Twenty Minutes

Driving in Eau Claire is not that complicated. Usually.

Mike Paulus

People, listen to me. It takes, at most, 20 minutes to drive anywhere in the city of Eau Claire. It’s true. If you leave 20 minutes before you need to be somewhere – and follow our fair city’s fine traffic laws – you will always make it on time or early, even during Eau Claire’s “rush hour.”

In other words, if you get into your car and start playing “Takin’ It To The Streets” by The Doobie Brothers on repeat (as you should), you’ll never hear Michael McDonald’s luscious intonations cycle through your speakers more than five times before reaching your final, EC-based destination.

Just think about that for awhile.

If you get into your car and start playing “Takin’ It To The Streets” by The Doobie Brothers on repeat (as you should), you’ll never hear Michael McDonald’s luscious intonations cycle through your speakers more than five times before reaching your final, EC-based destination.

I have not conducted studies on this. I have not collected data. And I have not used the scientific method to prove my fantastic 20-minute hypothesis. However, the overwhelming majority of my automobile driving has happened right here within the borders of Eau Claire.* And this wealth of personal experience has made me confident in my half-assed assumptions. I’m no expert, no legendary Dale Earnhardt of Wisconsin’s residential streets. I’m just a man with an aging Honda and a tenacious need to be right about super unimportant stuff.

So I promise you – it takes, at most, 20 minutes to get anywhere within the city of Eau Claire. Unless, you know ... something horrible happens.

As is the case with many stories, this one begins with blood and fur. Back when my wife was my girlfriend, she had a job in Mondovi, necessitating a daily commute down Highway 37. And one dark autumn night of yore, whilst en route to Eau Claire (and a sizzling hot evening of television with her future husband) she hit a deer. Thankfully, she was unscathed and able to drive home, but the deer had crumpled up the front of her beloved little red Chevy Nova. After that, to ensure a safe commute, she drove my big, manly pickup truck to Mondovi while I tooled about town in her unmanly “Tomatomobile.”

A few days later, I took in her car to have the engine checked out. It worked just fine, and we decided to forgo any bodywork since it wasn’t worth the deductible. Anyway, after the auto body guy popped the hood and studied the engine as I thoughtfully nodded and said “Hmmm, yup” a lot, neither of us remembered to re-latch the hood when closing it.

And this is why, while driving across the Hastings Way bridge over Clairemont Avenue, the damn hood flew up, BAMING into the windshield and scaring the poopcrap right out of me. Drawing on my many years of experience in not being in life-threatening situations, my natural instincts kicked in.

And I screamed like a large, terrified donkey.

As you may imagine, the Nova’s momentum kept the hood in place over the windshield, reducing road visibility from “not bad” to “hideous black void.” So I stuck my head out the window and pulled over. I tried to latch the hood back down, but smashing into the roof of the car had bent it upwards, rendering the thing un-re-latch-able. So I slinked down the nearest off ramp going about 10mph. However, this was apparently still fast enough create significant wind current, because the hood flipped back up, re-scaring me into a donkey scream.

This happened three more times.

Ever so slowly, I pulled into the nearest auto parts store and purchased a bungie cord, which became a permanent fixture on the car until we junked it a few years later. And so, on that faithful day, it took me more than 20 minutes to arrive at my destination.

Hopefully, rogue engine hoods are not the norm for you, and my unproven yet totally awesome 20-minute rule rings true. Sure, you might run into the occasional idiot at a four-way stop who’s too polite to drive when it’s his turn to go, despite having the right of way, producing some variation of the infuriating “NO YOU GO” gesture, but barring that – 20 minutes, people. You can bet on it.

I’m almost pretty sure.

*The majority of my jet ski driving has happened elsewhere.

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