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. . .