“Tai Chi class is ON for today!” That was the email I received yesterday at 7:30 a.m. “Even though the roads may be a bit messy– especially north of Bridgton, we will be at the Town Hall for the 9:30 AM class today.”
This came as a surprise. The roads outside were truly treacherous following the recent snowfall, which was followed by an ice storm, leaving our winding, steep mountain roads both icy and slushy and all-around dangerous. My Tai Chi class is made up of 45 Mainers, mostly ages 60 – 85. As the second youngest in the class, I felt a bit embarrassed by my own wimpiness. “If the 80-year-olds can make it, surely I can too,” was my thought.
What I should have remembered is that Mainers tend to understate things. A guy who is crippled by arthritis will say his “bones are misbehavin’ today.” A woman sick as hell from the effects of her chemotherapy treatments will say she’s “a bit undah the weathah today.” A speeding motorist who crashes into a tree, totals his vehicle and survives his injuries will say, “I guess I gave (the car) a bit too much gas.” These comments are made calmly with straight faces and stony expressions. This takes some getting used to when you are a loud Jewish woman from the city, given to excessive and expressive emoting, including hand wringing and lots of “oy veys.” So I should have realized that “roads a bit messy” really means, “the roads are extremely perilous!”
My husband was kind enough to drive the car down the driveway. The plow guy had been there the day before, but now there were an additional two inches of snow mixed with ice. My husband figured he’d make a new path in the snow with the tires, thereby making it easier to get down the driveway when I left. It was a good plan – – but unfortunately conditions were so bad, that once my husband brought the car down, he couldn’t get it back up our impossibly steep driveway. He parked it at the bottom and I only hoped the town’s snowplow wouldn’t be coming by until after I left, because the last thing you want is to be in the way of a snowplow on a narrow mountain road. I walked down to the bottom of the driveway wearing my MicroSpikes, which are sharp metal crampons you put on the bottom of your boots, which grip the ice so you won’t slip and fall.
Unfortunately he had parked the car facing the wrong way, and there was simply nowhere to turn around. I had to drive a mile up the road to the Inn, and only then, and with some difficulty, was I able to turn around and start my journey to my Tai Chi class.
I was less than a mile from our house when I saw an abandoned Ford F-250 pickup truck that had gone off the road and slid down an embankment into the woods. The truck wasn’t damaged and it was clear it was not a case of his having gone too fast; the road was simply too slippery and he had spun out around a curve. This is a 4×4 truck that is quite large and heavy and should have had enough traction due to its sheer weight. It was an ominous sign, but I (stupidly!) pressed on.
I was driving about 15 miles an hour when I got to the main road; but despite the fact that the main road was clearer and more frequently plowed and sanded than the rarely traveled street that leads to our house, the main road wasn’t looking much better (after they plow they sprinkle the roads with a mix of sand and salt to melt ice and improve traction). There were barely any vehicles driving on the road (I should have taken this as a sign) and after 35 minutes – – normally a 15 minute ride – – I reached our post office. Katie, our new postmistress, comes all the way from the town of Mexico, Maine which is about 1 1/2 hours away. (Our former postmistress just quit, deciding to pursue her Mary Kay cosmetics career. Talk about an untapped market! I can’t recall ever seeing a rural Maine woman wearing makeup, so she has a lot of hard selling to do.) Katie described her “wicked scary drive from hell” and my first thought was, “Well, she’s not going to last long at this job,” because she is going to have to make that commute every day this winter. But irrespective of her crazy daily commute, I don’t expect her to be around much longer anyhow, since our little post office is likely up for closure along with 4,000 other rural post offices across America.
As I was leaving, a woman customer walked in carrying packages containing the Christmas gifts she was going to mail to her children, who live in other sates.
“I got to be 65 years old for a reason,” she said. “It’s because I didn’t go out in weather like this!”
At this point I was seriously thinking of giving up on the Tai Chi class and returning home. But the road ahead was clear, and the road behind me to my house was awful, so I pressed forward. I had already warned my husband that if things got worse, I’d simply find a room at a motel in Bridgton and spend the night. In my car I carried a blanket, warm clothes, a flashlight, and food, and my cell phone was fully charged.
As I made my way through the towns of Albany and Waterford, I never went past 20 mph. By now my class had started, and I was still 15 miles away, but I simply could not go any faster. Just before I made the turn to the town of Bridgton where the class was being held, I made a detour through the town of Harrison, because the road there wasn’t as steep or curvy, and it was a good decision. But it meant that despite my extra-early departure, I’d arrive 40 minutes late for my class, and by now I was pretty tense from my vise-grip clutching of the steering wheel. I’d been driving for almost 90 minutes at 20 mph – – it usually takes me only 35 minutes – – and I was so exhausted I simply couldn’t imagine concentrating on intricate Tai Chi moves.
Instead, I pulled into my auto mechanic’s garage, where I had made an appointment for later that day to have studded snow tires put on my car. I had hoped to combine my errands and intended to go there anyway after my Tai Chi class.
“Any chance you can fit me in earlier today?” I asked. Fortunately, they could. I was SO happy to have those tires on my car! The difference was remarkable. I was no longer slipping and sliding along the road, but I still had to proceed very slowly and cautiously. All the way home, the weather kept changing. One moment it was snowing, the next it was raining or sleeting; ice pellets were pounding my window. Sometimes it was a combination of all of the above.
When I got to the bottom of our driveway, I said a little prayer. The first time I tried to drive up, I got stuck in snow. I was able to coast back down, and I tried again. This time I paid careful attention to the tire tracks from my husband’s earlier descent. By following the tracks and putting the car into 2nd gear (it’s an AWD stick shift), I was able to get to the top!
“I can’t believe you made it up the driveway!” my husband exclaimed.
“To heck with the driveway,” I said, “I can’t believe I made it home alive, period!”
Lesson learned: I simply don’t know what I was thinking, and why I allowed temporary insanity to overtake me: when the weather is bad, there is simply no reason to go out except in cases of extreme emergency. I may be a wimp, but I am an alive wimp. Tai Chi will have to wait.
Post Script: Early Friday a.m. I need to pick up a guest at the Portland airport who is coming to visit us, and of course the weather report is calling for heavy morning fog and more snow!