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Front Porch: Will anyone pay to watch road follies?

Thu., Feb. 7, 2013, midnight

And now it’s time – probably past time – to speak of winter driving.

I live just off a steep hill, and every winter we observe fearless folks all invincible and secure in their SUVs come zipping over the top of the hill only to encounter reality on the icy incline before them. What they do is hit the brakes, usually hard, which then leads them to spin and slide and wind up in the ditch, the ditch just in view from my house.

You’d think that after all these years and all these winters, they’d actually have learned – but, alas, no.

And it’s not that the hill, an arterial, isn’t well maintained. The plows and sanders are out right away when there’s a snowfall, so the hill is usually in as good a condition as a hill can be in the winter in Spokane. Sadly, the drivers still think four-wheel go equates to four-wheel stop. It doesn’t. It never has.

Then, after winding up in the ditch, they do another not-so-smart thing. They get out of their cars, walk around to inspect the situation and stand behind the car talking on their cellphones, calling, I presume, for help. And when the next car locks up on the hill and careens toward the ditch, it’s all the first driver can do to jump out of the way in time so he (it’s usually a guy) doesn’t become the slice of lunch meat between two thick pieces of automobile.

My husband and I know all of this not so much because we’re accident voyeurs but because, usually, we can hear it happen, and Bruce will go out to make sure no one’s in serious trouble when the first car lands in the ditch. Normally, his first comment is shouted across the street – “Hey, you might want to get out of the road; you’re gonna get killed standing there.” Only then does he inquire about injuries or whether help is needed or if the person needs to come inside to get warm.

Once a man from – and I hate to say this because it sounds so superior of me – California controlled his car well enough to stop in the middle of the hill. He bailed in his wool coat and shiny leather dress shoes. Bruce went to talk to him. And the man was terrified. “I’m going back to California as soon as I can,” he said.

I shouldn’t pick on Californians (though it is kind of fun) as local drivers don’t seem to do much better.

A new phenomenon is happening on what we call the road to nowhere (RTN), which now runs parallel to the back of our property. A housing development was going to go in back there, and a sloped lane was put in to provide access to the lots. I don’t know what happened exactly, but nothing ever got built, and the lots go on sale from time to time.

The road dead ends at the bottom, and sometimes folks coming down the arterial turn off and think that this secondary road, which has a gentler slope, might be a safer way to proceed when it’s icy. Ha. What we see from the back of our house is vehicle after vehicle stuck on the road to nowhere. If it’s evening, we watch the headlights as the car or truck takes a run up the slope and then retreats back down when the tires start to spin. Sometimes they turn around and try to back out, and we get to watch the tail lights repeat the same drill. Eventually, they give up and call a wrecker.

One night last month Bruce had already gone to bed, and as I was preparing to follow, I saw the headlight drill begin. I watched about five failed attempts before I woke Bruce. He watched maybe another five with me. He sighed and then got dressed and went out. He ended up taking some chains down to the hapless driver and helped him get out.

A few afternoons later, same adventure. But this time, the driver had his own set of chains.

The most serious incident was when a pickup turned off the arterial much too fast and didn’t quite navigate successfully onto the RTN, which he’d been aiming for. Over the embankment he went, with his rear axle hung up on a huge boulder and the vehicle precariously positioned, teetering over my yard. We didn’t see it happen, but a neighbor called, so Bruce went down to see if the driver was OK. He was and had already called for help. Help arrived but was unable to pull the truck out. A wrecker came; no success. It wasn’t until the next day that a more complicated extraction operation was undertaken and the vehicle removed. We had front row seats throughout.

I told Bruce we should set up lawn chairs on our deck, serve hot cocoa and charge admission for the winter driving carnival. The good news, of course, is that no one appears to have been injured from any of these mishaps. The bad news is that no one wants to pay to watch them from my house.

Winter driving adventures, it seems, take place all over the city (and county), so we have nothing unique to offer from our own neck of the woods. Still, you’d think drivers would recognize that snow and ice come every year and that driving follies are sure to ensue without a tad bit of temperance and forethought. Ah, silly me.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@comcast. net. Previous columns are available at spokesman. com/columnists/.

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