Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On the Way to Work This Mornin'. . .

I grew up in Up North, Michigan.  And Up North in Michigan is, no doubt about it, UP NORTH fer realz (in fact, as you approach my hometown from the south, there's a sign on the side of the road informing you that you are crossing the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole; a few miles north of that, and you're coming into the town where I grew up; so we were definitely on the 'North Pole' side of things.  Just sayin').  And back when I was a kid Up North, we knew how to throw a winter, lemme tellya.  I've told a few stories in this space about winters Up North (here is one of them) (and here is another), but this isn't going to be one of 'em.  I tell people that, in the 40 years or so that I've lived in or near the city I now (still) call home, we've had maybe half-a-dozen of what we'd have called honest-to-gosh winters back Up North.  And this winter, even with a month or so left to run (or six weeks, if you believe that damned groundhog), qualifies.  Most definitely, this one qualifies. . .

As I left work last night, the forecast was for 1-2 inches of snow overnight.  Which, in the context of winter in Michigan (and perhaps this winter most especially), is not much.  I thought briefly about taking my laptop home, so I could work from home if need be, but then I thought, one or two inches, I'm not gonna have any trouble getting in to work.  So I left it locked up in my office.

This morning when I got up and got in my car, I found that the forecast was a tad optimistic.  By about a factor of 3; 3-6 inches of snow filled my driveway, and for a few seconds, I thought I might not even get out of the driveway, much less 80 miles or so to work.  I got out on the main surface streets, and they were snowy/slushy and a bit slick, but nothing extraordinarily bad.  And by the time I got out onto the freeway, things were OK, if less than fully ideal.  The right-hand lane was two-tracked to bare pavement, and the left lane was snow-covered; I was able to maintain a steady 40 mph without undue anxiety.  As I drove further, the road got a bit clearer, and I was keeping up around 55 mph.  Not the 70 mph posted limit, and certainly not the 80-or-so that traffic usually goes on a clear, dry road, but moving along comfortably.

I had just passed a row of vehicles whose drivers didn't feel as comfortable as I did at 55, and was more-or-less by myself, going easy.  There was a semi about a quarter-mile ahead of me, and a car about a couple hundred yards behind me, and we traveled in that spacing for a few miles, the road, to all appearances, clear, if not quite dry.

We crossed the line into Genesee County (not quite halfway to work), and I saw the semi ahead of me move to the left, as if he was changing lanes to pass a slower vehicle.  I made a mental note, and prepared to do likewise when I came up on the slowpoke.  But then, I saw the cab of the truck in full profile, and a couple seconds later, I was looking full-on at the side of the trailer, as the semi jack-knifed  across the roadway.  Quickly appraising the situation (mentally noting that, 'this is not good'), I began pumping my brakes purposefully-but-gently, and quickly, I was sailing along sideways on black ice.  I managed to fight my car back to a more-or-less straight configuration, then moved onto the shoulder where the accumulated snow would help bring me to a stop, a hundred yards or so from the semi.  The guy behind me was a little slower to grasp the situation, and he sailed past me before bringing his car to a stop just in front of me.  The vehicles further back saw the ice-capades playing out ahead of them, and stopped in an orderly progression.

But we were all, as they say, SOL as far as further travel was concerned.  Our semi friend extended across both lanes of the freeway and both plowed shoulders.  The cab was pointing straight backwards, hard against the center guardrail.  No one was going anywhere for a while.  One guy, a few spots behind me in the line, had a 4-wheel-drive Jeep, and he decided to take to the deep snow beyond the shoulder, but he only made a few yards of progress before he was more irrevocably stuck than he had been.  I don't think I was the only driver in line who snickered from my happier position on the road.

I called my boss and apprised her of my situation, and told her that I would be late arriving, if at all.  I popped in one of my books-on-tape CDs and listened for a while. Then I pulled the book I'm currently reading out of my briefcase and read, looking up from time to time to see what, if anything, was happening.  A fire truck and a couple police cars arrived, and finally, one of the jumbo-size semi-grade tow trucks.  I watched over the course of a couple hours as the tow-operator and semi-driver tried to puzzle through the geometry and physics of the situation.  My feet grew cold, so I turned the car on and off at intervals, to stay warm without using too much fuel.  I observed with mild interest as snow drifts slowly formed on the upwind side of all our cars (and the wind was blowing duly hard), and I noted how the drifts formed in an arc, roughly marking the 'shock wave' from the wind diverting around the shapes of the cars.  A minor crisis arrived in the form of pressure from my bladder; damn morning coffee.  I used the two passenger-side doors of my car as a makeshift 'stall', and my empty coffee thermos made for a suitable, uh, recepticle, and the crisis was averted.  I rinsed the thermos out with a couple loads of snow, but even so, it's going through the dishwasher two or three times tonight.

Finally, around noon (after three hours of sitting, going nowhere), the tow-truck got the semi unwedged, and we all prepared to resume our respective journeys.  A state trooper walked back along the line of vehicles, informing us that Genesee County had no plows out, and no salt trucks, and we should all just get ourselves hunkered down in our homes, and go slow on our way there.  So I called my boss back and told her I'd see her tomorrow.  Then I started my car, pulled back out onto the roadway, and headed home.

-- (*edit 6PM*) --

So, I got home about 1:00 or so, and hung around long enough to bang out the above paragraphs.  Around 2:30, I got a call from Jen, asking if I could pick her up from her job, since one of the kids had her car.  Sure, says I, I'd be happy to.  So I hopped in my car and headed back out into the elements.  As is often the case (especially since we live on a two-block-long, dead-end street, which might just be the last street in Our Town to get plowed), just getting down my own driveway, and up my own street, was the hard part.  Once I got out onto the main thoroughfares, the going got much easier (although, in the aftermath of a 6-inch snowfall, it's a while longer before things are quite ALL the way back to normal).

I pulled up to a red light where the main street I was on passes under a freeway.  As the car rolled to a stop, I leaned back in my seat and exhaled heavily, glad to be done with stressful driving and such, and. . .

BAM!  I get hit in the ass by a lady driving an SUV.  Her stopping distance was, um, a trifle longer than it would normally be, and she was a tad slow to recognize that fact, thus causing an attempted collocation with my little car.


Another hour while we wait for the police to show up and collect the information.  And I am wondering how it is that I've now been rear-ended in each of the last two Februarys (jeez, I never even wrote about the one last year; must've been one of those 'Real Life' things that took me out of circulation for a while.  Got a whole new/used car out of that one).  The comfort one draws from the fact that neither of them was my fault is surprisingly small. . .

The actual damage to my car was pretty minimal, really - a cracked rear trim panel (which, for such a small car as mine, is an impressively large hunk of plastic), and that's about it.  The trunk opens and closes normally.  As I sit here, I'm debating whether to even fix it, or just cover the cracked part with ductape and save the deductible.

So, how was your Wednesday?


And, all prior ambivalence aside, three weeks ago, we welcomed our new grandson, 6F's little guy, into the world.  Cute as a bug, he is, and just like that, he's won his way into our hearts.

Lord, have mercy, and bless him, and his parents, with a good life.  Together.