i was on my way to hibbing, with a photographer. it was snowing hard. we had an interview scheduled with the superintendent of schools for a sunday story about .... oh, i'd be lying if i told you i remembered what the story was about. i think it's amazing enough that i remember who we were planning to interview.
hibbing is about 90 minutes north and west of duluth. highway 53 to the iron range was in pretty good shape, despite the heavy snow, but when we turned off on 33 for the halfhour to hibbing, the road was snow packed and very slick.
i slowed down, but not enough.
a semi roared past us, heading east, and it kicked up a big cloud of snow that blinded me. still, i was not nervous. i'd made this drive dozens of times, in all kinds of weather. the little navy-blue citation staff car had automatic transmission and front-wheel drive, unlike my own little chevy monza, which was known to get stuck just pulling away from the curb.
as we rounded a bend, though, the car began to slide. straight toward a water-filled ditch on the right-hand side of the road.
the photographer didn't say a word. i appreciated that; i didn't need a back-seat driver at this point.
what happened next happened very quickly. i steered the car away from the ditch, but i overcorrected, and we went sliding across the oncoming lane of traffic, down into a ditch on that side, and bumpity-bumpity-bumped into the trees.
WHAM! the citation came to rest, somewhat miraculously, between two trees. i sat, slightly stunned, and tried to assess the damage. steam was pouring out of the engine. we were solidly wedged between these trees, but we were lucky that we hadn't hit either one full-on.
i had hit my head on the steering wheel; chuck hit his head on the rear-view mirror.
as i sat there, shame and embarrassment washed over me. how stupid could i be? i had clearly been going too fast, been too confident on these slippery roads. DAMN DAMN DAMN.
chuck mistook my silence for something worse. "are you ok?" he asked.
i'm fine, i said. i still didn't move. i felt too stupid.
"are you sure? are you in shock? should i slap you?"
"you might want to slap me," i said. "but i'm not in shock."
we climbed out of the citation and stood in the ditch in the blowing snow. now what? we were miles from hibbing, miles from any town. with some incredible luck and amazing timing, a state patrol car drove up. it slowed. the patrolman rolled down his window.
"we went in the ditch," i said.
"yeah, i see that," he said. "there's a convenience store about a half-mile down the road. you can call a wrecker from there." and he rolled up the window again and drove on.
i stared after him, my mouth agape. isn't he supposed to help us?
so chuck and i slipped down the road, our feet soaked in the snow, my head starting to throb, until we got to the 7-11.
there, the clerk kindly let us use the phone to call the office. the welt on my forehead was getting pretty big and ugly, so he gave me a bag of frozen peas from the cooler to press against my forehead. and there we sat, in the back of the 7-11, for more than two hours while another reporter was deployed to drive up and get us.
by the time she got there, the snow had stopped and the road was only wet. which made me look even the more foolish. no, really, it was really slippery a few hours ago!
we got back to the office by mid-afternoon. there were many things to live down, and eternal reminders of that snowy morning:
1) the photographer ever after--years after--referred to me as "Mario." as in andretti.
2) the repaired citation was never the same. it gained the nickname "the sidewinder."
3) you should see how slowly i drive in the snow now. i am not kidding. you could get there faster by dogsled.
a note on the picture: it's from google. but it gives you a good idea of what the road to hibbing looked like that day.
to be continued.
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