You may or may not believe this, but around three years ago I found myself in St. Cloud, driving through, supposedly, the latest, trendiest vehicle navigation invention on the planet known as a "roundabout."
And while I was behind the wheel of my Avalanche in the roundabout – my first ever exposure to the present and, apparently, future answer to your typical intersection – trying not to die in bloody, fiery fashion, the song known as "Roundabout" by the psychedelic, classic prog-rock band, "Yes" started blaring out of the truck's stereo speakers as I settled the XM Radio dial on a classic rock station.
I recall specifically why I stopped hitting the "seek" button situated among the various radio controls on the steering wheel. I heard the opening acoustic guitar riff and, for probably the 500th time in my life, was fooled into thinking that the guitar was signaling the start of one of my favorite classic rock tunes, "From the Beginning" by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. A few seconds in, however, I realized I'd been duped yet again. It wasn't "From the Beginning," it was "Roundabout."
Normally, I would have immediately commenced with more rapid-fire "seek" button pressing in order to put as much distance between the song "Roundabout" and the hammers, anvils and stirrups occupying the interior of each one of my ears as soon as humanly possible.
But I didn't this particular time. But not because I deduced that I was driving through a roundabout while the song "Roundabout" was playing on the radio. No, I didn't bother scanning through more radio stations because I thought I was mere seconds from a grisly death that would be preceded by the sound of a squealing tire or two, some crunching metal and shattering glass. Not only that, I didn't know that the bizarre, circular paved thing with all the painted lines and strategically placed yield signs that I was erratically trying to navigate was even known as a "roundabout."
Don't believe me? Good for you, because I fabricated pretty much everything you just read. The true elements of the tale can be traced to the fact that, yes, it was around three years ago and, yes, I was in St. Cloud, for one of our son's spring youth hockey tournaments. But I was a passenger, not the driver, when we encountered the first of several roundabouts that weekend in the bustling city around 45 minutes north of the Twin Cities. We were in an Avalanche, though, if that restores any shred of my credibility.
So what's the big deal? Well, in case you missed it, the roundabouts are coming! The roundabouts are coming!
They're all over the Twin Cities metro area. They're in Fargo next to the primary retail, eating and entertainment corridors. And, word is, two of them will be constructed in Grand Forks next summer, one near Columbia Mall and the other near a new development on the city's south end.
Page 2 of 2 - Be afraid, be very afraid.
Or maybe not. All they are is a circular intersection with no traffic lights or stop signs. Drivers navigating them need only make right-hand turns whether entering or exiting the roundabout, and you need to yield to traffic coming at you from your left.
Sounds simple enough, right? It sort of is, if you're armed with the knowledge provided in the previous paragraph before you enter your first one. If you enter your first one or two in ignorant fashion, look out, because you're flirting with a ground-level version of Blitzkrieg.
Today's teens, as they work their way through driver's education on the path toward becoming legal drivers, are required to learn all about roundabouts, and it's a good thing. Their moms and dads? Well, let's just say if they encounter a roundabout and don't know into what bizarre realm they've just entered, there's about a 40 percent chance the kids will be orphans.
There should almost be something like a roadside weigh station that motorists are required to pull into a couple seconds before they encounter their inaugural roundabout. They wouldn't even have to get out of their vehicle or even put it in park, necessarily. Just roll down the window, and then some guy could yell out of the little booth, "It's all right turns! Yield to the left! The Lord bless you and keep you!"
Engineers and traffic experts insist roundabouts are safer than a typical intersection, and that motorists dig them once they grow accustomed to them. But that first time you encounter one? Better ease your mind with some peaceful lyrics from that timeless, yet overrated tune:
"In and around the lake, mountains come out of the sky and they stand there..."