Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A White-Knuckle Ride Home

Last night's drive home from work was one of those nightmare rides that thankfully only come along once or twice a year. I was on a night work schedule so my ride home began when most of you were headed to bed or already sound asleep on your pillow, tucked under your covers like a bug in a rug, warm and toasty. Myself and two of my co-workers along with a few dozen others were just beginning our trek home, but we had a major obstacle in our paths. A snowfall that every local weather person from Cecily Tynan to John Bolaris to Glenn 'Hurricane' Schwartz was predicting would be 1-3 inches in the city turned out to be more like a half foot. Note to local weather persons: 1-3 inches is a minor annoyance just a little worse than a rainy day. A half foot of snow, especially as a surprise accumulation level, is a big deal. These television stations trip all over themselves to advertise how their weather is better than the other guy. "The futuristic Accu-Zoom 12000 Radar/Sonar Skycast powered by the Flux Capacitor" or some other such nonsense. In the end, they all get it right, or they all get it wrong. To give them some credit, weather forecasts are shinier and more technical looking than they used to be a half century ago. But I don't see much more difference in their reliability than I did as a kid back in the 1970's when Jim O'Brien was giving us the Five Day Forecast. Anyway, back to that ride home. It begins with the chore of cleaning off your car. Since you have inches of snow all over it, you start by cleaning off the area around your driver door, so that you can get into the car and start your engine. With the car now started, the engine warming, and your defog settings beginning to work you start the process of clearing the rest of the snow from the car. This is a good measure of how much it has actually snowed. How high in inches that it has piled up on your roof is pretty close to how much has fallen on the ground. Last night there was a lot. Okay, so you spend a few minutes clearing off your car and warming the engine, and now comes the tricky part, actually maneuvering this machine with rubber tires home over frozen, snowy surfaces. Did I mention that I hate some of you yet? You would be the folks with the gas-guzzling, humongous, I-can't-see-around-you SUV's. Seems that these things generally handle this kind of weather better than my little old 1994 Toyota Camry. I slowly and carefully eased out of the parking lot just south of Spring Garden Street and moved on to southbound 10th Street. From here down to Vine Street, which is just about three city blocks, gave me a nice preview of what was in store. The conditions were slick and the roads were totally snow covered. PENNDOT had not yet won the battle, perhaps caught a little off guard by that forecasting fau pax. In any event, the roads last night can best be described as dangerous. That's worse than hazardous or treacherous, and just a notch below impassable. I thought there was a chance that if I could just get to I-95 safely, that I would be alright until exiting at my home neighborhood. No such luck. The interstate was worse than the city streets had been thanks to both the condition of the road itself, snow covered and slippery, but also thanks to a heavy volume of traffic. Little did I know that the Philadelphia 76ers buzzer-beating loss to the Boston Celtics had happened a short while earlier. The fans who had exited into this same storm had cleared their cars at the Wachovia Center parking lot and made their way this far north. Whenever you have weather conditions that are poor such as this or even a hard rain storm, you get 'those' drivers out on the roads. You know the ones. The ones that are driving all 'damn the torpedoes' down the highway. The ones that are bound and determined to drive 80+ miles per hour, weaving in and out, in an effort to get home 5-10 minutes earlier than you will? When one of these rocket scientists on wheels goes zipping past me I realize that they care more about reaching their destination a few minutes early than they do their own safety. More importantly I know that they don't care about mine at all. Well these people were out last night. Thankfully not many of them. Most everyone was realizing either out of intelligence or by slipping and sliding that speed was not on the menu tonight. Most of the ride up I-95 towards my goal of the Woodhaven Road off-ramp was slow going, 30-35 miles per hour. Then we saw nirvana. Well it was for me at least. As I hit the Cottman Avenue area traffic began to slow and bunch, and I feared there was an accident ahead. Instead off to the distance were the spinning yellow lights of those PENNDOT trucks, plowing and salting the road ahead. From here on out the drive on I-95 was a little slower, but it was mostly just wet roads thanks to those wonderful PENNDOT crew workers. And luck for me their plow train continued right where I was headed, westbound on Woodhaven Road. It was there as traffic exited from I-95 on to Woodhaven, just before Franklin Mills, that the final two idiots came barreling along. Apparently they had been road-racing in these conditions and were continuing it into this area where traffic had tightened. Not only were they riding each others bumpers, but they were blaring their horns and cutting in and out of traffic. That these two idiots (nice term for what they are) managed to maneuver their little ego-driven race through the traffic and the weather without causing an accident was one of last night's little miracles. On exiting from Woodhaven and moving into my neighborhood, the conditions again got slick and snow-covered, but now I was almost home. I took it slow through the mostly deserted streets of Somerton and finally eased into a parking spot on my block. I flipped off my wipers and turned off KYW from my car radio. The white-knuckle ride was over, and now it was my turn to finally join the rest of you folks, warm, cozy, and safe with my head on my pillow. Until next time.

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