So I have a pretty real phobia of driving in the snow, which of course only adds to how much I hate January. The moment they call for snow in the forecast, I’m trying to figure out how that’s going to affect my drive to work and back home. Forget doing anything fun - I don’t care if you’re throwing a party where the New Kids on the Block are the secret musical guest. The stress I feel as I white-knuckle drive in snow far exceeds any joy I’d get from a “The Right Stuff” sing-along.
But I get my phobia honestly. My everyday commute now isn’t much trouble, but back when I was running title all over West Virginia, it was nothing for me to do 200-mile round trips to courthouses. I’ve driven the worst roads the West Virginia DOH has the nerve to call a “main route.” I’ve driven in torrential floods, driven across bridges so rickety they’re held together by hopes and dreams, and driven while looking directly into the rising sun (my dad once told me you should always plan your routes, so the sun is at your back when you drive. I thought he was being all philosophical, but no, turns out that’s so you don’t drive with the sun in your eyes for hours at a time. Who knew?). And yes, I’ve driven in snow, reluctantly, but mostly unscathed.
But it’s the scathed times that have got me snow-scared. The first time the snow ever got me in trouble while driving, I was seventeen. It was a surprise March snow, and all you holler dwellers know that when the hollows get frozen and snow
covered, it might be weeks before they melt, depending on how much your hills block out the sun. I was taking my brother to Charleston to the dentist, and we had to run home and pick something up before heading south. I took an icy curve too fast in my 1990 Nissan truck, and the truck veered off the road. I had the choice between slamming directly into a telephone pole and going over an embankment into the creek, and in a split second, I chose the creek, mostly because 1990 Nissan trucks had no air bags (it also had no radio or power steering. Perfect first car for a new driver, lol.)
By the grace of God, the truck got hung up on the bank, so it didn’t nosedive fully into the water. Colton and I crawled out of the driver’s side, and just looked dumbfounded at what had occurred. It didn’t take me long to start panicking, first, because I my truck was jacked up on a creek embankment, secondly because I almost killed my mother’s favorite child (Colton), and third because we were going to miss our dental appointment (we’re real serious about our teeth). But luckily Colton, even at 11, always kept a cool head. He steered a shell-shocked me towards the closest neighbor’s house so we could use the phone, and it was as we were hiking up the hill that I thought to ask him, panicked voice, “Colton, are you okay?!? Are you hurt?!?”
And he said, “Sis, I’m fine, I’m fine… well, except for this giant pain my neck!” And he grabbed his neck dramatically, and I started yelling to the high heavens for 911, only to have him dissolve into laughter. And y’all, if his neck wasn’t broken at that moment, I almost broke it for him.
We got to a phone, and we called my mom, who asked her questions, in this order, “Is anyone hurt?” and then, “Okay, can you make it to your dentist appointment?” Honestly, I think she was more put-out about having to reschedule the appointment that she was about figuring out how to get my truck off the creek bank (for the record, the guy at the time who ran cows on the neighboring property came by randomly and pulled it out with his big truck. No muss, no fuss, and no damage, proving once again that people that run cows are the handiest people you know.).
For many years, I learned my lesson: slow down in icy, snowy weather. This is not a difficult concept, even for someone who has sped a time or two (or always). When the snow gets blowing, I start slowing. Or I just don’t go anywhere. If there is any part about January that’s nice, it’s that the weather gives you ample reasons to cancel plans, and as anyone in my age bracket will tell you, cancelling plans is almost as fun as the actual activity you planned. So normally when the snow starts, I start backing out of engagements and sheltering in place.
One time I didn’t, and I paid the price. I was working in Franklin, Pennsylvania, a place an epicenter for “Lake Effect Snow,” a phenomenon for cities along the Great Lakes of America that I have experienced once, and never will again. It was Friday, and I was heading back home after being there a week, just as the snow started falling in large, wet clumps. I was just making my way through Canton, Ohio, surrounded by traffic and on some very snowy roads, going around fifteen miles per hour when in my lane, a vehicle was fully stopped on the interstate.
With no way to around him, I tapped the breaks to no avail as I slid on the snow, and rear-ended a US government Homeland Security vehicle. The government guy came up to my car, with the hood smoking and green radiator fluid leaking all over the road, leaned in through the window and asked me, “Were you the vehicle that rear-ended me?” Looking back now, I wish I had said “Nah, my radiator just randomly exploded and took my front end with it. It wasn’t me, parked directly behind you on the interstate, that rear-ended your car. Here’s your sign.” But even I know enough not to sass the people who run your security checks.
My Lincoln ended up with about $8,000 worth of damage, and the Canton police gave me a $150 ticket for “following too close,” even as I tried to explain that it was impossible for me to follow too close, or in fact, avoid, to a vehicle that was literally parked in an interstate lane. So I spent the rest of the day arranging for my vehicle to get towed to Ripley, finding a rental car so I could get home, and moving “Canton” much higher on my list of things I do not care for about Ohio. But in looking on the bright side, thanks to that accident, I found out that the US government has full immunity in traffic accidents, so in addition to paying taxes that bought the vehicle, I also got to pay for the damages done to it. Who doesn’t love learning stuff?
You know what else that experience taught me? If it,s snowing hard, I’m staying home (or at the Franklin, Pennsylvania Holiday Inn), where I will wait for the plows to do their jobs. There’s not much in this world that can’t be cancelled to another time or another day, and better safe than sorry for all parties involved. Those of you who can navigate snow like a boss, good on you. My mother is one, and it,s amazing how fearless she is behind the wheel as the flakes come at the windshield so fast, you think you’re in a “Star Wars” movie, about to make the jump to hyper-drive.
I’m just not that brave, and that’s okay. I’ll keep driving slowly through snow and slush, and I’ll keep a lookout for government vehicles parked directly in the road, and a Canton police officer with a very odd idea of what constitutes “following.” And you can call me a snow-scaredy cat, but hey, I’ll be the snow-scaredy cat who is not writing out a deductible check to State Farm.