When two distant red lights are your guide

by Gilbert Keith

Imagine what it is like to have a constant stream of particles bombard you as you attempt to control a fast moving object towards a distant target.

No, I do not ask you to imagine yourself in the driver’s seat of Voyager 1 hurtling at a non-trivial fraction of the speed of light, encountering interstellar dust, as you attempt to reach a proximal star. I ask you to imagine something much more close to home, something much more familiar.

Okay, let me get to the point. I drove through a snow-storm today, from Mpls to Madison. Aai, Dad and Gaurav had suggested against it – they recommended heading back tomorrow, when the roads would be clearer and the drive much safer. But, having some meetings to attend to that I knew I couldn’t miss, I decided against it.

I knew things were going to be bad when it took me the better portion of an hour to drop Gaurav off… a very close 20 miles away. At that rate, 300 miles was going to be an eternity! And indeed, the first four hours of driving only confirmed my dread — whereas I usually reach Madison within 5 hours of leaving home (with a pit stop at the University, it is an average of 60mph), I had, in 4 hours today, driven a paltry 115ish miles. At that rate, I would have reached Madison in a solid 10 hours.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve driven through a snow-storm. But I think it will be the most memorable one by far. There were way too many cars in ditches – which made sense, given that it was the first snow in the year, and   midwesterners forget how to drive in the snow. Had it not been for my sheer luck, I’d probably have been an observation in the set of stranded passengers. When I was in Menomonee, getting on the highway after having cleaned my car, I felt my car lose control and do a 180. Luckily I wasn’t driving fast; I was able to use my paltry snow brush/scrape to remove enough snow under my tires to gain traction, and then just used my blinkers to stop traffic GO.

It also was plainly clear that it hadn’t snowed much west of Tomah at all – for this I was fortunate. I was able to drive the last 120ish miles at a good 70mph clip. No stranded cars here, nor were there any instances in which I felt I was losing control

A couple of folks I’d like to be thankful for:

-snow plowers: These guys are the avant garde when it comes to negotiating snow. Sure they have the right equipment to handle it, but you really do need the right level of risk-loving to be willing to negotiate the conditions. I’m glad they’re able to do it (and do a fine job of it.)

-truckers who drive in the snow: When I said that I saw about 50-60 cars in ditches, note that I specified cars. There was exactly one stranded truck that I saw in all this time. That’s a relatively major accomplishment in my view, given that that the proportion of trucks among the number of vehicles on the highway was almost greater than 2%. Sure they may get your windshield dirty a few times and cause you momentary anxiety when they speed past you in the left lane, but these are the guys ensuring your precious consumption goods reach your shopping malls  and supermarkets and the inventories satisfy your demands (especially in such a busy time of the year.)