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Column - When in Sartell, take the 'circle route'

If you've never taken a scenic "circle route" in our fine modern cities, by all means do it. It's quite an adventure.

You'll see the same scenery going past you over and over, like those background scenes in old cartoons.

The circle route is also known as a roundabout. They are virtually everywhere nowadays. Take your pick. If you thought the middle-of-the-road left-turn lanes in Alexandria were confusing, wait 'til you get lost on a circle route.

A couple weeks ago, I shopped at the new Walmart in Sartell. Leaving the vast parking lot, I tensed up when I saw a roundabout ahead of me. I'd never driven on one. Friends, so well aware of my directional dyslexia, had warned me to stay away from them.

"If you get onto a roundabout, we'll never see you again," one wisecracker said. "We'll have to call search and rescue. We'll have to deliver a can of gasoline so you can keep going round and round, and where you stop nobody'll know."

"Oh, shut up," I said. "Gimme a break. I know roundabouts. When I lived in London, the city was full of them."

"Yeah, but did you ever DRIVE on one?" the rude skeptic asked.

"Well, umm . . . no," I said sheepishly. "I had no car then."

"Good thing too!" she said, "Or you'd still be in London, going in circles."

Well, let me get back on track here, back to Walmart. As I approached the roundabout, I yielded to the cars on my left, then turned right, then quickly veered to the right again onto a road that took me south. It was out of my way, but - what the heck - close enough.

"I did it! I did it!" I said to myself. "I've mastered roundabouts. Can't wait to get home to tell everybody. I'm going to shame those doubters."

Back home: "Roundabouts, by the way, are a cinch," I crowed. "They're really nifty."

"You were on one?!" a neighbor asked.

"Yup, piece o' cake," I said smugly.

"Are you sure it was a roundabout and not like - a curving intersection?"

"Oh, shut up!" I said.

A week later, I was back at Walmart. At the roundabout, I decided to try the second exit road, the one I really should have taken the time before. I took the road just fine, but then ahead of me was yet another roundabout. It looked utterly confusing. While going 'round it, I felt like I was stuck to a spinning top, which suddenly flung me off onto one of the exits. The wrong way, toward Sauk Rapids. I drove down that road, turned around in a driveway and headed back to do battle again at the roundabout. This time, more by luck than anything, I managed to get on the right road, the one to Highway 15.

"Oh well," I thought. "These new things take a little adjustment is all."

Last week, I was back at Walmart, getting some groceries.

Again, I took the roundabout, this time feeling as confident as racer Dennis Bitzan on the Viking Speedway.

Confidence vanished when the spinning top flung me on to a different road.

I looked across the way, and there was Walmart, coming closer.

"What?! I was just here. I don't want to go back to Walmart! This roundabout is screwed up. It's designed wrong or something."

During further attempts, I kept going round and round, uncertain of which road to take. I was getting dizzy. Finally, I just took the next exit, which - luckily- led me to the other roundabout and still more confusion until, steering blindly, blundering badly, I eventually found myself back at the right highway, by accident.

I hope friends don't read this column. I'll be their laughingstock all over again.

But I'll have you know I'm not the only fool. There have been quite a few accidents on those roundabouts, I'm told. Unlike those dummies, at least I didn't try turning left. I had sense enough to keep going round and round, taking a right only when I was pretty sure it was the right road. Give me a year or two and I'll have it down to a T - so good I'll certainly qualify as a bus driver for "Circle Tours Limited."

Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at