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North Dakota Blizzard

North Dakota Blizzard
By Jim Friend

blizzard on road ahead, North Dakota

ecently, I heard about a three month seasonal job in northern Minnesota that interested me greatly. I made a couple of calls to the company offering the position and decided it would be worth the risk to drive from my home in Oregon to see if I could officially land the job. The first day of the drive, I made it to Missoula, Montana, 750 miles from my house. The next day, I left Missoula at about noon, but with 1,000 miles ahead of me, I didn't know how far I'd make it, but estimated I might at least make it to Fargo, North Dakota.

As I was driving through the eastern part of Montana, my new boss Jake called to see how I was doing and also warned me to be sure to check the local weather on the radio because a big storm was expected to roll into the area from the north. The wind had been blowing hard most of the day, around 35 mph, but since was mostly a tailwind, I hardly noticed it. Around midnight I arrived at Bismarck, but decided to at least press on to Jamestown, about 100 miles up the road. I checked the road reports as best I could on my phone but didn't learn anything that particularly concerned me, so I was expecting business as usual.

15 miles beyond Bismarck, I was rocketing along in the darkness at 80 miles an hour as I had been the entire 12 hours of my voyage. Bizarrely, a 200 foot-long lightning bolt exploded in the distance about a mile up the road, about 500 yards to the right of the freeway. As I was pondering this strange phenomenon, I noticed what looked to be a 50 foot tall fog bank on the freeway ahead, but something didn't look right. I drove into it at full speed and immediately realized I was in a blizzard. Instead of being a tailwind as it had been the entire day previous, the wind was blowing squarely across the freeway, from left to right. I hit the brakes pretty hard. Within a quarter mile, I had to pull off the road entirely, I couldn't see a thing. Nothing. Just white.

Stopping on the shoulder of the freeway, I assumed that I should at least keep moving as much as I could to hopefully drive out of this predicament, but quickly realized couldn't even see the white fog line that invariably accompanies the right side of the road. Very un-nerving. As the car moved, I could occasionally hear the rumble strip under my tires, so I tried to navigate in this crude manner, but even craning my head far over the dashboard hoping for a better look at things, there were no visual clues at all as to my location, or speed. Because of the intensity of the storm, there were no visual clues as to where I was positioned on the road or even a reference point as to how fast I was going. I had to look down at the speedometer to see if I was even moving. Shortly afterward, trying to make even a small amount of progress, I felt the right side of my car rumbling through dirt. I had run off of the road. I hit the brakes and stopped completely, putting the car in reverse, hoping for the best. Sure enough, thank God, I was able to back out, back onto the pavement. I put the car in drive, and at about the same moment, a semi came up behind me, braking hard, and passed me. Had I not been on the shoulder it would have hit me for sure. The semi leveled out at about 5-10mph. I thought this might be my way out, so as he eased by me, I gingerly pushed on the gas pedal and followed him.

As we drove, the storm worsened to the point that even he had to come to a dead stop right there on the freeway, twice, because of zero visibility. We plodded along precariously, and after many miles of anxiousness in the wake of his oft braking tail-lights we finally passed some of the worst of it and made our way out into some visibility. With about a mile of of the road now visible ahead, we made our way at about 40 mph. Not long after, we hit more of the blizzard, with winds again around 35 mph I'd estimate, and eked along at 10 mph. Out of the darkness, we passed a car that had stopped, contemplating a way out of the storm, poised at the beginning of an exit ramp, the ramp itself socked in with snow and drifts. I thought they would follow us out straightaway but somehow they did not, disappearing into the darkness in my rearview mirror. They wanted out.

I was also looking for a way out. A poor decision indeed, but seemingly without any other option, I used my phone to check for hotels while trying also navigate the threatening roadway, hoping to find any sort of civilization, to at least be able to pull off and ask for advice about this unusual and threatening dilemma. Horribly, as evidenced from the freeway signs advertising "no services" at each exit ramp, it turned out that we were in the sticks. A perfect place for a blizzard at midnight. Miserably, I eventually ascertained that the closest exit with services was at Jamestown, 29 miles away, a real live eternity at an average of about 25 mph in a whipping, frigid storm.

Again a clear patch presented itself with about a mile's worth of visibility. In that stretch, a sign announced that there was a rest area two miles ahead. Thank God! When we got there the truck I was following also took to the rest area, presumably to wait out the storm. I looked over at the parallel rest area across the freeway, only to see another semi pulling off with a big 4 wheel drive pickup exiting as well. The road ahead must be just as bad, I estimated, if they were getting off too. I parked with a sigh of relief, and thought, at worst, I could just idle for the rest of the night in the relative safety of 0 mph, sitting in my sleeping bag with the heater on. Looking down at my gas gauge, it stared back at me reading 1/8 of a tank. I could never last the night there without running out of gas. It didn't take long for me to decide I had to head out for Jamestown. No choice. Briefly after this decision, a UHaul with a pickup truck following it passed the rest area, so I put the car in drive and attempted to slowly catch up to them. Once positioned behind them, the blizzard started again. Off and on. Slow, a little faster, slow again, brake lights, icy road, blizzard, yuck. We passed a car in the ditch. Full blizzard. I thought about stopping for them but realized I could be imperiled myself by doing so, so I called 911. They said they'd send a deputy out to them.

20 miles to go. I was counting every mile, painfully. From about the time the semi showed up, my mind was doing many odd calculations. With freezing temperatures and the 35 mph wind and snow, to park the car and wander off (for whatever reason) would mean almost certain death. This was very clear, and it was an odd feeling. Likewise, crashing the car into the ditch and rolling over was basically close to the same end. If someone didn't find you right away, get a blanket over you, and hail an ambulance to your location immediately, freezing to death was likely, especially complicated with any injuries. Help would also be a good distance away and have to drive the same painstaking route you did. Yikes. Weird. A weird thing to think through. Should I have stopped the car and backed up to the nearest exit as soon as I drove into the storm? Way too late for that. Should I have waited with the car that stopped on the freeway hoping to negotiate the exit ramp, and followed him up? Probably not, but here I was. I thought if anything else, I just had to keep the car on the road, no matter what. No crashing into the ditch. No more looking at the phone. I continued to follow the UHaul and pickup truck, in and out of the storm, until they passed another pickup truck. This truck was going quite slow, but I didn't want to risk passing it. 10 miles to go. The storm wasn't raging in this area, but the road surface was treacherous. I continued to follow the truck, and judging from its slow pace, I estimated that it would also exit at Jamestown, and sure enough it did.

travel advisory for Dakota

With a Huge Sigh of Relief, I made my way to a gas station, and then headed to the nearest hotel. In front of me at the desk was a woman, and thinking I recognized her truck idling in the parking lot, asked her if she had just been driving eastbound on the 94. She said yes and gushed her anxiety recalling the journey. I mirrored her sentiments and mentioned the car in the ditch. She said that she had seen the accident and had been right behind them when it happened. I had indeed been following her truck for the previous ten miles to Jamestown.

With her transaction at the desk complete, we parted ways. Somewhat later I went back to the desk to ask a question of the clerk. In front of me was a man and a woman. After they left the clerk, recalling my previous conversation with the lady I had been speaking with earlier, mentioned quietly, "I think those are the folks you saw that went into the ditch." I passed the couple while headed back to my room and asked if they had just been headed eastbound on the 94, they said yes. The woman was crying.

The next morning I learned that shortly after we all exited the freeway, the state had closed the full 100 mile stretch of the 94 we had just traveled, from Bismarck to Jamestown. The closure lasted until the afternoon.

Also that morning, I called a fellow in Minnesota whom I had been in contact with about renting a studio apartment, wanting to express regret that I wouldn't be able to see him that afternoon as planned. He said it was no problem, stating that the previous night had been the "weirdest" of his 15 years living there. Looking out the window of his house the previous night, he said that he could only see white, with winds gusting to 60+ mph. He said that he had laid in his bed all night listening to his house shift back and forth, also hearing things banging into his home from the blowing wind outside. "Makes you really feel alive," he said at the end of our conversation. Amen to that.

As it turned out, the top wind gust in North Dakota that night was 72 miles an hour, about 65 miles south of where I was driving. Hurricane winds are designated at 75 mph. Investigating the weather online at the hotel, I learned that the winds on route of the freeway between Bismarck and Jamestown that night were at times around 50mph. Makes you really feel alive. Makes you really feel alive.

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"Namibia" Article

Jim,

I spent several school holidays in Windhoek with family friends. Much later I took each of my kids (U.S. born & raised) on separate trips to my native, Cape Town and "Overlanded" through Namibia into the Kaokoveld. I enjoyed your travelogue immensely. Please advise me if you ever publish a collection of your travel experiences. The apple strudel at Helmeringhausen somewhere after Ai Ais was the best ever. Graciously,

Merv Hayman, Sarasota, FL

Hi Merv, thanks for the correspondence, glad you enjoyed the article. It sounds like that country got into your blood, as it has in mine. I'm looking forward to getting back there someday and seeing much more of the place, Namibia has a peculiar allure. Thanks for the complements and I will certainly put you on the list for a travel stories compendium.

Cheers and happy travels!
Jim

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"Bullriding in Texas" Article

Hey Jim,

I love your website. It has shown me that all this time my boyfriend was lying to me about who he was. On his Facebook page he was using the picture of "Thomas Bosma"... Btw great story and pictures.

MaKayla, Rapid City

Hi MaKayla, glad we could be of assistance in busting your prevaricating suitor! Thanks for the complements as well.

All the best, Jim

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"Canadian Arctic " Article

Hey Jim,

Just wanted to say 'Hello'…love your intro/bio Mr. Boitano, fits the call of excitement/steelo of Mr. Friend. Hope to keep correspondence, and hope all your travels keep you busy but safe, Check my Friend...

Mico Gonz, Seattle, WA

Miiii-coooooooooooooooo!!!

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"Jalalabad, Afghanistan" Article

Hello Jim,

Very interesting, I find it very important for me because my BF is there. Hope he is fine...His name is Sgt.Jason Adams...Thank you and God bless...

Leonila, Guiguinto, Bulacan, Philippines

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Cpt. Disi was at Kutschbach with the guys of 2nd platoon. I was in 4th, we were right up the road at FOB Morales Frazier. I don't think I read anywhere about you being at KB but if you were up there in Kapisa province with us you would have loved it. It was 10x better than Jbad. The air there was so full of smog, and you couldn't really see that far out early in the morning when the sun was rising. But its nice to see someone like you who was out on patrols and documenting all the things we did. Great stories. Keep up the good work...

Kevin Myrick, Calhoun, GA

* * *

Love your writing. Have you read Spike Walker's books by now?

Kerry, Wenatchee, WA

* * *

Nice.

Christian Louboutin, New York City

* * *

I do not believe I've seen this described in such an informative way before. You actually have clarified this for me. Thank you!

Janice Randall, Post Falls, ID

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I like the style you took with this topic. It isn't every day that you just discover a subject so to the point and enlightening.

Charles David, St. Anne, Manitoba

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Hey Jim! LT Singh just checking your site.. looks great… very slow internet here.. will be home in 2 weeks.

Alvin Singh , New York

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Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones. You have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up! And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :) .

Arthur Cox, Next to Paris

* * *

Jim. Take it all in, smother your senses with the culture and people. Watch your top notch and have a once in a lifetime experience. Miss you.

Jeff and Andrea, Los Angeles, CA

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Fascinating photos Jim! Singly they are all fodder for short stories; together they really capture an out-of-body trip! Enjoyed mine, thank you! I'm curious what those compounds contain...mostly businesses? residences? Love that the T-Boy card is making it's way around the globe!

Wendy, Los Angeles, CA

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These are outstanding photos. You capture scenes that I've never seen in the "mainstream media." Haunting images that make me think that there is danger around every corner.

Al Burt, Friday Harbor, WA

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Enjoyed your article immensely! Your title is fun and so is learning about bin Laden skipping out without paying the rent - what a loser! It's great you could meet with Mr. Jouvenal, hear the stories and see the guns. Give our highest regards to T.G. Taylor and the other military personnel serving in Afghanistan. Courage to you all!

Steve, Renton, WA

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Jim, I enjoyed this fascinating article. It reminded me of how sublimely surreal life is. Also, I would like to thank you for your courage, and to express gratitude towards your bringing this piece of the world, with its foreign realities, to my doorstep. I look forward to reading more from you.

Sandra, Seattle, WA

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This is outstanding reporting, Jimmy F! Fascinating stuff. You've taken on a dangerous, important assignment in Afghanistan, and we readers appreciate your work with the military and your unique observations. I look forward to your next post. In fact, I'm going to go through the archives to see your entire body of work on TravelingBoy.

Terry, Los Angeles, CA

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I really enjoyed my entry into Kabul with you and the visit with Peter Jouvenal... look forward to more of that adventure.

Brenda, Richland, WA

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Great story, Jim, a story really "as current as yesterday's news." Now there's a real TravelingBoy!

Eric, San Diego, CA

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Jim you have probably revealed more about Bin Laden than anyone...his rage on the world has to be linked to his limp handshake. Be careful over there!

Janet, Caldwell, ID

Thanks Janet! I get the distinct impression that his handshake isn't the end story to all that's limp with bin Laden's physiology!

Jim

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What a fantastic piece. You're a modern-day Hemingway. Your writing is compelling and fascinating. I look forward to much more of this great adventure.

Roger, Puyallup, WA

Wow, Roger, what an awesome set of complements. Thanks a lot. My first journal entry of 2010 was: "The stories will tell themselves. I just need to show up." So far, so good! Thanks again!

Jim

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Jim, first time reading your stuff. Very cool. I hope to read about our units and life in eastern Afghanistan very soon since you will be coming to our area as an embed. BTW, I'm the PAO here in Jalalabad and will be coordinating your visit with CPT Disi.

T.G. Taylor, US Army, Jalalabad, Afghanistan

* * *

Hello T.G.!

I saw your email address included on a couple of correspondences, and I cannot wait to spend some time with you, and even yet more of our honorable fighting forces over there in that bleak neck of the woods in Afghanistan in January, including CPT Disi. This is truly a trip of a lifetime for me, and I'm completely looking forward to absorbing the experiences there and recording the sufferings and sacrifices of so many of those of you who continue to strain and press to make Our Country Great, those of you who daily labor to assist those in other countries whose lives had once withered under the burden of tyrants, and whose hopes can now flicker again with the help of those like yourself. Thanks so much for putting it all out there for us every day. My fervent hope is to honorably document the expenditures of each of your individual lives in the midst of this conflict, those of you who "anonymously" struggle daily to make what We Hold As Good prevail in what, at times, is a dark and wicked world.

Thanks so much, man. Great to hear from you... See you soon!

Jim

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Sad to say, this is the first time I've read one of your articles Jim. What have I been missing!? Thanks for the funny, informative, and just plain awesome read! Take care and have a great Turkey day!

Jeff, Pasco, WA

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Jim, I just loving reading your blogs. As I've dreamt about going to Costa Rica for at least 20 years, this was a very insightful and fun read for me. You always make me laugh.

Deborah - Burbank, CA

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Wow, what a HILARIOUS guy!!!!! I really really enjoyed the article. The Village Artist is my 'uncle Boyd" as I call him. He is closing his shop next year. That made my day and thank you for letting me know of this on the world's BEST travel information source.

Sandy - Sitka, Alaska

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Hi Sandy!

Comments like those that you wrote make all the hassles and travails of writing resoundingly worthwhile, thank you! I am so sorry to hear that Boyd is closing his shop! The Alaskan State legislature should immediately intervene to make his shop an Alaskan cultural heritage site of some variety (not kidding). Meanwhile, from the sound of the conversation Boyd and I had, it's the federal government that's confused and harassed the poor guy with inconsistent and random applications of federal law to the point where it's probably not worth it anymore. I hope that's not the case, but I wouldn't be surprised. Whatever the reason, I am really sorry to hear that he's closing shop. I'm privileged to have seen it... once in a lifetime. Thanks again for reading and thanks a lot for your comments!

Jim

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Hi Jim,

Now I know what you were doing on the Alaska cruise when I wasn't around. Besides playing cribbage. I'm glad that you, a younger, more slender and fit person, also saw the value in cruising. I didn't come back with a tan, but I did lose 3 pounds while sleeping every night and eating every meal but one. Jade and I are looking forward to three weeks exploring Mediterranean ports in May. We put down our deposit for it on our last night on board and have starting our training. Sleeping in the same wonderful bed every night makes such a break-neck pace completely possible for a grandma like me. I'm looking forward to reading your Afghanistan piece WHEN you have returned.

Janice - Seattle

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Hi Janice!

Yes that was a blast! I would do all of that again any day of the week. Have fun on your Mediterranean cruise, that sounds like great fun!

Jim

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Love your expeditions. Keep writing.

Karen Cummings - Yakima, WA

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Jim can't tell you how much I am enjoying your writing. One other commenter mentioned you are living the life we all dream of, ain't that the truth. As far as looking for a place to live that will challenge you to be able to make a real living and supplying a steady flow of women looking for the bbd (bigger better deal) then you should try the Yakima Valley here in Washington State (inside joke). Look forward to reading more from you.

Huston Turcott (hooter) - Yakima, WA

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Awesome!!! I love Japan!

Maja - Chur, Switzerland

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Jimmy my love,

I totally thought you were kidding when you told me you went bullriding. OH MY GOSH you actually did it. (SIGH) Am I going to have to smack you around a bit?? heheheheee Seriously, come see us!

Leah, Richland, WA

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Jim,

Rock on Friend! Living it up... inspiring us all to do the same!

Celeste, Seattle


Jim,

Are you for real? You're living the life many people only dream about. You're obviously not yet married. What wife would allow her husband to do all the crazy things you do? This Virginia skydiving adventure is probably the scariest yet. Your writing style helps bring the exhilaration out. Great photos too. Loved the caption about you striking that "gangsta rap" pose. Come to think of it, why do we do that in front of the camera?

Thanks also for the tips. $250 for a few minutes with nothing between you and mother earth is a bit costly but I guess if you have a death wish, this is definitely the way to go.

You mentioned that 25 people a year lose their lives doing this. With my luck I will be among that number if and when I decide to do this.

Enjoyed it very much. Can't wait for your next adventure.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA

Jeem!

Found ur Glacier trek (I will Destroy You Glacier Peak) to be serious kick ass. To be honest, I’m such a lightweight, I’ve never been more than a day tripper. When u really get out there on one of those long solo treks, and the water runs short … can u drink from local streams? I’ve heard that pollution is so bad that even places untouched by man are now off-limits.

VitoZee

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Howdy VitoZee,

Great to hear from you and thanks for the complement and question. That is a seriously cool name, by the way: VitoZee. Just from the phonetics of it, I get the impression that you might be a very friendly and mild-mannered hitman working out of North Jersey. Really cool.

As for your drinking water from streams question, there are a lot of answers for it. The simple answer is that, no, you can almost never implicitly trust stream water sources, unless they are flowing straight out of the ground (via an aquafer or spring) bubbling up right there in front of you. That's your best bet, but you rarely see that in the wild unless you're looking for it, and even so, I have actually gotten sick from drinking spring water straight from the source at Panther Springs on Mount Shasta. You never know what you're going to get drinking untreated water from the wilds.

Most of the time the pollution you'll be dealing with out in the wilderness is not man-made, it usually comes from bacteria and parasites that inhabit the bodies of wilderness animals. For example, on this Glacier Peak trip, I drank from a stream I was confident was trustworthy. In the immediate vicinity were living quite a few marmots. A number of days after I got home I fell ill, and had to wonder if I hadn't picked up something from the water I drank, as there was not much of any other explanation for my symptoms. I knew a trip to the doctor would probably result in them sending me back home with a plastic cup that was required to be filled with my own poo, which would need to be delivered back to the lab steaming hot so they could figure out exactly what kind of bacteria or parasite they were dealing with. (Not a joke, remember Panther Springs?) After this diagnosis, I would then have to go back to the doctor and get a prescription, but by then, my body would have probably fought off the tiny invaders completely on its own. Not worth the trouble, and all of this would certainly = Jim minus $280. So I suffered it out, and whatever happened to be bothering me left my system in about 7 days or so. Yuck. No fun.

Anyway, I don't recommend drinking straight from the streams of the wild, but in a pinch, I do it everytime, unless I see a bear or a moose straight upstream from me pooping in the river, which has only happened about ten times. (Or zero times.) Anyway, sometimes I get sick, sometimes I don't. If I'm exhausted and thirsty, to heck with it, I'm drinking it.

All this notwithstanding, or withstanding, or notwithoutstanding, whatever, they just recently invented the coolest thing in the world though, so you might want to check it out. Previously, for treating your water in the wild, you'd always have to put a pellet of iodine or a congregate of other evil ingredients into your jug of stream water and let it sit there for an hour before you drink it while the chemical cocktail thoroughly treats your water. That is ridonkulous because when you're hiking and thirsty, you aren't going to wait a full hour for that pill to dissolve and work properly, you are going to guzzle. Anyway, they just invented this magic wand of sorts that you can find at any decent backpacking or outdoors store. You turn it on and dip it in your stream filled water jug, and the ultraviolet light it produces irradiates everything to death on the spot, after about 30 seconds or so. Kind of like my pinky finger, which I keep forgetting to treat my stream water with, because I'm always so dang thirsty.

Jim

Keep it comin' Jim. Sounds awesome.

Matt Langley, Duvall, WA

Hey Jim,

Enjoyed your Victoria article. It was an intersting slant on a city that is generally just promoted as a destination for tea rooms, gardens and double-decker buses. Now let's get serious ... are the Canadian women there really that attractive, good-natured and open-minded? Maybe I won't get married either and just move up there. It sure sounds refreshing after having to deal with the smugness of all those LA starlets, trying to make it in Hollywood.

Gary, Santa Monica

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Gary,

Thanks so much for the communique. I can honestly tell you that there was little exagerration involved in my description of the girls there in Victoria. God, in his infinite wisdom, has thankfully granted American mankind a few other places than the great old U.S. of A. to relieve our hearts of the burden of the eternally-self-absorbed, career-tracked, Bill-Gates-as-a-husband seeking beastly variety of female. I know, after living here in the States forever (especially in Seattle), how it is. I was recently researching a trip to Columbia, and heard the same news implicitly spoken about the women there, they are apparently of the same caliber of those that live in British Columbia. I invite you, before relocating, to take a trip up to Victoria, to see for yourself. I'll never forget it.

And my brotha', if you think you have it bad in the Los Angeles area (I lived there for six years), try Seattle (where I have lived for the last laborious three). Seattle seems to be crammed with nothing other than Ice Princesses, who live their lives completely within the confines of darkened cerebral domains, mental attentions locked firmly onto the goal of marrying the next Bill Gates, hoping to live in one of those big houses smooshed up against Lake Washington, hearts available only to the ultimate goal, the dream of all dreams ... being on Oprah someday...absorbing the jealous attentions of the millions of suburbanite women watching, all hoping to sit right there across from Ms. Winfrey someday, too, while regaling her with the tales of the good life, closets full of the savvy and smarmy garb purloined at Nordstrom's, their husband a virtual "Prince Charming," their family-owned barnacle encrusted yacht anchored firmly in some northern fjord. Oprah smiles back approvingly amidst a cacophony of applause, screen fades to commercials, all conduits nourishing The Beast.

You're my kind of guy, Gary. Hang in there, amigo. I look forward to meeting your smokin' hot wife someday.

Jim


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