Fallen writer seeks answers

Published 9:46 am Thursday, September 30, 2010

I fell off my bike the other day.

Fortunately, I landed on my head so there was no damage.

It’s happened before. I wasn’t wearing a helmet; just my New York Yankees baseball cap. It’s one of my character flaws to wear a Yankees cap in Minnesota.

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I was on my way back from the grocery store, climbing the Community Bank of Austin sidewalk up a hill to Pickett Place or the emergency room at Austin Medical Center.

I landed on the grass and was more embarrassed than anything. Not like the time I fell over in the tunnel beneath Interstate 90 en route to the Wildwood Park bike path. That one let me dazed for awhile until I pushed the bike off me and stood up and walked out of the tunnel, got back on the bike and made it back to Pickett Place without incident

This time a van stopped and the woman driver offered help. I politely declined, crawled from beneath the bike and got up on my feet.

The woman offered more help; a ride home with my bike in the back of the vehicle. I politely declined again, thanked her and proceeded on my way home.

Walking up the hill that evening was a revelation for me: For the first time that day, I encountered another human being who did not ask me, “What’s going on at the hospital with the Auxiliary?”

There’s been no official word from the Austin Medical Center’s administration, but employees, patients and, of course, the Hospital Auxiliary members are talking about it.

Everybody knows the Hospital Auxiliary. They welcome you at the main entrance, push you in a wheelchair to an appointment, answer questions, hold the elevator doors for slower people to enter or exit, donate money for scholarships to help young men and women pursuing health-related careers and donated  $100,000 to the chapel.

The Hospital Auxiliary also operates the gift shop and diner. What father hasn’t bought a bouquet of flowers for his wife and their new child at the gift shop?

Who hasn’t had a cup of the volunteers’ homemade soup and walked away feeling better?

There are over 360 signatures on the petition to “save the gift shop and diner.”

No. I don’t know any more than that, but I’m listening along with everyone else. The hospital that Austin and all of Mower County have supported so generously has some explaining to do.

I can’t write about this anywhere else than a column, and believe me, it’s getting harder and harder to get a column printed. How do you do it Wally Alcorn, Bob Vilt, Al Batt? It’s only one person’s opinion on the Opinion Page of the Herald.

Just this week, temptation disturbed my afternoon nap.

After a week of phone calls, e-mails and those finger-in-the-chest questions on the street, I called the Austin school superintendent to ask a few questions about pay increases for administrators, principals, support staff and other district employees.

Mower County taxpayers are upset: They will have the Mower County commissioners’ new jail and justice center to pay for and those in the Austin school district will have their levy referendum taxes – if they are approved – on top of that.

The conversation with the superintendent didn’t last long. He said the pay increases had been “negotiated.”

Negotiated? All I wanted to know was were the public employees giving themselves raises at a time they were asking taxpayers to approve a referendum that will also raise their taxes?

A rather angry conversation between two men ensued — briefly — until I said I would visit his office to get his responses on a tape recorder. The superintendent said, “I won’t talk to any tape recorder,” and one of us hung up on the other. I think I was the hanger and he was the hanger.

Two hours later, the president of the school board called and left a message

I went for another dangerous bike ride and called the man the next day. No story there for a retired reporter. Opinions, yes.

It must be that New York Yankees baseball cap that confuses my thinking and makes the darnedest questions float though my head.