Monday, December 9, 2013

Driving in a Frictionless Environment

The recent ice storm and cold snap has me reminiscing about good times… 

Flash back to the winter of 1997.  I was 17.

So there I was, minding my own business…

…when a car pulled into my driveway. Well, actually, it was more of a sliding, careening stop at the bottom, since the entire road was covered in glaze ice from an ice storm that we’d just had.  Out of the car, sliding and unsure on his feet in the ice, climbed my buddy, Duncan.  He did not look happy. 

He struggled his way up my steep, icy driveway (which I had sanded that morning, thank goodness, or else he never would have made it up) and knocked on the door. 

When  answered, he told me that he’d put his Plymouth Valiant in the ditch about two miles up the road from our house, and that he’d hitched a ride to my place to see if I could go pull him out.

Since my truck was 2-wheel drive, I asked Dad if I could borrow his 4x4 to go pull Duncan out of the ditch.  Dad agreed.  To this day, I wish I’d never left the driveway.

The roads were slick.  I’m sure you’ll all regale me about driving in slick conditions and how you do it, and whether 4x4 or front wheel drive is better, or whether all season tires or snow tires, or studded tires are superior, but you’d all be missing the point; there is a huge, irreconcilable difference between driving in slick conditions, and driving in a frictionless environment.  4x4, traction tires, chains, studs: all are powerless against the right conditions of glaze ice, smooth blacktop, and right-at melting temperatures.  There are just days when, regardless of driving skill, or equipment, or anything else, you simply should not be on the road.  Such was the case that day. 

 I knew it was slick.  I was prepared to take it slow and easy on the drive out to get Duncan’s car, but I had no idea until I let off the throttle for the first time.  I was only going 15 miles per hour, and was about 450 yards from Duncan’s car when I did so, in a failed attempt to try and start slowing down.  I was unable to stop until I’d overshot his car by 50 plus yards.  It was about then, as I was picking the truck upholstery out of my clenched buttcrack, that I realized that we were fighting a losing battle. Had I been but a few years older and wiser, I’d have probably called the game on account of being too wise, worldly, and experienced to even try to continue.  As I said before, however, I was 17.  Wisdom is not generally something that we associate with being 17, and for good reason.  Resolved to bravely soldier on, I put the truck in park, opened the door, and stepped out.

To this day, Duncan describes the next few milliseconds as if I’d simply vanished from the Earth, because I instantly left his field of view as my feet came out from under me, and I fell to my back and slid UNDER THE TRUCK, unable to stop myself, in less than a quarter of a second. 

Despite the fact that I’d just slammed the back of my head on the asphalt as I fell, I thankfully still had the peace of mind, as I slid under the truck, to put my foot up against the frame on the far side of the truck to stop myself from sliding out the other end, and presumably, on to the next county before I got myself stopped. To my horror, the act of doing so dislodged the truck from its apparently quite tenuous grasp on the road’s surface, and it started to slide with me. 

Friend, if you ever want to experience a dark sense of foreboding; that sense that you get when you are just certain that everything is about to go pear-shaped and it is going to hurt like a motherfucker when it does, I suggest that you find a way to slide under a 5,000 pound pickup truck, that is also sliding, and then proceed to slide with that truck, while still under it, for a distance of “oh-my-God-is-this-thing-ever-going-to-stop-please-Jesus-help-me-I’m-about-to-die!” feet, while your buddy Duncan calls your name and tries to determine which dimension you just managed to cross into because he’d watched your physical self evaporate into the ether only a split second before.

All told, the truck only slid maybe 5 feet.  I managed to get myself out from under the infernal thing and back on my feet, running over the banks of allowable English curse words to the point to where I had to resort to fabricating a few and borrowing some from other languages. 

Duncan’s car stayed in the ditch until the ice melted.    

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