I had a lovely, long post about driving in Cincinnati, about areas where people who regularly drive behave differently than those just passing through. There was even a little rant about people who have no idea how wide their cars are. Then I looked it over. I knew what I was talking about; I lived it. But man, was it dull! So I cut it.
In a similar vein, though, there is a little matter of winter driving. Because of our latitude, and geographical location, our weather can be – diverse. That seems to be the case across the entire midsection of the country. Here, we have influence from Canada, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic. Big hurricanes in the Atlantic have a dramatic effect on the weather up here. Hurricane Ike in 2008 caused significant power outages (over 927,000 households, some for up to a week) and wind damage here. I was kinda glad I missed it.
In Colorado, there was the combination of Canada and Mexico, or California – what could make it over the mountains – doing fun things to the weather. In the ten years I was there, there was always at least one week during December with single digit, or even negative, temperatures. Negative in Fahrenheit, is a little worse than negative in Celsius, what with zero Celsius being the freezing point of water, and zero Fahrenheit being some 32 degrees less than that. Zero degrees F is -18 in Celsius. That bitterly cold week usually happened at the beginning of December. It seemed Christmas Day was as likely to be 70 as 20, much like here. Halloween costumes are created in layers, so that there are enough to wear in case it snows, or enough to shed in case it’s warm. Easter might be warm, or it might snow. One year, when it fell on April 19, it snowed. A few years later, Easter fell on April 16, and it was nearly 80.
We are far enough south that on average, winter doesn’t get all that cold. That means we don’t get all that much snow. it’s humid, though, so we get plenty of rain. Plenty. More than Seattle, which many other cities in the US can say. Ours doesn’t spend all day misting and drizzling. Not all the time, anyway. Sometimes, it likes to come down all at once, creating new little rivers where there once were streets. Flooding isn’t uncommon. It’s more about how badly the streets flood, not whether they will. There was a street outside my first apartment in Colorado that flooded every time there was a heavy rain. Badly. to the point where cars would get stuck, it was so deep. It wasn’t a side street, either, it was a major north-south artery. About two blocks away, there was a side street over a culvert that flooded, too, except with rushing water, rather than standing. People would drive through that mess. Good way to get swept off the road. That, I avoided.
A week ago, we had our first major storm of the season. Not the first one forecast, just the first one that actually hit. Our county ended up at a level 2 snow emergency. A couple of areas went to level 3. Now, I’m not an alarmist when it comes to severe weather, and that’s probably made the difference between my getting home, and needing help getting home. Folks from points north complain about schools getting closed when there’s a half-inch of snow on the ground. What they forget is 1) Cincinnati is NOT flat – Colorado Springs is flatter, just higher in elevation, and 2) There is always a layer of ice under that snow. Imagine driving on a narrow, 2-lane road, twisty, turn-y, hilly, with woods on either side. There may or may not be a drop off, and it may or may not go into a creek that didn’t exist last year. Now cover it with a thin layer of snow, over a thicker layer of ice. That you won’t see until you’re on it. My neighborhood isn’t so bad. There are areas in the greater Colorado Springs area that are worse. But going straight east, or straight north from my house, that’s a little trickier.
So this last winter storm, it closed schools before it even hit. The warnings were so dire, stores ran out of bread and milk 24 hours before it hit. The one before that was a non-event. This one wound up meeting expectations. The morning was no problem. Just cold. Around lunchtime, the snow started. Innocently enough at first. It had been over 60 just two days before, so the ground was warm; the snow didn’t stick, it just melted. The temperature kept dropping, and the melted snow turned to ice. At work, they were letting people who lived a considerable distance leave at 1:30 if they wanted. they could either work from home, or use vacation for the rest of their shift, but they could go home. I live close to work, so I figured I’d wait until everyone else left before I struck out. My manager sent us home by 4. That doesn’t happen. But, our county had declared a level 1 snow emergency. Roads are not that great, so be really careful. As opposed to level 2, which is only go out if you absolutely must. That happened about twenty minutes after I got home. And level 3, unless you’re a cop or a doctor or nurse or firefighter, or someone with a job as important, stay off the roads or risk being ticketed.
It didn’t take any longer for me to get home than it normally would. Big difference, though, is instead of traffic – which there was almost none – there was icy, snowy, hills. And I have a lightweight, rear-wheel-drive, high profile vehicle. There were only two spots that concerned me – the street my workplace is on, which goes downhill at either end, one steeper than the other, and the hill that starts at the bottom of the street where my workplace is, that I would have to go up to get home. One thing time has taught me is how to handle that. It isn’t a particularly steep hill, but it goes uphill for an entire block. Slight curve the whole way, too. Oh, and buses and semis with trailers use that street. There’s a school and a Coke plant right next door to where I work. The top of the hill ends at a traffic light, where it flattens out for a few blocks, before dipping down for a couple blocks and back up for a few more. I knew that if I got up enough speed, I’d make it. The light at the top of the hill was red when I saw the car. Far enough away that if I could get in front, it would be fine, but I had to get in front, first. The car was stuck right next to a little island that separated straight and left from right. The street was two lanes at that point, and the car was blocking one, and a little bit of the other, right next to a little island that separates the straight and left from the right turn. Two other vehicles were turning left onto the street just as I was getting close to the top. One minivan, and one semi. A small one, but a semi just the same. That left less than one full lane for me to get through, on an icy, hilly, curvy, busy, road. I couldn’t stop; if I didn’t want to get stuck next to that car, if I didn’t want to get in the path of those other two vehicles, I had to keep going.
Hit the gas just a teensy bit too hard, and I’m in front of a semi that can’t stop. Back off just a little too much, and there’s nothing for me to do but go back down, backwards, and try again. I was kinda glad the light was still red when I got through; my heart was pounding. After that, it was smooth sailing. Sort of. I almost took the entire time of the light to get out of that intersection and complete my left turn. Made it without incident. Went down the major east-west artery (literally down), made it to the bottom where the light turned red. I sat there hoping the people behind me knew how to stop. Just past the light, another hill. That was my best option for going home; every other direction was very steep, or miles out of the way. The hill started right after the light, so I had to get my running start early, and just hope the light stayed green – or at least yellow – long enough for me to get through. Otherwise, once again, I would be forced to find another way to build up my speed.
There were maybe five other cars out at that point. If traffic was even half as bad as it normally was that time of day, I wouldn’t have made it home; it’s as simple as that.
Today, it was cold, but not cold enough. Rain fell from the sky all day, heavy, light, drizzly, misty. After stopping at the post office – and I just now realized I forgot to put a return address on the boxes I sent – and picking up my contacts for the year, I headed for lunch. Now, if you have something negative to say about Cincinnati-style chili, I suggest you keep it to yourself. I’m sure you have some regional delicacy that the rest of the world thinks is sick and wrong. I stopped there for a couple of reasons. One, two of the packages I sent had canned chili in them, and two, I’d been thinking about it since one of my other homesick friends mentioned she was craving it. Took forever – I must have sat there for 3 whole minutes before the server brought my food to me. Took longer to order, and that only because we were having a discussion over whether the root beer has caffeine in it (Barq’s has bite – i.e. caffeine). She said it didn’t. Promised it didn’t. Well…okay.
I sat and enjoyed my meal – small three-way and a cheese coney, no mustard – and read for a bit. It was warm in there. Steamy, even. Outside, it was at the misting stage, barely strong enough to need an umbrella, but too annoying to go without. Got up, paid my bill, and turned to leave. I had to pause. Even though the building had gone through a major remodel, it still had some feel of the original building, small, bright, old-fashioned. The moment I put my hand on the door, I looked at the window right next to it. I could barely see outside; it was steamed up from the temperature difference. That moment, I don’t know. There was something about that moment that reminded me of all the other meals I’d had at various locations around town, with family or with friends, and at that moment, at that very moment, all was right with the world.
As usual, this went a completely different way than I intended. I even had to change the title. Took me over three hours to write, too. There’s a reason I try to write first thing in the morning; fewer distractions.