Sunday, January 06, 2008
SCENE: New Year's Eve, December 31, 2007. Somewhere on Route 89, approximately, 3:30 p.m.
I'm sitting in the driver's seat of my 3 week-old, brand-spankin' new, 2008 BMW 335 xi coupe (monaco blue, saddle brown seats, manual, 300 hp), cruising down Route 89 in Vermont, on my way to Burlington for New Year's Eve. To my right sits R., a/k/a the Highlander, a/k/a a loyal reader of this blog, who is visiting from Scotland.
BACKSTORY: The day before, in an effort to do something different for New Year's Eve and avoid amateur night in NYC, I had the brilliant idea to drive to Burlington for the day. I figured that a three hour drive up north would be a nice way to start the new year. After purchasing a non-refundable hotel reservation, I Googled the directions to Burlington and discovered, to my chagrin, that Burlington is in fact 400 miles away from New York. That's a six (6)-hour drive, each way, not three. Upon learning this disturbing factoid, I donned the Nick Cage Honeymoon in Vegas face:
I didn't take it well. But the following morning, we got on the road early, around 8:30 a.m., and as we flew through Connecticut and Massachusetts, my mood improved. The ride up was quicker than I thought it would be, and the scenery along Route 91 was a veritable winter wonderland: evergreen trees covered in snow, their thick branches intermittently cast in orange from the sunlight breaking through the clouds. Red farmhouses, miles of open fields, iced-over ponds. It felt like we were driving in that old Dream Academy video, Life In A Northern Town. Just beautiful.
RETURN TO PRESENT: Around 3:30, we reach Route 89 -- the homestretch -- and it begins to snow. (Another thing I forgot to do before embarking on this little adventure was check the weather report.) The white stuff falls gradually at first, but by 4:30, it's a full-on snowstorm. If a blizzard is a Category 5, then this was a Category 3 or so. Not wholly debilitating, but not a trifle either. By this time, we'd been on the road for nearly eight hours. I'm tired and eager to get my ass to Burlington so I can relax and enjoy some celebratin' on the last night of the year.
Soon the two-lane highway is blanketed in snow and ice. I notice that the car isn't gripping the road as well as before, and I don't like it. Even though I've got all-wheel drive, I don't have snow tires, and the car just isn't built for driving through the tundra. Complicating matters, our two lanes have been reduced to one, and the traffic is building.
"When we get to Burlington, we should find a wine store," says R.
"Yeah, let's figure that out when we get there," I answer, with too much bite.
Less than a minute later, the beige minivan in front of me hits the brakes hard, stopping suddenly on a dime. I'm less than ten yards behind him, in 4th gear, going too fast. "Fffuck!"
Now, I grew up in New Hampshire, so driving in the snow isn't completely foreign to me. Indeed, one time back in my youth, when I was still a romantic, I was on Christmas break and really missing my college girlfriend, who'd returned home to New Jersey when school let out. I couldn't stand being apart from her for too long (boy, how much has changed in that department), so a couple of days after Christmas, I climbed into my mother's old Ford Escort, and, ignoring her warning, drove seven hours in a blinding snowstorm to see my girlfriend. The conditions were so bad that when I started my journey from the Shire, the only cars on the road were me and a very large snowplow. I went very slow and arrived in New Jersey in one piece.
But that was 18 years ago. Since I've been in New York, I haven't owned a car, and the few times I've rented one, I've never driven in a blizzard. So you could say I'm a little out of practice.
Which is why, when I see the minivan's red brake lights come on like two devil eyes, I commit an amateur mistake: I hit the brakes. The predictable result of my faux pas is that my new Beemer doesn't slow down like I want it to, but rather, skids quickly and decisively towards the ass of the minivan, which, no doubt, is carrying a kid or two. (Who else drives minivans but people with kids?)
Time slows down for a second and then speeds up again.
R. gasps loudly; I yelp out another "Fffuck!," only one, as that's all I have time for. The minivan gets closer. I hit the brake again. Beemer responds by dovetailing its rear wheels to the left. I turn the wheel in the direction of the skid (that much I remember to do), but we're still headed for the minivan's ass, which is now right in front of me. I have a decision to make: hit the minivan from behind at X miles per hour, or steer the car to the left, where there's nothing but an open gully of land separating the north and southbound lanes of Route 89. It's not a hard choice.
With my right foot still stupidly on the brake, I turn the wheel to the left and into the gully we go, bouncing up and down like two surprised bullriders. "Wwwhhoooaaa!!!" (It's funny the stupid shit that come out of your mouth at moments like this.) The snow rumples under the car as we surf for what seems like forever. A huge white wave flies up, blanketing my window. In the middle of it all, I remember looking out the window and thinking "Wow, that really looks like an ocean wave. How strange." I keep waiting for the car to hit something, but it doesn't. Finally, mercifully, we come to a stop. R. and I sit there for a second, stunned at what just happened. She stares out the windshield with a catatonic/WTF-am-I-doing-here look on her face.
The whole thing took less than ten seconds.
After getting our bearings and confirming that we both still have our health, I open the door, which hits the packed snow with a crunch, and jump out of the car. My adrenaline's pumping, and I want to get the fuck out of there fast. It's getting dark, and it won't be long before the snow freezes under the wheel wall. If that happens, we're looking at a long night. I'm also pissed because we were so close to Burlington before this happened, less than 20 miles. And I'm pissed at myself for not looking at a map before making these overzealous plans.
I look behind the car and see two, deep trenches that mark a clear path back to the highway, fifteen yards away. I tramp through the snow to the front of the car, put my hands on the grill, which is half-buried, and try to push. Not happening. With an admittedly uh, "insistent" tone, I direct R. to get behind the wheel and reverse the car while I push. She opens the passenger door, trudges through the snow to the driver's side, and gets in. Alas, we don't succeed. I'm too impatient, and she's not familiar with the car. A decidedly bad combo, given the circumstances.
We both get back in the car, wet and pissed off. Within a minute or two, a gap-toothed truck driver stops in the southbound lane. Since we're in a gully and he's in a raised flatbed, when he starts talking to me, it's from a few feet above my head. I roll down my window, and he tells me with a wry smile that the same thing happened to six other cars up the road, and a bunch of tow trucks are pulling them out, one at a time. We're going to have to wait our turn; it could take an hour or so. I thank him for the info, but stubbornly keep trying to back the car up. All I end up doing is spinning the front tires deeper into the snow. A couple minutes later, Gap-Tooth stops by again, this time in the northbound lane and tells me to stop spinning the wheels because I'm not going anywhere, and it's only going to make the tow truck guy's job harder. I listen to Gap-Tooth, and just sit there, waiting for Godot.
Twenty minutes later, a yellow tow truck shows up. A guy who appears half my age jumps out and comes over to the car. He looks like someone I might've gone to high school with, a decent, hard-working local kid. He tells me that he's going to do some digging and then try to tow us out. He says not to worry about the noise under the wheel, that he's going to try to be careful, but he needs to get rid of the snow. I tell him not to worry about it, since it was my fucking driving that put me in this predicament.
While we sit in the car like two aristocrats, the guy digs the snow out from my front tires with a shovel and his hands. After a few minutes, he asks us out of the car. R. and I walk to the edge of the highway, where, behind us, cautious drivers are rolling by at a snail's pace. The snow starts coming down harder, or maybe it only feels that way because we're standing outside. The snowflakes feel like little knives cutting my face. I'm freezing my ass off, and I lament my poor choice of a jacket, this brown knee-length number that's better suited for fall. I could really use the winter vest that goes with it, which is hanging in my closet. Good place for it. Then again, I didn't plan on spending my New Year's Eve standing on a highway in a blizzard, watching my new car get pulled out of a snowbank. By this time, I thought I'd be sitting in a toasty pub next to Lake Champlain, downing clam chowder and sipping a hot cider as I contemplated my new year's resolutions. But like Mr. Lennon said: Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.
R.'s looking cold and annoyed. Can't blame her too much, as I was a bit sharp with her when we tried to start the car. She walks over to a Vermont state trooper nearby and asks him if she can wait in the back of his car. The asshole looks at his empty backseat and tells her that there's no room. He has the kind of dishonest, smarmy face you see on bad cops in movies like Internal Affairs, the ones who take bribes and pull attractive women over so they can hit on them. Total doucheface. Having been denied sanctuary, R. walks back to stand near me, her favorite person of the hour.
Behind us on the highway, a long line of cars is still snaking by. I catch a few sympathetic glances from the drivers, most of which say Boy, I'm glad I'm not them! It's the same look I've given to countless stranded drivers I've seen on the highway over the years. This time, it's my turn. I look back towards my car, so I don't have to watch people watching me. I hate being a spectacle.
Then, while I'm watching the tow truck guy rope my front wheels with his cable, some dude behind us yells: NICE BEEMER!!! This tasty quip -- which I chuckle at later on -- doesn't immediately register, though I see R. stifle a laugh. The traffic behind us is moving slowly enough that I have time to turn around and see the sarcastic MoFo and the car he's driving: a rusted out, maroon shitbox -- it looks like a Camry or Corolla, circa 1994. I yell back a lame retort about his sweet ride. R. and I briefly discuss how nice it is that some people get off on the misfortune of others.
Then I think, hmmmm, I guess when people see a new Beemer buried in the snow like that, they assume that the driver is a yuppie prick with a nice car who ventured too far from home and who doesn't know a thing about driving in the snow. Perhaps it's natural that they would point this out to the yuppie prick when given the opportunity. Then I thought, wait a second, when did I become a yuppie prick with a nice car? When did I become one of them? Time was, I drove a rusted-out AMC Gremlin that dad tried to patch up with Bond-o. I used to be just like Shitbox Guy, driving what the old man gave me and happy about it. What happened? What, indeed. Then I think, awww fuck it. It's not like I'm driving a Mercedes, for goodness sakes! And it's only a 3 Series! Shitbox Guy should save his vitriol for Porsche drivers. Or better yet, Lexus drivers, who don't even feel the road when they drive. At least I felt the snow under my ass when we carsurfed into the gully. Eat THAT, you Lexus pansies!
Anyway, a few minutes and $150 later (a relative towing bargain compared to New York), we get back on the road and arrive in Burlington by 5:30. All in all, it could have been much worse.
I'm happy to report that the rest of my New Year's Eve went better. Burlington is a pretty city, especially when it's completely covered in snow. R. and I eventually made our way to a small club called Nectar's near Church Street, which had this kick ass band playing groovy funk all night long. We shared the night with a nice, friendly crowd, and there was plenty of room to get my dance on, though you'll be happy to know that I left the Running Man at home. After a long and difficult day, R. and I got good n' ripped. Which was nice, because unbeknownst to us, a worse ordeal portended for New Year's Day, when we tried to drive back to New York in a Category 5 blizzard. In the worst conditions I've ever driven in -- much worse than the day before -- we saw at least ten cars stuck in the snow off of Route 89, including an SUV that had rolled onto its roof. We saw another car directly in front of us fly off the road and do a 360 before somehow climbing back on the highway.
Me? I learned my lesson from the day before. I drove like an 80 year-old man. I downshifted to slow down and didn't touch the brakes. When the sun set, we'd only driven 100 miles and were still in Vermont. That's when we decided to stop in Brattleboro for the night, rather than continue on. The first wise decision I'd made in days.
Fool me once....