That driver in the slow lane doing 15 on a sunny, dry December 21 just because it's now technically winter and there might be snow. ... That used to be me.
I've always been a white-knuckle driver in weather. A light summer rain could be enough to slow me down, so you can imagine what a wintry mix would do to those driving behind me.
But this year will be different because of my Christmas present to myself: four top-of-the line snow tires. After doing enough research to write a master's thesis about it, I selected the best tires they make. As I sat waiting for the workers to attach them to my Honda Pilot, I thought about my long history with ice and snow.
My first cars were little lightweight nothings that skittered all over the road. My greatest fear, then, was hills -- not sliding down but getting up. Every destination sat atop a hill, and the prevailing question of my first days as a career girl was, "Will I make it up the hill today?"
I carried little tire chains in my trunk, to be attached while stranded at the bottom of a snowy hill (the modern version of this is kitty litter). Passersby would see Bethie, in high heels and panty hose, trying in vain to put the dang things on while not messing up her hairdo. I'd have been better off with a pair of warm boots and a white flag in the trunk.
Once, while driving to my first radio station job, the rain froze in an instant, greasing up the highway and sending my car into a sickening spin. Somehow I limped to a side street and pulled into the first friendly house to borrow their phone.
The driveway and sidewalk were skating rinks. I tried to make it to the grass, where the traction would be better; unable to stand up, I dropped to all fours and crawled.
Imagine what the kind, elderly couple must have thought looking out their picture window, seeing a frantic woman crawling across the yard. The man came to the front porch and called to me, "Hold on. We'll get you." His wife appeared at the door with a broom. Holding the porch railing, and with his wife clutching his coattail, the man lowered himself to the yard, called for me to get to the sidewalk, and then extended the broom handle and pulled me to safety. I slid across that ice like a water skier.
If this had happened now, a cellphone video of it would have made the Youtube funny page. Those nice people saved my hide that day. The next week I returned with a box of donuts, which did not begin to compensate for their kindness.
As I drove away from the tire place, I could feel my investment beneath me. With the new tires, my car felt smooshy, like I was walking with pillows strapped to my feet, like I was driving over a sea of gummy bears. As it turns out, snow tires grip the road by spreading out over it.
I still avoid driving in snow and ice if I can help it. Things I will drive through the snow for: work, picking up the kids. Things I will not drive through the snow for: shopping, food, a haircut, or a person handing out free iPads in front of the mall.
Actually, I would like the newest iPad, but this year it was either that or the tires. Maybe come summer I will regret my choice, but for now it's me and my four squishy babies taking on the winter.
But I still reserve the right to do 15.
Beth Dolinar is a former Riverside resident and Pittsburgh television reporter who is staying at home to raise her two children. She can be reached at cootieJ@aol.com.