WOSTER: Bad weather talesA comet blazed out of a nearby cornfield and blew a hole through the passenger window of the vehicle.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
Maybe the best thing about a blizzard-filled weekend such as the one just past is the debriefings during coffee breaks back at the office on Monday.
This time, I had a story or two to share with the other weekend travelers, because Nancy and I traveled from Pierre to Sioux Falls on Saturday morning and back as far as Chamberlain before we called it an evening. The trip down was uneventful, with just a bit of slipperiness on the road south from Pierre, then smooth sailing along the interstate. A book signing was, you know, mostly painless, and a meal afterwards to celebrate the daughter’s birthday was worth the trip.
Trip? Speaking of trip, a favorite winter travel story of mine involves one in which several office folks were trading tales of treacherous travel when one at the edge of the crowd suddenly showed an interest. “Trip?” he said. “You want to talk about a bad trip?” The gentleman, a fully invested child of the ’60s, proceeded to talk about a trip on an interstate during which, without warning, a comet blazed out of a nearby cornfield and blew a hole through the passenger window of the vehicle. The fiery missile flashed past the driver’s chin and out the driver-side window. The guy who related that story to me said the silence hung around the water cooler for several seconds before the co-workers nodded carefully, mouthed, “Well, OK, then,” and drifted back to their cubicles to get some serious work done.
We had nothing like that on our drive from Sioux Falls to Chamberlain on Saturday. The timing was such, though, that we didn’t leave the city until well after sunset, and when the sleet and snow was joined by a fresh breeze, visibility was somewhat limited. I don’t know about you, but I never like it when the tires crunch on the highway. It sounds too much like I’m driving on ice.
Now, I didn’t used to mind driving onto the ice on a stock dam to get close to the drinking hole, where I’d park, dig the ax from the back of the pickup and splash ice chips and arctic water all over myself as I chopped away to re-open the hole so the cattle could drink. The thirsty old cows would bunch close around me, snorting thick vapor clouds into the chilly air as they waited impatiently for me to finish chopping and back out of their way. Even getting soaked wasn’t so bad unless I couldn’t stop back at the house to warm up and dry off before moving on to whatever cold-weather chore came next.
But that’s a stock dam. It’s supposed to be that way. A guy can relax and enjoy the ride in that situation — especially when he’s like 17 years old and going to live forever. When a guy — take me, for example — is approaching 70 or pretty close, he isn’t quite as confident of his invincibility. Driving a highway that shows the slightest bit of ice or packed snow makes me tense up worse than if I were singing a solo at a wedding in a packed church with Father McPhilips looking as if he were preparing to gong me. I don’t need to know the road is slippery. All it takes is the tiniest hint that it might be slippery, if not right there where I’m driving, then maybe down the highway a mile or 50.
In those conditions, I do this: I stop talking. I refuse to play the radio. I hunch forward toward the wheel, hands at 10 and 2 and locked tighter than the main vault at Fort Knox. Nancy looks over at me. She thinks I’m concentrating on my driving. Huh-uh. I’m promising that if by some stroke of luck I reach our destination alive, I’ll never again travel in bad weather.
We made it to Chamberlain, though, and before I drifted off to sleep, I thought: Wouldn’t it have been sad to have missed the opportunity to spend part of a child’s birthday with her? I don’t know how many more chances like that there will be, but we had that one.