The hazards of driving in Minnesota

O By Ellen Dworsky

october is here and soon we’ll see snow. One morning we’ll awaken to what Minnesotans call winter flurries, although those of us from warm climates will call it a blizzard.

You will look out the window and wonder whether it’s safe to make the trek to school. You will call someone who knows – a Minnesotan. In response to your fear-stricken question, “Is it possible to drive in this,” the response will be, “Ya betcha! We have snow plows in Minnesota, ya know.” You will feel better. What the Minnesotan will not tell you is that anything less than four inches is a light dusting. There will be no plows. But you won’t know this and in your ignorance will climb into the car.

Walking out of your door was your first mistake, driving is the second. Soon, your windshield will be covered with slush, dirt and salt. Salt? On the roads? Yes. Sidewalks and roads are salted so you don’t slide into a ditch – or the gutter. Are there other salt secrets? Yes. Minnesotans cast a circle and say a spell to keep people from warm climates away. You don’t see a lot of out-of-state plates from warm places. If you are from out-of-state and you’re reading this, the spell didn’t work.

You won’t be able to see the road very well. After carefully considering the temperature (let’s say six degrees above zero) and the strength of your defroster, you’ll decide to squirt some wiper fluid on your windshield. You will pull the wiper lever toward you, but you will not be lucky – nobody told you about the precious blue fluid that helps keep your windows semi de-iced – the wipers will come on, but with only water in the well, salt and dirt will smear your windshield. And freeze there. The world will become a brownish blur. But you will arrive at school unscathed and step out of your car, ready to trudge through the snow to class. But your feet will slide out from under you and books will fly from your hands. Lying there on the pavement, snow seeping through your clothes, you will stare at the sky, stare at the bright, white, blinding snow falling on your face. A helpful Minnesotan will hoist you back onto your feet. In answer to your question, “Isn’t there just one day a year when the sky doesn’t spit snow, sleet, hail or rain?” the Minnesotan will answer, “Ah, but just look at those tiny, perfectly formed snowflakes! Aren’t they just the loveliest sight on this warmish winter day?” You will smile, tight-lipped, and pick your way to class with mincing steps, wondering how Minnesotans stride through snow and ice without slipping. This is another secret Minnesotans don’t tell you: The heel-toe, heel-toe walk is the summer saunter; one must walk flat-footed during the winter.

When you are finished with work or school, it will still be snowing. You will go home and put your head under the pillow (at least it’s warm), hoping that when you wake up in the morning, it will be warmer – and drier. But no, when you wake up and look out the window, it will still be snowing. You are in hell, albeit a cold hell. You will see school children making snow angels and building snow people while waiting for the bus. My god, did that little girl actually leave her hat on top of Frosty the snowman? Won’t her ears freeze off?

You decide if children are strong enough to live through winter, you are too! You will get dressed and brave the outdoors. You will practice walking flat-footed down your hall and out the front door. You will step off the curb into snow that comes up past your ankles and look for your car. You won’t find it right away. After wiping snow off license plates (you’ve seen Minnesotans do this) in order to locate your vehicle, you will clear off the snow and start your engine. You’re ready to go, right? Somebody shoveling snow from the sidewalk will take pity on you and offer you a shovel.

You will stare. Does this person want help shoveling sidewalks?

“To shovel your car out,” the helpful Minnesotan will say with a smile. Noticing the blank look in your eyes, then your license plate, the kind soul will decide you have no idea what to do and dig you out.

That’s called Minnesota Nice.

After being released from the snow bank, you will fishtail to a freeway onramp as long as the state of Rhode Island and onto the unplowed freeway. Through the slush and snow, cars will be moving at the speed of sound, whipping past you. When you dare to take your eyes from the road to glance at your speedometer, the red needle will be hovering at the number 25. You will not be stupid enough to use your wipers this time. As your hands grip the steering wheel, you will pray for a snowplow to litter your path with snow-melting salt. You will pray that the snow god does not see fit to pitch you into a ditch. You will pray that next time it snows, you can stay home.

Ellen Dworsky is a graduate student in the English department. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]