Winter driving is not for wimps — or maniacs

Burt's Eye View

Wind gusts whipped snow across what I hoped was still I-90. It’s hard to see the white lines beneath layers of swirling snow.

It was the winter of 1977 or ’78 and I, Burton “The Foolhardy” Cole, drove my two brothers from Conneaut to Cleveland. Not only were the Cavaliers playing a regular season game, but retired Cavs like Nate “The Great” Thurmond, Jimmy “the Cat” Cleamons and my favorite, Bobby “Bingo” Smith, were playing a bonus, old-timers exhibition game.

During a postgame autograph session, Thurmond remarked to one of his buddies, “The court is a lot longer than it used to be.”

Back in those days, I relished the challenge of driving in snowstorms. It was fun, and at 18 years old, I was invincible. As one sage put it, winter roadways are equal parts driving, bobsledding and church service. I lived for the thrill.

Several decades have passed. Something happened along life’s roadway — I slid into wimpishness, er, I mean, sanity. The other day, I remarked to a buddy, “The ditch is a lot deeper than it used to be.”

I remember the pulse-pounding moment in 1978 that my car slid on a slick bridge right for the minuscule guard rail. The little snowbank left by the plows created a beautiful launching ramp. Moments before takeoff in my ’72 Dodge Polara, a divine hand or a wind gust (or a divine hand disguised as a wind gust) swept my Dodge sled to the left just long enough to ski back to the center of the road. The danger was over — until the next ice slick four or five seconds later.

I am no longer 18. Danger has lost its charm. If my thrill is on Blueberry Hill, I won’t find it because I’m not driving anywhere in this weather.

Bumbles bounce. White-haired geezers in their mid-60s, not so much.

Another afternoon in my youth, I sped down a backroad in Dad’s farm truck, driving my little sister to a birthday party. There’d be none of this wimpy, putt-putt stuff for me on account of a little snow. Teenagers, like Bumbles, bounce.

The farmer who witnessed the ravenous snow drift make a snatch for us and swallow the truck deep into a hidden, canyon-like ditch eventually putt-putted over on his tractor, nonchalantly made me burrow under the pickup to hook a chain to it, and hauled me out.

He later told Dad, “Them kids ain’t go no sense. He’ll learn not to drive like an idiot when the roads ain’t clear.”

The farmer misspoke, of course. The great philosopher George Carlin said, “Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”

A maniac slammed into that ditch.

I used to scoff at wimps who stayed indoors after a measly foot or two of the white stuff: “It’s winter. It snows. Get over it.” I mocked the wimps: “It snowed — quick everybody, in the ditch!”

Since slowing to idiot speed, I’ve remained free of snowbanks and ditches. Today, a thrill ride is reading an adventure novel while gently rocking my easy chair in front of the electric fireplace. Yeah, I don’t even use real fire. I’ve become that boring.

“But you’re still coming to work, right?”

Yeah, yeah, yeah — from the remote computer hookup in my living room. Until the snow takes down the wires.

Then, on the advice of another anonymous great philosopher, I’ll jump in the car, aim south until I see palm trees, then apply the brakes — and some sunscreen.

Merry Christmas!

• Take a sleigh ride with Cole at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or at www.burtonwcole.com.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today