Thursday night, driving home from Boston. Earlier in the afternoon, a few snow flurries, but nothing significant, just a sugar coating on sidewalks, if that. It’s quite dark, no stars visible, but traffic is light. Relaxed, I’m reviewing the day’s events as I glide west, listening to classical music on the radio.
A little topography: As you drive west from Boston on the Mass Pike, the elevation gradually rises. Years ago, when I commuted every day, I’d always marvel at how snow would often start as soon as I passed the Sheraton Tara landmark in Framingham, just because the elevation is a little higher and temperatures, a little colder. Other times, the snow line begins along Route 495, farther west.
I know every mile of this route like the back of my hand. But it can morph into alien terrain without warning when the weather shifts.
All of a sudden, out of the black, a cloud of snowflakes hurls into my windshield as I exit off 495N, onto 290W, headed to Worcester. Within minutes, I am in near white-out conditions, or whatever the equivalent is when it’s snowing like crazy and completely dark.
I slow down, but I can’t see the lane markers, because the snow is sticking to the highway, though, remarkably, not to my windshield. Ahead and around me, drivers are whizzing by. I assume they never took physics. I’m an experienced winter driver, with 12-plus years of daily, grinding commutes under my belt, including some harrowing drives home in severe snowstorms, and I don’t mess around.
But these fools don’t seem to understand—even on dry pavement, you need one car length stopping distance for every 10 mph of speed. When snow clings to untreated pavement and the road becomes slick, you need even more of a cushion. Especially on the downgrade that leads for miles before you rise again into the Worcester hills.
Swirling snowflakes refract the beam of my headlights as cars blithely pass me on the right and left. One other experienced driver a few car-lengths ahead has slowed down, also, and flips on flashers. I follow suit, reduce speed to 35 mph and try to stay in the right lane, as best I can, occasionally drifting over the rumble strip at the lane’s border, which I can only hear but not see. Red glowing taillights slip beyond into the gloom. One car or truck with flashing lights has pulled over into the emergency lane, but the snow is so intense that I don’t notice it until I’m within about 60 feet. Not a safe choice.
There is absolutely nothing to do but keep moving forward at a safe speed with adequate distance between my car and the others, as the snow keeps flying, and pray that no one spins out into me.
I bite my thumbnail. I keep breathing and tell myself not to panic, because it will not help. There is nowhere to go but forward. I realize that Beethoven’s 1st Symphony is playing on my satellite radio. There is something stable, soothing and totally ironic about this beautiful music floating in the midst of sudden, intense, relentless snow pouring out of the dark, dark night. Even as I drive, I feel suspended in time, trapped in a snow globe.
Nowhere to go but forward. I focus on the notes. I stay as far out of the way of the other cars as possible. My flashers click on-off-on-off-on-off. I mark the red-yellow-red-yellow-red-yellow taillights of my unknown friend using flashers, a silent soul mate, farther ahead in the dark, where the road curves. I keep breathing. I look for green highway markers, counting down the miles. Beethoven finishes and Corelli begins, with measured tempo.
Finally the highway bottoms out and begins the rise over Lake Quinsigamond. Tall lampposts illuminate the stretch into Worcester. I turn off my flashers. The snow eases and the lane markers become visible again. By the time I reach my exit, it’s as if nothing happened.
Nowhere to go but forward.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com