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Post details: Slippery When White

Slippery When White

You only start appreciating something when you lose it, they say. Whoever "they" are, they didn't tell me that one day I'd be fitting this old adage to friction.

Last Wednesday afternoon, it started snowing pretty hard. An endless stream of tiny parachutes was invading the Earth. Within an hour, the whole landscape turned into a billboard for the dairy industry. Coming from a relatively cold Czechoslovakia, I did not panic and left work only when I saw about 8 inches of shredded ice lying idly on the ground without any intention of thawing.

I whisked out an old dust pan that I keep in the trunk for emergencies and started liberating my car and its vicinity from the white oppression. The act of snow shoveling, or rather snow troweling, was no picnic and it filled my heart with a sudden and sincere appreciation for rain which - I figured - would have been much easier to ladle away.

After I removed most of the snow, I hopped in and put the car in reverse. As I let the clutch slowly engage, it became clear to me that this is an "Extra Wet Ultra Slick, No Friction Whatsoever or Your Money Back" kind of snow. A formidable foe. A sense of foreboding started to condense on my back in the form of little sweat droplets. As I plowed my way to the parking lot exit, I attempted to take a right turn only to find out that my steering wheel had become a zombie - technically operational and moving but not really performing its intended functions. It was about as useful as a portable French horn dispenser. I felt like driving one of those kiddie cars with fake controls. No matter what I did, the car continued wherever it wanted, which was largely downhill to the bottom of the lot in blatant disregard of my wishes that I tried to communicate through increasingly desperate turns of the steering wheel. I put pedal to the metal with enough willpower to hypnotize a medium size bear, but no measurable motion was effected. I was hopelessly stuck.

While I pondered the options, the manager of our building noticed my predicament and came out with a snow blower. After a brief pow-wow (well, more wow than pow), he offered to clear up a narrow escape path for me and also help me push the car to the exit. Long story short, after two more maintenance staff joined the pushing effort, I made it onto the street. A sense of relief was nearly palpable. But it lasted only till I realized that the road did not have much more to offer in the way of traction. Even without deep snow to push through, my wheels were spinning like Stalin in his grave after 20 years of watching Russian capitalism. Fortunately, I live only about 2 miles away, so I asked the kind trio of volunteers for a final push back into the parking lot and decided to walk home.

That turned out to be the correct solution. The traffic was super heavy and occasional smell of smoldering rubber indicated that I was not the only one having problems with a grip. The back road I usually take to work resembled a parking lot, or more accurately a turtle impersonating contest as it soon transpired that I was the fastest object on it. Much faster than all those expensive miracles of modern technology - the Audis, the Buicks, the Fords, the BMWs. Their wretched Masters held impotently onto bridles of hundreds of horses neighing under the hood, as all the vaunted power of fossil fuels idled in vain. Lightheartedly I strutted by, smiling like an owner of a tropical beehive and seemingly running on a little more than a wisp of liquefied moonshine. After an ordeal in the parking lot, the trek home filled me with a well deserved sense of superiority as if I had single handedly won a major battle of the ongoing war between Men and Machines.

At an intersection close to my apartment complex, I balanced my good will account and helped two Indian girls push their car up a slight hill. They had obviously had very little experience with wintry conditions and must have been under a strong impression that bringing the God of Friction a burnt offering in the form of smoking tires would be enough to propel their Toyota across the intersection. The next day when I walked back to work to reclaim my car, I noticed another young lady - also of Indian origin - trying to clean up her car with a common kitchen spatula. I guess they don't get much exposure to snow around Mumbai.

The journey home which usually take 5-7 minutes, took me two hours to complete. But on the plus side, walking from work was a healthy exercise for which - no doubt - I would get a Thank You note from my heart. Not to mention a little P.S. from my eyes for the delicate poetry of snowed in residential areas.



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