The day before I was supposed to drive down to see Stacey at her school just 2 hours away my world was flooded by snow. (I know, I know but snow’s just water that got a little chilly.) Unbelievable. I stood there staring out the front window at home. Everything was covered by inches and inches of snow. Including the road. We’d been dumped on and it would take a couple days to get out from underneath all this snow. The sky was a brilliant blue and there wasn’t a cloud in sight the day after the big storm. Sunlight reflected off the new snow with blinding intensity. I was supposed to leave in 30 minutes to see Stacey. I was going to leave in 30 minutes to see Stacey.
I grabbed my bag packed with the essentials plus spares for the weekend trip. I don’t know why but I always pack in 3s. One pair of pants is good but I might spill something and need a spare, so that’s in the bag. But then I always think, what if the spare gets messed up? Could happen. I should take a spare for the spare. And I talk myself into it every time. I always have 2 more of everything than I actually plan to wear. I haven’t once needed the spares before but I figure if I suddenly need a clean pair of underwear it’s pretty much moved into the emergency category and I’ll be glad for every spare in the bag. I hope I never prove this theory.
The car for my road trip was borrowed from my mom. Because of its general design (who designs cars anyway? Oh, right, engineers…) and its overall super size it had come to be affectionately or mockingly called, “the Boat” by my friends. I know that’s completely not cool but walking was even less cool and taking the Greyhound bus was so far off the cool meter that it was out of the question. I tossed my stuff in the backseat of ‘the Boat’, getting a quick workout opening and closing its 300 pound backdoor. I jumped in the front, started it up, pulled out of the garage, down the driveway and onto the blinding white, snow-packed road. My road trip was on.
I don’t think I’d ever seen that much snow in Illinois before. Everything was covered and as I started down the road to get on the highway I saw people and plows everywhere digging out, making paths, uncovering cars and building snowmen. My eyes were watering from the brightness. No sunglasses. No time to get some. Stacey was expecting me to land at her school in an hour and a half and it was, on a good day, about 2 hours from where I was at the moment. I was flying (or doing some high speed boating) down Interstate Highway 55, pointed towards St. Louis and making pretty good time when everything went pretty much the way I expected that it would.
Up ahead I could see the highway traffic was stopped. Not slowed. Stopped. I slowed the Boat down and read the map I’d grabbed from my Dad’s desk, ‘just in case’. I thought I saw some options so I swerved across 3 lanes and onto the exit ramp. I got to the top of the ramp and looked back down at the highway going towards St. Louis. Cars were stopped as far as I could see. It looked like someone had opened a huge, used car lot right on the highway. I decided I’d made the right decision and drove across the overpass and into a gas station’s parking lot. I went to work finding a faster route I could take via back roads that would get me to Stacey’s on time. I still worried that being 5 minutes late would probably lead to her having a chance meeting with some great looking guy who was everything I wasn’t, had everything in common with her that I didn’t and they’d go off for a coffee in a Hollywood moment of instant romance.
Stacey wasn’t like that but that’s how my brain works.
4 minutes later I’d figured out my route. It was so simple and it would be so much faster. Turns out the traffic back-up would work to my advantage, getting me off the highway and onto to some side roads that would cut my distance by a 1/3rd. I pulled out of the Amoco parking lot full of confidence and some uncharacteristic optimism as I figured I was only an hour away from being with Stacey. I still couldn’t believe she’d been cool with the idea of me staying at a motel. We’d talked on the phone and she was fine with coming back to the room and hanging out. It would give us some good time by ourselves that she agreed we wouldn’t be able to get on campus. Alone time sounded really good to me. Letters were great, phone calls were nice, long walks and talks were cool with Stacey, but making out was even better. I didn’t bother asking her if she’d checked it out with her parents. Her dad hadn’t come by my place to kill me so I knew they had no idea.
I was somewhere in the middle of Illinois on a little red line on the map I borrowed from my Dad. Everything around me was white. Houses were covered in snow. Fields were white with snow. Road signs were covered in snow. I was starting to realize, about 20 minutes from the Amoco, that I was mostly lost. Mostly. I knew, roughly where I was, I just wasn’t as sure as I had been about how to get from here to there. I wasn’t even sure if “there” was even at the end of the road I was on.
Cresting a hill I slowed almost to a stop. The road ahead dropped quickly into a small, steep valley with a small bridge over a tiny creek and then ascended sharply on the other side up a steep hill. On the incline up the next hill the road fell off into deep ditches so deep that snow hadn’t piled up enough to fill them in. “The kind of ditches you could lose a car in,” I told myself. The side road I was on was snow packed and slippery. I didn’t want to go too fast or I’d lose control of the Boat and end up in the little creek at the bottom or make it across the bridge only to fish-tail my way right off the road on the way up the hill on the other side and down into a ditch where they’d fine me in the Spring.
I really didn’t have a choice. I stepped on the gas and the Boat rumbled to the bottom of the hill and roared into the valley of the shadow. Like that I was across the little bridge and I was zooming up the hill, still pointed in the same direction and feeling in control. About half way up the hill my speed slowed as the gears changed to compensate for the incline. I gave the Boat more gas and heard the engine rev and as the wheels went, “weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” but I didn’t speed up. In fact, I was slowing down even more. I panicked and stepped on the brake. That didn’t stop me either, it just changed my direction. Still looking at the top of the hill in front of me I realized I was slowly sliding backwards and picking up momentum, back towards the creek and the little bridge that crossed it. Back to the valley.
A different kind of panic set in. It was a ‘my dad is gonna kill me!’ kind of dread. I stomped on the gas again and heard, “weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” and smoke rolled past the car from my rear tires as I slid backwards picking up speed. I looked out the windshield and up at my rearview mirror and alternated between desperately stomping on the brake and the gas hoping to stop my slide or get traction and go forward. Neither was happening and I was sliding faster and faster back down the hill. I had seconds to make a decision. I could take my chances with the bridge at the bottom of the hill or make a sharp turn and go in the ditch and hope for the best. Maybe I was stilled lined up for the bridge. Maybe if I wasn’t lined up for it I’d stop before I hit it or went into the creek. The speed of my reverse descent was freaking me out so I prayed a quick and ancient prayer, “O God, O God, O God…” I decided on the ditch and I gave the steering wheel a hard, sharp turn and stomped on the brake with both feet, closed my eyes and braced for the crunch.
Only, no crunch.
I slowly opened my eyes, still standing on the brake and looked right, looked left and had a revelation. I had somehow landed in a driveway I hadn’t even seen. It hadn’t been plowed out yet. The Boat had come to a stop. The snow bank in the driveway had cushioned my abrupt halt. I laughed. Then laughed some more. It’s possible I even giggled. Then I put the car in park and took my feet off the brake. I checked to see if my pants were wet. Bladder control still appeared to be good. Putting the car in D again I pulled forward a little so I could get out and check for dents and bruises. I had to wade through some snow but the car was fine, no dents, no scratches, nada.
Back in the car I checked my map again and decided there were enough red lines that I could take another route to Stacey. I pointed the car back down the hill and very cautiously drove back over the little bridge, up the smaller hill and tried to spot the road that the map promised would take me where I wanted to be.
…to be continued…