Thursday, February 3, 2011

When Is a Snow Day Not A Snow Day?

School is canceled here in southern Louisiana. See, it's a bit chilly, and somewhere some cars slid on some ice. It's all kind of funny, because I grew up in Colorado and Wyoming, where we have actual snow days. And, man, it really had to snow to get a snow day.

One winter afternoon, the Friday of a three-day weekend, I was determined to come home from college. I forget now why I was so determined. Maybe it was just the fact that they'd closed the road between Laramie and Fort Collins, and at various times in my life I've been the kind of person you didn't tell they couldn't do something.

So I threw my laundry and my cat into the truck (at the time I had an old brown and gold, go Cowboys! International pickup truck with a hole in the floorboard and a radio that would work if you smacked it hard enough) and set off for the alternate through Cheyenne and down through Denver. I had heard rumors that they were going to close that road too, so I didn't really take the time to think it through.  I learned later I was the last vehicle through before they closed the road. Take that, state troopers!

It's 55 miles between Laramie and Cheyenne and usually takes about 45 minutes. Of course that doesn't take into account driving in a blizzard. I was the final vehicle in a mangy line of trucks and cars, and one by one I watched them slide off the road. At least until it became a whiteout and then I only saw the outlines, like dinosaurs in the mist, as I passed them by. Slow and steady wins the race.

Eventually it was just me and a Volvo full of college boys. The road was gone as far as we knew,and all that was left was a featureless white expanse. In the Volvo ahead of me, one kid had a ski mask on and was hanging out the window, trying to make out markers. I don't know how fast we were going -- come to think of it, the old International's speedometer might not have been that reliable either -- but it was pretty damned slow.

If you've never been in a whiteout, I don't know if I can adequately describe it. It's like a dream, maybe.  It's like that episode of the old Twilight Zone where the girl falls through the rip in dimensions and her parents can just hear her voice while she wanders through a disorienting void.

The radio had quit, the cat was asleep, and all I had was the thump of the windshield wipers, the whistle of icy air up through the floor, and the occasional glimpse of the idiots in the Volvo. Roughly three and half hours after we started out, we hit Cheyenne. Following a stern talking to by the state troopers explaining that we were lucky to be alive and double-lucky not to get a ticket, we spilled out onto I-25, where, remarkably, the sun was shining. Ah, to be young and bone-numbingly stupid again.

So today I can tell that story to my kids, not as a cautionary tale about taking foolhardy chances because you have poor impulse control, but as an exemplar of the hearty, can-do stock they come from, people who aren't afraid of a little ice, people ready to cross the windswept, snowsculpted plains in gas-guzzling deathtraps so their moms could do their laundry.  Snow day? Pah.

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