Saturday, January 4, 2014

The reordering rules of snow

Winner: best use of vegetables and protective headgear

I'm not very accustomed to driving in the snow, because all my winters for the past seven years I've spent in Ann Arbor, blissfully avoiding contact with the automobile type and shuffling frozenly from one point to the next. This year, though, I own a car, and over Christmas break I had the need to use it. The lack of traction unnerves me, the same pit of stomach slipperiness that comes with ice skating. I make a turn onto the main road, the monster I supposedly control does not respond to me, its back and then its front swerve into snowy ruts on the curb. I am a person who likes having control over things, and this gas-fueled beast knows it can now get the best of me.

Worse, though, are my neighbors on the journey. I'm driving into the city, and I don't have the road to myself. Other folks pass me - sometimes scoot behind in my shadow but mostly pass impatiently, lulled by experience or SUV ownership into confidence on the road. I make it a steady thirty mph, up to thirty-five when the two lines in the road become especially dark, down to twenty when those who came before us started making turns and muddying the treads. I want to go slow enough that if I spin out I won't die, and neither will anyone else.

Snow erases the established laws of the road and replaces them with what they should be naturally, were we left to our own devices. The lanes of I-96 do not exist as I remember them from a week ago. We start out with two, the right lane disappearing into sludge. And then, as my predecessors by some unitary will merged together, only one set of wheel marks endures, and I slip into it praying for no one to butt up against my tail and pressure me to move faster. Once in a while I can see the lines in dry patches or under bridges, and judge how far off we've become. When we meet the wide turns I see the tread marks cross the white dashes precipitously, working with the cars' own style, denying the road the fullness of its arc.

Despite my rule-following tendency, the probable result of extensive Catholic schooling, the few times I have sinfully turned at a no-turn sign have led to immediate cop car repercussions. It's something of a curse, I think. So as I follow the dark leading lines of the cars come before me, it's comforting to think that no sane cop would fault me for ignoring the obscured white dashes. Snow overlays the laws of the city and creates its own, inarguable because it's nature. Michigan happily avoids most natural disasters, so we don't often get the chance to wonder at the natural world's reordering of our lives. As the snow storm stages its act 2 tomorrow, I will drive carefully and try to appreciate this planner's cosmic lack of control.

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