Contributor Post Created with Sketch. 3-2-1 GUN IT, and push together

 

The trip home from the office is a straight shot south, a long broad road laid out long ago. At the creek I turn and follow the parkway, a winding path that connects the lakes, wanders down to the falls that empty in to the Mighty Miss. I pass under the freeway, thread my way along the parkway past a house I almost bought in 1997, under the great bridge that vaulted the chasm and brought suburban development to the fields beyond the city’s boundaries. The last leg is a winding climb up the hill to my house, and I like it in the winter: the snow adds some treachery. A man can have some fun with the turns, letting the tail of your car play wide before you snap it back.

At the bottom of the street was an Amazon delivery truck. Stuck. That was obvious. It was pointed the wrong way, moored in a snowbank at an odd angle. You do the thing you know you have to do: stop, hit the blinkers, get out, help. 

There was already a team of ragtag assistants. Half a dozen urchins, the gang of boys that arises by primogeniture. They were eager to help push. I didn’t think the kids could get the truck out alone, and I doubted I could add much – but ah, here’s a fellow with a shovel. I’d never met him before. I don’t know where he came from. Doesn’t matter: he has a shovel.

He dug out the ruts. Gave the driver the signal. The boys piled on to the end of the truck, ready to push. I waved them off – not a great idea, guys, he’s going to have to rock it to get out. Wait ’til he gets over the hump. The driver gunned it, let the truck fall back, gunned it again, and we all knew: this was it. Everyone, adults and kids, found a spot on the back of the truck, and lent our legs and backs. WHrrrrrRRRRRR! Then the raw scrape of the tire finding pavement, the high whine of ice and snow spun into the air, the satisfying certainty that we have liftoff. The Amazon truck found purchase and escaped its slough of despond.

The boys leaped and hooted and shouted with triumph: they’d done it! Best day ever! Together they had matched wits with the elements, and prevailed! The man with the shovel stuck it in the snowbank like he was planting Excalibur. We all exchanged manly nods and that was that. 

Snow’s the worst thing about living in these parts. It’s also the best. 

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  1. The Reticulator Member

    James Lileks: A man can have some fun with the turns, letting the tail of your car play wide before you snap it back.

    Front wheel drive makes it so easy to do it without mishap that it’s almost not fair. But there is also that stupid beeping that cars now do when you make your turns that way.

    And it’s also a nuisance when your kids get old enough to start lecturing you about your driving in the snow. In high school our daughter spun out on the ice and ended up in the ditch. This was some years before cell phones. We had been wondering what was keeping her when we got a call from the state police: “Everything is OK, but…” The officer knew to go straight from identifying himself to “Everything is OK” with no gap in between.

    But the problem was that ever after, our daughter was a nag about how we drove on snow or ice. And our oldest son became one after he hit a deer. None of our kids seemed to enjoy those fishtails as much as I do.

    • #1
    • January 7, 2021, at 11:12 PM PST
    • 18 likes
  2. Judge Mental Member

    I learned to drive in the snow. I don’t mean I learned how to drive when there is snow in the road, I mean that when I was learning to drive, and immediately after I got my license, there was snow in the road, so that my earliest driving experience was driving through residential side streets with eight inches of snow that was like slippery sand, because it was so cold it wouldn’t pack at all and didn’t melt for week after week.

    Before the end of that, I could do the controlled fishtail slide around corners to avoid coming to a complete stop, If you never stop, you’re never stuck.

    • #2
    • January 7, 2021, at 11:18 PM PST
    • 18 likes
  3. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    I have fond memories of the two winters I spent in Minneapolis in grad school. I was impressed with how quickly the streets were plowed after a snowstorm, so I never had any trouble driving around town. The only trouble came in the morning when I had to dig the car out of the snow that had fallen overnight!

    What I liked the best was that even with the bitter cold and snow, the sun came out most days. I loved driving around the area with the sun glinting off the white snow. I had no problem with the cold, and found it bracing.

    • #3
    • January 8, 2021, at 12:28 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  4. JennaStocker Member

    We can still band together and allow ourselves collective mirth in scenes that are repeated since time immemorial (at least since the automobile). No cell phones, no apps, no Alexa, only the neighbor kids and a good shovel. ((sigh))

    • #4
    • January 8, 2021, at 12:41 AM PST
    • 10 likes
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    If you never stop, you’re never stuck.

    You could get a damn popular bumper sticker out of that line. 

    • #5
    • January 8, 2021, at 2:34 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  6. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In old car magazines, the true repository of the best of cultural history, I’ve read about what it was like to get out of church in the Thirties and have to help restart the recalcitrant cars of fellow worshipers/parishioners. Back in the days of 6 volt batteries, there wasn’t much winter resistance. Since they were all manual transmissions, they could and were push started rather than jump started electrically. That was routine.

    A second problem was engine block freeze-up. Anti-freeze, using a chemical in place of water in the engine cooling system, was still a new idea back then, and by Depression standards it was expensive. So a lot of New England skinflints bought a cheap grade of blended industrial alcohol and filled their radiators with it for the duration of the winter. 

    It left a smell, though not a strong one, that tipped off the savvy: here’s somebody who’s frankly struggling to make ends meet. But he’s still showing up at church, still maintains a running car, still at least tries to stay true to his faith even if he’s slipping a little in keeping up appearances. 

    Anyone else thinking that crafty old Lileks is slipping a fast pitch over the plate, a subtle pitch about sticking together during adverse times, helping each other out, and not giving up?

    • #6
    • January 8, 2021, at 2:49 AM PST
    • 23 likes
  7. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    I learned to drive in the snow. I don’t mean I learned how to drive when there is snow in the road, I mean that when I was learning to drive, and immediately after I got my license, there was snow in the road, so that my earliest driving experience was driving through residential side streets with eight inches of snow that was like slippery sand, because it was so cold it wouldn’t pack at all and didn’t melt for week after week.

    Before the end of that, I could do the controlled fishtail slide around corners to avoid coming to a complete stop, If you never stop, you’re never stuck.

    After I graduated college in June 1985 I moved to Alaska, driving up the Alaska highway. By December it became obvious I wasn’t going to find the kind of job I was looking for and decided to move back home to Wisconsin. [At the time the Alaska highway was still unpaved for several hundred miles. It was actually a better road in December than June because the snow and ice held the gravel in place. There was also almost no traffic.] In any case, the second afternoon/evening out I was somewhere in the Yukon. I was driving my little hatchback with everything I owned in it, including my cat. It was getting towards dark, and it had snowed a little bit, so there was maybe an inch of fresh snow on the road, and plowed snowbanks a couple feet high on either side of the two lane road.

    I came around a relatively sharp curve in the road and the back end snapped around on me and I did a 270 degree spin in the middle of the road, somehow not hitting the snow bank on either side of the road. I stopped, caught my breath, then decided since I had to turn anyway, I’d turn around and shine the headlines back up the road to see the tracks I’d left to figure out how I’d missed going off the road. Once I’d satisfied myself, I went to turn back in the correct direction, and managed to nose down off the road and get stuck in the snow bank. I spent about 10 minutes trying to dig myself out before deciding to wait until another car came along.

    My brother had given me a couple flares for emergencies before I left, so I decided to sit in the car and wait until I heard an engine before I lit one off. It took probably 30-45 minutes before the next vehicle came along. He pulled over, and with me in the car and him pushing I was back on the road in just a minute or two.

    I was more careful on curves the rest of the drive.

    • #7
    • January 8, 2021, at 5:44 AM PST
    • 10 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  8. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I hate snow and ice. Visceral. Thanks for reminding me why.

    • #8
    • January 8, 2021, at 5:52 AM PST
    • 1 like
  9. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Jeff Bezos should equip all Amazon trucks driving in snow conditions with Blue Origin New Shepard rockets, for just such emergencies.

     

     

    • #9
    • January 8, 2021, at 6:09 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  10. Hartmann von Aue Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    James Lileks: A man can have some fun with the turns, letting the tail of your car play wide before you snap it back.

    Front wheel drive makes it so easy to do it without mishap that it’s almost not fair. But there is also that stupid beeping that cars now do when you make your turns that way.

     

    Frontwheel drive is terrific. We had the Pontiac 6000 Sport Edition, with the overpowered slant-6 engine and frontwheel drive. It tore through snowbanks that left pick-ups stranded back in the 90s. Great car. 

    • #10
    • January 8, 2021, at 6:33 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  11. The Reticulator Member

    Hang On (View Comment):

    I hate snow and ice. Visceral. Thanks for reminding me why.

    I dislike salty slush. I don’t even like slush without salt. That was my excuse for not going out in the woods yesterday for another session of cutting, splitting, and stacking wood. The snow was too wet. Today the temperature is not supposed to get above freezing, so I expect it to be more pleasant.

    I dislike salted roads so much that if I had to drive to work on them every day I’d almost prefer to be in a climate without winter snow. Almost, but not quite. And in climates where winters are too cold for salt to do any good, therefore it isn’t used, there isn’t a long enough season for bicycling. 

    • #11
    • January 8, 2021, at 6:35 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  12. The Reticulator Member

    James Lileks: The Amazon truck found purchase

    In my case, purchases find their way to the Amazon truck. 

    • #12
    • January 8, 2021, at 6:39 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  13. iWe Coolidge
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    One fond memory my wife and I share was when she had a dorm room over 116th street in Manhattan (we got engaged at 19). We would spend some nights watching cars trying to get in and out of icy -snowy spaces on the hill, kibbitzing the whole while about the technique. You know, you like when someone almost gets it going, but loses their nerve at the last second, or when they do not know how to rock the vehicle? We would make predictions of what they would do, based on what the driver looked like. Such semi-informed forecasting was still somewhat OK in the early 1990s.

    The most entertaining driver simply drove over the curb and drove his car to Broadway on the sidewalk.

    • #13
    • January 8, 2021, at 7:08 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  14. Manny Member

    Nicely written!!

    • #14
    • January 8, 2021, at 7:21 AM PST
    • Like
  15. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Been there, shoved that.

    • #15
    • January 8, 2021, at 7:35 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  16. DrewInEastHillQuarantineZone Coolidge

    James Lileks: Snow’s the worst thing about living in these parts. It’s also the best. 

    This is very true. The record-breaking snows of Feb. 2019 made for the most miserable Winter I’ve ever experienced in my 55 years here. At the same time, the camaraderie among my neighbors was the best. Men with shovels and snowblowers moving from driveway to driveway helping clear the way, freeing helpless damsels from their snowbanks of distress.

    I think it’s that impulse to want to accomplish and achieve something with physical labor.

    The only time I really regretted the kindness of neighbors was when one fellow who lives across the street from me was so enthusiastic about helping me free the stuck minivan that he cut a brake-line with his shovel.

    • #16
    • January 8, 2021, at 7:53 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  17. Midwest Southerner Member

    I smiled the entire time I was reading your post. Thank you!

    • #17
    • January 8, 2021, at 8:46 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  18. The Reticulator Member

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Since they were all manual transmissions, they could and were push started rather than jump started electrically. That was routine.

    I did plenty of that in the 60s during my college years. The problems with getting cars started were further north than Baja Minnesota where James Lileks now lives. It was sort of a relief to get back to the Twin Cities where cars would start, windshields would defrost, etc. But dealing with cars in winter in those southern climes was also not as memorable.

    I was reading my mother’s diaries the other day from the years around 1950 (years which I don’t remember) when there was severe cold and a lot of snow in North Dakota. My father was a Lutheran pastor and had three parishes to serve, spread out along the Soo Line, with the farthest one being in the west end of what are now the oil fracking fields. She told how one Sunday he tried to make it out through the snowdrifts to his other parishes, but didn’t get very far. He tried gunning and running through one snowdrift, but the jump caused the trunk of his ’49 Chevy to pop open. He gave up and let the other parishes go without worship services that Sunday. I don’t think he had any good way to let the people know, as there was no phone service in our little village until some years later, but such things happened and people seemed to figure it out. It was far from the only time that the roads were impassable.

    Gunning and running was also a good way to get your car hung up where the tires wouldn’t have any traction, and then you’d have a lot of work to shovel out the hard-packed snow from under the car to let it back down to earth, but I suppose everyone has to experience that at least once in life. (More than once for those who have trouble learning from experience.)

    • #18
    • January 8, 2021, at 10:53 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  19. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    James Lileks: A man can have some fun with the turns, letting the tail of your car play wide before you snap it back.

    Front wheel drive makes it so easy to do it without mishap that it’s almost not fair. But there is also that stupid beeping that cars now do when you make your turns that way.

     

    Frontwheel drive is terrific. We had the Pontiac 6000 Sport Edition, with the overpowered slant-6 engine and frontwheel drive. It tore through snowbanks that left pick-ups stranded back in the 90s. Great car.

    It was indeed a good car. Pontiac aficionados called it the “Goose”, because of the way letters were formed on the chrome strip that spelled out the model name. The plusher model, the 6000 Luxury Edition, was the “goolie”. 

    • #19
    • January 8, 2021, at 11:36 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  20. Quinnie Member

    That was delightful. Thank you.

    • #20
    • January 8, 2021, at 12:59 PM PST
    • Like
  21. kedavis Member

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    If you never stop, you’re never stuck.

    You could get a damn popular bumper sticker out of that line.

    I had a neighbor with a Jeep that had the bumper sticker “Often Lost, Never Stuck.”

    • #21
    • January 8, 2021, at 1:19 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  22. Belt Member

    My dad likes to say that having a four-wheel drive doesn’t mean you won’t get stuck, it just means you’ll get stuck worse when you do get stuck

    • #22
    • January 8, 2021, at 1:21 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  23. kedavis Member

    Belt (View Comment):

    My dad likes to say that having a four-wheel drive doesn’t mean you won’t get stuck, it just means you’ll get stuck worse when you do get stuck

    When I lived in Central Oregon, my little Honda Civic would cruise right past the big 4x4s stuck in the snow.

    • #23
    • January 8, 2021, at 1:25 PM PST
    • 1 like
  24. Full Size Tabby Member

    In the 19 years I lived near Rochester NY the only time my car got stuck in the snow was in my own driveway. I hired out plowing, and the plow guy hadn’t come by yet, and so I also did no own a snow thrower. But, a neighbor came over with his and neighborly helped get me unstuck. In high school and college our son used to love to help people out in the snow with the sturdy old Subaru he drove. I hope those experience, and yours with the kids helping the Amazon truck, remain a better representation of America than our politicians and “elites” are. 

    • #24
    • January 8, 2021, at 3:30 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  25. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    There is one place that can say “hold my beer” to Minnesota when it comes to snow, and that’s Buffalo. About 30 miles east of my home. Lake effect snow happens in distinct bands, and we are north of the biggest one that comes off Lake Erie and clobbers Buffalo on a regular basis. I remember one snowfall of 120 inches, where it snowed for a solid 5 days, and that isn’t even the record.

    My dad taught Driver Ed when I was a teenager. He was also the town Justice of the Peace, and if you had been one of his driving students you did NOT want to turn up in his courtroom with a speeding ticket. He would start every new year by telling the class, “There are only two rules for driving. 1: Never forget that you are surrounded by idiots. 2: Try not to be one.”

    When things got cold enough (usually November; in this area, we plan Halloween costumes to go over snowsuits) Dad and a few of the kids would go to an unused parking lot at the school and plow out paths about two cars wide. Then they would water down parts of it to make glare ice. His classes would learn what a skid felt like, and how to get out of it. There was plenty of snow berm to pile into when you screwed up and panicked the first few times, and we would all pile out and make the unfortunate student driver do the worst of the pushing to get back out of the berm. I don’t think there is any effective way of teaching how to handle loss of control of your vehicle without experiencing it. I know Dad turned out some good all-weather drivers.

    • #25
    • January 9, 2021, at 8:32 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  26. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    There is one place that can say “hold my beer” to Minnesota when it comes to snow, and that’s Buffalo. About 30 miles east of my home. Lake effect snow happens in distinct bands, and we are north of the biggest one that comes off Lake Erie and clobbers Buffalo on a regular basis. I remember one snowfall of 120 inches, where it snowed for a solid 5 days, and that isn’t even the record.

    My dad taught Driver Ed when I was a teenager. He was also the town Justice of the Peace, and if you had been one of his driving students you did NOT want to turn up in his courtroom with a speeding ticket. He would start every new year by telling the class, “There are only two rules for driving. 1: Never forget that you are surrounded by idiots. 2: Try not to be one.”

    When things got cold enough (usually November; in this area, we plan Halloween costumes to go over snowsuits) Dad and a few of the kids would go to an unused parking lot at the school and plow out paths about two cars wide. Then they would water down parts of it to make glare ice. His classes would learn what a skid felt like, and how to get out of it. There was plenty of snow berm to pile into when you screwed up and panicked the first few times, and we would all pile out and make the unfortunate student driver do the worst of the pushing to get back out of the berm. I don’t think there is any effective way of teaching how to handle loss of control of your vehicle without experiencing it. I know Dad turned out some good all-weather drivers.

    The area from Oswego to Watertown along the east/southeastern shore of Lake Ontario is even worse, because Ontario is a deeper lake than Erie, and IIRC, it’s only frozen over twice in the past 100 years, so the lake effect storms continue on longer.

    • #26
    • January 9, 2021, at 11:59 AM PST
    • 1 like
  27. T.C. Member

    iWe (View Comment):

    One fond memory my wife and I share was when she had a dorm room over 116th street in Manhattan (we got engaged at 19). We would spend some nights watching cars trying to get in and out of icy -snowy spaces on the hill, kibbitzing the whole while about the technique. You know, you like when someone almost gets it going, but loses their nerve at the last second, or when they do not know how to rock the vehicle? We would make predictions of what they would do, based on what the driver looked like. Such semi-informed forecasting was still somewhat OK in the early 1990s.

    The most entertaining driver simply drove over the curb and drove his car to Broadway on the sidewalk.

    Overlooking 116th Street? When did Barnard build a dorm between Broadway and Riverside drive? (Or did they convert one of the faculty housing buildings?) … I remember returning to Morningside heights about 10 years after I’d left and being disturbed when the chock full of nuts on 116th and Broadway became an Ollie’s Noodle shop … Geez I’m getting old. 

    • #27
    • January 10, 2021, at 8:16 AM PST
    • 1 like