Sunday, December 19, 2010

How Come Is It. . .

. . . that Oakland County, Michigan, which not so very long ago was one of the Ten Wealthiest Counties in the United States (alas, an ebbing tide can founder even really wealthy boats), can't seem to find any salt to put on its roads, while neighboring Genessee County (county seat - Flint), which is something like the poster child for the current economic troubles (and the ones before that, and the ones before that), can? Just askin'. . . See, 'cuz I drive, like, 84 miles to work (yeah, that's one way). On a normal day, it takes me about an hour-and-a-quarter, which is long, but not terrible, since it's about 90% freeway driving. When it snows, like it did last Sunday/Monday (about 6-8 inches), it can take longer. Sometimes a lot longer. My record for a one-way commute was three-and-a-half hours. Until last Monday. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. One of the benefits of living in Michigan is that we're pretty good at handling snow, and those grueling commutes are virtually always one-time events - by the next day, roads have been cleared, at least to the point that traffic can flow pretty smoothly, even if not quite at posted speeds. At our place, last Sunday (the 12th) was a pretty snowy day. As I said, we got somewhere between 6-8 inches. And after the snow fell, the temperatures dropped into the single digits, and the wind blew. Which, generally speaking, takes a bad snow situation, and makes it that much worse. And the kids were duly rewarded with a snow day on Monday, which was called just after they'd gone to bed. I expected Monday morning's drive to be difficult. But I was hopeful, since the snow itself had stopped late Sunday afternoon, that the counties had had time to get the salt trucks out, and the roads might at least be passable. And they were. I set out on the freeway, and it was a typical morning-after-the-blizzard drive - the freeway had one clear lane, in which it was possible to go 50mph or so, and one snow-covered lane, in which 35 or so was about the max possible. And of course, there are always those timid souls who can't bear to go faster than 30-35 in the 'good' lane, so other drivers were constantly having to weigh whether or not it was worth it to pull out into the 'bad' lane to try and get around the slowpokes. But traffic was moving, even if at a slow pace, and it took me about an hour-and-a-half to cover what normally takes just under an hour. Which took me to the Oakland-Genessee county line. And suddenly, the marginally 'clear' lane disappeared, and drivers were confronted with three lanes of polished glare ice. Instantly, the speed of traffic dropped to around 20-25mph (and if you've ever gone even 20mph on polished glare ice, you know what kind of an adventure that is). I was calculating in my head that, at this rate, I'd be another hour getting in to work. And not a stress-free hour, either. But hey - a two-and-a-half-hour commute the day after a blizzard really isn't awful. So I called my boss on my cell phone, and told him about how late I expected to be. Of course, he understood: "Just take your time and get here in one piece." And so we trudged along, until, about seven miles from my exit, traffic came to a complete and utter halt. Not good. I had the radio on, and expected to hear about some massive, grisly accident, but no word came. And we just sat. In the car directly ahead of me, a group of college guys got out of their car and took a group-whiz against the concrete barrier, followed by a snowball fight. If it had been warmer than about 5F, I might have just turned the car off, and waited it out, but the heater was a necessity of life at that point. Slowly, at odd intervals, traffic would inch forward. The sports-talk show that I had on the radio ended, and was replaced by another one, with a different host. And still the traffic inched ahead, when it wasn't stalled completely. Finally, two hours later, when we were about a mile from my exit, I saw the reason for the delay. There was a long (though hardly steep) uphill grade on the freeway, and a dozen semi-trucks were effectively stranded on the grade, spinning their wheels, unable to gain any traction on the glare ice. The trucks were distributed across three lanes, one here, another in a different lane a few yards further on, two side-by-side, and so on. So that the cars had to dodge and weave among the stranded semis like a trail of ants, sometimes even having to leave the nominal roadway to get past. By the time I finally arrived in my office, I was into the third sports-talk show of the morning (now early afternoon) on my radio, and it was just over four hours since I'd left home that morning. A new record. I'm so elated. And it was all because Oakland County didn't send out their salt trucks. Some explanation was given to the effect that, with the cold temperatures, the salt wouldn't have done any good. And I'm enough of a scientist to know that, yeah, the salt will be less effective in cold temperatures than if it had been just slightly below freezing. But the poorer counties I'd driven through on my way to Oakland County had gotten their salt trucks out, and the contrast couldn't have been more stark. I worked about a five-hour day before getting back on the road to head home. And on the homeward leg, the roads were a bit better. It only took an hour-and-a-half to travel the 25 miles of Oakland County this time. But once I crossed the county line, traffic was moving at posted speeds (see, we really do know how to deal with snow; unless, apparently, we live in Oakland County). So I got home in about two-and-a-half hours. You have not lived until you've spent six-and-a-half hours driving to work and back, let me tell you. Tuesday morning was better. I again made the first hour's-worth of my drive in an hour, but it took 45 minutes to cover the 25 miles of Oakland County. Tuesday evening was the same, and Wednesday wasn't much better, although I did see one salt truck on my drive home Wednesday evening. Which elicited a sarcastic cheer in the back of my brain - the kind you'll hear when the home team scores a touchdown late in the game, so that they end up losing 65-7. It wasn't until Thursday morning - the fourth day after the snowstorm - that Oakland County finally had I-75 clear of ice, and I could get to work without feeling like I was taking my life in my hands. I actually work in Pontiac, which, as it happens, is the county seat of Oakland County. Which puts me uncomfortably close to the morons public officials who made the worst road-maintenance call that I have ever seen (or, more truly, they failed to make a no-brainer) (which would imply something like negative brains, wouldn't it?) If they had sent the trucks out Sunday evening, Monday morning would still have been slow and difficult, but by waiting, they made the situation orders of magnitude more treacherous, and extended it over three days, instead of one. Brilliant. Just brilliant. ------------------------- I really aim to keep this blog pretty much rant-free, and I do apologize for going off today. But this was just the most stunning, egregious, display of pure moronic idiocy, by people who are nominally responsible for other people's lives, that I have ever seen. Anyway, Christmas is coming; I'd better be good. . .


  1. You realize how much I sympathize with this, right? My husband was stuck downtown for 4 hours last week when the lake effect did some weird thing and only hit downtown. It was actually sunny and clear here at home, about 15 miles away.

    And I take a main road through 4 cities to get to my kids' orthodontist. It's amazing to see the difference in plowing and salting between the 4 municipalities......

  2. Cheer up; having grown up in MN, we too got used to the ability to handle snow. Moving to New York, and not in the "snow belt", means that in order to get road conditions like you describe, we only need a couple of flakes on the ground.

    *Every* snow flurry, when driving afterward, is pretty much what you expect after 8-10" in the midwest.


    But, as you say, Christmas is coming- and we're heading HOME, yay! MN AND MI, for family & skiing & cabin-time, whoooohhoooo!

  3. I have definitely been there, living in New England. It is well worth the rant.

    The amazing thing, to me, is how every year - no matter how little snow there may have been in relative terms - the snow plowing budget always runs out before the snow plowing season ends. In living memory, there has never been a year when the city or state hasn't cried poor mouth in February at some point.

  4. Gee whiz, I think I have driven that part of I-75... just never in Winter, only during construction.
    I feel truly blessed that it only snows here about once every three years.

    Speaking of budgets someone must've done some cutting at Blogger. My v word is ingles because they couldn't afford a j.

  5. This makes me relish my 15 minute (12 on a really good day) commute! My biggest fear of this kind of travel you have (even on good days) is being stalled and then hit with a dire need to have a bathroom break!

    I got a wee bit out of my mind last week after our first minor snowfall when I followed a lady doing 35 mph in a 45 mph zone on my short commute, so just reading this made me antsy!

  6. I bet you were wishing you could have called "SNOW DAY!" on that one! Glad you made it through the week safely.

    In related news, I was almost smushed today at a freeway train crossing. The last in a long line of cars stopped at the lights, I guess the kilometre long line of brake lights wasn't enough to catch a motorist's attention and my eyes lifted to the rearview mirror to see a car fishtailing wildly in the lane behind me as it attempted to brake on the icy road.

    Thankfully he got it under control and then had over 10 minutes to enjoy my icy stare being projected off my rear view mirror at him. *grrr*

  7. Cocotte - Those lake-effect snows can be really bizarre, can't they? When I took Jen to meet my parents for the first time, we took a sight-seeing day in downtown Chicago. While we were downtown, it snowed 12 inches, but 35 miles away, at my folks' house, it was bright and sunny all day.

    And the difference is what really got to me - one minute, we're making good progress on a passable freeway, and as soon as we crossed the county line, it was terrible.

    Sailor - A HS friend of mine went to college in Tennessee. While he was there, they had a 2-inch snowfall, which just threw the town into chaos. He actually got ticketed for reckless driving because, "Son, no-one can safely operate a motor vehicle in 2 inches of snow". . .

    And enjoy your time back in the snow. (I'd say come and see us, but I think your part of Michigan is pretty far removed from mine, right?)

    Suldog - The whole idea of maybe not having enough salt is a pretty new one around here. Until the economy went in the dumper a couple years ago, I had NEVER heard of anyplace in Michigan running out of salt. . .

    Skip - See, I thought maybe the WordVerification folks had you figured for being Hispanic, and they were just berating you to speak English. . .

    But you correctly identify the two seasons of the Michigan year - winter and road construction. So, congratulations on that.

    And, next time you're on that stretch of I-75, just wave; I'm sure I'll see you. . . ;)

    faDKoG - Oh, I still pine away for the days when my job was a 15-minute bike ride from home. . .

    See, I think the college guys in front of me faced exactly the scenario you describe. Of course, they were college guys, and I'm sure the simple opportunity to take a public whiz without getting arrested, also played into it. . .

    Flutter - If my hometown had been remotely like what Oakland County was, I'd definitely have called "SNOW DAY!!"

    And those watching-the-guy-in-the-rearview moments are cringe-inducing, aren't they? Especially if the guy in the rearview is driving a garbage truck. . .

  8. while we don't get as much snow as you michiganders do we certainly are no strangers to it and have no reason NOt to adequately deal with it. therefore i could never understand (when we lived in town and a mere 3 blocks from the fire department, and a road that was one of two ways to get to the department for its volunteers) why on earth our road was one of the last to be plowed and was always done half-assedly. worst snow removal i've ever seen on a consistent basis.

  9. Hi, Lime. Actually, in the southern part of the state, where we live, our snow probably isn't terribly more than what you get (especially if you live anywhere near the mountains). Now, Up North, where I grew up, especially near the Big Water, we got some serious snow (there are photos in one of my HS yearbooks, of the time we had to dig tunnels to get into the school. . .)

    The street we live on is a two-block dead end. So we are about the last street in the entire state to get plowed out after a snowstorm (one time, the plows were so late that the residents of our street got together with shovels and dug out a two-track to the main thoroughfare. . .)