We’re having our first snow day today. Something like 6 to a gazillion inches landed in the last 36 hours, depending on where in West Michigan you live.
As we celebrate not having to drive on ice-slicked roads this morning, this seems like the perfect opportunity to discuss our worst driving experiences. I’m not sure about you folks down south, but I’m sure every driver up north has a story to tell – spinning tires while trying to make it up hills, praying brake lights don’t materialize right front of you in a whiteout, sliding into ditches without any warning.
I have plenty of stories, but the one that takes the cake didn’t even occur in Michigan.
My Worst Driving Experience: Ohio in the Dark
In December 2013, my aunt – my mom’s sister – passed away, and we all headed to Cincinnati for the funeral. This was only a few months after we laid Tom to rest, and my memory is a bit of a black hole when it comes to this time period.
I don’t remember why we left so late in the day, and I can’t remember if I knew bad weather was coming. However, I do know the weather seemed fine when we left home. I also know I didn’t want to drain my phone’s battery so rather than using GPS, I went old school and printed the directions.
That was part of my problem. I was supposed to jog diagonally to catch a highway south of Detroit, but I apparently missed the exit. Instead, I drove into the big city and got on the expressway there. Driving in Detroit wasn’t a huge problem, except that we got there at rush hour, and it added at least an hour to our drive time.
By Toledo, the snow may have started, but I don’t remember being worried. I can’t remember if we were to Dayton or past it by the time it got really bad. By now, it was dark. The snow was coming down something fierce – not quite a whiteout, but it felt close.
It was later now, and the traffic had thinned out. That was good because the road was three lanes covered in a couple inches of turned up snow and ice. I vaguely wondered if Ohio bothered to plow their highways during snowstorms since we didn’t see one plow on the road during the entire journey.
Without being able to see the lines on the road and being unfamiliar with its path, I found myself in the right lane one moment and next to the median the next. Grateful that I hadn’t driven right off the road, I made my way back to the right lane, put on my hazard lights and hoped the few other people on the road would give me wide berth.
Making a Bad Situation Worse
Now, on its own, this drive would definitely be a contender for the worst driving experience of my life. I was on an unplowed, unfamiliar road in near whiteout conditions without any hope of reaching our destination for hours. But here’s what pushed it over the top.
Sometime after we left the Dayton metro area, my mom insisted our exit was the next one. It seemed far too early for us to be near Cincinnati, but she was insistent. There may have been a little divine intervention here.
We got off the expressway, and I immediately knew the exit was wrong. However, I decided it might be good to stop at a nearby gas station and find out exactly how far we had to go.
So I’m inside, getting the bad news that Cincinnati is still a long, long ways away, when my middle son walks in and tells me a tire is flat. Sure enough, it is not just soft but almost down on the rim flat. (This where the divine intervention comes in – thank the Lord that we got off the expressway there before all the air in the tire went out completely.)
But still, this is a problem. I don’t know how to change the spare on my van. Back inside, the gas station clerks assure me there is no way a wrecker would be able to come help anytime soon. As I’m trying to decide whether there might be a hotel nearby where we can crash until morning, one of the clerk pipes up to the other.
“Hey, what was that stuff that guy bought last week for his flat tire?”
And then I am introduced to the wonder that is Fix-a-Flat. We use it, add air and the tire looks like its old self. I buy two more bottles, and we hit the road. Twenty minutes later, we come to a rest stop where I pull off to check the tire. All is well.
After what feels like an eternity, we finally arrive at our hotel. I consider kissing the lobby floor when I walk in. “Roads are bad, eh?” the clerk asks.
In addition to being my worst driving experience, this trip stands out too because it was one of those widowhood milestones I passed. I tend to think everyone who’s lost their spouse has them – the first time they did X alone.
While I had certainly taken my family on solo trips before, this was the first one where there was no back-up at home. No one to call in the evening and say, “You won’t believe what happened to me.” No one to ask, “What should I do about this tire?”
I had hoped one of my cousins might swoop in and fix my problem, but they were all understandably focused on my aunt. Instead, I searched for tire shops the next morning and found one nearby that could replace my tire immediately.
I came away from that experience feeling a little more assured of myself, but also a little more burdened in the knowledge that when there was a problem, it was now mine alone to fix.
And the kids’ take on the situation? Well, there were gleefully unaware of the whole ordeal. While I was up front hoping we didn’t die on a strange road, they were obnoxiously bouncing around and laughing with one another in the back. So I’ll take that as a vote of confidence in my driving abilities.
Now it’s your turn. What is the worst driving experience you’ve ever had?
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