Most Northlanders spent the day digging out cars and clearing snow from sidewalks. Others jumped on a snowmobile or strapped on skis, braving the sub-zero temperatures for a few hours, taking advantage of the extra day off of work or school. Duluth business man Dan O'Hearon, however, remained on the roof of the GapWest Broadcasting building on Duluth's Central Entrance.
The Arctic front that followed yesterdays blizzard left deep snow drifts, icey roads and dead car batteries area wide, and while most of us were safe and warm in our homes, O'Hearon rode out the blizzard and the arctic temps in a small tent, repeatedly packing snow around the base to anchor it as every gust of wind threatened to blow it down around him. "It was really cold- incredibly cold." he said. The noise of the wind was really loud, and the moisture condensed on the ceiling and froze. Then a big gust of wind would shake the whole tent and knock off the ice off. I got hit in the head with quite a few chunks of ice!" he said, laughing.
Today wasn't much better, with strong winds and bitter cold. When asked if he was still committed to staying up there through Christmas Eve, his reply was emphatic. "Absolutely! I have a lot of conviction about this. Besides, after last night I can't really imagine it getting much worse; it should be easier from here on out. It's awfully cold though!" Tonight, as day three draws to a close, the wind chill is 38 (degrees) BELOW zero, and expected to drop further. It has stopped snowing, but more is predicted to fall Wednesday. An area weather reporter tonight stated "It's going to stay really cold for a long time...this is dangerously cold."
While photos taken today show O'Hearons' face is no longer garnished with ice and snow, the chapping and wind burn on his cheeks is clear. When asked how he was managing in the cold he replied "It;s not so bad- with the heaters going I've got it up to about 40 (degrees) inside the tent. That's a lot better than yesterday when it was actually snowing in there!"
His committment remains strong, and he expressed hope that community support for his endeavor and the free Sober Cab Ride Progarm will increase. "I'm enduring some really extreme conditions up here to bring attention to a very serious issue. At any time of any day, someone who has been drinking gets behind the wheel of a car and drives. A lot of them will have an accident, and usually they come out those accidents with only minor injuries. The people in the other car though, the one that he hit, are the ones who usually suffer the worst injuries. I want to help prevent that needless pain and suffering. We're not just providing a public service to the guy whose had too much to drink, but to everyone else on the road, and their friends and family too."
He hopes that as people return to normal routines after the storm more of them will stop by his roof top perch. "Of course all donations are appreciated," he said in a phone call this afternoon. "All money we collect goes to my drivers to compensate them for their time and lost income. We've given quite a number of free rides all ready, just since Dec. 1st. We'll give a lot more by the end of the promotion. And it's not even all about the money; just stop by and give me a shout, or honk as your driving up Central Entrance." He said that given the imclement weather the first two days he was up there, he has gotten a fair amount of people stopping by or waving as they pass by, and see's his time on the roof as an opportunity to have a positive impact on the community. "No amount of education, or even the law is ever going to stop ALL drunk driving, but maybe my being up here, and the free cab rides we're offering will keep a few people from being on the road while impaired. Maybe by getting a safe free cab ride home it will prevent a tragedy and save an innocent life. That's all I'm trying to accomplish, that's what will make all this time up here in the cold worth it. Maybe the car that DOESN'T get hit will be yours or your loved ones."
GapWest Broadcasting, O'Hearons "base camp," is located at 14 E. Central Entrance in Duluth. Anyone wishing to contribute or even drop by with a cup of hot coffee is encouraged to do so during daylight hours. Those wishing to contribute but not able to get to O'Hearon or any of the several other local businesses with collections jars may send donations to:
Custom Cab Co.
108 E. 11th St.
Duluth, MN. 55805