Monday, December 17, 2007

Driving In A Winter Wonderland...

Here I sit in the Train Station in Windsor, waiting to pick up a colleague of the dolts at my work and the train is running an hour late due to this pre-Christmas pummeling by ol’ Mother Nature. The wi-fi connection here is about $12/hr, so what do I do instead? Blog. Only thing there seems to do to pass the time, as I seem to have left my ukulele at Blockbuster.

The kids have the day off at school, but as I have to do crap like this to bring home the proverbial bacon, I don’t get to enjoy it with them and bake cookies, see Santa, go sledding, and do all the fun “snow day” stuff I’d like to with them. Snow days in this part of the country are rare, as we hardy Michiganders regard snow with a certain degree of apathy. We’ll get a foot of snow, grumble and complain a bit after the awe of its beauty have faded, then haul out the snow blowers and shovels and dig ourselves out to go about our business. The municipalities seem to usually get their act together pretty quickly and, as most of the area seems to drive gas-guzzling SUVs (myself included – I know, bad liberal!), a good dumping of the white stuff doesn’t deter us for long.

I’m always amused by friends from similar parts of the country who have relocated to warmer climates and their frustration at their respective new communities’ reactions to snow. Most seem simply aghast at how entire urban regions can virtually shut down at the slightest trace of snow. I used to think that way until I was caught in a winter storm on the East Coast, attempting to journey back to the Mitten State.

I was staying with my dad in Jersey for a few months in the winter of ’93. A friend had planned a huge formal party for Valentine’s Day in a pathetic, over-the-top attempt to win back his ex-girlfriend. Motives aside, it sounded like it was likely to be a great party and enough impetus to make me finally decide to brave the 10 hour drive and come home to spend the Hallmark Holiday with Sonya.

The day of my departure, there was a big winter storm predicted. The weather forecasters had been ranting and raving about several inches of snow. My obvious reaction, being a Michigander with all of 3 winters behind the wheel under my belt was, “Pffft! Snow!!? C’mon! You guys don’t KNOW snow!”. So, naively, I set out at the beginning of the storm, determined to show these Central East-coasters a thing or two about how to handle the roads in, what they deemed to be, a “massive” snow-maker.

All was fine for about 2 hours. I drove cautiously, but purposefully amidst the piling precipitation and was making reasonable time, all things considered. Then it finally occurred to me: When East Coasters talk of large snow accumulation, not only are the road crews NEVER ready for it, but they aren’t talking about our white, fluffy, cold, Northern snow. Noooooo. They’re talking about the wet, heavy, SLUSHY stuff that creates a 4 inch deep film of translucent treachery on the roadways. As I began to slow my speed a bit more to accommodate the increasingly bad driving conditions, I started to go around a curve – that is, my FRONT end did, anyway. The tail end of my car continued on the previous trajectory, spinning my car a full turn-and-a-half, resulting in my facing the WRONG WAY on the interstate.

You can guess what happened next. Yup. I got in a head-on collision on the freeway. As catastrophic as that sounds, my momentum was still going the correct direction and the other driver was slowing down as best he could. Thankfully, my grandfather had instilled the seatbelt rule in me very well, so the worst that I suffered was bumping my head on the steering wheel and ending up with a nice shiner for a few days. The other driver’s airbag deployed, so he had nary a scratch on him. A State Trooper wasn’t far behind, so he stopped to make sure all parties were okay, surveyed the situation, and chalked it up to no one’s fault – just bad road conditions. He was going to see this kinda stuff all day.

The other driver was none the worse for wear. I apologized repeatedly, but he dismissed me with a smile, saying that it was a company car, and I just got him the day off work, as he wanted in the first place, and proceeded to thank ME!

My car, unfortunately, wasn’t as lucky as I. The front 2 feet looked like pug dog. I had it towed to the nearest auto place. Now, any of you who have driven the PA Turnpike know that there is NO SUCH THING as the “nearest” anything. The first 5 miles of free towing don’t do much good on that stretch of road. So I spent 45 minutes in the cab with the toothless tow-truck driver, gave the auto shop my contact info so they could contact me with an estimate (which I had no illusions of being anything I could afford) and walked in the miserable weather to the train station. From the train, I took a cab to the bus station. From the bus, I had a friend drive me back to my dad’s.

All tolled, it took about 6 hours and almost every penny I had saved for the trip just to get me back to where I started. As my friend pulls in front of my dad’s place to drop me off - broke, exhausted, demoralized, and sporting a shiny black eye - he says, “Hey, today’s Anthony’s birthday and some folks are going to play pool. Wanna come?”

I stare at him with an overwhelming look of incredulity, pause for a moment, think, and say…”Sure! Why not!” I had just had one of the worst days of my life so far. I might as well end it on a positive note!

Since then, I have learned to respect the local forecasters a bit more. They still overreact, but they know the response times of their localities a lot better than I. Winter weather is nothing to mess with. One of the hard lessons every teenage driver has to come to terms with, I suppose.

The rail crew is battening down the hatches for the train’s arrival now. I’m not looking forward to getting back into the US with a Canadian citizen with a heavy Slovakian accent in my car. If you don’t hear from me in 4 days, assume I’m enjoying the fresh air and warm climate of sunny Cuba! Gitmo, here I come!

Buckle up, folks. We’re in for a LOOOOOONG winter!


Musical Daddy said...

Yes & no... the fact is, the east coasters are p&ssies when it comes to the weather. The only surprising thing is that, even after decades or life, the administration of the roads NEVER responds with any kind of speed. I mean, it's not like the entire economy of New Jersey, New York & eastern Pennsylvania depends on commuting, or anything.

The trade-off is that we never get the Michigan "every-single-g-d-day-SOME-precipitation-falls" thing.

Musical Daddy said...

The problem isn't, really, the competence of the actual workers. The problem is in the competence of the supervisors, who wait WAAAAY too long to get the workers on the road, and then don't have them assigned particularly efficiently. Michigan they were out at the first blush of snowfall; in New Jersey, it can be hours after the storm starts, when it will be too late to get a handle on the situation.

You're right, though - the ice, sleet & freezing rain is what makes Jersey different from Michigan. Michigan usually gets SNOW. Jersey gets slush. I'd rather deal with snow.