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Offensive Winter Driving

If you’ve never had a fear of driving in winter weather, a surefire way to gain that fear is to wake up in a death spin on an icy bridge to see your sister frantically turning the steering wheel this way and that way and this way like she’s in a bumper car at Kennywood, all the while screaming like a howler monkey.

It began ten years ago on an icy bridge in the middle of hell. In this case, hell is Arkansas. It was early January when my sister and I were driving back to college in Texas. An hour or so from Texarkana, heading for the Texas border, my sister was driving our little college car, a tiny blue Mercury Tracer, while I slept soundly in the passenger seat. It was mid-morning. Cold.

My sister’s terrified, drawn-out, blood-curdling scream is what pulled me from my sleep. I opened my eyes to realize that the car was spinning and I thought, “This seems … not right.” My life was centrifugally flashing before my eyes.

My sister, not realizing temperatures were falling, had hit the bridge doing 65 mph, hit her brakes, and there we spun around what felt like 500 times before we spun off of the bridge just before an 18-wheeler had a chance to clip us, and we skidded backwards (with the car in drive) for what felt like a football field. The car finally came to a stop and then the REAL screaming started.

From that day on, I have had The Fear. I’m one of Those People. I hate driving in the snow, the ice, the rain, THE PRECIPITATION!

I do fine in rain, but yeah, I’m that girl that always has her windshield wipers on one speed faster than every other car on the road.

If it’s raining and my car’s outside-temperature gauge shows a number even three degrees from freezing, I become terrified of bridges. I drive over them slowly, with my hand hovering over the gear shift because I have somehow convinced myself that if I start to spin out, perhaps throwing this bad boy into neutral will make it all better. Neutral sounds nice and calm. What horrible things could possibly happen in neutral?

Once, in Louisville on the way home to Pittsburgh for Christmas, again in that little Tracer, again with my sister, but this time with me behind the wheel, we were stuck in a storm that was dumping snow on the highway at an incredible rate. My fear of PRECIPITATION! had driven me to research tips for driving safely in WEATHER! and one of the things I remembered reading was that “sometimes less is more.” Don’t overcorrect. Don’t slam on your brakes. Take it easy.

So when I hit the snowdrift, I thought to myself, “If less is more, then nothing is the MOST!” I took my foot off of the pedal and rested it on the floor of the car and I took both of my hands from their white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel and I just kind of held them up in the air like a just-scrubbed surgeon. And as the snow drift started to eat the car and carry it, my sister screamed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! ARE YOU NUTS?! DRIVE!” and I said calmly, “Less is more. Stay calm. Take it easy. Let it happen.”

It was a long time before I was allowed to drive in PRECIPITATION on our trips to and from home again.

Now, here we are in the throes of Snowmageddon and I read the story of the Burgher who was driving on the Parkway West in the snow storm, got scared, felt like she just couldn’t go on, and since the side of the road was impassable due to two feet of snow, she stopped her car right there smack dab in the right driving lane. Just said, “I quit,” forcing all of the other drivers to frantically veer around her.

When the cops reached her to find out what the problem was, they found her calmly reading a book and she explained the situation with the PRECIPITATION to them. She was driving. It got scary. She stopped driving. The end.

She obviously subscribes to the “nothing is most” theory like I do.

Everyone in Pittsburgh is laughing at this woman, and while I would never go so far as to just stop driving on the Parkway in the middle of a storm, I have to admit that a part of me is all, “I oughta start a support group with that lady.”

We can sit around and swap scary driving stories like we’re telling fish stories (The snow flakes were as big as VOLLEYBALLS!). We’ll only meet during the warm months and only if the weather forecast calls for a zero percent chance of PRECIPITATION!

Ah, this is Pittsburgh weather we’re talking about here. Maybe we’ll just Skype.

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