Thursday, December 25, 2008

How To Drive In The Snow


Mayor Greg Nickels recently gave the City of Seattle a "B" for their response to our recent unrelenting snow. Room for improvement, he says, but basically "outstanding." Outstanding? Who is he kidding? No one.

This is classic Nickels. No matter how stupid, unthinking, or craven your actual policies or performance is, say everything is fine. At least then, no responsibility is owned for the failure. A KING 5 poll linked to their story, with 1.214 votes in and counting, has 40.2% giving him a solid "F."

Over the past week, I've come to regard my '92 Toyota Corolla as sort of a motorized sled. My own winter driving skills were first developed in Sioux Falls, SD, and then further honed in Boston. I live next to a large hill, and my apartment complex parking lot is basically unplowed. This morning was the defining challenge. I awoke at 8 with a thick curtain of big fluffy flakes coming down. The kids needed to get to mom's to catch a plane early this afternoon. I also had a Christmas breakfast to go to in Wallingford, which was guaranteed to be fabulous.

I've been getting braver with each passing day, but driving in a snowstorm with six inches of packed slush on the ground without snow tires or chains just seemed like a bad idea. But the past several days had prepared me well. I decided, "What the hell? I live for danger!"

I made it back alive, but got stuck four times trying to park in front of my apartment before deciding I simply needed to turn around to come at the problem from uphill, build some momentum, turn wide, and basically skid out of the slush rut, up the slight hill, and into the parking spot. Having accomplished this delicate maneuver, I am a winter driving god and well qualified to offer this, Tim Harris' Tips For Driving in Seattle Snow.

Tip #1: Be Prepared: This morning I left the house in what are essentially glorified slippers. My error became apparent as soon as I encountered six inches of slush with intermittent two inch pools of standing ice water. My best advice in this circumstance is "move quickly and try to avoid the ice water."

Tip #2: Momentum is your friend: Earlier this week, I climbed Battery to First Avenue and made the mistake of stopping prior to cresting the hill. I needed to back the traffic behind me halfway down Battery to remedy the problem. In severe weather conditions, stop signs and red lights are to be approached situationally. Conversely, the positions on your automatic transmission marked 1 and 2 are your lower gears, and may be useful for driving down treacherous hills with turns at the bottom without relying on your damn brake, idiot!

Tip #3: Drive at nine and three: Normally, I find it most comfortable to drive with one arm hooked behind the passenger's seat and a few fingers in the vicinity of my lap. Alternately, I drive with my right hand while holding a cigarette out the window. This is less than optimal while sledding in your motor vehicle. This morning, while negotiating nearly five blocks of deep residential slush in the Wallingford area, my car wanted to leap out of the tracks to acquaint itself with the parked cars on either side of the narrow street. Liability insurance, under these circumstances, is generally advised. The high point is always when one makes a turn in an unplowed intersection, especially when this involves hills. This morning's method was to gun it down the slush rut while countering the tendency to skid, take the shortcut through the inside of the traffic circle, and keep the momentum going while fighting my way toward the next available rut. This sort of thing is best accomplished with both hands on the steering wheel.

Tip #4: Let others know how you feel: Always swear at the overconfident trucks and SUVs who pass you under dangerous conditions, placing you and your loved ones at risk. When children are present, swearing is especially justified, but should be practiced under one's breath and supplemented with a fervent wish for the offending driver's imminent grisly death.

Tip #5: Steer into the skid! No! Not that way!: This is where some experience helps, because this is largely a function of body memory, and often goes badly when one thinks too much. The logic is that steering into the direction your front end is heading while avoiding the tendency to ruin everything by braking will transfer weight to the back wheels and allow you to regain control of the car. There is a zen to this, since an over-steer will turn into a fishtail, which can lead to extreme stress upon various external components of your vehicle when you collide, for example, with a tree. So, leave your brain out of it. Focus upon the syllable OM, and let your body do the thinking. If this sounds too hard, stay the hell off the road. You are a menace.

16 comments:

Dr. Wes Browning said...

At every snow I am amazed at the number of fools that think high gear means more power.

heather said...

This is great. As a former New Englander, I look at the tiny snow storms we have here and the resultant catastrophes and media madness they generate, and shake my head in wonder. I wonder why peole here don't know how to shovel the sidewalks, why service stations and some grocery stores' lots become ponds of "quick slush", why kids don't make a quick buck shoveling snow, and why people insist on braking in snow and on ice.

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