Goshen News, Goshen, IN

February 8, 2014

Stuck for the correct spelling


GOSHEN — Pride wasn’t a factor. A departure from grace implies there was grace at the outset. Not so much.

Rather, this was about overestimating what should have been basic competence. And that made failure — i.e., getting stuck — all the more bitter.

A prelude to Feb. 1, 2014: I’ve been licensed to drive non-commercial motor vehicles for nearly 30 years. I’m also a lifelong Hoosier, and in northern Indiana “driving in snow” is pretty much just “driving” for a chunk of the calendar year.

Those mounds of snow, icy roads, the general gray and grim funkiness of Midwestern winter? To these I’m no stranger.

So for me, driving in winter isn’t about pride in a rare skill. Nor is it about striving to hone one. Pride and striving are concepts I associate with “Rocky,” and by further association with Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” Winter driving is simply what Indiana motorists do to get from Points A to B.

Hunter/gatherers don’t pat themselves on the back. They hunt/gather and manage not to die. Likewise, Hoosiers operate motor vehicles in crummy weather, and that’s what I meant to do Feb. 1.

I was bound for downtown, an easy walk from my South Fifth Street home. It was cold outside, though, and my plan was to buy supplies both essential and less so. In no mood for strolling and toting, I got behind the wheel, pulled out of my parking spot and drove for all of 10 feet in a north/south alley.


Forward? No go. Reverse? Same result. That whole rapid-fire forward-reverse, forward-reverse thing? Evidence of a desperate man.

I exited the vehicle and evaluated the situation. My look was Knitted Brow. It’s an expression seen on men who feel, perhaps, that the sheer power of their frustration is enough to force a positive outcome. History suggests Knitted Brow rarely works. It certainly didn’t this time.

A neighbor approached. Do you need some help?, he asked. That question prompts various answers, I think, depending on the age of the person being asked:

• 20-something: “No, I’m fine.”

• 30-something: “Wait, let me try one more thing.”

• 40-something: “Yes.”

I’m 40-something. As such, the neighbor pushed while I accelerated the car in reverse. No luck. The neighbor said he’d get a shovel and I said I would as well.

The neighbor set to work with a sturdy shovel of the wood and metal variety. I’ve got one of those, too, but opted to return to the scene with a battered, plastic snow shovel. Some people can identify the right tool for a particular task — like, say, removing ice and heavy compacted snow. Count my neighbor as one of them.

Soon the vehicle was freed from its state of stuck. The neighbor introduced himself as Alan. I thanked him, and not knowing at the time that I’d be writing about him didn’t ask the proper spelling. Outside of obvious journalism, “How do you spell your name?” comes across as weird during a first meeting.

Anyway, thanks again, Alan, Allan, Allen or whatever.

I’d like to say the episode was a learning experience, but the lesson is unclear. “Don’t drive” might be apt, but feels impractical. “Sometimes things happen that negatively impact your life, in varying degrees of duration and intensity, and there’s nothing you can do about it” is probably closer to the mark.

Maybe the lesson is simply to pay better attention to weather conditions and be more careful. And to be grateful for good neighbors.

Scott Weisser is a staff writer at The Goshen News. Full disclosure: Weisser totaled his first car in 1986 on the way to a high school dance. An icy road, a tree and the driving skills of a future staff writer for The Goshen News factored into the crash. That episode, coupled with recent events, has him thinking maybe he should just walk.