"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009


An Air Force buddy of mine, now living in Montana, sent Christmas Greetings to me, noting...

"Winter has set in fairly quickly here, first a week of below-zero weather with no snow, then a week with lots of snow, and now just jumping back and forth across the freezing mark with mixed rain and snow. Makes driving very interesting".

I know what "interesting" can mean in those temperature ranges.

The most harrowing driving I've ever experienced was in Arkansas, one Christmas, when I left my mom's house (near Fort smith) to head to my brother's place in Little Rock.

The road was iced over (no biggie; I had handled that before), but the temperature was only around freezing, and then freezing rain fell on top of that. Absolutely the slipperiest I have EVER experienced. LOADS of fun on a two-lane road through moderately hilly country, with oncoming traffic in the other lane. I really think that if I had stopped and got out and braced myself against something, I could have pushed my truck sideways with one hand.

By the time it had started, I had been about twenty miles on the way, with another hundred or so to go. Seeing the insanity of continuing, I turned around and made it back to mom's house instead, only managing to have ANY directional control by putting the right wheels off the edge of the road, in the slush on the shoulder.

The only other experience that approached it was in 1988 when I lived in Michigan and was flying all over the place to install software for the company I was working for.

I lived in Mt. Pleasant (in the center of Michigan's lower peninsula), and flew out of Lansing (about 65 miles south), parking my truck in the lot at the airport. About Thanksgiving, coming back from one of those junkets, I had to take a commuter flight from Chicago to Lansing.

As we were in the landing approach, the plane began climbing again, just as the pilot announced that freezing rain was coming down on the Lansing airport and we would continue on to Flint instead (about 60 miles east; that freezing rain extended almost all of the way there, as well).

So, we got to Flint and I wondered, "Are they going to put us up in motels, or what?"

It turned out to be "what". They put us on a bus, to be driven back the 60 miles, most of it through freezing rain. (Normally, Michigan handles that by having trucks dump brine on the road to melt the ice. That trick works best AFTER it stops coming down. While it's still coming down, forget it!) .

That bus was sliding all over the place. I'll confess to being nervous on airplanes, particularly during the landing approach, but I don't recall EVER being so scared as on that bus trip.

After FINALLY reaching the Lansing airport, one more ordeal awaited. Try walking about a hundred yards on that kind of wet ice to reach your truck, while handling two bags, then to find an inch of ice coating the truck. Fortunately, I had a knife so I could chip away enough to be able to get the door open and get it started.

With it STILL coming down, I didn't even want to think about driving 65 miles north, at night, to get home then, but crept into Lansing instead and found a motel to wait it out.

Next morning, it had stopped, the brine trucks had done their thing, and heading the rest of the way home was uneventful.

Having grown up in San Antonio, and having lived in Arkansas for a short while, I had some experience with snow, but it's kinda rare in what would eventually be my adopted home town of Houston.

In 1984, I moved up to the aforementioned Mt. Pleasant, in Michigan, to join a seismic exploration company as a data-processing manager. That fell through in 1986, when the bottom dropped out of the petroleum industry and I eventually wound up with a software development company instead, remaining in Michigan until 1994 when that company opened an office in Houston and I didn't need all that much persuasion to come back down here.

I had spent ten years in a state where snow is sometimes measured in feet (on Jan 1, 1985, the New Year was celebrated with almost a yard of snow), usually beginning around Thanksgiving and remaining until spring.

Trust me; the novelty wears off very quickly.

Shortly after arriving in Michigan, I was given this primer on what to expect..
Dear Diary...

Aug 12 - Moved to our new home in Michigan. It is so beautiful here. The mountains are so majestic. Can hardly wait to visit them with snow covering them. I love it here.

Oct 14 - Michigan is the most beautiful place on Earth. The leaves are all turned all the colors and shades of red and orange. Went for a ride through the beautiful mountains and saw some deer. They are so graceful; certainly they are the most wonderful animal on Earth. This must be paradise. I love it here.

Nov 11 - Deer season will start soon. I can't imagine anyone wanting to kill such a gorgeous creature. Hope it will snow soon. I love it here.

Dec 2 - It snowed last night. Woke up to find everything blanketed with white. We went outside and cleaned the snow off of the steps and shoveled the driveway. We had a snowball fight (I won), and when the snow-plow came by we had to shovel the driveway again. What a beautiful place. I love it here.

Dec 12 - More snow last night. I love it. The snow-plow did his trick again to the driveway. I love it here.

Dec 19 - More snow last night. Couldn't get out of the driveway to get to work. I am exhausted from shoveling. F***ing snow-plow.

Dec 22 - More of the white s**t fell last night. I've got blisters on my hands from shoveling. I think the snow-plow hides around the curve and waits until I'm done shoveling the driveway. A**hole!

Dec 25 - Merry F***ing Christmas! More friggen snow. If I get my hands on the son-of-a-bitch who drives that snow-plow, I swear I'll kill the bastard. Don't know why they don't use more salt on the roads to melt the f***ing ice.

Dec 27 - More white s**t last night. Been inside for three days except for shoveling out the driveway after the snow-plow goes through everytime. Can't go anywhere; car's stuck in a mountain of white s**t. The weatherman says to expect another 10" of s**t tonight. Do you know how many shovels full of snow 10" is?!!!

Dec 28 - The f***ing weatherman was wrong. We got 34" of that white s**t this time. At this rate, it wont melt before next summer. The snow-plow got stuck up the road, and that bastard came to the door and asked to borrow my shovel. After I told him that I had broken six shovels already shoveling all the s**t he pushed into my driveway, I broke my last one over his f***ing head.

Jan 4 - Finally got out of the house today. Went to the store to get food, and on the way back a damned deer ran in front of the car and I hit it. Did about $3000 damage to the car. Those f***ing beasts should be killed. Wish the hunters had killed them all last November.

May 3 - Took the car to the garage in town. Would you believe the thing is rusting out from that f***ing salt they put all over the road?

May 10 - Moved to Georgia. I can't imagine why anyone in their right mind would live in that God-forsaken state of Michigan

(Author unknown. The "mountains" references suggest the upper peninsula. Many variations can be found, and while this one is for Michigan, I suspect that all snow-belt states have their versions.)

Merry Christmas, y'all :-)


Charles said...

Got a luagh out of that Michigan diary. We day dream about moving to a snow country - that kind of puts it in perspective.

Merry Christmas Paul to you and your family.

Charles (thedogatemydata)

Paul_In_Houston said...

Don't you guys ever get snow? Just at the "wrong" time of the year? :-)

(Well, maybe not very often. On my globe, Brisbane appears about a couple of hundred miles (or maybe 300 km) closer to the equator than Houston.)

Merry Christmas Charles.


Charles said...

No snow here mate!!! The climate is sub tropical. The only snow on the Australian mainland is in the southern Alp region. You always want what you can't have :). I must admit that I did enjoy the snow in Europe when I lived there for a while about ten years ago. Only problem was when you had a chest cold it felt like I was going to die rather than just an inconvenience.

Foxfier said...

*laughs* Yeah, that sounds about right!

Doesn't stop my irrational funk at having a moldy, muddy Christmas in the only temperate rain forest on earth, but we saw that arc with many New People in both valleys I grew up in! (Although the best neighbor stayed our token environmentalist and took up the hobby of finding ways to drive the deer away from her roses and kill off the starlings....)

Gary Binkley said...

I think it was Christmas of '83 we left my place in Greenbrier heading for Moms in my Dodge pickup with half a cord of firewood in the back for traction and made the 130 miles in less than 4 hours on the ice! We weren't real bright in those days were we? Merry Christmas all!

GW said...

The diary is great.

My experience has long been that the Mason Dixon line divides not merely north from south, but those who know how to drive in snow and ice from those who don't (carpet baggers excepted). Let a little bit of snow fall here in the South:

1) Everything shuts down; and

2) The only people on the road seem to be inexperienced Southerners who see no need for caution or driving differently in the snow and ice, at least until they come to a hard stop.

GW said...

Merry Christmas, Paul

Gary Binkley said...

Merry Christmas from the middle of an honest to God Arkansas snowstorm!!!...got the generator gassed up...plenty of food and enough booze to last till the thaw!!!


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