I knew early Monday morning that this past week’s winter storms were going to be memorable.
Despite my wife’s strong suggestion that I work from home after the first storm hit, I got into my car and headed toward the office, confident in my abilities to navigate sleet and snow. I made it only a couple of blocks.
I had stopped just short of the intersection of Medallion Drive and West Park Avenue to take photos of a worker spreading salt in a bank’s parking lot, then snapped a couple more of a driver who got temporarily stuck in the intersection.
Back in my car, I couldn’t even get as far as she did before my car would go no farther. The rear-wheel-drive sedan would not climb even the slightest incline at the south end of Medallion. Thankfully, it did better in reverse.
I turned around and crept back home, told Betty Gail I needed to take her car — a smaller sedan with front-wheel drive — and stubbornly went back out into it, leaving her shaking her head.
This week’s layer of mostly sleet with a coating of freezing rain had many thinking about the 1998 ice storm, which put much of this city in the dark, some of it for days.
But the one it reminded me most of — both in terms of the amount of precipitation and the bitter cold that kept it from melting as quickly as it normally does in the Delta — was a storm that hit in 1985.
Betty Gail and I had married the previous summer and were living in a one-bedroom apartment on Church Street. I don’t recall how much snow we got — several inches for certain — but I do remember that the roads were mostly not passable, just like this week.
For a couple of days, I walked the mile to work because the snow wasn’t melting, just packing down and making the surface even slicker.
Maybe I had more sense back then, or maybe it was because I owned a less dependable car.
But it became a point of personal and professional pride that I didn’t miss work and the newspaper didn’t miss delivery.
A lot has changed in the meantime. The Commonwealth doesn’t have its own carrier force any longer and uses the postal service’s instead. We have to bow to its judgment of when it’s safe for its carriers to be driving, or when it has enough mail coming in to justify the travel.
Also, the internet has provided — as long as there is electricity or strong cell-tower service — an alternate way to get our news out to many of our print readers.
The internet also makes it possible to effectively work from home.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we acquired last spring some software that allows employees to access on a home laptop or desktop their work computer almost as if they were sitting in front of it. We implemented the software shortly before a few employees had to quarantine at home after contracting the coronavirus, and it came in handy this past week.
As for driving in ice and snow, despite my inauspicious start, it’s been mostly smooth sailing since. The highway folks are absolutely right to discourage driving when road conditions are so hazardous, but if you have to, here’s my advice:
1. Put your vehicle in the lowest gear it will go and drive slowly. There’s almost no slide you can’t correct as long as you aren’t going faster than 20 mph. This also makes No. 2 easier to implement.
2. Use your brakes as little as possible. There is a tendency to panic and hit the brakes when a car starts to fishtail in the snow. It’s the worst thing you can do. Gradually correct the slide with your steering.
3. Avoid inertia. If you come to a dead stop, you might not get going again. The toughest time for an automobile to gain traction is when it’s standing still.
4. Pretend you are driving a boat, not a car, and the slight sideways movements caused by the slick surfaces are like the waves jostling a boat from side to side. Let the ice guide you through the turns, rather than thinking you can master it to your will.
5. Don’t spin your wheels, thinking you can dig yourself out of trouble. Most times you’ll just put yourself into a bigger hole, from which you might not escape. Instead, put your vehicle into reverse, back out a little ways and try going forward again.
6. Drive carefully but with confidence. If you’re scared to drive in the snow or ice, don’t try it.
Most of this advice won’t do you any good now that what was so picturesque and dangerous is melting into yucky but safer slush.
But save it for the next time, even if that next time won’t be for 30 years or so.
• Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or email@example.com.