Sadly enough I have to work on Saturdays, driving the company’s rusting hulk of a minivan around the “south of the river” burbs, checking on employee compliance. Today had seemed normal enough. It had snowed last night; the sort of snow that made you wish for a 10 second burst of 50 knot west wind as it would blow all the offending flakes into the state of Wisconsin where because of the proliferation of white doom their governor might have the chance to insult a whole new clique of public workers, the snowplow drivers. But no such wind arose and the powder simply swirled as I passed as if Jack Frostian tornadoes.
While the side roads seemed a bit slippery, the main drags looked and felt dry as bone, so I ventured to drive normally when I was not trapped behind some 80 year old woman masquerading as a 20 year old manchild, driving ever so carefully with one hand on the wheel and a foot gently tapping the brake at random intervals while his other hand was cradling his phone and other foot pounding out the rhythm of whatever was being played too loudly over his much too high a wattage producing stereo.
So it’s no surprise I was doing 70 on 35E alongside a few hundred of my closest co-travelers while getting from here to there as is the custom. I wasn’t weaving nor bobbing; just lazily cruising along as I do most days. No hurry here, I’m on the clock you know. And then I saw trouble. Brake lights, ahead of me; and while I try to keep a reasonable distance between myself and the vehicle before me, that space was being eliminated at frightening speed.
I did what any responsible driver would do; I hit the brakes, hard certainly, but not slammin’. And yet the brakes must have misinterpreted my intent and locked themselves in spite of my gentle, measured pressure. I’d have thought “no problem really, perhaps I’ll stop more quickly than I’d like but I will stop nevertheless and a tragedy will have been averted. I say “I’d have thought” because while that might seem an appropriate response to the situation the “stopping” part of the equation was missing. I was not stopping at all but in fact, it seemed to me, speeding up. (No doubt an illusion created by the rapidly dwindling space between my hurtling self and the steel wall in front of me that appeared to be intent on crashing into its own steel wall before him, and so on and so on)
Naturally I gently tugged at the steering wheel to turn myself a bit to the left as I could see steel to my right and while I had no time to check my mirrors for onrushing left lane traffic there surely was none in my path at that moment. I figured if I cut someone off and they crashed into me it would be better than my crashing into someone else as at least I would be the hockey puck and not the stick so to speak, and martyrdom is my specialty. But the theory was never tested as my tiny leftward correction quickly became a full on perpendicular attitude and because of what I have to assume to be invisible black ice on the roadway I became a massive bullet in sidelong transit.
I must admit I did experience just a moment of glee. Not being an amusement park aficionado I am only lightly experienced in the “thrill” part of one’s lifetime. Most of my thrills have been connected to disastrous circumstances and this seemed well on its way to becoming another of the sort that mom would have warned me about; and yet, I was >< close to giggling, truthfully.
There was little I could do the straighten the car out, but I was able, with a little steering whipping and gas gunning along with a well placed brake tapping or two, to get the vehicle on a trajectory to enter the freeway ditch, which seemed both unoccupied at that moment and possibly navigable, presuming I lived in the end and still owned the appendages I would need to navigate at all.
Not being a skier I’ve always been impressed by those who slalom, their turning on a dime accentuated with a giant poof of snow as they whip their skies sideway to the hill. Well, they’ve got nothing on me at this point; I’m pretty sure even Lindsey Vaughn couldn’t kick up the wake I did as I entered freeway no-man’s land and made my way to the bottom of the vale. I wasn’t sure I could remedy the situation of course, but I was cheered by the sight of a multi-strand cable fence to my fore which could perhaps prevent me from entering the opposing traffic at the severe disadvantage of being aimed in mildly obtuse direction.
Apparently the shallowness of the ditch and the obstruction of what little snow had filled it was enough to slow me, and I was able to regain some sort of control over the vehicle. I knew that if I simply slowed to a crawl I would eventually be stuck. That raises all sorts of complications, not the least of which was the anticipation of suffering what we Americans refer to as a “good ol’ ass chwin” by the local highway patrol, in spite of the fact that I’d not only saved my own life but had avoided taking anyone elses. So I kept on driving and did my best to parallel the traffic that I would eventually need to rejoin, if I could work my way out of the dent in the earth that was doing its best to swallow me whole.
It took maybe a mile or so, sneaking up the side of the ditch little by little, failing some, reclaiming some, inch by inch until I’d nearly come out on top to take my rightful place on the shoulder where I might be permitted to merge by those either in awe of my prowess behind the wheel or scared shitless by my vehicular acrobatics. But it was not to be as I nearly struck some sort of survey post and had to retreat into the topless tunnel of woe for a second pass at freedom.
This time I was successful, and noted that as I reached the actual shoulder of the freeway, a car was holding back in wait for me, giving me the merge-hole I needed to enter the rat race once again, and luckily enough I was at least a half mile from my exit destination and had plenty of time to make my way to the off ramp and onto the streets of Eagan Minnesota.
It was interesting to me that I wasn’t trembling or otherwise suffering physical manifestations of stress. Normally the least that might happen would be I would spend 10 minutes screaming at myself for being (choose one: a fool, an idiot, a waste of space or a crappy drive that can’t even keep a vehicle on the road) but my passion seemed muted, my self-loathing well under control, and all I could think about at that moment was the previous sight of a huge, colorful, couch sized, triangular pillow type thing that had appeared in the road to the right of me as I rocketed past on its perpendicular axis. I was curious as to whether I was the only driver that had lost control trying to dodge Armageddon, but not curious enough to double back for a good gawking.
As I finished my journey I did notice one thing that made me smile in spite of the near tragedy I’d just lived through. Not only had I not met my maker or given anyone else a ticket to the gates of whichever infinityville they have reservations in, not only did I not demolish the piece of crap company car and give them all the reason they need to finally fire me rather than lay me off and save themselves all that severance money, not only did I not get stuck in a ditch on a busy freeway and have to suffer the long wait for a tow, the police report and the hours of humiliation watching people pass me by with a laugh at my expense… but I didn’t even spill my coffee. Now there’s a win I can be proud of.