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Black ice is unforgiving, unforgettable instructor

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By Larry Simoneaux
By now, you're likely wondering how long I can milk a trip for column material.
The short answer is: "One more time." For a bit of a safety tip.
Coming across country, I purposely avoided areas where there was any forecast of either snow or ice even if it meant added mileage on the trip. I did this because one evening, several yeas ago, I learned a lesson the hard way.
There still being a bit of winter weather ahead of us, allow me to possibly save you from a similar experience.
That evening, while driving home from work, there was a light rain falling, and, on the radio, they'd just reported temperatures "hovering" near freezing.
Near my home, there's a four-way stop just before the road starts downhill. I stopped without a problem. However, when I crossed the intersection and started downhill, I found that I'd gotten onto a large patch of "black ice" and very quickly learned that it's slicker than a bag of greased eels.
I also discovered that I had three distinct problems. The first was that I'd basically become a ballistic missile with an automotive logo attached. The second was a telephone pole about 50 yards ahead that looked as if it would meet me in about the middle of my hood. The third was that my "Uh-Oh" meter was pegged.
I tried everything I'd read that was supposed to help in such situations, but nothing worked. Reverting to maleness, I then simply muttered a few choice words. That helped my attitude, but not much else. When I was about 10 yards away, I also cinched my seat belt, checked my mirror to see if anyone was following, and tried to enjoy what had become an "E ticket" ride at Disney World.
I was doing about 20 mph when I hit. Thankfully, I walked away without a scratch, but the next several hours were interesting to say the least.
When called, my insurance company told me I wasn't the only one performing on ice that night. Another crash in the area had involved a Jaguar and a Lexus. No serious injuries, but both cars were trashed. My truck was monetary background noise.
I'd also called the State Patrol and spent the time waiting for the officer watching other people slide down the hill in varying states of control. The best performance was by the guy who went by backwards. He gave me kind of a shrug as he went past.
What helped a little was that people could see the blinkers on my truck and this slowed them down a bit. Still, many of them probably had some laundry to do when they got home.
After about three hours, a very harried State Trooper arrived. He managed to stop his cruiser just behind my truck -- sliding the last 10 or so feet. After a few questions, he told me he'd have to issue a ticket for my exceeding a safe speed "in existing conditions." I asked what a safe speed would've been and, as he climbed back into his cruiser to do some paperwork, he said: "Sitting at home in a chair."
About then, two more cars started down the hill. When the first began sliding, I leaned into the trooper's passenger-side window and pointed. He looked back and uttered the classic, one-syllable word commonly associated with such situations.
Under nothing but divine guidance, the first car stopped inches from the trooper's door. Not so the second. It smacked into the first one and they both slid a bit further down the hill. Again, no injuries. The trooper looked back at me and said, "I think we'll just forget the ticket."
We spent the next hour waiting for the tow truck. It arrived sideways. The driver called for more help, unwrapped my truck from the pole, and towed it away. A few days later, the phone company sent someone to inspect the pole. They said it would have to be replaced. Thankfully, my insurance covered that too.
Since then, whenever the words "ice" or "black ice" are mentioned, I either choose another route or stay off the road altogether.
To paraphrase an old saying: "He who listens and stays away, may live to drive another day."
Not to mention never having to worry about who's paying to replace a telephone pole.

Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to:

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