I drive a Smart car. Stop laughing. It has the traction of a Hot Wheel, therefore making it very dangerous to get anywhere in the ice and snow. When I woke up this morning, I was shocked to look through the foggy kitchen window to see tiny white specs whirling through the air. “It’s snowing!” I said, throwing my voice to the other side of the apartment. “No...” C said, thinking I was seeing things. Sure enough, as if it were raining spaghetti and meatballs, it was snowing in April.
Never once in all my years of touring did I put snow tires on my cars, which now seems like a very big gamble. I remember driving through the Appalachian mountains on my way home from Asheville, North Carolina in the dead of winter, the worst snowstorm I’d ever been in. I was driving my trusty red xTerra I called Arty (the name started out as R.D., or “red dog”), weaving in and out of the narrow roads that curved around the plunging cliff sides, white-knuckling my way to safety. This was the same year Beyoncé’s self-titled (and rap?) album came out, so I was blasting that while navigating the terrain. After the clouds were gone and I was able to think clearly, I found it difficult to choose which had actually been the more intense experience: Appalachia in a blizzard, or listening to that album. Beyoncé yell-singing at you is not soothing, and that lingering, flattened feeling was sticking with me long after the snow had melted.
I also remember a time when I was on tour but wasn’t driving, sharing a car with another artist as we drove the entire length of California for two weeks of shows. In the middle of tour we departed the sunny, characteristic scenery of Cali life for Lake Tahoe. This was perhaps the most bizarre transition of weather I’d ever experienced. Ascending the lush, green hills, after exactly 1 hour (I checked my phone) we found ourselves in an all-out deluge. Even our car was making noises as it got wind-whipped with the fluffy white powder enveloping the mountains around us. It was such a bizarre sight to behold, and it came out of nowhere. It then shouldn’t have surprised us when we pulled in to a rest stop to check the map and catch our breath; at the same time we both looked up at the commemorative plaque in front of the car and it read:
DONNER PASS: THIS WAS THE SIGHT OF THE FATEFUL DONNER PARTY, MANY OF WHOM SUCCUMBED TO THE HARSH COLD AND STARVATION, RESORTING TO CANNABALISM...
We let out a scream in the car, and I jumped into the frigid air to shake out my heebie jeebies. Upon the harsh wind hitting my face, I had the bright idea of running a few paces while my tour-mate recorded it, pretending I had gone nuts and was heading directionless into the abyss.
Lastly, there was this year, during a second freeze in Nashville in early March. The first had shut the city down for almost 48 hours; this one seemed to light an indignant fire in the hearts and minds of most Nashvillians, including myself. We would not be beat by this absolutely ridiculous, sporadic weather, and life would continue on as normal. I had seen the roads, and despite being able to navigate almost everywhere unimpeded that day, I had one piano lesson that I still needed to teach in south Nashville. The family lives high in the hills halfway towards Franklin, Tennessee in a house that is only accessible via a narrow, uneven, one-lane service road leading up a steep slope. As I began to climb this slope in my Smart car, it dawned on me that this, too, was definitely not the smartest idea.
There I was, halfway up a terrible decision when I hit a snag—a patch, rather—that forced my hand: do I try to power through (acceleration on a Smart is more of a suggestion than a feature), or do I cut my losses and carefully begin my backwards decent? I chose wrong. In one telltale wheeze, my wheels skidded and lost footing as my car began to careen out of control and fall madly down the hill. Screaming again, I found that my brake helped a nominal amount but my pedal plus my parking brake offered enough resistance to stop my car. When it finally did stop I sat there, suspended in the balance, for about 30 seconds. I then worked up enough courage to peer out of my open window to see how close I was to falling off the road and into the ditch. I saw that I would not die, but falling in would definitely ruin the rest of my day, if not my month. I was pretty damn close. Slowly, gingerly, I released my parking brake, tempting my back wheels toward the nearest neighbor’s driveway. I thought I might turn around and go back down the hill going forward, if I got lucky enough to make it out of this. It was terrifying. Sweating bullets, swearing in soft, breathless whispers, I started to slither down the ice in a controlled fall. Each time I felt my wheels sliding out of the path, I threw on my parking break and swore for a few more seconds. At one point I even tried to shimmy my tiny car farther to the right side of the road, but even my car needed a little more juice to move than a few confident hip thrusts.
With one last cut of my wheels, I swung down into the neighbor's driveway. I was still so rattled from the fateful failed-lesson that I called my client to tell her I’d tried, but I wouldn’t be coming to teach her kids piano that day. She was of course so sweet, and apologetic for the craziness of the road. She offered to have her husband come down the road to get me, but by then I was already exiting her neighborhood. When I hung up the phone, overcome with emotion, I sobbed all the way home.
It is now about 36 hours since I started writing this post in the snow. After finishing out the day, we woke to sunny skies and a thermostat climbing at a feverish pace. I just planted my first seeds of the year in 80 degree weather, wearing shorts, on our balcony. Let’s hope we don’t get any more unexpected freezes.