Spinning our Wheels

February 19th, 2019

It had snowed all day on Sunday, and most of the following night. The last few flakes fell at around 4:30 AM on Monday. I was up by then, and I started shoveling out the driveway for the third time in the last twenty-four hours. The street in front of the house was still snow covered. No plow had been through recently.  I had to throw the white stuff high in the air in order to get it over the already tall and substantial snowbanks that edged the driveway. I wanted to at least get the portion of the driveway around Stefan’s truck cleaned up before he went to work. Otherwise, Stefan would run over the snow, and make it damn near impossible to scrape it off the pavement.

I was about halfway done with the driveway when Karin appeared in the front doorway of the house, holding her cell phone. She yelled to me,

“She needs to talk with you!”

I knew that the girl we love was at work, but I couldn’t figure out what she could want now. I had planned to pick her up at 9:00 AM to take her to her mandatory group session, but I had hoped that the roads would be clean before I had to drive to Kenosha to get her.

I walked to the door, and Karin handed me the phone.

“Yeah?”, I asked.

The young lady said, “I can’t get a ride home with Lyft. If I take the bus, I will never make it home in time to get to the meeting in Racine.”

I sighed.

I asked the girl, “What time is it now?”

“It’s five o’clock.”

I told Karin, “I have to get her from work.”

The girl would finish her shift at the hotel at 7:00. Considering the road conditions, I needed to leave our house an hour before that time. That meant I would have just enough time to finish cleaning up the driveway, rest for a few minutes, and then drive south to the hotel. I was not looking forward to this ride.

Let me pause here for a moment. I want to explain, especially to any reader who has never driven in snow, just how important road conditions are in winter. A little snow or a little ice can turn a fifteen minute trip into an hour-long nightmare. It can turn a relaxing drive into a terrifying experience. Often the effect that winter weather has on a commute is dependent on the reactions of local municipalities to the snowfall or icing. Some communities, like Milwaukee County, are usually on top of the situation with trucks ready to plow and salt immediately. Others are not. It is not unusual to drive on a main road that is relatively clean in one town, and then have it turn into an absolute mess as soon as you reach the border with the next locality.

In any case, I left home at 6:00 and drove south on I-94. I was relieved to find out that two of three lanes on the freeway were clear. Only the rightmost lane was snow covered. Traffic was moving more slowly than normal, but at least it was moving. I got to the hotel on time (actually a bit early), and I texted the girl. She texted back that she was going to finish work late. The person from the first shift hadn’t arrived yet to take over from her.

I sat in my Ford Focus and waited. I was parked facing to the east, and I could see the clouds acquire a red tinge as the sun rose behind them. A ripped and ragged American flag fluttered in the wind in front of the hotel. I sat and listened to a CD from “The War on Drugs”, an Indie band that reminded me a lot of Bob Dylan without the rough edges.

The girl came out to the car. She got in. She looked exhausted, because she was. I drove her across town to the sober living house where she currently resides. I told her that I would be back in an hour to drive her to Racine for her meeting.

I had time to kill, so I drove a few blocks to a local coffee shop, Harborside, that was on the edge of Lake Michigan. The side streets in Kenosha were a full of snow. I slid around a bit trying to get to my coffee. I made it to the cafe, and I got a cup of java and two cookies with white chocolate and macadamia nuts. I had thought to do some writing there, but I was distracted by the local customers. Apparently, the coffee shop is a hang out for old men who gather together and ramble on about chronic illnesses, ungrateful children, and a world that is clearly going to hell. I left there quickly, praying that I never become part of that sect.

I returned to the sober living house. I almost got stuck in the snow on that street corner, but I managed to get free of it. After a few minutes, the young woman came out to the car. She got in and remained silent during the trip to Racine. She looked beat. Energy drinks can only take a person so far. Eventually, there is a crash. She was almost there. I was too. I could feel fatigue seeping into every part of my body.

The drive to the meeting was uneventful, at least until we got to the street where the session was to be held. The City of Racine had not plowed any of the side streets. The main roads were okay, but the residential areas were untouched. There was five inches of snow in the street, much of it run over and ground down until it was almost ice. Bastards. I barely managed to slip and slide my way out of that neighborhood.

I took care of an errand for Stefan. I needed to drop off a couple truck parts for him at a local body shop. Then I went to Mocha Lisa for more coffee. It made no sense to go back home, since the girl’s meeting would be finished in an hour or so. I did some writing.

I got a text from the young woman we love. She needed to buy groceries. She was out of food.  Would I take her to a store? Yes, of course. Then another text came. A girl at the meeting needed a ride home. She had walked all the way there from her house. I told our young woman that we could give her friend a ride.

I got to the meeting house at 11:00. I almost got stuck in the snow again. Our girl and her friend came out of the session, and I started driving the other girl home. She had walked a long way, maybe four or five miles. That was impressive. We got close to her house, and she told me at the last minute,

“There’s the driveway! Make left turn now!”

Too late.

I missed the turn, and decided to make a right turn into the next street in order to turn around and get this young lady home.

Fatal error.

That street was clogged with snow. When I tried to make a y-turn into a driveway, I got stuck. I was suddenly, seriously, and totally screwed. It kind of pissed me off.

I tried to use my well-learned tricks to get moving, and nothing worked. I finally got out of the car, and told the girl I love to get into the driver’s seat. I tried to push the car backward as she revved it in reverse. Nothing. I could feel my heart rate and blood pressure reach critical levels. I thought to myself,

“Christ, I’m going to die pushing this fucking car, because these useless mother fuckers in Racine can’t plow their damn streets!”

My mental rant ended when a black lady from the house across the street yelled to me,

“You want a shovel?!”

I said hoarsely, “Yeah.”

“Well, I got one here.” She pointed toward the garbage cans, and then she ducked back inside her house.

I leaned against the hood of the car, trying to catch my breath.

“Okay, thanks.”

I walked over there and grabbed the shovel.

I told our passenger, “You know, you probably should just get out now and walk the last block home.”

She did.

The girl I love tried to get the car moving. I tried to shovel around the right-front wheel to get traction. Things were not going well. The wheel turned the snow to slush and then to ice. I finally managed to scrape down to a couple feet a asphalt in front of the tire. I told the young woman,

“Come forward a couple feet. Stop. Then put it in reverse and floor it.”

She did that. We got moving…a little. She moved over to the other seat, and I tried to drive again.

The problem was that the whole fucking street was just a morass of slush and snow, deep and heavily rutted. We kept getting stuck trying to go forward.

The girl asked me, “Could we just drive in reverse to the next street?”

Not a bad idea. I tried it. Unfortunately, the street starts to go uphill as a person drives in reverse. I was hurting. I had the windows open because I was overheating in the car. I finally drove back far enough to get a running start going forward. I got some traction and just kept going. Not too fast, because then the tires would spin. Not to slow, because then we would stop and be dead in the water (or snow) again. We limped the car to the next main street (which was clear and clean).

Then we went shopping.

The young woman, at this point, clued me in that she had no more food stamps.

I thought for a moment, shrugged, and said, “Well, I guess that I am buying you groceries.”

She nodded.

You know, what the hell? She needed my help. I helped her. It needed to be done. So, I did it. It wasn’t that hard. It just was.

After buying food together, I got her back to the sober living house. I was nervous about having another issue with the snow. The young woman suggested that I just slow down enough for her to grab her bags and jump out of the car. It would be kind of like a winter storm drive by. I actually did come to a complete stop before she left me. I could do that much. She took her stuff and went into her house.

That girl is doing pretty well. She is funny and smart and resilient.

She’s not spinning her wheels.












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