Sunday, February 17, 2013

On Driving in Snow (Again)

   This winter isn't as hard as some I've been through here but for me it's hard enough. Coming from London, where you get half a dozen snowflakes and everything grinds to a halt, it’s amazing to see people going about their ordinary lives through feet of the white stuff, schools and offices open, buses and cars actually moving. But then they don’t have an alternative. They can’t just shut up shop and hibernate for four months.
  Driving in snow is my nemesis.   You can’t see the road markings, you can’t see through the windscreen, the lanes suddenly get a whole lot narrower with treacherous banks of snow – or pools of icy slush – at the sides, just waiting for a slight deviation. And at night on unlit roads, with whirling snowflakes coming at you from all directions, when only switching off your headlights (or shutting your eyes) helps – forget it.

The mixed blessings of following a snowplough
 In my early days here, I got some brisk advice about winter driving from the nurse at the doctor’s surgery. “Wear panty-hose (that’s tights) AND socks. Leather pants are good. Keep an ice scraper in the car. And do you know about the trunk?”  “Trunk???” I stammered. “Oh, you mean boot.”  “Keep a blanket in the trunk and a shovel and a bottle of water AND a bag of kitty litter.” “Er – kitty litter?” I asked, fearing the worst. “To scatter in front of the wheels of course,” she snapped. “Oh and make sure there’s somewhere to charge up your cellphone (that’s a mobile).” At the time, with the trees still green, I couldn’t think what she was talking about.
       One of the hardest things is negotiating the few paltry yards of our drive.  One time, in the days before I got a 4WD,  I miscalculated and impaled the car in a hard-packed ridge. The wheels raced, spattering snow and mud in every direction. I tried digging, shovelling, everything, mopping my brow, sweat dripping down my neck. I had of course forgotten all about the kitty litter.  It was a matter of pride to get the car dislodged  before my husband put in an appearance – or, worse, the neighbour opposite, whose drive is always immaculately swept.  I finally managed it, scooped on fresh snow to hide the skid marks and collapsed in a heap for the rest of the day. I think no one saw me. Another time, I suddenly got cold feet about turning into our drive and found myself going further and further up into the hills on an icy road, desperately looking for somewhere to turn - and of course there would be a car hard on my heels, wouldn’t there?
The mixed blessings of not following a snowplough
     And every winter so far, there's been The Skid. My worst was last year when I ended up straddling a roadside barrier, with the car sloping perilously sideways. These things of course always happen in places where you can't get mobile phone reception. And as it happened, the first driver I flagged down for help turned out to be a friend. Typical around here.Then along came a State policeman, the first whose attention I'd ever attracted. He was also friendly and assured me that I hadn't skidded because I was British; people were sliding off the road all over the place due to a particularly insidious variety of black ice.

Not this roadside barrier
  Then there was another, a couple of years ago on the Five Mile Road. I'm still not very good at judging road conditions and the white stuff looked innocuous - until it sent me, slowly but inexorably into a field.  Just when I thought I'd have to walk home, a pickup truck appeared containing a man and boy. "Need help?"  And before I could say anything they were out and had their shoulders to the car and pushed me onto the road. They jumped back into the truck and off they went before I'd even had a chance to say thank you. All in a day's work in Western New York.

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