Every year, around this time, we are yet again amazed and bewildered by the magic and wonderment of the first snowfall.
“Great Zeus! Some sort of cold white feathers are falling from what appears to be giant marshmallows stuck to the earth’s blue ceiling! And now The Great Sky Blacksmith has pumped his giant bellows to blow the feathers into piles as slippery and frigid as the devil’s insides!”
And every year we forget, at least the first few times out, how to drive on snow.
“Why, I am stomping my foot on the ‘go forth’ pedal, yet my circular carriage feet are doing nothing but spinning fruitlessly! Also, I am unable to see where I may be traveling due to the pile of cold white feathers covering my carriage front glass. What strange witchcraft is this?“
I grew up in Michigan, where I spent hours at a time doing donuts in my Buick in snow-covered parking lots or—and I hope my kids don’t read this—on the frozen ice of Lake Huron.
So, yeah, I know how to drive in the snow.
And this is the ideal time for a quick refresher course on winter driving tips. Don’t over-accelerate while driving up hills, which can cause your tires to spin. Double the normal dry pavement following distance. Keep extra credit cards—preferably ones that are maxed out—handy to use as windshield ice scrapers.
Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Avoid stopping while going up hills. Oh, and make sure you have the tools necessary to free your vehicle should you become stuck.
Once, for whatever reason, I had driven my dad’s company car—a new, 1988 Buick Regal—deep into the woods with my then-high school girlfriend. It was winter, and we got hopelessly stuck. Just then, as if by magic, a group of four high school kids appeared out of woods and started walking toward us. I begged them to help push us out, and they agreed, on one condition—I would have to let them go “bumper skiing” behind my car. “Bumper skiing,” for those of you that have not done incredibly dangerous things in northern states, consists of holding onto a bumper and sliding on your feet as you’re pulled behind a car on an icy road.
They pushed us out, and we went to the nearby road. All four kids held onto the back bumper and I pulled them up and down that icy country road more than a few times before, as I watched in the rearview mirror, all four fell off at the same time.
Weird, I thought. What a weird coincidence.
But I was getting bored with this and was late for curfew, so I waved out the window and honked a “thank you honk”—that’s two quick beeps, done twice—and drove off.
I dropped my girlfriend off and pulled into my parents’ driveway and headed into the house. The back bumper, I noticed, had been ripped off my dad’s new Buick. My dad, I knew, would realize that his car had a bumper when I left with it.
So, that night, I snuck back out and found the bumper on the side of that road. Then spent the next few hours under my dad’s car trying to reattach it the best I could, which was good enough, at least for me. The bumper fell off a few days later, and my father spent a lot of time yelling about the quality of plastic bumpers. He may or may not have written a letter to General Motors.
There’s a good chance that, when he reads this, I may get grounded.
Other tips? Keep a survival kit in your vehicle. Let others know your route if you plan to take a long trip during winter months. Oh, and make absolutely sure your brakes are in perfect working order.
Last winter, my apparently sub-par vehicle maintenance intersected with winter weather conditions on the first bad driving day of the season. I was driving north on 63, heading from the airport toward Menard’s. It was late, with almost no one on the roads. I was, in hindsight, possibly driving ever-so-slightly too fast for icy road conditions.
I was nearing the stoplight on Broadway just past the Hwy. 52 overpass. The light was red. When I hit the brakes of my 1997 Pontiac Sunfire, the brake pedal went all the way to the floor.
At nearly the same time, the car began emitting a loud metal-on-metal whining sound, which, when my mechanic would diagnose it later, was apparently coming from my mouth area.
I immediately—expert driver alert!—downshifted the automatic transmission from ‘D’ to ‘3’.
There was one other car waiting at the stoplight in the left lane. I was in the right.
The 1997 Pontiac Sunfire features a hand emergency brake set between the front seats. When I pulled the brake handle up slightly, one real wheel locked up, whipping the front of the car wildly to the left.
The metal-on-metal whining sound was getting higher in pitch, as well as louder.
I released the hand brake and frantically steered into the skid to straighten the car out. I still, though, had to stop. So I pulled the emergency brake handle again. The car pulled wildly to the left. I released the brake and frantically steered back into the skid.
And so it went over and over, for what seemed like forever.
Finally, I slid to a stop, right where you’re supposed to stop for stoplights! Except I was facing sideways. My headlights were pointed directly at the guy in the car stopped in the left lane. He glanced over and nodded.
And I like to think that nod was his way of saying “What you just did there, driving-wise, was as skillful and beautiful a display as I have ever witnessed. I’d like to commend you, sir, for having the pleasure to watch such deft maneuvering in such conditions. You must certainly have studied and practiced the art of winter-weather driving. Also, I could hear your screaming from inside my vehicle.”