All eyes are on our neighbor to the east on this political primary day. In honor of all the stubborn, sensible and surprisingly progressive Wisconsinites going to the polls, I bring back part of a post written by gentle baboon Steve Grooms several years ago.
US Highway 2 cuts across northern Wisconsin, running east and west. It’s a famous road. Not famous is the tiny town of Oulu, which lies just north of US 2. If you want to go to Oulu, you drive a bit east of Brule to Oulu Rock and follow the big blue arrow on it to Oulu.
Oulu was created and is mostly inhabited by folks of Finnish ancestry. They have names like Aho, Lampinen, Kohlemeinen, Reinikainen and so forth. The town doesn’t have much going for it. Its one unusual feature is a glass-blowing gallery. Other than that, Oulu is another tiny unincorporated Wisconsin town just like a thousand other such tiny towns.
And yet there is one other distinctive thing, something in which Oulu’s residents take great pride: the Oulu Rock.
A very long time ago, people needed a way to spot that little road that runs north from Highway 2 to Oulu. Citizens of Oulu placed a large rock at the intersection and painted the rock white and blue, the colors of the Finnish flag. And they painted “Oulu” in large letters, with an arrow to point the way.
Not long ago, the Wisconsin Highway Department informed the folks of Oulu that their rock had to go. Highway design specifications require the erection of a standard highway sign to point the way to Oulu.
The highway bureaucrats were unprepared for the ferocity of Oulu’s response. They didn’t want no frickin’ highway sign and they didn’t need one because they already had a frickin’ rock. Almost nobody ever wants to go to Oulu, to tell the truth, and if they do want to go they probably know the way already! The Finns of Oulu told the highway department folks just where they could stick their standard highway sign.
The highway department countered with all the predictable arguments. They argued for the virtues of standardization. They said a reflective sign would be easier to read than a rock. They said they operated under mandates from the legislature and didn’t have the power to make an exception like this. They said The Law demanded that Oulu accept a highway sign. End of argument.
Cynics say you can’t beat city hall, but Oulu beat the Wisconsin Highway Department. Civic pride and Finnish obstinacy crushed the bureaucrats and their boring laws. When Highway 2 was widened recently, the Wisconsin Highway Department even helped move the rock a few feet north. And it is there today, proudly pointing the way to Oulu.
No other town in Wisconsin has what Oulu has. There are a thousand unincorporated villages in the state, but only Oulu has a highway rock. It is one of a kind.
What is YOUR “Oulu Rock”?