Saturday, February 20, 2010

Basic Snow Driving 101

(News-Herald, February 16)I don’t know if the “snowpocalypse” was worse than any snowfall of the past, or if it was simply the worst blizzard to hit a large metropolitan area housing many journalists who haven’t spent much time in the North.
This doesn’t seem like a particularly overwhelming quantity of snow, but it has shown a striking level of relentlessness. I’m not sure it qualifies for the sort of adjectives (e.g. “crippling” and “historic”) that have been thrown at it. Our New England ancestors would have been unimpressed—not the ones that walked to school barefoot through the snow, uphill both ways, but the ones who didn’t see the neighbors for three months after the first big winter storm.
Some snow phenomena are strictly local. Regular winter travelers to Erie know that Carpet Barn and the Edinboro exit mark spots where drivers can expect Mother Nature to up the arctic ante.
Those who travel south from Venangoland can marvel at New Route 8, a candidate for the Worst Stretch of Winter Road in Western PA. I’d love to know why the Franklin-Barkeyville Turnpike is always winter’s worst roadway. Not enough traffic to keep the pavement clear? Last on the list for DOT’s attention? When the state went looking for empty land to pave, they didn’t realize that it was empty because locals always avoided building on that fabled stretch of snowy doom? All I know is that when the flakes are thick, I’d rather be almost anywhere else than on that lonely slick white ribbon.
Of course, for the last week or so Almost Anywhere Else has had its own problems. As factoids go, “snow on the ground in forty-nine states” has a nice punchy ring to it. Perhaps it even obligates us to offer snow-going advice to those poor freaked-out snow-averse Southerners, particularly about the problems of driving through the white stuff (or as Dave Dempsey used to call it, for some unknown reason, “the Hawk”). Listen up, y’all.
First, and most importantly, snow makes people stupid. You will see people attempt maneuvers in the midst of heavy snowfall that they would never imagine trying on a balmy summer day. But there they are, suddenly cutting in front of you, spiking the brakes, or careening across three lanes of traffic to lodge sideways in half a parking space.
About that parking. For some reason, snowfall negates all civilized parking rules. Granted, the painted lines are no longer visible, but other handy guideposts such as large buildings and a hundred other vehicles are still available for guidance.
I don’t expect everyone to demonstrate my OCD devotion to proper parking (line up my car with the stadium light post, look sideways, and sight along two bits of shrubbery until they are just the right distance apart in my view). But you would think that someone adding their own vehicle to many other cars in a parking lot would end up parallel to something—the building, the street, one of fifty other cars, SOMETHING!
But it’s as if some drivers are about to crack under the psychological pressure of staying within the lines, and a lifetime of rebelliousness finally erupts when snow erases that dreaded paint. And so ordinarily tidy parking lots end up looking as if someone dumped a sack of angry cats into a half-frozen pond.
Rushing is not allowed in snow driving. Once the snow is down and you have taken the car out, the die is cast. You cannot jam the pedal to the floorboard and shave a few minutes off your travel time. Once the journey has begun, you will get there when you get there—the only way to get there sooner is to leave earlier.
However, there is such a thing as Too Flipping Slow. Below a certain speed, you are simply an easy-to-hit obstacle, a pile-up waiting to happen. If driving in the middle of a snow storm scares you that much, stay home or call a brave friend. If you are driving on tires that are smoother than a baby’s behind (“it’s okay, because they’re radials!”), then you should stay home, too.
You should also stay home if you can’t afford gas. Don’t set out on a trip that may take an extra five hours if you’re running on fumes.
Finally, the legal department of the News-Derrick would like me to remind you that, as always, it’s a good idea not to take advice from fake journalists who write about topics in which they are not expert.

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