COLUMN: The Human Condition

Martha E. Conway

Martha E. Conway

Let it snow, let it snow, drive in a ditch

Editor’s note: Another piece from the Way-Back Machine; the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

By Martha E. Conway

A couple of Saturdays ago my friend “Jane” came to visit from out of town. Since she’s been gone from Cazenovia a couple of years now, I drove her around town to take a look at what had changed since she’d been gone.

Still having time to kill before meeting our friend “Dick,” I decided I would take her to see the Fenner windmills.

It had been three weeks of deep freeze, and with no opportunity for melt, the snow on our country roads had packed into ice as traffic tamped it down. Big deal. So you drive slower.

I should point out that I get a real kick out of people who (unhurt) hurtle themselves off the road into ditches when it’s slick out. As one state trooper said during a recent television interview, “Hundreds of cars made it safely through here before this one. What made this one different? I’m thinking it might have been speed.”

I turned off Nelson Road onto Peterboro Road and crawled up the hill on the ice. When we were near a couple of windmills, I stopped the car and rolled down the windows to listen to their unique drone. Deciding I should pull a little more off the road to keep out of harm’s way, I pulled over…about four inches.

Thud. The right wheels had sunk about two inches off the road onto the shoulder. No big deal, I thought.

Much to my amused horror, Jane, a woman I’ve known for years, one of the most intelligent and rational people I’ve ever met, a person who has always known what to do in every situation, became unhinged.

Uh-oh.

“Oh, my God, we’re stuck.”

“No, we’re not. We’re just on the shoulder.”

I commenced rocking the car, but the right wheels refused to rise about the ice-glazed ridge of ice at the pavement’s edge.

“Let me get out and push,” Jane said.

When that didn’t work, Jane sized up the big picture.

“Your right wheels are in this rut of ice. If you back straight up, the rut ends here, and you can get back on the pavement.”

Following her directions to a ‘T,’ I began backing up. As my front left wheel was about to clear the rut, the right rear wheel (and half the rear quarter panel) disappeared into a snow-camouflaged pit. I turned the car off and got out to survey our changed circumstances. Looking at the mess, I did the only thing one can do in that circumstance: I started laughing. I thought it was hilarious.

Jane was staring at me in disbelief and hatred.

“Get in the car, and stay warm. I’m going to walk back to one of those houses and see if I can use a phone.”

She didn’t move.

“Jane…”

“We’re stuck! We’re gonna be late meeting Dick! Oh, my God!”

She was in full-fledged freak out.

“Get a grip on yourself; we’re fine. This is Madison County. Every other house has a tractor and every other house has some sort of winching system. There are at least three houses in the last quarter- to half-mile.”

“Oh, my God.”

“We have food, drink, wool coats and blankets, extra gloves and pillows in the car. We’re not even a foot off the road, and nothing’s going to happen to us. Get back in the car while I walk to one of those houses to get help.”

I’d always heard that panic was contagious. Apparently calm is not.

As I neared one of the homes, a significantly sizeable dog came running out. I was very respectful of his territory, and he didn’t make any further approach.

“There’s a dog!”

Apparently, Jane chose to freeze to death outside the car. Turns out she is an astute observer of the obvious.

A voice yelled at the dog, and I walked toward the voice. A man appeared from behind a pickup truck where several individuals were cleaning snow out of the driveway.

“Trouble?”

I look back up the road, thinking it should be pretty obvious, but embarrassingly enough, nothing looks amiss, save Jane having a nervous breakdown in the road.

“I’m stuck in the ditch. Can I use your phone to call for help, or do you have some way to get me out?”

“I can pull you out, but I can’t be responsible.”

The ‘responsible’ disclaimer gave me pause…for about a nanosecond. The thought of calling my husband to bail me out of this ridiculous scene was more than I could bear.

“I’d appreciate anything you can do,” I said very quickly.

“I’ll use my soft chain.”

I’m here to tell you, if you’ve never seen an angel, he wears camel-colored insulated coveralls (probably Carhartt) and answers to the name ‘Tom Henrickson.’ This man was prepared for the job. Turns out he happened to be in the neighbor to extract his daughter from the same predicament. He hopped into his truck as I started walking back toward Jane.

He had us back on the road, literally in less than five seconds, and I finally convinced him to take some cash for his efforts.

“Tom, how hilarious is it that I travel more than 100 miles over these roads every day to and from work, and I bring my friend up here to see the windmills and fall off the road?”

He turned to Jane.

“So, what’d ya think?”

Jane needed to be medicated.

“They’re GREAT. Can we GO NOW?”

On the way back to Cazenovia, Jane confessed it was the men on the snowmobiles with the rifles that did her in. I didn’t have the heart to tell her they were shotguns.

We were early meeting Dick, who was amused by our adventures. After enjoying warm beverages and dessert, the check came.

“I’m getting this,” Jane said, grabbing the bill.

After a bit of bickering, I relented.

“Fine,” I said. “After all, I did pay for the tow.”

Martha E. Conway is publisher of the Madison County Courier.

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