I have a confession to make. Winter driving terrifies me. If I am out on the road and even one snowflake hits my windshield, I head back home faster than you can say “accumulation.”
Considering my past experiences on snow and ice-covered roads, however, I feel that my phobia is justified. Take, for example, an incident that occurred when I was only about 10.
Freezing rain was falling that December day, and most of the roads looked like Olympic bobsled courses. My mother and I were on our way to a grocery store that just recently had opened in the area and was located halfway down a very steep hill.
The minute we started down that hill, which was on a dead-end street, we knew we were in big trouble. The car began to slide, picking up speed as it slid right past the grocery store’s entrance. My mother, not daring to take her eyes off the road as she struggled in vain to control the now-spinning car, shouted, “Quick! Tell me what’s at the bottom of the hill!”
I uncovered my eyes long enough to peer over the dashboard and read the sign on the building that loomed directly ahead. “It’s a plate-glass company,” I answered. "With a big plate-glass window facing us!"
My mother groaned, then muttered, “Just my luck. Why couldn’t it have been a mattress factory?”
When it became obvious that nothing was going to stop the car from sliding, my mother finally surrendered, closed her eyes and started to pray. Even though I was only 10, I was pretty sure that closing her eyes while driving probably wasn't such a hot idea.
I can remember wondering how loud the crash was going to be when we smashed through the window of the plate-glass company. Then, very suddenly, the car stopped dead. My mother and I sat there, afraid to move, collectively holding our breaths.
“Are we dead?” I managed to squeak.
My mother, whose foot was still glued to the brake pedal, cautiously peered out of the car window. “We hit a big bare spot of pavement!” she gasped. “I can’t believe it!”
After that, we always referred to the incident as the “plate-glass miracle.”
When I finally was old enough to get my driver’s license, not a winter passed when the “plate-glass miracle” didn’t come to mind and make me uneasy at the mere thought of driving in sleet or freezing rain. But after a couple years of safe, uneventful winter driving, I began to feel more and more at ease whenever the roads were less than terrific.
One night, back in the early ‘70s, when I was working the night shift as a switchboard operator, I emerged from work at midnight to find myself in the midst of a raging blizzard. The snow hadn’t been predicted (which was no big surprise), so it caught everyone completely off guard and unprepared. Gathering my courage, I took a deep breath, and with a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, headed (well, crawled, actually) toward home, 21 miles away.
I did fine until I got to Hooksett and attempted to climb the small, curved incline at the intersection of Route 3 and Main Street. I’m not certain what happened as I rounded that curve, because the snow was falling so hard, I could barely see a foot in front of me, but the front wheels of my car somehow ended up hanging over the edge of a big snow bank. I shifted the car into reverse and revved up the engine, but there was no way it was going to budge.
Unfortunately, at one o’clock in the morning, especially during a blizzard, the roads weren’t exactly teeming with cars. And this was before the era of cell phones, so I couldn't call anyone for help. The only phones available when people left their houses back in those days were public pay-phones.
I sat there for over 20 minutes and didn’t see a single sign of life, not even a snow plow. As the needle on my gas gauge crept precariously close to “E,” I decided I had better kill the engine. The car immediately grew so cold inside, I resigned myself to the fact that my lifeless, blue-lipped body was going to be found as stiff as a board in the morning.
Finally, after what seemed like years, a van came crawling up the road and passed by me, then stopped and backed up. By then, I was too cold to care who or what was inside.
When I caught my first glimpse of the person who emerged from the van, I was convinced that hypothermia already had frozen my brain and I was hallucinating. The man was young, about 20, very slim and tanned, with long blonde hair. He was wearing (and I am totally serious here) a short-sleeved shirt with a Hawaiian print on it, shorts and sneakers. He looked as if he should be standing on a surfboard, not in a foot of snow.
“Need some help?” he asked.
Before I could answer, he leaned closer to my now-open car window and commented, “This sure is some freaky weather! I’m from California, and I’ve never seen anything like this before!”
Despite his obvious lack of winter attire, he determinedly waded right into the thigh-high snow bank in front of my car and began to push. Within less than a minute, he was wheezing and clutching his chest.
“Dear Lord,” I thought frantically. “He’s going to drop dead underneath my front wheels and the police will think I ran over him!”
“Asthma,” the young man explained, reaching into his shirt pocket for his inhaler. He took a few puffs, then went right back to pushing and rocking my car until all four wheels finally were back on the road again.
With a satisfied smile and a wave of his hand, he hopped back into his van and disappeared just as abruptly as he’d appeared.
Was the thin, wheezing guy wearing beach attire in a blizzard, I wondered, another miracle like the “plate-glass miracle” of years ago? Was he perhaps the “surfer-dude miracle?” It really didn't matter. After that incident, nothing, not even a miracle, could convince me to drive in bad winter weather again. Even if some young, muscular, movie-star hunk, clad only in bikini briefs, were waiting for me to meet him somewhere and it started to snow, I still wouldn’t drive so much as an inch.
No, I would call a cab.
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