At sixty miles an hour, turning with the skid is not a viable option.
I was finally out of Reno. I've been here for about a week and a half, succumbing to torpor, death by desert. I know this town too well... I was brought up and raised here. I see the ghosts of my past on every street corner. They play Pai Gow and craps. They are old, fragile, and immortal.
But I was finally on the move again, out of this town, heading down to sunny Santa Barbara for a friend's 21st birthday celebration. It was going to be a weekend-long party, one that would kick off my week-long voyage home.
Snow on Donner Pass is no big deal. One would have to be naive to assume that no incliment weather would occur between Reno and Sacramento during winter. These are the Sierra Nevadas. More than a hundred years ago a family and their companions cannibalized each other to survive, to make it over into the golden hills of California.
I stopped in Verdi at around one thirty to pick up a new set of tire chains in preparation for negotiating I-80 through the mountains. About two miles before the chain installation point, however, I hit a patch of ice under the snow.
I've always been taught to turn in the direction of the skid: sure you spin, but you spin around to face where you were headed originally, and it's less likely that you'll flip your vehicle. I slowly laid on the brakes and began to ease my car into the spin, but a spin arc is considerably larger at fifty miles an hour than it is at fifteen: my vehicle, the Stannous Bebop, spun its front end into a ditch, bounced, and landed on the right lane of the highway, facing west. My dashboard computer screamed, "STOP!!" in big, friendly red letters while a veritable christmas tree lit up in front of me. I pulled over to the shoulder of the highway and rushed out to assess the damage.
Myself: nothing but a sprained pride and a bruised ego. I'll live.
Driver's side: nothing. Okay, all right.
Rear: Oh, looks like I got some dirt on the back panel. But no major bruises. Moving on.
Passenger side: fine up until the front where the quarter panel is pushed back slightly, rendering the passenger side door unopenable. I can deal with that. So what about the...
Front: JUMPING JESUS ON A POGO STICK! The entire front bumper, which is mainly trim anyway, is gone, and Stan is vomitting motor oil all over the snow. The ebony on ivory momentarily entrances me, but then I realize what this means: I, to use the classical term, am fucked.
Sissy Hankshaw herself would be proud of my thumbs and their ability to flag down a vehicle in even what has become quite the nasty snow storm. A moving van pulls over, and the driver offers his cell phone. Two Elvis Costello songs later (I was almost through listening to Imperial Bedroom when the car spun, and that was the first album of the trip), the CHP shows up, and Officer Kurrle (prounced "Curly", I swear to God) takes down the pertinent info and calls a tow truck. Maybe ten minutes pass, and I'm in the cab of the truck, listening to the radio pass along such optimistic conversations as this one:
TOW DRIVER 1: This is nasty out here. I can't see shit.
TOW DRIVER 2: No kidding. I can't even find the car I'm supposed to tow.
TOW DRIVER 1: I can't even see the cars in front of me.
TOW DRIVER 3: (breaking in) You think you guys have it bad? I can't even see my fucking windshield wipers...
I sigh whistfully, realizing that it's very possible I'll be stuck in Truckee this evening.
The tow driver is a very friendly fellow, who I think is just resigned to his station in life: picking up the pieces of arrogant arsefaces who think they can beat the mountains. I call the insurance company from the tow yard just as my agent is going home for the day.
"Where in California?" he asks, tired of the demanding trials of the insurance business.
"Truckee," I say, tired of snow and snow and snow.
"How do you spell that?"
"And what happened?"
"I hit a patch of ice and started to skid..."
"Wait, ice? I thought California had nice weather."
I want to scream into the phone Yeah, well, it's a pretty fucking huge state the west coast has weather too you know you arrogant prick but I give a casual laugh instead and tell him, "Southern California, sure. Northern California, not so much."
So he says he'll notify an appraisal agent and I just need to wait for a call. I get the feeling I'll be waiting for weeks by the way things have been going recently.
The tow driver, Dennis, gives me a lift down the street to a diner that was actually moved from West Chester, Pennsylvania. Strange, that. I sit and sulk for a while, then call my mom in Reno. She's at an appointment, or has to check with weather service, or just isn't sure. But she'll come up.
I've read about forty pages in my book by about five o'clock. I've been drowning in snow for three hours. Let me get this straight: snow has its purposes. I *heart* skiing, I *heart* good-natured snowball fights. I fucking *hate* being stuck in it. So when my mom shows up, I'm one happy kid. This is the one time I'm thankful I know someone who owns one of those gas-guzzling, earth-murdering SUV's: when they're put to an actual purpose (aside from negotiating nothing more treacherous than a road hump), they're really not all that bad.
So I'm back in Reno. My car's in Truckee. The party's in Santa Barbara.
I'm not pissed i'm not pissed i'm not pissed i'm not (oh, fuck it... I'm going to go get pissed now...)