My Dad, My Car, a Grocery Store, and Winter Driving in a Snowstorm
I groggily emerged from my Dad’s guest bedroom around 8:15 this morning, after having slept less than four hours.
“If you want to go grocery shopping today, you have to be ready by nine o’clock because there’s a snowstorm on the way,” Dad announced.
For the past week I have been driving through horrid weather, dealing with marginal hotels, struggling with a nasty sinus infection, and sitting in meetings. All I wanted to do was chill for a little while and write. “I’m not going anywhere at nine o’clock in the morning.”
“Well, suit yourself, but there’s nothing in the house for you to eat.”
“Then I guess I’ll just have to starve,” I insisted, as I plunked my rear end down in the recliner and opened my laptop.
For about three hours, coffee did the trick, but as noon approached I began to get hungry. I wandered into the kitchen and stood in front of the open refrigerator door, perusing my choices. Butter. White bread. One bowl that contained half a dried up tomato and a hunk of deer sausage. And a stack of individually wrapped slices of cheese food. The freezer offered chicken breasts and TV dinners. The cabinets held a box of whole grain cereal that listed sugar and high fructose corn syrup as two of its major ingredients, canned tomato soup, and Sloppy Joe mix. Long sigh.
I must digress at this point and explain my reticence over grocery shopping in Illinois. For as long as I can remember, it has been nearly impossible to find healthy food in the Midwest. Ironically, in the breadbasket of the country, the only lettuce available was nutritionless Iceberg, the only fruits oranges and apples, and the only bread on the shelves was made from bleached white flour. Over the past few years, things have improved somewhat, but stores that stock the items I need are still few and far between.
We drove to the Jewel Food Store, about 20 minutes away in Channahon. As we rolled the cart up and down the aisles in search of delicacies like greek olives, feta cheese, sun dried tomatoes and marinara sauce, Dad conducted his normal monologue about my eating habits.
“What’s that?” he asked when I picked up a box of falafel.
“Ground up Chickpeas.”
“Yucchhh. How can you eat that stuff? That’s disgusting.”
Noting my silence, he persisted. “Don’t try to get me to eat any of that stuff. It tastes terrible.”
“You don’t have to eat it.”
“Good. I like my TV dinners just fine.”
Another silence ensued until I tossed a jar of roasted sweet red peppers into the cart.
“What are those for?”
“I’m going to make a Greek pasta salad. I figured you could add some deer sausage to it and it would taste pretty good to you.”
“No, no, no, don’t make anything for me. In fact, don’t be making anything for Christmas dinner this year. Nobody likes what you make and then it sits there and goes to waste.”
Just as I was about to say something I would regret, I looked out the front windows of the store and was shocked to see that heavy snow was falling. Already the cars were coated and the white stuff was beginning to stick on the road.
“Gosh Dad, look at the snow. We’d better get going.” It’s been 25 years since I’ve done any real winter driving. I have absolutely no feel for the road: I cannot tell if it is slick, nor do I know how to brake safely in these conditions. In addition, I have never been able to figure out how to use the defroster in my Toyota. Although the car is fantastic, the manual is poorly written and has limited instructions about the climate control system. The dials have only pictures on them, and every time I have tried to use what I think is the defroster, the windows just fog up so badly I cannot see outside. I started up the car and reached into the glove box for the manual.
“What are you doing?” Dad asked. I explained the problem.
“While you’re reading the manual, the snow’s piling up.” He was right.
“Let’s just go. You’ll figure out the defroster on the way.” I turned the wipers on low and cranked up the heat, backed out of my parking space and slipped toward the exit. At the first red light I gently pumped the brakes, testing the roadway.
“What are you doing? Don’t pump the brakes. You’ve got an anti-lock braking system in this car. Just stomp on the brakes and let the car brake for you.”
“Forget that. I’m pumping the brakes.”
“OK, now turn left at this next light. I want to see where my bank moved, They sent me a letter and said they moved to a new building.” We proceeded down a slick side street but the new bank was nowhere to be found, so I retraced my route back to the main road and stopped for another red light.
“Go!” Dad insisted.
“I’ve got a red light.”
“You can turn right on red.”
“Not when traffic is coming.”
“Relax. It’s not that bad out. You’re fine. Just relax.” The light turned green and I slowly slid around the corner onto the main street, which, thankfully had been salted.
Out of the side of my eye, I saw Dad checking out my hands on the steering wheel, planted in the ten and two position. “Let go of the wheel with one hand; don’t be so uptight. Do you want me to drive?”
“No, I don’t want you to drive,” I answered through clenched teeth.
“What’s with your wipers. They’re not clearing the ice from the windshield. Put them on full speed instead of intermittent.” I complied, but within minutes the rubber blades were scraping across a perfectly dry windshield, making an obnoxious noise with each pass.
“The wind is blowing the snow and it’s not sticking to the glass – you better turn the wipers down.” Dad fiddled with the dials and figured out how to get the defrosters to work, but not before the temperature rose to 83 inside the car.
“You could go a little faster. It’s not that slippery.” My head began to pound. “Are you sure you don’t want me to drive?”
I shifted around in my seat and moved my hands to the top and bottom of the steering wheel.
“Do you always drive like that? You should have your hands in the ten and two position.” Please, God, just let me die. By this time we were on the Interstate, crawling along at 40 miles per hour in the middle of a line of tractor trailers. Finally, we reached our exit. We followed the frontage road to County Line Road, which is all but ignored because the two Counties that it separates can never agree whose responsibility it is to maintain the road. Although slick, there is rarely traffic on it, and the shoulders are broad strips of grass.
“Now give it a little gas. You need to feel what it’s like when the car starts to slide out from underneath of you. If you had that experience you wouldn’t be so nervous.”
“I am NOT going to purposely make the car fishtail.”
“Why not?” Even if you go off the road here you can just drive back on. Give it a little gas.” Suffice it to say that I did not comply. I had to deal with more important things than learning how to control my car in an icy skid. In my rear view mirror I counted five cars. With my naturally white hair and Florida license plates, I imagined that the people behind me were grousing about the old broad from Florida who shouldn’t be allowed to drive. However, to my delight, they were all falling back; they were actually going slower than me. I felt vindicated! I wasn’t doing so bad after all. Unless…..well, unless they were backing off because they thought I was a danger. Another heavy sigh. Starvation would have been a better option.
I am back home now, recovering, and I am not leaving this house again until the weather clears. If I’d just gotten my butt in gear at 9 a.m. like my father told me to, none of this would have happened. It serves me right.