Between Sunday night and Monday afternoon, two inches of snow had fallen in Seattle. From Monday afternoon onward, frozen bridges and ramps and a slew of accidents left the city in gridlock. One friend reported a three hour commute from Microsoft to the city; reporters found people with commutes four times as long. Over an Amazon email list, one guy asked for futon recommendations at the Columbia Center office. On my way home, I gaped at a crowded bus attempting to climb a mildly steep hill; the chains on its rear tires rattled against the pavement as they rotated in place. The bus lost in backsliding every few feet it gained. On I-5, just outside my window, a siren sounded every five minutes into the night. (Why can't Seattle handle snow?)
At midnight, the parking lot of I-5 amid the dusting of snow.
My car and I had better luck: I followed the safe driving tips on the radio, calculated the route between home and work that minimized the grade of the roads, avoided sudden braking and turns. I drove at a steady 10 mph and let the impatient people pass with angry acceleration. Surely they were the foolish ones. My commute took barely any longer than usual.
Eq 1. How to pick a snow route, if you prefer to think about it this way.
This temporary turnaround from my aggressive driving habits arose out of a fierce protectiveness of my 2009 Prius, which I bought four months ago. It's the first car I've owned, the model and the color I wanted. When the right rear door got lightly dented a week after I drove my Prius off the dealer's lot, I was so upset, I promptly reported the damage to my insurance company. (Not a good idea unless you've seriously wrecked your car and the loss covered by insurance outweighs the increase in your premiums over the next several years.) The point is that, besides my recently adopted catfish, my car is the closest I've come to an expression of motherhood.
My car in a happier season
It's fortunate that my first experience of motherly negligence came before any kids did. My tire pressure warning light had appeared a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't know what it meant and didn't remember to find out until my officemate, Bruno, sat in the passenger seat on Tuesday. Public service announcements for ignorant drivers like me: it looks like this:
Who knew those were tire treads? It looks like some sort of fluid in some compartment is low...
I didn't start dealing with this until last night, when I realized I wouldn't want to drive to and from the airport on a somewhat deflated tire. My timing could have been better, considering services close for Thanksgiving and my flight leaves Thanksgiving night. My main lifeline was the air machines at gas stations, but I'd never used them and never seen them used. After trying to make sense of the online how-to guides, I drove to a Shell station, where the cashier handed me change in quarters and warned that the air machine might not work in freezing temperatures. Combining the temperature with my frantic incompetence, I might have let out more air than I pumped in.
This morning, I drove to Arco to try my luck again. Ahead of me at the counter was a big man with a ragged gray ponytail, ranting to the cashier about the problem of faith in an imported God. "Their first encounter with God was when the white men created Jamestown..." I tried to interpret the situation: a God-peddler had chosen Thanksgiving day to do his calling, and he had the dazed-looking cashier pinned. After a minute he saw me and graciously stepped aside. I asked for change and advice on using the air machine. The cashier told me to just pump it; I made repeated pumping motions with my hand; he nodded. The ponytailed man offered to help. The cashier, seeing my hesitation, said, "He's a good man."
As ponytail guy knelt by the near-flat tire and pressed down firmly on the lever (it works just like a gas pump!) I rediscovered the treat of meeting somebody new, if only over three allotted minutes of air. It was vastly different from the necessity of meeting a co-worker or the awkward physicality of small talk with strangers at the gym. Ponytail guy has lived in Seattle for eight or nine years; he wants to eventually start a ranch. A ranch... of cattle? I ask stupidly. A ranch for troubled kids, it turns out; he's currently studying for a counseling degree. His name is Calvin Runningbear.
I tried to think about the kindness of strangers while driving home on inflated tires. Bouncy and confident, I shortcutted down a series of side streets and turned toward the driveway of my parking garage, faster than the 2 mph I had attempted in previous days. My car missed the driveway, skidded into a bush and stopped just short of a pole. I was too jammed into the bushes to turn right into the driveway, and too close to the pole to turn left down the hill. The ice would not permit backing up. One well-meaning guy walking by told me to back up and shoot into the driveway, a reminder that some strangers would be as helpless as myself in these situations.
The ice was most slippery just outside the driver's door, an incline where my shoes had no traction. Every time I climbed back into the car was a delicate balancing act; I grappled at the seat, the hold above the door, the driver's wheel; I pulled myself in slowly, afraid to unsettle the stationary friction of 1.5 tons.
Two girls who looked my age spotted my predicament. The outspoken one, Quincy, I had met fleetingly before because she knows the condo president's nephew. "They shoulda salted this part," she noted, and knew immediately I could not back up without traction. She walked away and came back hugging a bunch of muddy leaves, which she spread behind the front left tire. I went with her on a second detritus-gathering trip. "Now back up and turn, real quick like, into the driveway!" she directed. I turned the steering wheel all the way left. "Other way!" I no longer knew how to drive. "Now back up." No go. Quincy knew why; she had seen my right front wheel spinning.
After organic tracks were laid for both tires, I could finally back up. But I drifted away from the driveway, in the downhill direction. It was apparent to Quincy and her friend that my only option was down. I had visions of careening down until I crashed into the barrier over I-5. No, she assured, the ice was mostly melted on the slope. What if I hit the pole? "Make a fat turn and then go down." I coaxed my car into a fat turn. I stopped on the way down, having finally regained control, and thanked the girls.
The slope, the pole, my tire tracks and the traction piles.
The Youtube video was shot on John St in my neighborhood, but the videographer should've positioned himself outside my driveway. There he could have caught some real suckers.