February 18, 2014

Four-wheel drive gives you options in mud AND snow

     As I participated in North Georgia’s second slip-and-slide storm of 2014, I thought of my logger friend, Fred Fender.  He’s spun his wheels more times than he can count—not in snow—but in slick gumbo mud in South Georgia’s timberlands.  
The only time you need 4-wheel drive,” Fred advises, “is to back out of where you shouldn’t have been in the first place.”  South of the Gnat Line, the Fred Rule is pretty good logic.  But up here, I’m rethinking my resistance to paying more for extra gripping and pulling power.
      Back in January, Eric and I were walking out the door for a luncheon in Atlanta.  Once outside, he suggested, “Dad, let’s take my car.  It has 4-wheel drive.”  Brushing snow off my shoulders, I thought,      “Good plan.”  But what I should have been thinking about was the advice we had gotten minutes earlier.  An associate warned, “I wouldn’t go today.  About 1 o’clock, people are going to be turned loose to beat the storm.  And it’s going to be crazy.”
     Instead, I shrugged off the admonishment with “Nahhh, it can’t be that bad.  The weather folks are right only about half the time.”  And when Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed stood before us, he must have been thinking the same thing.  He knew snow was on his listeners’ minds, and he promised we’d get home.  He just didn’t say when.  While he was speaking inside, Mother Nature’s mood was turning ugly—outside.
     Within hours, Atlanta’s icy gridlock was embarrassing national news.  Leaders were bashed for unpreparedness.  Thousands of people—including children on school buses—were stuck and stranded.       And that’s what I thought was going to happen to Eric and me on the 14th floor of a downtown parking deck.  In two hours, we had crept down only two levels.  
     We considered our options.  One was parking and spending the night, but hotels were overflowing.  With a tank of gas, we decided to keep trudging, inch by inch.  And then the log jam opened.  A cop on the street was freeing vehicles from the deck.  But once outside, we were going nowhere—fast.

     Snail-like, we maneuvered away from interstate-bound traffic and aimed for Decatur, along Ponce de Leon Avenue.  Thanks to good fortune and 4-wheel drive, we made the 70-mile trip in only five hours.  Some weren’t so lucky, like my friend who endured a 12-hour trek from the luncheon to his Sandy Springs home.  Even unluckier, others shivered and slept in cars, trucks and buses.
        January’s snow jam was a wakeup call.  When weather forecasters barked warnings two weeks later, no one thought they were “crying wolf.” Atlanta, the State of Georgia, local governments, utilities and citizens scrambled to avoid what happened last month, with people—like me—listening better.  A state of emergency was declared, but you can only prepare so much.  Snow and ice still spell crisis.
     With 137,000 miles on my truck, these crippling mini-blizzards have me thinking about trading my ride.  Maybe I’ll get something with 4-wheel drive. That way, if I’m tempted to venture out on a slippery street or into a boggy stretch, I’ll have options.  
     One very good option would be to stop and think what I’m about to do.  With all four tires gnawing into the snow and ice or mud, I could back out of where I probably shouldn’t have been going in the first place.  

     Right, Fred?