After living here for 10 years I guess I have finally become a true Michigander, because suddenly I find myself liking the winters here.
I grew up in Northeastern Indiana and we did have snow, but it is approached with a different attitude there. As soon as the flakes start to fall plows and salt trucks are out on the roads. School is canceled or delayed if the streets threaten danger and those who must to drive do so with caution. Snow is an inconvenience.
Here in West Michigan, where we have lake effect snow “showers” that can dump a foot of snow in two hours, things are completely different. First of all if you have not experienced lake effect snow you must understand that at one location it can be calm and sunny, and a mile down the road a lake effect snow band can be producing a white out. (For those of you who live in climates with eternal summer, a white out is when it snows so hard you can’t see anything around you.) The first thing I learned about winter in Michigan is that even if the road is covered in snow and ice, few people actually drive slower that the posted 70 mile an hour speed limit on the express way. I still drive slowly in a snow storm, and am amazed by the people who fly by me only to see them sitting in the ditch up the road a bit.
The other thing that is strange to me about winter in Michigan is that they don’t keep the roads clear during a winter storm. In fact several municipalities have a policy that they will not even begin to clear the roads until it stops snowing. This I really can’t understand. If you have to go somewhere before the snow stops falling I guess it’s just up to your own good fortune whether you get there safely of not.
Three years ago, just before my son was born, I experienced the worst winter driving conditions I have ever seen. It had snowed several inches during the morning, warmed up above freezing in the early afternoon, then quickly dropped to below freezing just in time for the five O’clock rush hour. The heavy snow and temperature fluctuations caught the everyone off guard. The streets were covered in thick, frozen slush. It was bumpy and very slick. I couldn’t go over 35 miles an hour in my little Honda Civic without starting to slide toward the ditch. I knew it was bad when I realized everyone was going as slow as I was. Even the people in their big four-wheel-drive SUVs were gingerly making their way down the highway.
I was still working at the time, and had to drive about 40 miles from my office to my home where we lived then. Normally the drive took about 45 minutes. On this particular night it took me two hours. I was 8 months pregnant, and besides desperately needing a bathroom for the last hour, I couldn’t help but picture the tragedy of me and my baby being killed in some terrible crash. I was terrified the whole way home. I finally arrived at my house shaking and exhausted from the trip. It was later that night the I came to the conclusion that if I survived that, I could survive just about any road conditions. Suddenly I was no longer paranoid about driving in the snow and ice.
We had rain that turned to snow, that turned to freezing rain, that turned back into snow a couple nights ago. There wasn’t much snow on the road, but there was a lot of ice. It seemed to me the logical thing to do was put down salt to melt the ice, but no one did. Last night the road we live on was covered with a sheet of dangerous black ice. (Again for those not accustomed to cold, black ice is ice that forms on asphalt that is so clear you can’t see it because it just looks like the road. If you don’t drive carefully you will discover it only after you’ve slid into a tree.) I drove cautiously, easing my car around the curves, gently tapping the brakes, gripping the steering wheel. When I pulled into my drive-way I felt a sense of relief, but also one of excitement. It had been a challenge to get home safely, and now that I was there I had to admit it had also been a little fun. After driving through a bad storm my husband sometimes says after reaching our destination, “That was fun!” I didn’t use to understand how he could think that was fun.
There is more snow forecast for tonight, and I’m actually looking forward to it. I appreciate the beauty of the snow, glistening and frosting everything outside. I am even starting to like the sharpness of the cold air and shocking jolt it gives, waking up all the nerves in your body. I also love playing in the snow with my son and watching him enjoy it.
I guess if I can find driving in bad weather fun, and see the beauty in a frozen world, I have fully embraced my status as a resident of Michigan. But this transplant will probably continue to frustrate life-long Michiganders by going too slow. I value my life and my vehicle too much to take that risk.