Monday, November 22, 2010

Running on ice

If I am to remember this day for any reason, it will be for the fact it was the first day of the winter season that my commute has been made treacherous and lengthy because of frozen water.  On second thought, I really shouldn't blame the water.  It is the people driving their cars over, around and into it that causes the problem.  It is days like this that make me really wish that I could utilize that shiny commuter train that runs past my house to get to work.  Someday.

So it is November 22 and we have snow in Minnesota.  Big deal, right?  In fact, we actually hardly have any snow to speak of as of yet.  Unfortunately, what we do have is a far more dangerous form of precipitation:  freezing rain.  Freezing rain is annoying enough in and of itself as it causes my window defrosters to work overtime to avoid the inevitable layers of ice that will otherwise accumulate on my windshield and obstruct my vision.  The sneakier (and yet theoretically more obvious) outcome of freezing rain is the effect it has on the roads.

I have driven in enough Minnesota winters to know never to trust a road, especially when we've had any kind of precipitation.  While we certainly can be generous with our salt, sand and plowing, it is sometimes impossible to tell if these treatments have yet to reach the road I am about to take on my journey.  Woe to the moron who assumes that the road is clear because they cannot SEE anything on it.  Today was a perfect case in point.

My total drive to work is really only about 15 miles.  In very good weather with very light traffic, I can make it to work in about 20 minutes.  If I take back roads in the same conditions, it takes 30 minutes.  Traffic congestion is difficult to predict - it is a fickle mistress.  For instance, it could be the middle of summer with bright sunshine beaming down and no road construction in sight, and there could be backed up traffic all the way up to my freeway entrance (which is not exactly IN the city).

The simple answer is that people can be really dumb.  Especially when they forget that it is more important to arrive to your destination alive and hopefully in tact as opposed to speeding and cutting people off so that you could potentially arrive at work a few seconds earlier... or not at all.

For the most part, people in Minnesota do what they are supposed to do and exercise due caution.  Unfortunately, there is always the hotshot idiot that thinks that they are above the laws of common sense.

Example #1:  The Overconfident Driver

This driver usually is in some sort of larger vehicle.  Sometimes it is a pickup truck or a van, but more likely than not it is an SUV.  Due to it's large size and potential all-wheel drive capabilities, the driver assumes that they are built to withstand all road conditions that the world can throw at them.  You know, they're tough.  Of course, they also feel quite safe because they assume that all the metal and other materials that are in their behemoth of a car will shield them from any harmful impact.

While this driver may have a tendency to drive too fast or too close to other cars, their most dangerous trait is that they drive over surfaces or substances that would likely not give traction even to a tank and expect that they will A) be able to stop in an instant, B) be able to start once they have stopped, and C) will remain upright.  Sadly, this does not always work out as planned.  I guess the upside to the large vehicle is that you'll have plenty of room to spread out while you wait for the tow truck.

Example #2:  The Jackass Driver

Oddly enough, this driver is usually in a smaller compact car.  These are the people who weave in and out of lanes during rush hour in normal conditions, cutting off others and riding the backside of any car that they deem too slow.  For some reason, this driver sees no reason to modify their behavior in inclement weather.

Honestly, I really doubt that this driver has anywhere pressing to be and I'm pretty sure they're not running late.  I think that they just honestly cannot stand to wait in line and move with traffic.  They see their careless disregard for the safety of themselves and others as a way to assert themselves and rebel against society.  I have a very hard feeling sorry for these people as I watch them skid off into the ditch.

Example #3:  The Inexperienced/Frightened/Liability Driver

I will not discriminate against any age group or gender in this category.  Let me also say that I am not against exercising caution in scary road conditions.  Where this driver gets into trouble is that they have no idea how to operate their car on snow or ice, so they opt to drive 5 mph no matter where they are or how the rest of traffic is moving.  From my experience, this becomes the biggest problem when dealing with stop lights.  It is quite difficult to gauge whether or not I will be able to make it through a light when I'm basically moving at walking speed.  These are the people who really should just have stayed at home with a mug of hot cocoa and a movie.

So I know this wasn't a very exhaustive list, but my eyes are starting to itch and I think that is a clear sign that sleep needs to be in my future.  One last thing - I did create my Christmas list today for my family.  It's not big, and I'm not sure if it's reasonable, but I did discover that the new iPod Nano is pretty sweet.  At least it looks cool on the Apple website.  My iPod has been possessed by battery devouring demons which renders it only useful when plugged into a power source.

Well, I really must go before my eyes explode in to burning balls of flame.  I hope you all have a lovely evening and remember to exercise caution when driving in winter.  And watch out for me.  I don't want to have to pay for any more car repairs for a long time.

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