tirsdag, februar 06, 2007

Snow Day

I'm listening to "Mary's Song" again. It's by the Aislers Set and is, I think, a nearly perfect song.

So. It was snowy today. The roads were iced. I drove a particularly nasty stretch of 35E out to Eagen to interview people who have accomplished more in life than I ever will, but that gets me to thinking on how in writing I'm given so frequently the opportunity to meet extraordinary people and hear their stories.

And how I hear their stories even when I'm not trying to earn a buck. Because they are everywhere, those stories.

It was icey and I drove listening to NPR not because I had any particular interest in what was on the mid-morning broadcast--I wasn't interested--but because I wanted to know about the roads and whether we were all dying on them today.

The snow was steady but the flakes were too thin to give us any grip over the black ice that had formed from so many days that had nipped below zero. There were all these dramatic moments of braking lightly only to hear the wheels cry in the way one imagines they will when you're spinning off towards a terrible event.

The lanes were largely masked by the blowing snow. Everyone had come to some sort of telepathic agreement about what we'd consider lanes, and occasionally you might encounter an exposed line and discover you'd been straddling a dashed turn lane or a sliver of shoulder, but you went on because you'd agreed to.

Slick Shoes

Years ago when I'd returned to Chicago for a visit I stopped at the house of former neighbors. They showed me their photos from a trip to China. This was before the woman had fallen too far down into alcoholism to climb out.

The man told me a story about driving along a rural Illinois highway one day while he was trying to make it to a business conference. At some point he'd lost his bearings. The road was caked with a thin hard layer of snow. There were no trees or telephone posts to give him guidance. There weren't even any trucks out, at least not right at the moment he decided to stop.

It was just that he'd started to wonder if he'd drifted from the highway. That sort of thing can happen out there. (It happened recently in Wisconsin. A news van fell through the ice on a lake after the driver got confused and was under the impression they were driving along a road.) So he stopped and got out to look around.

Quite a storm had developed. Lots of snow. Lots of wind. And as he walked around the car to feel by the wheel whether it was road or field a sharp wind caught in his overcoat and spun him.

He fought it but in his dress shoes he was helpless. He got spun another time or two, carried a few staggering steps, and finally went over.

When he looked up, the fierce snow blinded him. He couldn't see his car. He could not tell any better whether he was on road or field. He couldn't hear whether a truck might be coming, and if it was he was sure he wouldn't see it before it hit him or his car.

I don't know how long he waited. Not very, I suppose. He was afraid but needed to do something. In that near-panic he came up with what I think is fairly interesting solution to the problem: he began walking a circle. He widened it until his hand found the vehicle.

A number of other challenging and far less likely to be solved problems would greet him thereafter, but he made it through that outwardly dangerous, white afternoon.

It's a story that sticks in my heart as if it were my own.
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