Friday, February 04, 2005

A Lick of Snow

So we had a lick of snow yesterday, completely unforeseen by the puff-headed Storm Center newsbots of network TV. At work, I stuck my head out of my burrow at 10:30 and noted what could only be a quick flurry. That flurry persisted through lunch, and when next I reemerged mid-afternoon, it finally occurred to me that it might be time to hightail it for home before traffic got ridiculous.

Well, traffic had already got ridiculous.

The snow was of the gummy sort that makes great snowballs, but drive over it just once on warm asphalt and it turns into death-dealing, slick-ass, all-weather-radial-defying sheet ice. Aghast, I watched a car slide off a canted section of Route 9 into a ditch while standing completely still.

This fall after the move to the country I bought a used four-wheel-drive truck for exactly this kind of circumstance. I had imagined myself nobly rescuing enmired minivans loaded with frightened soccer moms and wide-eyed kiddies, gently spurning any recompense but gratitude with a shrug and a wave: "Glad to help, ma'am... Now you get home and get some hot chocolate into those kids, y'hear?"

One of the first things I'd noticed about the Ford Ranger was how incredibly smooth was the on-the-fly switch from rear-wheel to four-wheel drive modes. Flip the switch, you'd have thought nothing happened at all. Once, by oversight, I had neglected to shift it out of the "4WD Low" setting after doing some brush-hauling, and drove to work at 75 MPH. The thing didn't complain at all, just purred right along. In retrospect I guess this should have set off a few alarm bells, shouldn't it. Hindsight, boys and girls. Nothing beats it.

So traffic on Route 9 being backed up all the way to the West Virginia border, I bailed out via Waterford, taking back roads -- the less paved, the better, because my tires got a good bite on the gravel that they didn't get on asphalt. Halfway down Rickard Road, though, I fishtailed badly (In a four-wheel-drive truck, Uncle Neddie? In a four-wheel drive truck, son. Now hush.) and slewed into a ditch. Rocking violently I was able to extricate myself, but then a few curves further along I couldn't ball it up a hill, lost momentum, slid sideways, and wound up about as stuck as a tassel-loafer-sportin', lightweight-houndstooth-sport-jacket-wearin', gloves-and-hat-forgettin', blowdried-Storm-Center-Four-weasel-trust-regrettin' yuppie can get.

Of course you've guessed it by now, but this goddamned truck had never switched into four-wheel-drive mode from the day I bought it till this. It possesses a Potemkin mode-switch, a placebo device about as useful as nipples on men. I opened the window, stuck out my head, mashed the accelerator pedal and watched as the rear tires spun impotently while the front tires lit cigarettes and brewed a nice cup of tea. CarMax shall hear of this, I thought furiously, stabbing AAA's number into my cell phone.

At that moment there was a knock on my window. "You stuck?"

Fella, thirties, canvas snowsuit, longshoreman's cap, big green boots, ski gloves.

"Sure am. Calling AAA now."

"Hang on, I got some chains."

He disappeared behind me. The driver's side of my truck was pressed against the left bank of the road, so I couldn't open my door on that side. Clumsily I shifted to the passenger side, opened the door, started to walk toward his truck. My loafers went out from under me, I hit the road very hard, shoulders and neck first. For a second I couldn't breathe, seeing stars. The beginnings of a migraine started throbbing at the top of my head.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, fine. Just slipped."

"Watch yourself."

Thanks. I'll do that.

His truck is an F-250, a big proletarian thing. He has loads of stuff in the back, spools and toolboxes and old tire rims. And chains.

As he fixed his chains to our trucks, I jabbered, justifying my presence. "The roads are nuts! I got behind some people on Milltown Road who were sliding all over the place, and thought I'd be better off on the back roads, and now this!"

"Yeah, people just don't know how to drive in this stuff."

"...Yeah...." My fingers were numb.

"This a four-wheel?"

"Supposed to be. I think it's busted."


He pulled me out, hauled me to the top of the hill. Unhitched us.

I thanked him. He allowed he was glad to help.

Never in my life have I hated anyone more.

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