The first snow fall of winter. Its the one time of year when one really shouldn't drive anywhere. It seems as though the previous six months has allowed people to forget the rather important differences between summer and winter driving. This is a basic truth repeated year after year in Edmonton.
I'm not sure why they don't just declare it a holiday. but they don't. So the endless cycle of fender benders and stupid manoeuvres continues year after year. One can just about open a window and listen to the sounds of cars hitting each other and declare, "Yeah, sounds like the first snow of the season."
If the previous sounds contemptuous, it shouldn't, because the following story indicates that I am not immune to that peculiar form of Alzheimer's.
November 3rd, 1996. I remember because it was my mother's birthday. That year I decided I'd do something completely different. I took my mother to a concert. Sarah McLachlan, my perosnal favourite was playing at the Myer Horowitz, and I since she is one awesome singer, I thought I'd take my mom out. And its not like she is heavy metal.
The day was fine, I think the temperature was either just above or at freezing most of the day, but by early evening snow had begun to fall, and as the temperature usually does at night, it began to get cold. To complicate matters, it also began to snow.
The trip out to pick my mom up and drive her out there was fine, largely because the street held enough heat to melt the snow, and we enjoyed the concert.
The trip back was different. I believe the temperature had fallen below -15 and all that lovely water on the road turned to ice. The gravel trucks were out as I dropped her off, but they were primarily graveling intersections. I didn't think much of it, because I wasn't having any issues in the Subaru with traction. I moderated my speed a little.
I dropped my mother off, and then had another 1/2 hour or more drive to my home.
"Drive Carefully," she said.
"It'll be all right, I'm in a Subaru," I declared, secure in the knowledge that I was driving one of the safest cars on the road, and drove off.
The orange glow from the streetlights reflected off the falling snow, casting the drive home in a strange but beautiful glow that only occurs in winter. I drove back into the city. I kept the car at 5 or 10 kph under the speed limit, but the Subaru still wasn't having any traction issues. I wasn't worried at all.
I was at the the top of Groat Road, 111ave by Westmount shopping centre when I experienced a warning. The car slipped very slightly as I accelerated away as the light turned green. I didn't think much of it, though. I was in a Subaru.
For those of you who don't know, that end of Groat Rd is windy, twisty road that descends to the river valley, southbound.
I drove away from the lights. Doing close to the speed limit, before slowing to 50kph as I entered the first turn. The car held true, and didn't slide, but I realized I was going too fast. 50 was about twice as fast as the other cars going. I applied the brakes.
Oh, shit. The car ain't stopping. Fortunately the road has two lanes in either direction, and fortunately the other lane was clear. I steered into the clear lane. And passed those two. I cleared the next corner, with no response from the braking system. Another pair of cars were in my lane, but I was in front of the other two, so I put the car back in the other lane.
I went past those guys.
Two more cars in this lane. Shit! If anything I was going faster than I been before. The Brakes were not responding. I realized that I had to stop the car before I hurt someone. I cranked the wheel, hard. The car responded and jumped the curb and slammed into a fence.
I don't know why the airbags didn't go off, I was retrained only by my seatbelt.
I remember blinking at the steering wheel, breathing heavy. Then I started to shake.
I got out of the car and lit a smoke, checking the damage. When I saw the hole I put in the front bumper, I thought for sure Shelley was going to kill me. At least my mother wasn't with me this time.
A car had pulled up. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah," I said, still vibrating, 'Thank you."
He just shook his head and drove off. I flicked my cigarette into a snowbank and got back into the car. It started up and I backed it carefully onto the sidewalk, then put the car in drive and got back on the road.
I was still shaking when I got home, but apart from the body damage, the car was fine. Shelley was just happy I had survived. For the rest of the time we owned the car, we never got that bumper fixed.
At highway speed, especially in a crosswind, that bumper used to give a mid frequency whistle that, because it only did it in certain conditions, used to make me think something was wrong with the motor. When I hear that sound these days, I remember the car.
The Moral of this story?
Ice is Ice. Its properties don't change over the summer. Drive accordingly.