Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Surprise Blizzards aren't Surprising anymore

When I left my house this evening there was a hinting at foul weather. It was raining and balancing on the edge of 33 degrees. The drive to the highway was shockingly dark. I waited for the LT to get out of work with the heat blasting and the radio loud to cover the sound of the rain. We sped east of the city to our destination but the weather tapered as we went and there was barely a drizzle when we arrived.

We walked into the dark house and hailed the inhabitants. We bantered for a while about the lights and the baby and then set our minds to progress. Hours passed. It was time to head for home.

While we were distracted we missed the beginnings of the surprise blizzard. One of the lake special effects of Rochester fame.

My furnace of a car was the only vehicle not covered with half an inch of snow. I helped the others brush and sped towards home alone. East to the road of rotaries. Round and round and generally south, aiming for the highway. Nothing was particularly dramatic until I reached the highway. The yellow incandescent lights were hazy and ill defined. The snow was falling more thickly now and dense and wet and absorbing all stray light possible. Everything seemed vague and dim with the exception of the masses of flakes streaming at me in the brilliance of my headlights. Insert here the perfunctory reference to flying through the stars in a space ship.

I was still in 6th gear and still going at least the speed limit but this was slowly becoming unwise. The ground was beyond saturated and though some of the snow melted as it landed the water had no place to go. It built up on the road surfaces and became a slurry as more crystals fell from above. I was driving through at least 2 inches of slush and though I was not hydroplaning and I had decent traction I was being guided from side to side by the uneven pull of friction on the corners of my car.

I turned the radio down and the heat. The noise of slush on tires was drowning them out anyway. Forward. Onward. Slush. Slush. Slush. I passed a car on the right because it was easier than shifting left two lanes. I was rewarded by and enormous blast of water to the windshield. I jumped. The only break in the overpowering sound of wet friction came when passing under overpasses. No snow snuck beneath them and the roads were merely wet. For the first time I realized just how many roads cross over the loops around the city.

I crossed the bridge which designates to me that I am on my side of the city. A plow is spewing salt in a single lane without removing the snow that’s building up. I don’t understand. I pass it and wonder at the salt denting my car. The snowflakes are growing in size. Quarters perhaps but round. Can snow even get that big?

Around the bend are myriad brake lights in every lane. Against my better judgment I slide over to the far left lane, boxing myself in and nearly assuring that I will be in the line of the accident. The slooshing sound of snow subsides with my speed and is replaced by the overly anxious alarm of my radar detector alerting me to what I already knew. There are police ahead. Shortly reflected blue and red lights confirm all of this and I am as expected directed to shift right.

There are many officers. A man is being arrested. Patted down. Alcohol I suspect. He looks less unhappy than I would have suspected. He looks like I wouldn’t want to meet him in an alley. Then a line of cars too close to other solid objects for comfort. OneTwo together then Three and Four against the wall. A woman is standing in the back of an ambulance talking. I glance at Four. There is a man in the passenger seat leaning against the window. No one else is around. He must be dead. I will have to check the news tomorrow. We are past the accident. We pick up speed again.

The sound of slush again increases as do the size of the snowflakes. We are up to sliver dollars. That cannot be true. They cannot be that bit. But they are. I continue on the left side of the road. No longer in 6th gear but still passing, still getting sprayed with water. Still heading west towards home. I pass a pair of plows in tandem. The rear is dumping salt. The front is pushing snow…and dumping salt. This makes less sense than the previous plow. I pass.

I curve gently off the interstate onto the highway that will lead me the rest of the way home. No plows have touched this road and few cars have passed this way. The road is not lit and the slush is much thicker. I have driven this road in much more ferocious snow but the roads were less dangerous. I pass a small pickup. I am in the far left where the roads are the worst. I feel as though I am in complete control but my traction control light strobes to tell me otherwise. I acquiesce to physics and shift right. I regret my decision when I find myself behind a slow minivan. I consider passing it. Then I consider the depth of the slush. Then I consider myself in the ditch. Was that guy really dead? I consider how painfully slow we are going for the next two miles.

I exit the highway to even deeper snow at the bottom of the off ramp. I brake well in advance to prevent a slide and find myself thankful. A car speeds through the intersection at too great a speed for even normal road conditions. The light changes on them when they are between intersections and they slide too far into the middle. They take their foot of the brake to slide backwards down the hill and avoid being hit. Luckily I am not going that way. I don’t want to see another accident.

A few cars have preceded me towards the townhouses and left trails for me to follow. I am home with an inch or more of snow and no roommates. One is tucked safely away in Arizona where it never snows this way. The other is working until I don’t know when. I hope she makes it home safe. I hope she is safe. Did I really see a dead man? I leave fresh tracks everywhere I walk. The snow in the driveway looks white and clean and innocent.

I am as convinced it was a man as I am that I saw him and that he was dead. I would give it a bold 75%. This is not the first time I have witnessed dead human. I’ve watched a man drown. I’ve held the hand of far more intimate death. But I am not yet immune to the shellshock that the permanence brings. I think I saw a dead man tonight.

I unshoe, unjacket, unload. I find pajamas a laptop and a bed. The thoughts are already fading as I start to scrawl. I think I saw a dead man tonight. I put it down on paper because I decided I would when I noticed the different hues of the incandescent lights in the snow and thought it worthy of composition. This was miles and paragraphs before the accident. Before the dead man. But in timeline probably after he was already dead. After the ambulance had arrived on the scene. I decided I was going to write and so I was already writing in my head and absorbing every detail when I happened to look over and see a dead man wearing green.

Maybe it was just a jacket. Maybe what I saw was something other than a hand against the glass. Maybe the person in the ambulance was once in that seat and was now being rushed towards a second chance of life.

My roommate is home. I heard the keys in the door. The keys find a hook. The shuffling of a work weary body in the house. Safe. And of course the news has no story yet. It is still unfolding.


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