The forecast included “black ice” warnings. The signs hanging from the highway overpasses said “slippery conditions possible.” We had just cleaned up after an ice storm and the overnight temperature was in the low teens but the driver of this truck still slid through the intersection. No damage, no injuries, no harm, no foul but as Danny Noonan in Caddyshack would say:
“… you ain’t getting no coke. Know what I’m talking about?”
This happened about 100 yards from a Coke distribution center and there were multiple Coke trucks on the scene by the time of the third cycle of the traffic light. The alert had gone out “Red Truck Down!”
About ½ mile on the other side of the truck is Maddie’s, where I was heading for breakfast. Unfortunately, 4 feet in front of the truck is a concrete median than continues until the next intersection. I was thinking: “this is why I bought a Jeep. I have enough ground clearance to drive over that median” – not the case for the Honda in front of me or the Mini that was behind me. The Honda pulled up enough so that I could wiggle out of line and a few minutes later, I was eating a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich and talking to people about how drivers in New England seem to forget how to drive every winter.
Wikipedia points out that “black ice” isn’t really black – it’s clear. The black ice term stems from the fact that the black pavement shows through. Yes, I know, Wikipedia can be a questionable source, but this is a blog not a dissertation so I’m going with that. Although I haven’t had problems with black ice on the highway, I have had numerous problems with black ice while walking. If I had written the Wikipedia article (something I could do which is why you shouldn’t use it for your dissertation) I would have said:
“black ice is a play on the term black-ops. Black ice is specifically designed to cause harm in a covert manner.”
Wikipedia also points out that black ice is a thin coating of ice which can form from standing water or be the result of freezing rain.
I think that part of the problem with black ice or ice in general is that there’s no verb form. We have “rain” and “it’s raining.” We have “snow” and “it snowed overnight.” We have freezing rain and there’s really no way to refer to it while it’s happening and we have no way to refer to it in the past tense other than to say “last night, the world froze!” The ice storm that we had earlier this week left us with about 1/10th of an inch of ice on the world. Seriously, it covers everything. 1/10th of an inch of ice doesn’t sound like much but the NHL skates on 1/10th of an inch of ice. OK, the NHL skates on 3/4” of ice, but the Zamboni resurfaces the rink with a fresh layer that is between 1/16th and 1/8th of an inch, so…
My most vivid memory of freezing rain happened about 30 years ago on a Saturday morning. I was on my way to get the newspaper when I fell and slid down the driveway all the way to the street. I’ll spare you the details but suffice it to say that this was a slippers and robe affair. Freezing rain in the 90’s sent me to the doctor’s office with a shoulder injury and a fall on the ice in our driveway sent me to the emergency room for a few stiches above my eye. Last week, I added another decade to the list of decades in which I’ve fallen on the ice but since nobody saw me fall and I didn’t require medical attention, I’m counting it as a win.
Why do New England drivers and pedestrians slip, slide and fall on the ice every winter? Why aren’t we more careful? Why can’t we remember that this stuff happens in winter? Well, in addition to the lack of a verb form of ice, I think that we remember in general, but we forget in the moment. We think about slippery conditions when we are about to move but once we’re moving, everything seems fine and we forget. Before falling in our driveway last week, I actually went back in the house to warn my wife that there was ice on the deck and ramp. After warning her, I carefully walked down the ramp and then, I stepped onto the driveway and promptly fell. If the driver of the Coke truck had slipped trying to start out, he might have been more careful, but he probably would have still forgotten by the time he got to the light.
We also might think we are better prepared than we are. People around here buy 4-wheel drive vehicles to help them go through snow and ice. 4-wheel drive does help you get going on ice but it doesn’t help you stop. Having 18 wheels on the ground doesn’t help you stop either. You would think that one or two of the 18 would hit enough dry pavement to stop, but that only causes them to twist and turn – we see these guys sideways all over the road every year.
We have another weather condition up here that happens far less frequently than freezing rain – freezing fog. My wife loves freezing fog; it coats everything with the finest layer of ice you can imagine. If your car is parked outside during freezing rain, you can usually get the edge of a scraper under the ice and chip it off. If you’re parked outside in freezing fog, start the car, turn the defrosters on high and check your email. Better yet, go back inside. Even better, stay inside and avoid a trip to the ER.
Note: While it might be fun to joke about Wikipedia, many of us do use it. This is the time of year that they are asking for donations to keep Wikipedia on-line and ad-free. Think about it, the only thing worse than a questionable source of information is a questionable source of information that is paid for by greedy evildoers.