specialist, while a Trooper, in accident investigation. He knew about this seat belt thing better than the average person, by far.

Tim will replace Carolyn Hawkinson for a while as the most recent tragic death in town. Carolyn was elderly and vulnerable, so when the ugly results of improper food handling struck at the church breakfast, several got sick but Carolyn succumbed to the food poisoning. Every year people remember her misfortune in the local press, and her name has been placed on various memorial places.

I never met Tim, but I’ll be happy to kick in five bucks for a bench or something. Maybe Tim’s death will help remind others to buckle up.

Keep your cutting board clean, your hands washed, and your seat-belt fastened.

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7 thoughts on “An ironic death

  1. “Every road in New England curves back and forth like this, winding around hills and bodies of water. Unlike the rest of the curvy road, which is just turns that follow old land ownership changes, this part of the road is sinuous, and follows a complicated hilly and bog-pocked landscape.

    For those of us who have spent a significant amount of time in places like New England, as you and I have, it’s easy to forget that many Americans have little or no experience with roads like this. In most areas that were settled in the 19th century or later, there was an overpowering tendency to impose a grid on the street systems, even in places where it is inappropriate (witness the streets in some parts of San Francisco, particularly Telegraph Hill, which are passable for pedestrians but not vehicles). Even in places with older settlements, you see this phenomenon in the form of township boundaries drawn without regard for the terrain (it’s not unusual here in New Hampshire to find areas where you cannot drive to your town hall without leaving town).

    Arguably, as a former state trooper who was familiar with the area Mr. Murphy should have known better, but it’s easy to imagine that he might have forgotten about the curvy section until he was in the middle of it.

  2. Most of the country roads in (Old) England are fairly twisty, too, following natural boundaries and the like. There are the old Roman roads too, of course, for variety. Also the Fens, the roads of which tend to have long straight sections linked by badly marked 90 degree bends.

  3. Tim Murphy was a great man, he touched so many people and made a tremendous impact on the community and surrounding area. He served the great state of Minnesota for 26 years and saw so many things that you vommit just thinking about. He would tell me about horrible car accidents that he would have to deal with, the hardest was going into a house and telling two parents that their little angel wouldn’t be coming home. So before you go judging the man about not wearing a seatbelt, why don’t you judge him on his character. But you don’t even know who he is, and yet you write a little blog about some shmuck who died because he didn’t wear his seatbelt. Well I knew Tim Murphy, he was the greatest man I ever knew, not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. And before you post blogs about someones loved ones why don’t you think about how you would feel if one of your loved ones was talked about in a blog after they died. What if I wrote this blog about your father, how would you feel? Tim Murphy was my father and he put his life on the line every day of his job to protect people like you, so why don’t you show him a little more respect.

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