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My First Time . . .

The Little Mini That Could

. . . driving in snow.

Growing up a Southern California girl, snow was what happened when you went skiing. Ideally, the snow fairies would come at night while you slept and you would wake up to sun and fresh powder.

There were no snow days – although there were several smog days that kept the recess hour inside – snow was not something you had to walk in for ten miles to get to school and it was not something I learned to drive in – ever.

The first year I moved to Seattle there were a few hours of snow. I remember standing at the window mystified thinking “It’s snowing and I’m not even skiing.” Yes, sometimes the not-real blonde invades my otherwise functioning mind.

I was working at home at the time so I just didn’t leave the house. During the two-week snowstorm of 2008, I was in 80 degree India. From then til this past Thanksgiving we were snow free. And then yesterday, there was a weather advisory. “Weather advisory in effect from 4pm to 4am . . .” snow, followed by freezing rain, followed by rain. 1-2 inches of snow expected to start during the commute hours. The message was clear –GO HOME NOW.

Normally, I would heed this advice. I’m always up for an excuse to call it a day early, but last night was the first night of the second quarter of my non-fiction writing class. I checked the UW hotline. “The UW campus is operating on a normal schedule.” I checked it every 10 minutes for two hours. Nothing.

At 4 pm snow did not start falling from the sky. Nor did it at 5 pm. UW persisted in sticking to a “normal schedule.” I weighed my options – skip class or risk getting stuck in the snow. I drive a Mini, with bad tires. There is no four-wheel or all-wheel drive in my arsenal. No chains in the boot. So getting stuck was highly probable.

Naturally, I did the intelligent thing – I risked it. I drove to class, I parked – at the top of a hill – and I went to class. As we hit the 1 hour 45 minute mark of my 3-hour class the snow began. “Don’t worry, it won’t stick” my classmate Steve told me. It stuck. And it didn’t stop snowing. By the time we left class at 9 pm, snow was steadily falling and over an inch was at our feet. I called Jim.

“Can my car do this?” I asked. “Where are you?” he responded. “Well, you see, I’m in the Padelford lot at the top of a hill. If I make it past there I can exit the back way and then it’s pretty much flat all the way home.” Pause. Jim sighed, “If you can get to 25th you should be ok, but you’re not going to get up our hill, you’re going to have to walk.” “Ok” I said, resolve steeling me while I tried to push images of driving off a cliff out of my mind. “Go slow. Pump your brakes. If you start to slide go with the slide, head toward the curb. Call me when you get to the bottom of the hill!” Jim rattled off instructions.

While I was talking to Jim, Steve negotiated the hill. He walked all the way back up to give me a pep talk and recommendations. As I rolled down the window to talk to him, I let the window go all the way down. The accumulated snow on my window fell into my car and on me. Lovely.

With Steve and Jim’s advice in hand I was off. Off like a turtle. I crept down the hill, in first gear, clutch mostly in, brake foot at the ready, hand on the e-brake (which would have been useless, but we’ve established that logic was not with me). I made it down the hill. Success! A gentle incline greeted me and then it was smooth flat-land sailing.

My wheels started spinning and spinning. The car started turning – not, in the direction I wanted. With zero traction I wasn’t going anywhere. Naturally, I stubbornly kept guiding the wheel in the direction I wanted and upped the gas. After what seemed like ten minutes but was probably less than one, my stubborness paid off and with a jolt I was moving up the incline. I made it to the top, took a deep breath and headed home. I drove slow. I eventually made it into second gear but my speed never exceeded 22 miles per hour. A few SUVs and Subarus passed me. I just thought, “Hey, going slow is impeding your path a lot less than me wiping out and blocking the road.”

I finally made it to the bottom of our hill and decided to try to go a bit of the ways up to minimize the walk. As I started to turn the car off, the car began to slide. I pulled on the e-brake – nada. I quickly turned the wheels into the curb. That, worked. I sat in the car for a few minutes to assess whether the car would continue to slide and then I grabbed my purse and my briefcase and started the walk up the hill . . . in these:

Snow Shoes?

Perhaps, I need to invest in more practical footwear . . . and chains.