Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Snow Tired

My artist friend and I plan to make a quick road trip to San Francisco this weekend, where the sun is currently shining much more than it is here in Portland. She also has a show opening that weekend, and I would promote it on this blog if I knew more about it (hint hint) so if I get the information from her, I'll write about it. Our trip has been halfway planned for quite some time, with the one detail that's existed all along - we won't know until Wednesday night if we're going.

Unlike where I grew up, the mountains here get to be taller than 2,000 feet, so the weather in the mountains can be even more dramatically different than weather nearby (as the crow flies) in the valleys. It almost never snows in Portland. Snow that sticks falls upon the city maybe once a year. But the mountains are a different story; as early as October, some of the mountain passes can be impassable. When I visited Crater Lake in mid-June, the hiking trails were covered in snow and so was half of the road around the lake. At this time of year, without snow chains, travel around the mountains is restricted to the interstates (or "freeways" as they say out here), I-5 and I-84. From the Willamette Valley, to get to a destination directly east, the Cascades get in the way. This isn't a problem in the summer, but in the winter, it means driving all the way to Portland, taking I-84 through the mountains, and then heading south on some other road, once you've safely arrived in the desert.

Where I-5 takes us, in and around Portland, snow is not an issue. But to the south are Ashland, in Southern Oregon, and the Mount Shasta area in Northern California, where I hear the mountains get pretty tall. So, while it could be 50 degrees and cloudy in Portland, and 60 degrees in sunny at our San Francisco destination, there might be a snowstorm in between.

Or even light snow. But light snow that isn't a problem in New Jersey makes the roads in Oregon dangerous, because they don't use salt here. And I don't have snow tires. If we encounter snow on our way, we will have to stop (and thanks to a friend's boyfriend, I know just where to stop) and buy chains. They're not cheap and I have been putting off doing this since last year, planning to just not drive during Portland's annual snowstorm. But perhaps my time has come.

My parents have brought up the snow tires. Perhaps that deserves capitalization - The Snow Tires. When I was in college driving 65 miles to and from campus and hometown at least once a week, my parents were militant about my car being dressed for the weather; snow tires must be part of its outfit from the beginning of the legal period (November 15th) until the end (April 15th.) One year, they even took my car to the tire place on a Monday morning, at 6am when it opened and while I was asleep, and since it wasn't done in time, I had to miss a Monday afternoon class. (I was mad, but I got an A in the class and I survived.) And then in April, the hassle and the drama and the arguing started up again - when was Sarah going to come home on a weekday so she could get the tires off her car?

I wasn't the only one of my friends with snow tires, but I always had them before everyone else. They were loud. Not only could you hear them crunchcrunching along while riding in the car, but you could also hear my car coming before you could see it, rolling down George Street and around parked EE's with a loud crunchcrunch crunchcrunch crunch crunch CRUNCH.

One early December Sunday, a bunch of us girls gathered to carpool to the Princeton area to go to a ballet, The Nutcracker, where our friend was Clara. I was driving with my roommate, JS, to another part of town where we'd meet a couple of other girls who would ride in my car. We stopped at the student center to pick them up, and also because I wanted to use the restroom. JS said, "But you just went before we left home! How could you possibly have to use the restroom again?"

As we drove up the street toward the parking lot, which was in back of the student center, we saw two (probably drunk) guys, college-aged, on their porch, jumping up and down and yelling at cars. They had messy hair and were wearing (non-matching) big baggy Rutgers football T-shirts. (As a student, it was easy to get a lot of free, oversized T-shirts.) It was unseasonably warm that winter, so it wasn't too strange that they were wearing T-shirts outdoors in December. With our windows closed, we couldn't hear what they were yelling, but as we rounded the corner toward the parking lot entrance (and their house), it became clear, as JS announced, that they were yelling at our car.

"What do they want?" I muttered, feeling mildly harassed.

When we parked the car and opened the doors, their message became clear, and it was not what we expected.

"Snow tires, snow tires, SNOW TIRES!" they shouted.

We tried to ignore them. I blushed; my escape delayed as I sat on the hood of my car so that I could more easily change my shoes in the parking lot. (I have no idea why I was changing my shoes. I remember I was putting on a pair of silver flats, but I have no idea why I wasn't wearing the flats all along.)

"Hey! you!" they called out to us. I did not answer. "Hey, you! With the shoes! HEY SNOW TIRES!" they shouted.

I kept my head down and shoulders hunched and tried to move as quickly as possible toward the doors of the student center.

"HEY! You with the shoes! YOU HAVE SNOW TIRES ON YOUR CAR!"

Safely inside the student center (and having visited the restroom), I calmly spoke of this with JS and shared the recent events with our waiting friends. Soon, we could stall no longer; we had to return to the car and to the shouting men. We prepared ourselves for an onslaught.

And yet...

When we returned to the parking lot, we saw the men shouting at a different passing car. When their eyes alighted upon us, their demeanor altered slightly. Their excitement grew, expanded, its boundaries exceeding the limits of its former space and crossing the borders of the realm of joy. Happily, one man shouted, "LOOK! It's SNOW TIRES!"

And it began again. "Snow tires, snow tires, SNOW TIRES!"

Their shouts followed us to the car.

"Snow tires, snow tires, SNOW TIRES!"

They continued as we sat down in the car. We rolled down the windows.

"SNOW TIRES! Don't go!" they yelled. But we had a ballet to get to. I started to drive; all three of us rolled down our windows.

As we approached the house, the men began waving at us and jumping up and down. We waved out the window and shouted and cheered back at them. As I turned my car onto a different street, leading me toward Route 18 and away from my admirers, one man lifted up his T-shirt and called, "SNOW TIRES, I LOVE YOU!"

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