Minor disasters bring out the best in people.
Not the major, life-or-death ones, where everyone predictably and understandably becomes a bastard. Can't blame them; hell, I can be as much of a bastard as anyone and a bigger one than most when I'm properly motivated.
And not the insignificant discomforts, where equally predictably and understandably, nobody gives a shit.
But in a minor disaster, such as a blizzard, you get to feel like a hero; you're doing something tangibly important for another human being, and putting yourself in the path of improbable, but feasible trouble.
Estonia had its annual monster blizzard this Sunday night, and naturally I had to drive back to Tartu in the worst of it. My Honda was already feeling less than 100% from getting stuck in the snow on a country lane on Saturday (two hours, four grown men and a Mazda 323 was all it took to get it out). But on Sunday, the weather was really going to hell. I took off from Maardu, a satellite town near Tallinn, and took the city bypass to get to the Tartu freeway. Even there, on a largely empty road, I felt spooked. Remembering the death of my old Mazda, and myself escaping with life and limb by sheer blind luck, I kept it down to 80km/h (in dry weather this four-lane separated stretch is perfectly safe at 120). The Honda's wearing Nokian NRW winter tyres, which are semi-decent, but not studded. Not sure how much that contributed, but at one point, with absolutely no input from me, the Accord just jumped off the road, shifting at a sharp angle to the asphalt and slamming into the snowbank on the separating strip. I didn't move the wheel or change throttle position at all. A gust of wind? An ice patch? I'll never know, but one moment I was driving along, and the next, I was facing the traffic behind me. Shaken and stirred.
The luckiest bit of this endeavor was that I went left, and not right. Looking around, I saw a Ford Focus parked on the hard shoulder, attending to a Daewoo Lanos down in the ditch. It looked in one piece, probably had a soft landing, but smashing into the back of it would not have been pleasant.
Now, drivers of old cars tend to form a sort of brotherhood; if you see a man down, you stop and help. People in new cars get too comfortable with their manufacturer warranties and 24-hour roadside assistance. But the driver of this Focus behaved most admirably. Within minutes me, him, and the kid from the Lanos were figuring out how to screw in the tow eye and/or assemble the removable trailer hook. With not much luck, he told the Lanos kid to just tie the rope around the back axle. Not something I would have dared to do on a new, FWD car. On my old Volvo? Of course, no problem. On a Focus? Hmm.
Nevertheless, after the first rope broke and we got one out of the Lanos, my Honda was back on solid (but slippery) ground, and I was on my way. With packed snow in my rims and fear in my heart, I didn't dare go faster than 60km/h all the way to Tartu, a 110-mile trip that took me some three and a half hours. In my defence, I was far from the only one playing it safe. Also, on that trip I saw the best fucking mileage this Prelude-engined bastard ever produced.
I still need to do some minor repairs to the Honda, but allow me to reiterate my admiration for Japanese engineers, whose 19-year-old rusty machine smashed into packed snow at freeway speeds and had nothing to show for it except a dislocated front valance and what has been preliminarily diagnosed as a broken exhaust pipe seal; and especially, the nameless Focus driver, who declined so much as an offer to buy him a beer some time, telling me instead to stop and help next time I see a car in trouble.
I'll do that.
The Dark is Rising
4 days ago