Now that a hard winter is past us, it’s probably safe to write a story about said season without hearing an uproar.
Winters are usually a take-your-pick kind of season. It seems we have either snowy ones or cold ones in the Midwest.
But one year, (to set the drama) my destiny lay not in the flakes nor the frigid air. No. It lay in the ice.
We lived in the country during the 90’s, and with more open spaces than in the city, winter’s effects were usually magnified.
One morning we awoke to a beautiful winter scene of glistening ice covering the countryside. But, being that my wife, my son and I all needed to get to work, we knew that the affected landscape also included roads. Icy gravel roads that we had to traverse.
Against my wife’s and my advice to wait a bit until the temperature moderated and the ice melted, my son left for work in his pickup truck at his usual time. In fifteen minutes, he was back. The pickup had not gotten stuck: It had simply slid into the ditch.
And so, I waited another couple of hours, until I thought conditions had improved somewhat.
Now, a 1984 Chevy Caprice is really not your rugged type car. In fact, in the vernacular of the car world, it and all of its cousins – the Ford Crown Victoria and the Lincoln Continental – are referred to as “floaters.” Their ride is velvety on the highway, and they handle reasonably well in the city, but they’re not “country” vehicles. Rear wheel drive and low to the ground make them lousy in snow. But, in all fairness, nothing does well on ice, and this is what we faced that morning.
I’d bought the Caprice when we still lived in the city, and, as with all of my cars, I planned to keep it until it started becoming unreliable. Just me: Seems I can’t get rid of a vehicle until it’s on its last legs. Country-fied or not, it would have to do.
I waited until about ten o’clock that morning, and then decided I’d give it a try. Our driveway opened to a quarter mile upgrade to the stop sign, and there the road leveled off. Make it to the intersection, and you were home free.
I took a run down the driveway and onto the gravel road. Traction seemed okay as I passed my son’s pickup sitting in the ditch. I was about midway to the stop sign. I think I’m going to make it.
The rear wheels start to spin, and the Caprice comes to a complete stop, the tires whining uselessly. I step on the brake and an odd sensation overtakes me. The car doesn’t stop, but instead begins sliding backwards, down the incline, heading straight toward my son’s white pickup, its driver’s side door looming closer and closer. I think that a family story is forming, one that I will never live down.
But the Caprice mercifully stops six feet short of the truck, still on the road.
I put it in park, gently exit the car, and survey my predicament. If I try to go forward, the Caprice might just continue slipping backwards, into the pickup. And there is not enough space to try backing the car away from the truck.
So, out of desperation, I bend over, grasp the corner of the rear bumper, and push. Miraculously, the rear of the car slides sideways toward the center of the road, away from the truck. I push again, and it slides a little more. Forget any monumental feat of strength: It was a case of the road being just that icy.
I push again, and my smile of satisfaction suddenly changes to one of shock, as the rear end not only slides sideways, but then the entire car resumes its backwards slide down the road, with me attached. The rear wheels are not moving, because the transmission is still in park. Nevertheless, they slide along the ice like sled runners.
The Caprice spins 180 degrees, the front end now heading down the road with me still grimly gripping the rear bumper. Its starts to head toward the ditch on the other side of the road, as I try to “steer” the 4000 pound machine with the bumper. You can guess how effective that is. Luckily, there is no one around to see this car-turned-sled with the guy skating along in back.
The car continued on, and were it not for a ridge of gravel along the edge of the road, it would have plowed into the ditch, claiming two family vehicles that day. As it was, the ridge slowed the Caprice and it eventually stopped short of the ditch.
Another DiMari made the walk home. I’d had it. There was no way I was going to try and move that car.
Later in the day, the ice melted enough where we pulled the pickup out of the ditch with a tractor, and the Caprice was able to move on its own.
The only one of us three who made it to work that day was my wife, who waited until she was sure the ice had melted. To her credit, she never gloated…much.