The Slippery Slope of Snow Driving in Charlotte
It is supposed to snow tonight in Charlotte. Shut it down. Shut it ALL down.
There are a great many things that happen when it snows here, chiefly among them, widespread paranoia. How will we get to work? How will we shovel the driveway? Do we need snowshoes? Canned goods? A team of huskies to pull the light rail trains?
No. But you do need to know how to drive in snow. And so in that spirit, I present to you this essay I wrote in February 2010 as slippery white death rained from the skies in Charlotte:
First of all, it should be known that you suck at driving.
No really. You’re not nearly as good as you think you are. Sure, you say, I’ve handled bad weather before. I’ve driven x-amount-of-hours through wind and pounding rain and all sorts of blizzards and tropical storms. I’ve got street cred, you say. I’m the Dr. Dre of inclement weather transportation.
In reality, you’ve got about as much street cred as a 12-year-old kid on a sugar high at a slick-track go kart course. When things really get bad, you’re going to white-knuckle it at speeds topping out at ten miles per hour. Or, you’ll haul ass and look confused as you skid sideways into a telephone pole.
We’re not used to truly awful weather here in Charlotte. Certainly not snow and ice. You want evidence? Look no further than this last weekend. A few inches came down and the whole city turtled on us. Nothing was open. People didn’t leave the house for days. And, of course, nobody drove.
Unless, of course, you were from the north.
Oh, some people told me, you’ll be fine because you’re from Ohio. You can steer your way across a solid sheet of ice one-handed while juggling bowling pins in the other. Even my boss assumed I’d have no trouble driving in through the worst of it. Of course, he’s from San Antonio, where they closest thing they’ve ever had to a whiteout is a confetti storm during a Spurs championship parade.
The truth is, we don’t know how to drive any better than you do, Southern Man.
A couple of years ago, the brother of one of my best friends from Ohio was driving home in a snowstorm and got rear-ended by a cop. I’ll repeat. A COP. See, he was sitting at a red light and had been driving the proper speed and all, and the nice policeman misjudged the stopping distance and ended up somewhere between his backseat and bumper.
And police are supposed to be the most bad-ass drivers on the road.
Growing up, I was in the family Buick when it flew off of a two-lane state highway in Ohio, somewhere between Warren and Ravenna. It wasn’t even snowing. The people following us saw a perfect 180, then a side entry into the ditch. Nobody was hurt, but I do remember having to collect my M&Ms from the front seat. I was sitting in the back.
My dad was driving. And dads are supposed to be the most bad-ass drivers on the road. Especially northern dads.
Up north, we’re just as frightened of the snow as you are here in the south. The thing is, we take that fear and turn it into something tangible that costs money, like all-wheel drive or snow tires or (gasp) chains. Some people put winches on their jeeps, because they know at some point in their lives, they’re going to slide off of a curve and end up tumbling over a hillside. Best to be prepared.
Up north, we’re so afraid, we plow our roads into submission. We spread so much salt, our highways have heart disease. There was somebody who rolled around in my old neighborhood with a backhoe, charging $20 to clear your driveway and the street in front of it. I always wondered how a 15-year-old kid got his hands on a backhoe.
Down south, people resent us Northern Men. They think we’re all cocky. As the snow started to fall last Friday, another boss of mine looked out the window and boldly declared to the world, “Come on. THAT’S not snow.” He’s from Cleveland, where they apparently have lake-effect snowflakes so big, sometimes you find walleye in them.
Northern Man will laugh at Southern Man as Southern Man crawls along on a barely damp street, aging noticeably as he haunches forward in his seat with his hands at ten and two. By comparison, Northern Man is making an appearance in a Hal Needham movie.
Yet, Southern Man will laugh at Northern Man as Northern Man sticks his chest out, and declares with bravado and fanfare that dammit, it doesn’t matter how much snow and ice we’re getting, nothing will keep him from CostCo. Sure, Southern Man declares, let’s see how you feel after you wreck on the way home and can’t extricate your bulk-sized tins of Carmel Corn from your crumpled trunk.
This last weekend, I, Northern Man, did venture out on to the icy roads. It took me five minutes to make my way 30 yards up a slight incline and out of my parking lot. For most of those minutes, I looked on as the front tires of my Cavalier spun helplessly. I scratched my head as my car gracefully glided backward as I thrashed my steering wheel left and right, hoping THAT might do the trick.
I realized at that moment: I suck at driving.
I’ll just say this: Southern Man, Northern Man, be informed. More snow could come this weekend. Watch the ridiculous TV news reports that tell you how to steer out of a skid (and then try to remember them when you actually skid). Go to the store now, before the roads ice up. That way, you can stay at home during the storm and dine on bread and milk, just like a prison inmate.
Buy a snow shovel. Find your sled. Build a snowman. Be nice. Pretend like you northerners and southerners really like each other. We both have to share this city and its roads, no matter the weather. And if you’re still upset, stay inside and have a Coke. Or a soda. Or whatever the hell it is you southerners call it.