A model of hesitation

February 24th, 2015 | Tags: , , ,

So I headed out to work today, thinking we’d probably be getting early release (most forecasts called for afternoon snow). About two-thirds of the way through my 45-minute commute, i.e., 6am–yes, I leave typically around 5:30am–it began snowing. I checked the county Web site when I got to the parking lot, and my suspicions were correct: lo, we were set for delayed opening. A few other early-arriving teachers were dumbfounded as I shared the news with them; they too had been snared by the vagaries of travel time and school hours. I caught up with a few beloved colleagues also making their way in, and as the big, fat flakes drifted noiselessly and unrelentingly down to the whitening tarmac, which had done its best to retain heat but eventually gave up under last night’s brutal chill and the morning’s crystalline onslaught, it was patently obvious that the delay was only to buy the county some time before the inevitable decision.

Making the trudge to my remote trailer up the hill and out by the tennis courts, truly a world apart from the main building, I had only just settled in to my classroom to get some preparatory work done when an announcement rang out over the intercom from our principal: there would be another announcement very soon about whether school would remain open or close. And only moments after that, the same crackling voice boomed out with the decision we all knew: classes had been cancelled. Anti-climactic in the highest order, and a little frustrating–it felt a little like a marked lack of sensitivity for the distances educators and students travel. But, business as usual where I teach.

The tennis court parking lot at 9am

In a completely unexpected development, however, another voice gently informed us hapless souls who had had to commit to our morning journeys of some succor. In the cafeteria, there was a pile of fresh, hot sausage biscuits, free to those who wanted ‘em, first come first serve. Needless to say I engaged in some light calisthenics down (already!) snow-covered stairs and lawn to get there before they all disappeared. The crowd was in a mostly jovial mood–yes, even hot-footing it did not get me there first–and we snacked and joked and shared some rare communal time, not beset by such time sinks as professional development (as useful as it can sometimes be) or staff duties involving the monitoring of students (as amusing as it can often be). But as we dispersed, I felt a grim undertone in the air. We had to consider our journeys home again. I thought about it, discussed with a few others, and then decided to take advantage of the time and wait for the morning traffic to subside. I was raised in the north, and therefore inculcated with at least a modicum of snow traffic culture and experience. And I wanted no part of driving next to people who didn’t understand that in snow, if you use the brake more than gently, you’re asking for trouble.

So, merrily I worked along, updating my students about the day’s expectations and tying loose ends. It went by faster than it ever had before (because, naturally, I was actually accomplishing things), and I kept telling myself I would leave in just a few more minutes. When the clock showed 11, though, I put as much as I could on Google Drive and hastened to depart. There must be some sort of social dynamic akin to physics’ inverse square law that describes how much time a teacher has and how much work he or she thinks she can do. The less time I have, the more I think, “oh, but just one more thing!” At 11:45, after ascertaining a route that did not have any reported accidents (there were 3), I actually departed.

Farrington Road north of the lake

I chose well, avoiding the local main road (NC 55, with its dozens of stoplights) and taking the back way through Apex to NC-64. I had only one scare at the 64 interchange, when just a little too much brake gave me an opportunity to examine first-hand how the Honda Fit handles snow and ice. Spoiler: not well. But, I knew how to handle the car, and I skidded into a graceful turn that looked like I meant to do that. Yeah. The actual source of danger was Farrington Road, which cuts across Jordan Lake–the northerly part of it is fairly woodsy, and the road was still properly coated with snow. I saw not one but two be-ditched vehicles while I trundled along at 20mph, one of which had acquired the assistance of a Jeep with a winch to help drag it out. That Jeep was skating all over the road just trying to pull its brother pickup out. (The other vehicle, a van, was completely overturned, though it looked as though the driver had been able to climb out safely. Nobody was on the scene, so I can only hope.)

I struggle to imagine the series of decisions that resulted in this.

But the best part about the drive was my discovery of the Fit’s supremely useful gear paddles! When I bought the Fit, I had fleetingly considered them but hadn’t really had occasion to employ them; while I know how to gear-brake, the last time I had actually had to practice it was 3 summers ago descending the Continental Divide. My experience on NC-64 reminded me to use them instead of braking, and it was a sublime experience to tap a button on the steering column and have it downshift without batting an eye. The gear control of a manual, with all the convenience of an automatic. The gear-braking saved me from several otherwise potentially hairy incidents, and while it took me an extra half-hour to arrive home, I had only pleasant memories of snowy woods and frigid lakes, the snow falling all around in a graceful play of light and silence.

But did we really need to wait until this morning to make the call? Well, I guess everything is as it should be.

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