Black Ice and Cowboy Boots

There I was, stuck on level ground. I’d been trying, with no luck, for several minutes to rock the car out of its ¼-inch deep groove. Two cowboys wandered past, no doubt spotted the California plate (MG LIVES ironically enough, even though without help the car would be stuck there until late spring), and asked if I needed a push. “Yes please.” Apparently two pairs of cowboy boots possess greater tractive grip than one snow tire.

snowy-roadWith my ’67 MGB GT released from its prison of parking lot black ice, I scampered back to the safety of the folks’ driveway and parked the car. Taking advantage of my college location in Oregon, spring break 1981 was to be my first ever solo trip to the family vacation spot in Ketchum, Idaho. The car and I had only just been introduced to black ice a couple days before, and the result then had been predictably undesirable.

I have had experience on icy roads, but it was limited to Mom’s four-wheel drive Jeep Wagoneer, which never got stuck in a parking lot. The B, though equipped at the back with a pair of snow tires, had an open differential. In sunny SoCal, that meant a little wheel spin when stomping the gas out of a right hand turn. In an icy parking lot it meant one wheel drive and ignominy.

The cowboys likely had fun at home that evening, recounting the story of the kid from California who got stuck on level ground. If only they had known about my black ice pirouette a couple nights before. Under the heading “a little knowledge is dangerous,” in those days my car was equipped with a thoroughly modern driving computer. It had cruise control, and temperature sensors, a blue LED display, and six thousand buttons. Driving across interstate 84, from Salem, Oregon, to Idaho, I had been carefully monitoring outside temperatures.

Cresting a hill, the display said it was a balmy 34 degrees. Imagine my surprise then, when tapping the brakes while heading down hill. Rather than slow down, the car went into a counterclockwise spin. Probably only one revolution later, though it felt like two, the car headed nose first into the divider…and stopped. No impacts, no other cars involved, nothing else to do but put her in reverse and hope it wasn’t stuck. Fortunately, the median was unfrozen. I backed out between the steel posts, snow markers, which stood in silent testament to all the stuff I didn’t hit before stopping.

It certainly wasn’t funny at the time, but with hindsight, and no damage done, I can laugh about the things that went wrong on that trip. In an age of Gary Larson animal cartoons, one might even imagine a local heard of deer standing over on the side of the highway holding up scorecards. “Simple spins are low value, but missing all the road signs significantly ups the difficulty factor: 8.5.”

In retrospect, I’m not sure if snow tires provided any real benefit, but chains aren’t an option on a heavily loaded B with sagging springs. Another feature of that particular MGB was the intermittent windshield wipers, but being a steel dash car, it was easy enough to reach up underneath, wiggle the wires, and bring the system back to life.

By Robert Goldman

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