Too Much Advice about Ice

This week we had our first serious snowstorm, which meant it was Thembi’s first time coming up our hill in slippery conditions. She and her car were spared a journey into a ditch, but her car did end up stuck in the middle of the road. After I backed Thembi’s car down the hill while the town plow guy watched, I hustled Thembi up the hill to the farm where there were five mother hens from 19 to 69 ready to give her guidance about winter driving in the north country.

It may have felt more like an assault than a friendly conversation, because when it comes to this hill in winter and winter driving in general, everyone has a story (or ten) and way too many theories, tips, techniques and complicated advice.

Some morsels shared:

When driving anywhere, we told her she needed to dress for an assault on Mt Everest in case, as with today, she had to abandon her car and walk in the bitter cold. This was hard for Thembi, a fashionable woman from the city of Harare to hear …….but worse advice was to come. We broke it to her that her cute hot pink boots were not going to cut it. The most she could hope for was a flash of fake fur on the right kind of boots, ones that were going to weigh about thirty pounds each.

We suggested she go slow and then slow down some more. Then go half as slow again. Then put on the brakes.

We mentioned that she would need to ignore the knuckleheads breathing down her neck because she was going “too slow”. They’d pass her in their impatience and be off the road in a jiffy.

Particular tips had to be given about our hill. Our hill is a territory unto itself. It has the steepest grade of any road in town. Think Alpe d’Huez with sass.

We explained to Thembi that any vehicle coming down our hill had the right of way, and that she should avoid being in the way somewhere on the hill anyways. Frankly, the hill is so steep that even when the road is well sanded and plowed, it’s a dicey proposition to get down the hill in any vehicle but a sled…….. and really, you don’t want to be a sitting target for some free sliding object. Not a many ton vehicle. Not even a sled.

We amended our advice on coming up the hill to include going down the hill as well. As we discussed our many adventures on the hill, this amendment became a no brainer: Don’t start down the hill if there is a vehicle coming up either. Just wait ’til you have the hill ALL TO YOURSELF and then hope it stays that way until you have safely navigated the whole thing. Everyone who navigates this hill could offer Thembi a sworn testimonial about the wisdom of waiting. It would include phrases like “out of control,” “wheels spinning,” “car with a life of its own,” “off the road in the deepest ditch of the whole hill,” and “vehicle suddenly facing the wrong direction.”

We also used props. “Yes, that enormous town plow that just passed, it tipped over on the hill two years ago during a snowstorm. Our hill really is THAT steep.”

As far as personal car hygiene went, we were adamant. A CD cover is NOT the same thing as an ice scraper.

Nor does a hot cup of coffee held close to the front window open enough of a dim little space of clear glass for safe driving. This method is no substitute for warming up the car, even though everyone I know has probably used the hot coffee technique. For our neighbor Malcolm, it was his signature winter move, used daily on his way to teach fifth grade.

Even this morning, I thought Jim was lingering over breakfast because the conversation was so scintillating, but then suddenly he said, “My windshield’s finally clear. I gotta go.”

Yep, in winter everyone around here is only half listening to anything that is being said. The rest of their brains are thinking about the hill, the snow, the ice, their windshields and the way these ingredients don’t always mix well.

Unlike ingredients for a cold drink where ice only makes things better.

Ah Thembi, welcome to winter where ice isn’t just for cold drinks!

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