That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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Posts Tagged ‘snow’

Fear is for the long night, when the snows fall one hundred feet deep.

Posted by kozemp on January 13, 2011

Snow is here again, and this time, in what I am absolutely sure is a surprise to absolutely no one, my official position is:

Fuck snow.

You said you were going to try and be less profane.

I never said that.

Well, you thought about trying to be less profane.

I never thought that!

Would it kill you to give it a go?

Oh, fine.

So, snow is here again and… er… snow… is really… bad. Yeah. Snow is really bad.

I have mellowed out considerably in recent years. Eminent proof of that is, Love Actually style, all around us. No, I’m not exactly the happy-go-lucky type. I do not go googly-eyed at puppies and kittens and mermaids and rainbows. I will never be described as “perky” or “bubbly,” thank the Emperor of Man. But I am a significantly more positive person than before. The items on the List Of Things I Hate, which were essentially everything in the universe save rolled up aces, Farscape and Cafe Esperanto orange juice, have for the most part been shifted onto the List Things I Merely Dislike or the List Of Things I Am Somewhat Ambivalent About. There is now, even, a List Of Things I Love, which is large and growing.

The List Of Things I Hate has been reduced to a barren, uninhabited wasteland. Well, near-uninhabited, as there is one thing still on it, one thing that I will always hate, now and forever, until the entropic heat death of the universe:

Snow.

Oh, how I hate it.

Snow wasn’t ALWAYS really bad. Back when I was a kid and it snowed 2 or 3 inches maybe once or twice a year snow was great. You got a tiny bit of snow, you got a day off from school, everything was fantastic. Snow was awesome. Hooray snow.

Then came the winter of 1994.

March of 1993 had brought with it the so-called “Storm of the Century.” That was bad. That was mondo-bad. But it was one, isolated event. In the winter of my junior year of high school we got pounded again and again and again and again and again. The first was an ice storm in January. And this wasn’t “oh, hm, some parts of things are a little icy.” Oh hells no.

I’ve spoken to people who were not here for it about this ice storm, and they don’t believe me when I describe what it was like. It’s hard to blame them. I was here for it and I could hardly believe it myself. What hit us in January of 1994 wasn’t an ice storm like we think of today, where we get sleet for a few hours and the roads are slick overnight until the salt trucks get through. Through some strange meteorological alchemy we had honest to goodness freezing rain – liquid water in the sky that turns to ice when it hits the ground – for two days, and the temperature never got out of the 20s for four solid days after that.

The entire world was encased in an inch of ice.

It was on everything – roads, sidewalks, cars, fences, powerlines, EVERYTHING. The whole world preserved in freezing, clear amber. Schools were closed for an entire week, Monday to Friday. You couldn’t drive to work or to get groceries. Hell, you couldn’t walk out your own front door. Your front steps were a skating rink. You couldn’t salt your sidewalk because rock salt is useless against a solid inch of ice. To go anywhere, just to get out of your house, you had to go outside in the sub-zero temperatures and CUT the ice off your sidewalk. People were out there, banging on these massive ice sheets with the sharp end of plastic shovels, trying to break it up into huge pieces you would pick up with your hands and toss onto your lawn, which was also under a giant sheet of inch-thick ice. My dad found some kind of flat spade thing in our basement, basically a 5-inch wide metal chisel attached to a broomstick. Working in shifts during daylight hours it took my father and I two full days to clear all our sidewalk, just standing out there smacking this thing onto the ice over and over and over again.

Now, here’s the funny thing about this storm, for me: school was closed for an entire week. But, and here’s the funny part, I had actually missed the entire week of school BEFORE that. I had pneumonia. To this day I have a tiny scar in my lung from it. I don’t remember how I got pneumonia, but I missed a whole week of school for it, Monday to Friday. I missed that week, and then school was closed the entire next, so when I got back the Monday after the ice had subsided, I got a ton of “who are you?” jokes.

(Ah, the wit of high school students.)

Then, a week and a half later, it happened AGAIN.

It wasn’t as bad the second time – the ice was much thinner and as I recall we only missed two days of school – but two ice storms in as many weeks was pushing the boundaries of good taste. Again me and my dad had to chop and hack our sidewalks clear. Again we had to go down to my grandmother’s – who also lived on a corner – and chop HER sidewalk clear. It’s backbreaking work. I’ve broken up concrete with a sledgehammer, and that wasn’t as awful as trying to clear these sidewalks of ice.

Then, in February, we got hit again. Snow, this time, but enough to grind everything to a halt and make you have to dig out your parking space, all that crap. Then AGAIN this happened later in February. More snow, more digging.

Finally, in March, during what was supposed to be “Spring Break,” we got another blizzard that dropped 18 inches of snow on the city. When I had to go to crew practice and, with my teammates, shovel more than 5,000 cubic feet of snow into the Schuylkill River I finally said, “okay, I have had it up to here, fuck this snow thing.”

Hey, what happened to…?

That was a direct quote.

Oh, sorry, continue.

It was like a drug user finally ODing – yeah, heroin is nice and all, but that one time you overdo it and end up in the hospital you never want to even look at the stuff again. When I was a kid and you got a little bit of snow and a day or two off from school it was great. When you’re older and ice (which is just overachieving snow) keeps you stuck in your house for two weeks at a time, and makes you miss so much school you have to add a week on to the end of the year, snow sucks. When you then have to spend a day of your spring break, which was already kind of ruined by having crew practice to begin with, pushing more than TWENTY-FIVE TONS of snow off a dock into a river, it becomes the worst thing in the world.

A year and a half later I would find myself taking my freshman year of college at Lehigh University, where there was snow on the ground every day from November 8 to Easter Sunday. After dinner on Easter – which in 1996 was on April 7, thank you very much – I drove back to school in near blizzard conditions.

That prolonged exposure to snow, which I was already very much not a fan of, basically turned me into a bit of a crazy person on the subject.

Many years later, herniating a disc in my back while shoveling snow was basically the end of the fight, and I lost. Though I am willing to admit defeat I’m certainly not about to call snow a “worthy opponent” – I am a complex lifeform with the ability to peform calculus in my head and recite the entire screenplay of The Big Lebowski from memory, and snow is frozen water – and while the few amusing things that came out of my back injury provided a nice laugh, and thanks to said back injury I have a lifetime pass on shoveling the sidewalk, it’s tough to look at snow anymore and feel anything other than an intense, burning anger. Snow is the only thing that still gets me that way anymore, and while a total Zen-like oneness with everything in the universe might be pretty neat, I’ll settle for being a mostly happy person who really hates snow.

The problem, you see, is that even with my lifetime shoveling pass, when we are set upon by the White Death there is still one task I still have to perform on my own: cleaning off my car. And today, I think, might have been the worst car-cleaning snow day in history.

The trouble was the amount of snow we got. There was too much for me to just turn my car on, jack up the defroster, and let it idle for half an hour to melt everything on the car. Conversely, there wasn’t ENOUGH snow that I needed to dig out a path to and from my parking space, but just pushing all the snow off my car onto the snow in front of my car would create enough snow to make that necessary. You can’t push the snow into the street, and pushing it onto an already-shoveled sidewalk is just stupid.

The solution, then, was to push the snow off my car in such a way that it landed either a) in between my car and the ridge of snow in the street pushed up by passing cars, or b)  on the spot of lawn between my sidewalk and the curb. Which, as you might guess, was ALREADY holding up the snow from the sidewalk, and thus was pretty deep. I was going to have to clear the snow off my car in an extraordinarily precise way, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but pushing large swaths of snow off a car isn’t exactly spinal surgery. Pinpoint accuracy is harder than you think.

Also, by the time I went out to clean off my car, the wind had picked up to approximately 900 miles per hour. This caused snow to blow pretty much everywhere, an effect which is most similar to having someone jab a thousand tiny needles into your face every second. The wind also makes removing the snow off the car far more interesting than it really needs to be – it’s bad enough when you’re trying to push the snow off in such a way that it lands in a target area the size of a small shoe. Try that when large portions of what you push off immediately blow directly into your face the second they leave the car.

Fun, no?

The final, crushing indignity came with the actual cleaning implement itself. I was standing on the sidewalk, staring at my car, formulating a plan of attack for how to remove the snow, when I thought, “wait, I don’t have a snow brush in my car anymore. Drat.” (That’s not an edit, I actually thought “drat.”)

I went back inside to get the brush my father had used to clear off his car several hours earlier. I quickly realized this was a fool’s errand. The brush was nowhere to be found. My father, in what we will call his “infinite wisdom” in deference to filial propriety, after cleaning off HIS car decided, while looking directly at the two snow-covered cars his family members owned, that his best course of action was to take the snow-clearing brush, toss it into his already-clear car, and drive away.

After searching in vain for the snow brush I went back outside. I stood on the sidewalk, staring at my car, snow blowing all around me, freezing, and said to myself, “what the hell am I going to use to clear off this stupid car? Where’s a wampa when I need one?”

I had a brainstorm.

A terrible brainstorm, as it turned out, since my brainstorm meant that cleaning off my car would be an ordeal far longer than it would have been normally had my father not been a careless jackass, but a brainstorm nonetheless.

This is why, if you were driving down Crispin Street this afternoon – and I can’t imagine why you would have been, but in an infinite universe anything is possible – you would have come across a man shivering in a leather coat, muttering “fucking snow” over and over again, clearing off a 2006 Cobalt with a dustbrush.

God I hate snow.

JLK

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Gone Walkabout, Day Five: In Which Important Lessons Are Learned

Posted by kozemp on December 14, 2009

Yes, I am aware that we skipped a day there. I’m going to go back and do day four after I get home – it’s a lot of ridiculous stuff and I would be hard-pressed to do it justice out here on the road, especially in my current state (i.e. completely drained of all energy reserves). For now, we continue with just road days – check back in late Wednesday or so for the full recap on my 40 hours of actual vacation in and around Kansas City.

Moving on to the body of today’s ravings:

As I’m sure we all know, my primary concern in all things is your safety. Yes, YOU, reading this right now. Your safety. It keeps me up nights.

With that in mind, let me give you a very important safety tip.

If a person you know – a person you care about, even – says to you, “hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s drive from Kansas City to Chicago by way of Des Moines,” look into their eyes, take a deep breath, and kill them. You must kill them before they kill you, or worse, before they cause you to kill yourself.

Anyone who suggests such a thing clearly has evil intentions.

I left Kansas City at 7:30 yesterday morning and had hit the snow line by about 8:30. Everything I saw was completely covered with snow until I was just outside Chicago around 4:30.

That is eight solid hours of driving through a winter wonderland. It’s not everything it’s cracked up to be. In Missouri and most of Iowa it’s not TOO bad. There is terrain there, at least. The road goes up and down, there are hills and bluffs and the occasional rock face. In Missouri and Iowa people build farmhouses reasonably close to the highway. There’s stuff to look at.

And then in Iowa there is the issue of the wrecks.

By the time I got to Des Moines and got onto I-80 there was serious snow on the ground – I’d estimate more than a foot. And it wasn’t long before coming over a hill I saw up in the distance a car abandoned on the side of the road. As I got closer, though, I saw that snow had actually been plowed over the car, meaning it had been there for some time. I didn’t think much of it, but then I saw another one. And another. And another.

By the fourth one I was pretty well away from Des Moines, and that stretch to Iowa City is pretty desolate. It isn’t like there are gas stations every mile or so you can walk to if your car breaks down. I started to wonder – what happens to the people in these cars? Do they just start walking off the highway towards the farmhouses in the distance? Do they just abandon the cars entirely? Does someone pick them up?

Then I saw a car, in the snow, abandoned, but this time it was upside down and covered with police tape. Lying there, on the side of the highway, upside down in a 5-foot snow drift, taped off.

Driving past, I said out loud to myself, “what’s up with THAT?”

Shortly after this came the first abandoned tractor trailer. Again, out in the middle of Iowa nowhere, off the side of the road, snow piled up around it. The snow had drifted up high enough to block the driver’s side door, and the other door was flush up against the embankment at the side of the road.

The first thought in my head was: is there a dead guy in there?

The second thought in my head was: I have wandered into a Stephen King story.

Then came the second tractor-trailer, this one on the median, this one upside-down. THE ENTIRE THING. Cab and payload both, laying upside down in between the lanes of Interstate 80, covered in snow.

I said, again out loud, “what the FUCK is going on here?”

Between Des Moines and Iowa City I saw a total of about a dozen of these, mixed between cars and tractor-trailers. Just left to rot in the snow by the side of the road. I know this isn’t standard procedure because I drove past two crews working to haul cars back onto the road that had ended up out there earlier in the day.

I started to wonder: does the Iowa Department of Transportation determine if you are somehow a “evil” driver, and then leave your wreck out there for all to see as a warning, like the Royal Navy hanging pirates at the mouth of a port? Are they automotive scarecrows of some kind?

I though the creepy haunted highway stuff was bad, but I didn’t know what bad was – I had no CONCEPTION what bad was – until I left Iowa and found myself on the Illinois Tollway.

(“Tollway,” seriously?)

Interstate 80 in Illinois – the Tollway to you, pal – is a highway connecting Chicago to the Iowa border. It is the worst road I’ve ever seen. Oh, yes, I’m planting my flag there. It is worse than the pre-construction 309. Worse than the Schuylkill. Worse than the Garden State Parkway on a Sunday night. Worse than Route 1 through Princeton. Worse than anything you can think of. It is the worst road in the history of the universe. You heard me. It is the worst road in 14 billion years.

“But, John,” you say, “I’m looking at it here on this map and it doesn’t seem so bad.”

“Oh, are you?” I say.

“Yes,” you say. “It’s pretty much straight for the whole length, and my contour map shows that it barely changes elevation at all.”

“Well, okay,” I say. “But let me ask you something.”

“Sure,” you say.

“Do your nice little maps have A FUCKING FOOT OF GODDAMN MOTHERFUCKING SNOW ON THEM?” I ask.

Remember earlier, when I noted that in Missouri and Iowa people build farmhouses close to the highway? That’s an important contrast, because in Illinois for whatever reason they don’t do that. So, while you’re driving on a highway that is for some reason almost completely deserted, the only thing you can see, aside from the occasional dead tree, is just a solid field of white. Perfectly flat. In every direction. Almost out to the horizon. It’s just your car and the road, and everything else in the entire world is just white.

It’s HORRIFYING.

It’s hard to accurately get across how desolate this drive is. If there weren’t so much snow it probably wouldn’t have been so bad, you could at least see the fields and whatnot, but the snow smears everything together into one solid mass. At one point I had to get gas and when I pulled off the sign on the exit ramp read “GAS 4 MILES.” The gas station was FOUR MILES from the highway! And care to guess what’s between the highway and the gas station? Anyone? Any guesses?

That’s right – more snow and more white.

For the first half hour or so I figured I was just going through a blank spot or something, that eventually SOME semblance of civilization would appear. And I was right, it did – you start seeing buildings and stores and whatnot about 20 miles from Chicago. Until then, you have to deal with 140 miles of stone white nothingness.

I did not handle it well.

At one point it got  so monotonous and so mind-numbing that I saw a sign for US 30 – known better to most of us as the White Horse Pike – and I was SURE that I had fallen asleep at the wheel and was dreaming that I was back in Jersey. It took me a couple seconds to actually remember that US30 goes all the way out here, that my uncle lives off it in Indiana.

You can only stare at a solid field of white for so long before it starts seriously messing with your mind. About 100 miles from Chicago my iPod (set to album shuffle) served up Darkness on the Edge of Town, and while listening to the end of Racing in the Street – admittedly one of Bruce’s most unhappy songs – I thought, “if I just turn the wheel a little bit to the right…”

I shook my head and said, “I’m going crazy.”

(Important safety tip #2: do not listen to Darkness on the Edge of Town while driving cross-country. The River isn’t a great choice either.)

By this point I was at the point of cracking the windows (in 31 degree weather) and blasting the radio so that I wouldn’t get hypnotized by the road again. I’d been driving for seven straight hours. My leg was killing me. I had to do something.

I saw a sign for an upcoming rest stop that had a Starbucks.

Now understand that I am not a fan of Starbucks. I don’t care for any of the usual stupid crap people get mad about with Starbucks (globalization, homogenization, whatever) – I just really dislike their coffee.

I saw the sign and said, “the hell with it, I’m gonna fucking die out here.”

I limped into the rest stop – quite literally limped, after seven hours in the car my leg had stopped working completely – and found the Starbucks. It was across from the Panda Express. I am not making this up. The rest stop, which is technically called the DeKalb Oasis (not making that up either) has a McDonalds, a Starbucks, and a Panda Express. Like you do.

I limped over to the Starbucks counter, and when the guy came over I simply said, “black coffee. Large.” I paused for maybe a quarter of a second before I remembered my manners. “Please.”

The coffee guy looked at me and said, “do you want – ”

Before he could finish his sentence I opened my eyes as wide as I could and gave him a look clearly indicating that if he kept talking my next sentence was going to consist primarily of the loudest and vilest profanities I could muster.

He said, “large black coffee, right,” and turned away faster than I would have thought him able.

Tomorrow – home.

JLK

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