Friday, February 7, 2014

Don't Step on the Gas or the Brake...

     When our son was small, he was terrified of lightening.  One day when I wasn't at home, a major lightening storm encompassed our area and my husband decided this would be a good time to teach our little fellow not to fear the elements.  He held our pre-schooler up to the kitchen window and said, "See how pretty the lightening is??"  Only, at that precise moment, the house down the street took a direct hit and caught on fire. David was still a bit freaked out when I got home and my husband was contrite even though it wasn't his fault.
     In my twenties, I was cautious but not fearful about driving on icy roads. I actually traveled from Conway to LIttle Rock several times when the roads were really iced over. Once it took me 3 hours to make the one hour trip but I made it!  With those trips under my belt, I didn't fear old man winter although I respected thick ice on the roads.  What I didn't know was that thick, bumpy ice at 25 degrees is actually safer than rain on bridges at 31 degrees.
     I learned the difference on the way home from church one Sunday night when I went from wet pavement onto a bridge with a thin coating of ice.  I remember my mom suggesting that I stay home and I remember casually brushing aside her advice because the temps weren't even at freezing yet, the service would only last an hour, and I knew how to drive on icy roads.
     That night I learned a new lesson in driving - how to total your car in 30 seconds.
      It left an indelible impression on me and I avoided ice like the plague after that.  However, one morning in 2011, when every other school in the state was closed for a major ice event, our school  stayed open... For the first hour and a half, at which time, we closed.  The assistant principal came to my classroom about 15 minutes before time to leave and said they were letting all the teachers who commuted go first and that he would watch my class.  This ratcheted up my anxiety - no administrator had ever come to my room before in order to let me get away before everyone else did. I knew it had to be serious.  So I grabbed my stuff and headed out.  I could tell that the streets were already glazing over and so I headed straight for the freeway, hoping salt trucks were out already. Only when I tried to turn, I slid... After that,  I opted to go straight and just follow the road wherever it took me. Which meant that I ended up, not on the freeway, but on an overpass leading to a scenic highway.  Which, now that the highway was iced over and adorned with two cars in the ditch, didn't seem so scenic to me anymore. I slid two more times and, at that point,  made a split-second decision: I would go directly to my husband's shop and make him drive me the rest of the way home!!! Thankfully, his shop was right on my way and I didn't have far to get there.  Once I found myself on the parking lot, I whipped out my cell phone, hands trembling, and called my husband. No way was I going to walk the two feet to the shop door!!! He was coming to me whether it was in the fine print on our marriage contract or not!!!  As soon as my husband answered the phone, I yelled.  Seriously.  I think my words were something like:
    Cars are sliding into the ditches!!! I've seen two already!!!  I tried to get on the freeway but I couldn't make the turns because I started to slide and I've lost control on Hwy 5 twice already!!!  I want you to come out here NOW and DRIVE ME HOME!!!!!.
    Then, as an afterthought, I told him I was scared.  Just in case he didn't know...
    My husband knows hysteria when he sees it and after being married to me all these years, he knows there are times when you hold 'em and times when you fold 'em. A few minutes later he was in the driver's seat and before long he had us across the freeway and onto the access road, heading home.  I cried but somehow  also managed to interrogate  him.  Was he going too fast???  What about the car behind us??  Was he sure we could make it home okay?? What would we do if we couldn't??
   He talked patiently, using the honeyed tones one would use with someone on the verge of flipping out - which was appropriate enough.  I remember him "talking me through" each obstacle (i.e., bridge),  telling me that he was  going to build up just enough speed to make it across the bridge but not enough to be dangerous.  I remember him assuring me that as long you didn't brake or step on the gas while crossing a bridge, you'd be fine.  I remember him pointing out that the car behind us was far enough away that we didn't have to worry about it. And I remember cringing the whole time he was talking to me. Trust is not my long suit when I'm freaked out.
    Finally we were almost home!   I was worried about a hill that curved abruptly right before you entered our area but the hill was not a problem - Phil handled it like a pro, piece of cake. I knew we were going to make it.  And we did. But not before we tried to make a 90 degree turn and ended up sliding into the opposite curb, coming to an abrupt stop while another car just managed to slide around us.
     As my son would say, "Fun times..."
     This morning it was cold enough to freeze anything - trust me - and it snowed.  For hours. Big, fat, fluffy flakes. Little, skinny ones.   And nothing stuck.  So I took my niece out for a leisurely lunch.  I mean if anything was going to stick, it would have already, right??
     On the way home, I saw snow pellets hitting the windshield and then went into a kind of denial when I realized wet tracks were being left on the pavement.  How could that be?  Snow off and on all morning and nothing?  And now in an hour's time, tracks on the pavement???
    I  began to white-knuckle the steering wheel and at the same time, with great effort,   managed to keep my words calm for both my sake and my niece's.  I doubt she was reassured however, as  I began to tell myself things like:  just keep it slow and steady, Cathie.  Okay.  There's a bridge up ahead.  Just get enough speed going to get across the bridge but don't step on the gas or the brake.  Okay.  I just lost traction momentarily but we're fine, we didn't slide. 
    She would have been even less reassured if she had been privy to my unspoken thoughts:  if I ever get us home and  get this freaking car in the carport, I'm going to kiss the concrete, go inside, take 2 Ibuprofen, and not come out until August!!!
    Thankfully I managed to keep some thoughts to myself...
    Suffice it to say that we made it.
    When my husband got home many hours later, he didn't even seem to remember that there were slick spots on the roads. When I quizzed him he told me  the roads were fine - just  a few icy patches here and there  but basically no problem.  And I really think that was true. The ice really was very sketchy and I don't think it even slowed traffic much.
     But it didn't matter. Facts don't in a case like that...
     I told him a few icy patches "here and there" were enough to scare me spit-less. He looked genuinely concerned at the thought of me being so frightened.  He racked his brain and came up with the perfect solution -the next time it iced over, we'd go out  and practice driving on a large, vacant parking lot. He assured me that with just a  few spins under my belt, I'd gain confidence and never be afraid of a little ice here and there again.  He was perfectly serious.
      I looked at my best friend and envisioned him holding  our child - our only child - up to the kitchen window during a bend-the-trees-to-the-ground storm and saying, "Isn't the lightening pretty..."
       "Um, no thanks. 'ppreciate it and all that...  But the next time there's a hint of snow or ice on the roads, you'll find me in bed with a good book or on the couch watching my favorite Jane Austen flick."
        Truly men - even the best of them - are from Mars and women - at least this geriatric female - are not....
         Just sayin'

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