Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Asphalt Of Doom

I didn't have a car when I lived in New England. So all my winter driving experience has been here in Portland, and what a fuck of a lot of fun that has been over the years! Oh those wacky postal Jeeps with their bald tires and engines tuned up to idle at 7000 RPMs! Ha ha! Who can forget that day I inched my Jeep over the crest of a steep driveway and slid toward a parked car? What a hoot. Finally got 'er stopped a few feet short with my wheels cranked away from the car, and a nice gentleman tapped on my window and said if I got off the brake I'd be just fine; why, I'd straighten right out; there might be an issue stopping at the bottom where it spills into the four-lane highway that you couldn't see because of the wall, but "there's not much traffic out today, you'll probably be just fine," said he, and I kept my foot on the brake intending to hold it there until the ice melted, and finally let go and plummeted into the highway sideways with my screams going full Doppler all the way. Memories!

I was not here, however, but in Maine, in a raging five-degree snowstorm, the night I had to go to the airport 70 miles away, and there sat Margaret's little Honda at my disposal in the driveway, with no accompanying set of chains in sight or in existence, and I checked in with my friend Jon who assured me I'd be just fine, and I grabbed some beer and emergency underpants and off I went, flying down the highway in the blizzard, and I will be go-to-hell if that road wasn't as grippy as a packed-sand beach.  I even tried to skid on purpose and failed. I could not have been more confident if that Honda had been strapped to a conveyor belt in a donut factory and arrived at the airport filled with custard. This was easy.

This was not Portland.

It's not just that we're not used to it, though we're not. It's what "it" is. Other places, precipitation knows the drill. Rain is going to come out of the sky, or maybe snow, and it's just a matter of when and how much. Around here we get our warm wet systems from one part of the map and our cold dry systems from a whole other part, and whenever they chance to meet they both completely lose their shit like they've never seen anything like this before. All the moisture goes tearing around the various thermal layers like teenagers in a stolen Trans-Am. You got your hailstones whipping around and putting on one coat after another until they're big enough to damage raccoons. Your sleet that starts as snow and falls to rain and then freezes back up again before it reaches the ground. Your frozen rain that starts as snow and melts and re-freezes when it hits the ground. Us and our damned diversity.

The forecasters cover their bases. Morning snow changing to intermittent crap, variable sleet, freezing rain, partly flakey, black ice, patchy snarkles, asphalt of doom. After a while they give up on the specifics and just tell us to expect a "frozen mix."

When our last bout of weather hauled in, it looked like snow, but it was all going sideways and the flakes freaked out when they got close to the ground and screamed back up into the cloud again to sit and think about things for a while, which is never good. Terror amongst water molecules leads them to stampede around the sky in a state of thermal confusion until they're sheared off square and plunge to earth pointy-side down. Finally something began to stick and everything looked cool for a minute, while the colluding weather systems pondered how many strata of crap to lay down and in what order. The ultimate goal here is a slick city-wide gravity detection system wherein everything from vehicles to body parts achieves its lowest elevation as fast as it possibly can. There was a yummy snow layer with an ice coating on top to seal in the juices, a thin film of motorist panic sweat, some random snarkling, and then--the piece de resistance--a cheeky deposit of julienned pre-frozen Midwesterners plucked from upturned RAV-4s and dressed in smug-sauce.

Frozen Salamander
All of which resulted in splendid road conditions resembling seal snot on a polished puck, and not a packed-sand beach at all, but honey? That's why God gave us ditches.

28 comments:

  1. I lived for years in London (England, in case you wonder which one), but didn't drive then (except for one time when me friend let me have a go in her Fiat) and have spent the past 40 something years in climes where "snow" is just a Scrabble word for using up a "w"
    Gettin' purty good at aquaplanin' though.

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  2. Your wonderful description confirms my decision to live in a dessert environment Merry December

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    1. Better yet, be retired and not have to go anywhere!

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    2. And that's why God made Amazon Prime.

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    3. Amazon Prime, and ditches. And emergency underpants.

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  3. She said, "emergency underpants". Yes, she did. And this: "Terror amongst water molecules leads them to stampede around the sky in a state of thermal confusion until they're sheared off square and plunge to earth pointy-side down." She's a magician, I tell ya, a word magician.

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  4. As a jittery passenger I often need emergency underpants. And apply the passenger brake firmly. Whle surreptiously gripping the 'oh fuck' handhold beside my seat.
    Lovely images Murr.
    Thank you.

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    1. I am the WORST passenger. Sadly, I also do not excel as a driver.

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  5. Works of art -- your writing and the images, especially photo #2. I could relate to your icy description here in NW Pennsylvania. Visions of broken body parts dance through our heads but we're hoping for a crazy 50 degree pre-January thaw soon in preparation of the next round. Yes, I miss my more southerly life, which used to be in Marietta, OH...an area you have visited. Kim in snow-, ice- and rust-belt PA

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    1. Why, yes it is. And my sister went to Marietta College, so I first visited it in the '60s. And I JUST found out (no doubt residents all know this) that Marietta was named after Marie Antoinette!

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  6. Must be a glimpse of the End Times.

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  7. Among the most terrifying words in the English language (although they pale next to "President Trump" of course) are the words "wintry mix." We get a lot of that crap here in Central Virginia.

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    1. I know we got some in northern Virginia where I grew up, but somehow it seems to be perfected here.

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  8. We just came through a week with four snowstorms and temperature fluctuating from -18C (-30C with windchill) and +12C. Then it rained. Our main roads are fine now but the gravel roads are like perfect skating rinks. I gotta tell ya, it put a serious crimp in my shopping plans.

    Wait, you have a SALAMANDER HEDGE?? How awesome is that!!

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    1. I do! It's huge! It's right by our front walk when you're coming up to the door! And NOBODY EVER NOTICES IT!

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    2. Perhaps you need a viewing platform??

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    3. What I should have done is sculpt it so that the head faces people as they walk up. I was being subtle. They just glance at the tail and the brain goes "boxwood hedge" and that's that.

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  9. The Les Schwab man showed up about 5:30 tonight to jump my dead battery (not my fault but that's another story) and his truck could not make it up the glare ice in my driveway. Worse, he slid backward toward the street with both foot brake and emergency brake on. Fortunately stopped before sailing across the street and over the hill into the neighbor's garden. Life in the Columbia Gorge, people. It teems with excitement.

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    1. Word. There is more weather in the Columbia Gorge than anybody needs all at one time.

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  10. Originally from Minnesota, I had the misfortune to live and work in the DC area twice between 1984 and 1993. All of the above are accurate with the lovely addition of [Alleged} Drivers with diplomatic plates. Not only are you dealing with herds of panicking federal workers & fine citizens who can't spell snow, but there is also the challenge of staying away from those who can't be held responsible for their actions. 5 car lengths in winter, 3 in summer.

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    1. I'm from Arlington, and our snow was a little on the cusp all right--but around here it's almost always a big fat mess.

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  11. No funny comments, just damn--I LOVE the way you write!!

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    1. Oh thank you! Now I love the way YOU write!

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  12. That's quite the weather selection you've got going there; patchy snarkles? Do they come in boxes by the dozen to hang on a Christmas Tree?

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    1. Ah, well, if you want to know about the Christmas tree, tune in tomorrow.

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