Monday, December 10, 2007

Impending Ice


Kansas City is bracing for tons of ice to fall from the sky, starting at about 5 pm today. Being a transplant from Chicago, I have to say I have never experienced anything quite like these KC ice storms. When every inch of pavement, asphalt, yard, house, tree, and power line has a glass-like sheet of fresh ice covering it, stepping anywhere near your car is like taking your life in your hands. The experienced here have jugs of water, generators, stores of food, and a way devised to keep themselves warm if all the power goes out. The inexperienced have treadless shoes, weak car batteries, and a gleeful attitude.

I hear tell of a storm a few years ago that took out power for two weeks. Friends were crowded into houses that had working fireplaces and no one took showers. Doesn't sound too fun. Although, if the heat doesn't go out, and one is safe at home with no need to leave it for a few days, it could get kind of cozy and fun. I'm from Chicago, where mayors are elected and/or deposed based on how swiftly the city salt trucks clear the streets after a snow storm. This hilly Missouri is an odd land indeed, where one can count on never seeing a salt truck on a side street. Days after the main thoroughfares are drivable, neighborhoods like mine are still snow- and ice-locked. Sure, Red Bridge and Grandview roads are ok, but getting the five blocks to them could kill you!

Last year Kim and I almost died (that could be an overstatement) driving to the airport during one of these storms. My sister and her children were arriving after a harrowing overnight delay in a strange airport, and I happily set out to get them, having yet had no experience with storms such as these. It started raining ice when I got in my car. Three blocks from home I had to pull over to scrape off the layer that had coated my windshield. It had only taken about 30 seconds to completely blind my car. So, I get Kim and we head toward the highway, where, to our dismay, the white truck that had preceded us up the on-ramp tried to merge into the lanes, spun out of control, and did several 360's across the four lanes.

Everything went in slow motion for me. I remember watching the man's face. He looked horrified and helpless and...waiting for the worst. His eyes were on us as he spun, and during the seconds his truck was facing us (and all the oncoming traffic) it seemed to me that he was sure he was going to kill us and was quite sorry and grieved about it. I didn't hit the brakes, because I knew my car would do the same thing his was. And I tried to let my instincts gauge both my speed forward and the speed/trajectory of his spin sideway, so that I knew whether to try to avoid him by moving cautiously into the left lane or the right lane (hoping, of course, that I also didn't spin out when I tried to change lanes). That sounds great, but is kind of hard to do when both vehicles are going about 40 miles an hour and there're only two car lengths between them. As I said, time slowed down for those two car lengths. Kim says I gripped the wheel and said slowly: "Kim, whaaat shouuuuuld I do?" I remember saying that. I also remember obeying the little physics calculations in my head and choosing to move to the right hand lane. I had to do it SLOWLY, or we'd spin out too. It worked. We missed him by a few feet, just in the nick of time. Angels orchestrated that, I'm pretty sure.

So, we lived. I felt like I'd left a fellow human behind for the wolves, though, for it was impossible to stop or help the man, who ended his spin in the middle of 4 lanes, facing the oncoming cars. I pray he lived too.

That is what Kansas City is like in an ice storm. Like I said, get within a few feet of your car, and you've taken your life into your hands. Kim is currently on a grocery run, stocking up on the food three households need to get them through a possible ice-in. Normal food for her and Lizzie, milk for me. How could I face houseboundness sans tea with milk? That would be impossible!

Last night at 2:30 AM, driving to Lizzie's in my pajamas, glasses, and coat (they were going to the ER, and I was coming to watch Glorie-baby), I almost hit a deer. Once again, either quick-thinking or sluggishness saved the day, for I didn't slam on the brakes and both the deer and I lived. Odd, these deer. Even odder, these intermittent ice-storms.

If the ice doesn't knock down the power lines, you might hear more from me in the next few days. Writing novels and blogging seem like natural sorts of things to do when iced into a house. Do you have any better ideas?

No comments: