Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Bane of Driving

It continues to be winter here in the arctic tundra and with glaring clarity it came to me today that I must be getting old. I've never been particularly fond of winter but every year I piss and moan as the season approaches and every year I think the pissing and moaning gets louder and more maudlin. The cold, snowy, freezing rain, toe bump, cold fingers but still have to feed the animals season. And I still have to drive.

When I was younger I just got in the car or truck and went wherever it was I was going. I suppose it didn't occur to me to just stay home when there was a snowstorm in progress or when there was 8" of snow on the roads and no plows in sight. It just didn't matter because I knew how to drive. I knew not to go 75 mph on icy roads. I knew to start hitting the brake a bit sooner. I knew that if the car started to slide I should take my lead foot off of the gas so as to not further encourage said sliding. And it wasn't a big deal. It wasn't even annoying. It was just winter.

I've put several vehicles in the ditch during winters past. It was, again, annoying but not a big deal. If I couldn't get out of the ditch myself, I'd go back to the side of road and catch a ride to the nearest gas station to call a tow truck. Truck would come, guy would yank my sorry ass out of the snow bank and off I'd go to my destination. No big deal.

I grew up in Iowa. It snows a lot in Iowa. It blows and drifts and is generally miserable in Iowa. I don't recommend going to Iowa between October and March; trust me on this one. My father taught me to drive in an old Ford F-150 with a 3 speed on the column and a clutch that slipped. I believe he did that on purpose. He took me to the top of the steepest hill in my hometown and had me get the truck to go forward without rolling backward first. We did it over and over until the truck went forward without going backward and that's when he decided I knew how to drive. When he taught us to drive, he really did teach us to drive. I could drive anything. In any weather. And it was no big deal.

On New Year's Eve 1984, I decided to go out drinking so I hopped in the Pinto (yes, I admit it, a Pinto), ran down to the bar, had a couple beers (I drank beer back then), hopped back into the Pinto, entry into which by the way was either through the passenger door and shimmy over the shifter or through the driver's side window, and headed back to the apartment. I made it within a couple of miles before getting stuck right smack in the middle of the busiest intersection in Davenport (yes, Iowa). There I sat. Stuck tight in 10" or so of snow and more coming down. You could say I was an optimistic 18 year old driver or you could say I was just plain clueless but it never occurred to me to stay home like a rational person. So I sat in the intersection spinning my tires until two good-looking, strapping, young Iowa guys came, grinned at me and pushed me out. They didn't think I was a moron because they, too, were driving around in a miserable snowstorm in the middle of the night on New Year's Eve. No big deal.

When I moved in Indiana and the powers that be would close the interstate, I'd still hop in the Firebird, by then I had a Firebird, and go to town to drink tea and read the paper. Everyone I knew thought I was nuts but 3" of snow is nothing when you're from Iowa, whether they plow or not. That's, like, October in Iowa. No big deal. Put 100 lbs of sand or cat litter in the back and off you go.

So what happened? Now I'd rather stay home with no groceries than drive around in this crap and I have 4 WD for crying out. Or I did anyway until a recent trip to Green Bay, WI during yet another snowstorm when it was discovered to my dismay that 4 WD wasn't working. Egads! Oh My! How can I possibly drive in the snow without 4 WD? We'll slide off the road and die a horrible death in the blasted snow! I'm old and spoiled, I suppose.

Have I just gotten old and imaginative enough to realize that it's dangerous to drive around in a snowstorm? Or have I figured out that other people are stupid and don't know how to drive in the snow? Have I turned into a complete winter-weeny? My husband barrels down the road at 75 mph sun, rain or snow and he doesn't even blink. He slides around a bit and never gets the least bit nervous unless I start sucking air - you know the air sucking thing....then he gets pissed at me. Oh well.

So now, apparently, it's a big deal. Why is that? It's not that I thought I was invincible when I was younger; I wasn't one of those kids. I knew I could die and I was pretty much okay with that anyway but snow wasn't a cause for alarm. Now I find myself asking myself, as well as most people I come in contact with, "Why the hell do we live in Northern Illinois?" Interestingly enough, none of us have a good reason and we all think we're nuts to stay here. I can't imagine living in Canada or Alaska or even Minnesota during the winter. THOSE people are nuts.

Bears have the right idea. I'm tellin' ya. Fatten up on berries and small children in the sunshine and then take a nap when it sucks outside. I'd much rather be a bear.

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