Sunday, January 04, 2009

Ice ice baby.

Would you believe that when the wrecker driver hitched up my car to pull me out of the ditch, the first thing I thought was "oh man I can't believe I didn't take any pictures of this." I was obviously not in my right mind. If you spin off the highway at 65 mph because the road is coated with ice, it's a bad idea to get out of the car and walk around to the front to take pictures of your accident scene even if it will make a good show and tell later.

Yesterday was action-packed.

I am in my bed in Collegetown, back in the selfsame apartment I was assigned when I taught here back in 2005, right after I started dating the Brit. There's a gold striped thrift store pitcher sitting atop the cabinets, right where I left it. I grinned at it like an old friend when I spotted it last night. Outside, the sidewalks, streets, cars, and snowdrifts are coated with ice. When I finally rolled into town last, 8 hours after I left home, my first act as a temporary resident of this place was to salt the whole sidewalk.

If you've never spun off the highway, I recommend you try to do it in daylight when there are no cars next to you and the ditches aren't too deep. Your chances of plowing into the snow more or less harmlessly are pretty good, I'd say, though your car will obviously be stuck and you won't be able to just drive out of there. What happened to me was your basic best case scenario for spinouts: no collision, no one hurt, no damage to the car, nearly instant help. This is not to say that it wasn't freaky as hell.

When my car started to drift across the lanes I actually thought "huh, it must be extra windy" and realized what was happening a split second later. I knew I was going to go off the road. I just didn't know whether my car would maybe hurtle into the car up ahead of me first. Thankfully that didn't happen. I know I was perpendicular to traffic at one point, but then I think my car fishtailed back the other way before it slammed into the snow. Snow arced up over the car and coated my windshield so that I lost any sense of my location. I ended up facing the right direction--just well south of the actual highway. Shaking and taking deep breaths.

Almost immediately, someone pulled over on the frontage road and came down to ask me if I was okay, if I had a phone, if I needed anything. They'd seen it all unfold. Further east, she said, there were three cars in the ditch, one of them flipped over. Within minutes a state trooper rolled up behind me and opened a case and called a tow truck. After that, two more people stopped to check on me--one of them on the highway, which wasn't so smart, but people's kindness undid me. I was feeling kind of fragile anyway.

The tow truck arrived next. The driver efficiently pulled my car out and set me on the side of the road and drove off to handle the next one. You could tell that the guy has spent a lot of time pulling people out of ditches. The physics and geometry involved are second nature to him. I snapped some pictures of the truck's flashing lights as the cable inched my car up toward the highway. It had gotten dark by then. The whole thing--accident, cop, tow, drive-off--took just one hour.

After he drove away, I forged ahead, slowly, to the next exit, and stopped at the gas station that was actually a massive log cabin-style travel center, the kind of place where there's a restaurant and they sell souvenirs and like legitimate cowboy boots and the espresso machine spews out 5 different flavors of sickly brew. There was a massive Christmas tree in the foyer (there was indeed a foyer) and a display of snowmobiles and ATVs lined up down the hallway between the bathrooms. Wisconsin. I parked myself next to the fireplace and chewed over my options with the Brit. In the best conditions I would have had over 3 hours of driving left. The weather map for the rest of the trip looked patchy but not terrible. I decided to keep going and see how it went.

Since I got here safely, that wasn't a bad decision, but it was hands down the worst drive ever. I drove 40 most of the way, and didn't tally the number of spinouts I saw, but let's just say there were lots, many of them much more serious than mine. I never slid again, but was constantly suspicious of the road. It was probably better for me psychologically to keep going. When I stopped about 70 miles from my destination to stretch my legs and pick some stuff up at Target, there was a full inch of knobbly ice on top of my car and two inches of slush on the ground.

Anyway, I'm here. After I unloaded my entire car and carried everything up to the apartment and moved my car to the parking lot, the cherry on top of the day's events presented itself in the form of completely falling on my ass, like banana-peel cartoon-style, while standing still. It was that slippery outside. Fortunately my right cheek caught most of the impact. I gots padding.

Today I feel grateful for a lot of stuff and I have a lot of things to do. Classes start tomorrow, which is nuts, and I'm really glad I'm not making the drive today and having to get my head right before the term starts. I'm also really glad someone around here has a wireless signal.

Some crazy-ass person just went jogging by outside. This is why I love the Midwest.


  1. Glad you and your golden chariot are safe!

    I just spied my 10 year reunion envelope from college, unopened.

    Looking forward to hearing about your teaching experiences!

    (Word verification: chillf.)

  2. This is like reading an Alice Munro story. I'm super glad you're OK and I remember your cute apartment well!

  3. wow, sounds super scary. glad you are safe and sound and back in your cute apartment.

  4. Wow, wow, wow. You are brave to get "back in the saddle." I am SO glad you are OK.

  5. Word word word. So glad you're ok.

    Was this your first spin-out? I had one a couple of years ago (like yours, it was a best case scenario with no injuries) and I've found it has radically changed the way I drive in the winter. (Read: I'm now a paranoid freak.)

  6. Thanks all. Marigoldie, you're probably thinking of my old cute apartment from that era, and not the digs I stayed in while teaching. This apartment is fairly cute for an institutional studio in a Victorian house. Cute-ifying it further will be a project for my nonexistent downtime.

    Melinda, yes. I actually can't believe it's never happened before, considering I've always lived up here and have done A LOT of winter driving. We'll see how it goes in future. I'm already revising the amount of commuting back and forth I'm willing to do.

  7. Ack! I miss winter very much and then you remember how scary it can be - glad you're safe and sorta sound.

  8. Whew! So glad you're all right.

  9. When my family moved from NC to WI, we were worried about the weather. Fortunately, we found that someone would always stop to offer help if you were stuck on a WI or MN highway. It's like a hard weather version of southern hospitality. :)