useless on ice

A dozen years ago, during the early spring, I was visiting my son in Pennsylvania. Among the scheduled activities was an opportunity to see my ten year old grandson play basketball that Saturday at the local YMCA. Upon rising that morning and peering out the bedroom window, I felt a tinge of disappointment. A dusting of snow had come during the night.

I walked down to get coffee and expressed my regret to my son. He looked at me with surprise and confusion until he realized what I meant. Muttering something about southerners during winter, he shook his head as he poured me coffee. About that time a neighbor drove by in his pick-up truck with a snow plow attached to the front. Of course we would be playing basketball; snow happens every winter weekend up north.

At a certain point north of the Deep South, people start planning for icy travel conditions because they have so much of it. For those of us with warm weather roots, we never learn the proper way to behave during a snowstorm, even a pitiful one that involves 2-3 inches of powder.

Snow SE 2014

This was more than evident during the last few days in Birmingham, Atlanta, and other southern places not used to icy conditions. Clueless city leaders, inattentive commuters, big rig jackknife specialists, and four wheel pickup yahoos have once again reduced driving in winter in the south to a punch line.

A few days after the Georgia governor declared an official Winter Awareness time period, the entire region was caught unaware. The Atlanta interstate system became a parking lot, with commuters and other travelers reliving their great-grandparents’ experiences of being cold and stranded for more than ten minutes. I’m sure the local grocery stores resembled the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, especially in the bread and milk aisles. We even had Chipper Jones rescuing former teammate Freddy Freeman.

Things were no different in Birmingham, Columbia, or Wetumpka. Stranded motorists, semis in the median, babies being born in traffic jams, were all part of the story. The good folks in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Detroit shook their collective heads; bemused but convinced of their regional superiority.

Part of the problem is lack of practice. When blizzards happen three times a decade, no one gets used to it. That’s not a completely valid excuse since everyone who drives, directs rush hour, or is responsible for public safety should have a plan in place and a long memory. We don’t see that.

James Gregory discovered the root cause of this perception many years ago. The folks in the south aren’t dumber; we just can’t keep our dimwits off TV. Every tornado interview ever conducted in one of the Confederate states involved someone with no more than a double digit IQ.

Add ice to the equation and the perception, and in most cases the reality, is obvious. Four wheel drive is useless on ice. Tax strapped local governments can’t afford to spend precious allocations for seldom needed equipment and supplies. We all consider ourselves above average drivers and think the brake pedal is our friend.

As a former telephone repairman, I was forced to become a part of the infrequent madness, so I stay the Hell away from it now. I’m content to remain inside until everything melts away, which usually is only after a couple of days.

I did venture to the mailbox yesterday with my best friend Quigley. The adage about neither rain nor sleet, nor gloom of night proved correct, and includes snow, a lot of it yellow thanks to Quigley. I never considered venturing out further.

Not even to the Y.

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Image: Snow and Ice in the Southeast by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via their flickr photostream and used under creative commons license.
Mike Cox

Mike Cox

Mike Cox currently writes a weekly column in South Carolina for the Columbia Star called "It's Not a Criticism, It's an Observation." He is trying to grow old as gracefully as possible without condemning the current generation in charge to doom. Each day this task gets harder as the overwhelming evidence mounts. He currently has two published books; Finding Daddy Cox, and October Saturdays. His columns have won three South Carolina Press Association awards since 2003. Mike has three sons and two grandchildren and lives in Irmo, Sc, just outside of Columbia.