Inspiration struck me this morning as I was digging around in my trunk to recover a flimsy plastic ice scraper (that may or may not have come from a State Farm insurance office.) It was also the simultaneous (and quite disheartening) realization of winter that has me compelled to share my advice for coping with said season. While I have no doubts that you will be capable of surviving, I do feel strongly that it will surprise you. It surprises everyone. It even surprises the people who have lived through it for decades. Winter acts like an Men-In-Black memory-scrambler, in that the blinding whiteness of everything acts as a trigger for cluster-fuckery to rain upon you and everyone around you. However, if you heed these tips I am about to bestow upon you, you may actually come out the other side appearing as if you know what you’re doing. Good luck.
Chapter I: Car Care 101 or How Winter Reminds You that Your Car is a Fickle Death Machine.
Your car is a great friend. In the spring, it idles quietly at every streetlight, patiently waiting for you to tap on the gas and continue on your journey. In the summer, it will sit without complaint in the blistering sun, attempting to keep the inside shaded for your return. In the fall, it joyously takes you on those last-minute oh-my-god-that-sounds-so-good trips to Sonic for chili-cheese tots. But in the winter? your car could become as unpredictable as a live-broadcast of the VMA’s. To help minimize the full-blown catastrophe that is operating a car in winter, consider these aids:
- HEET: this is an additive you put in your gas tank. It keeps your gas from letting one tiny fucking drop of H2O turn everything into a giant block of FROZEN FLAMMABLE GAS! This should be added every 4 or so fill-ups (the bottle says every time, but real people who live in winter say that every time is excessive and expensive. It is really up to you to figure out how much trust you will attach to the ritual.)
- Rain-X: Buff this onto your windshield and say hello to the magical coagulating melting snow that just beads and flings itself away from your sight! Fa-bew-lussss!
- “Warming Your Car Up”: This. Always this. This is the act of turning your car on, engaging defrost mode, and allowing the car to “run” for like 5-10 minutes before you actually drive it. If at all possible, do not sit in your ice-box car while this is happening. It is too cold for that shit. Turn on your car and run inside. Try your very hardest to remember to NOT leave your house keys attached to your car keys. It will be quite difficult to lock your house up when it is time to get in your car. You will officially etch this fact in your mind after the third time you do it.) However, you must stare at your car this whole time. You must remain vigilant against the creep-ninjas that are waiting for you to look away for half a second to make sure that you turned the coffee pot off, which you did, and then jump in your car and drive it away. Do not let that happen! A recommendation is to stand in front of your window with a baseball bat and a stank-face while your car is outside, scared and vulnerable, so the creep-ninjas know that you are watching them.
- Note A: If you are “warming your car up” at a location that is not your home, you will likely have to sit in your ice-box while it is “warming up”. This greatly reduces the length of time in which you believe is satisfactory prior to driving off. During this seems-like-eternity waiting period, thrash around in your seat and make blubbery lip noises. For whatever reason, this will feel like it is making your warmer but it is in fact, not making you any warmer. You may also try smacking your cheeks with your mitten-y palms and make huffing-yelp noises. This might actually make you warmer.
- Note A-1: After your first experience of flailing and whimpering in your ice-box, you will seriously consider having a keyless remote start device installed in your car, to avoid all the being in the cold nonsense. You will search Amazon for prices.
Some Items to Keep in Your Car for Basic Functioning
- A pair of old socks (or washcloth/towel): Whip snow off your windshield. Aid in creating larger sight-hole from tiny defrosted spot. Cover hand and use to pluck icicles from your windshield wiper blades. The possibilities are truly endless.
- Ice-scraper: Preferably, you should have at least two. Just in case one snaps in half from the sheer thickness of the ice-force field around your car. It happens.
- Snow brush: This can be an old broom, a dust-pan sized sweeper or a device marketed specifically as a snow brush. The dual snow-brush & ice scraper are readily available, but the ice-scraper side is pretty useless. Just use the brush on a long stick.
Some Items to Keep in Your Car if You are Easily Paranoid of Disaster
- A blanket: Do you think your heat will stay on when your car breaks down on the side of the road at 11pm? The answer is no. Sorry.
- HotHands: You can buy these pretty much anywhere. Your parents will probably put some in your Christmas stocking. They are nice to have, but do take a longer than you think is appropriate to heat up. They will ultimately be disappointing, because they look like they are some kind of exciting top-secret Government Issue Insta-Heat device, engineered to be impressive but they are, in actuality, just palm-sized sacks of chemicals you shake.
- A shovel: Seriously. If you are parked on the street and a plow comes, it will bury your car. Also, if you are coming out of a side-street, said plow will also have buried your only exit into moving traffic. You might be going up a hill and you cannot control your car and you wedge your front passenger tire into a bank of snow. You will need the shovel. The shovel is the ultimate.
- A flashlight and/or an empty metal can, candles and matches: This is crucial for any doomsday situation. Duh!
- An extra pair of gloves + hat: If you attempt to shovel out your car with your hands, because you thought that you didn’t need the shovel, you will then be all wet and cold and remember? Your heater doesn’t work when your car is incapacitated and your blanket cannot cover your ears and your hands while simultaneously keeping your core warm. Maybe you don’t deserve to survive…
- An (empty) spare gas can – in fact, this should always be in your car.
And the #1 Most Essential but Often Forgotten and/or Grossly Underestimated Winter Car Tip is:
SLOW THE FUCK DOWN.
Ok, did you slow down? Good.
NOW GO SLOWER.
Unless you are trying to get up a snowy/icy hill – speed up. You will not make it up unless you do so.
Winter makes everything confusing.
However, your mantra shall remain – “Ice & Snow, Take it Slow”
Additional Brief Points:
- Prepping your car will be messy because you will be groin-rubbing against your car to reach the windshield to scrape off ice
- On especially icy/slushy days, I often put the pants I want to wear while I am at work in my bag, and wear sweatpants to get my car ready.
- Be mindful to check your tire pressure – this is as crucial as the tread on your tires
- Find out if you have Front-Wheel-Drive (FWD), Rear-Wheel-Drive (RWD) or All-Wheel-Drive (AWD/4WD)
- Hint: RWD is worthless in winter, so good luck if that’s what you have. However, I have been told that putting sandbags in your truck will help this, but does not make up for the fact that 4WD is the ultimate
- If your battery dies because it is so freaking cold, bring it with you to get a new one – most places give you a discount/recycling credit and you will know EXACTLY what battery you need
- Do not be tricked into getting “anti-corrosion” accessories – they are too complicated to put on yourself
- It is annoying to drive with your big coat, scarf, hat and gloves on – it is easier to just keep a big sweatshirt or fleece zip-up for driving
- Which reminds me… your steering wheel will be so cold, it will feel like you are burning your fingerprints off
- If you find that your window will not roll down because a tiny layer of ice has frozen it shut, use an old giftcard and/or frequent shopper rewards card to insert between your window and the rubber lining, and in an angled, sawing motion, free your window
- If you get the glorious surprise of an above 50 degree, sunny afternoon – go wash your car. You will likely have to wait in line to wash it, but do it.
- All of the salt being thrown down on the roads by the monstrous “salt trucks” dispersed into the city like tank-sized overlords, will rust the shit out of your auto-body if you are not mindful to rinse when provided the opportunity
- With great eagerness and diligence, try to not run over roadkill. Their frozen bodies will make their shattered bones into tire-popping ninja stars
Chapter II: Wardrobe Reminders or The Effects of Winter on Your Puny Human Body
FUN FACT! The more haz-mat-esque and ugly the gloves you have on, the more equipped you are for winter survival! Mittens don’t do shit; they are best for idyllic strolls between coffee shops or patting small children on the head, not for scraping ice off your windshield.
FUN FACT! Winter isn’t all bad. One pro is that no one can guess at how chubby you’ve become from all the holiday treats, because you are all swaddled up like the freaking newborn baby Jesus.
Chapter III: Psychological Meltdown Triggers – or If You Start Crying, Your Face will Freeze and That Will Suck. Don’t Do That.
Don’t Be Too Alarmed at the Sight of Abandoned, Ditch-Dwelling Cars
They will be everywhere. It is okay, though. You are not one of them. Continue doing what you are doing and don’t wonder too much about what went wrong with the upside down cars on the side of the freeway. It will drive you insane.
When Winter Weather Happens, All Bets Are Off
Snow, sleet, freezing rain, flurries, ice – these are a few of the too many things that happen with the weather during winter. When these things happen, people freak the fuck out. You will look at around you and wonder, “Is it possible that all of these people had a simultaneous stroke and that’s why none of these drivers are observing any kind of road law?” And you will be wrong. There is no law. These people are perfectly capable of basic driving etiquette and observing laws the other 9 months out of the year. But this is winter. This is the ultimate fight for survival. This is Thunderdome.
No one will use turn signals, or they will drive THE ENTIRE WAY to their destination with their hazards on. You will be like, “UGH ohmygawd I have no idea if I am safe to go around you or if you have your hazards on because you are so nervous that when I try and go around you, you will freak out like a deer and swerve like an idiot! You’re all idiots!”
Can’t see the painted lane lines? Turn lanes? Stop markers? Guess they disappeared! Hehehe! One big lane now! Hehe!
People going super-fast will get their panties in a bunch because you are not going fast. They will honk at you. These people will be driving BIG trucks or SUVs. You will come to resent them and their all-wheel drive. You will cower at their “Don’t-Give-A-Fuckery”. It will be painful to let them pass you.
But seriously, do not expect any sort of order. You will be on the defensive the entirety of the snow season. You will be so on edge at the end of the day that you will require 3 shots of Tequila in order to even go to bed. No one will judge you. They will have it ready for you. They understand.
FUN FACT! Curse words are 5,000 times more fun to say in the winter than any other season. You are already shivering, and so every word begins with stuttering satisfaction. “F-f-f-f-uck this s-s-s-h-hit-t-t-ty s-s-s-now!”
Pumping Gas Will Become the Bane of Your Existence
I am 98% confident that Grumpy Cat is in actuality, a reincarnated man who died while pumping gas in the dead of winter. It sucks. Everything you touch is ice-cold. The wind is whipping. It is slippery and dangerous. Just awful. I am not too proud to admit that I still feel the urge to cry while I am whimper-thrashing in an attempt to stay warm while filling my car up with gas. Ugh.
Sliding Through Your First Stop Sign
The ultimate heart-attack inducing, psychological meltdown trigger that you will ever experience during winter is the “slide.”
You will be approaching a routine stop sign intersection. You will apply pressure to your brake pedal, as you have done countless times. Only this time, you hear a blood-curdling grinding squeal and your car does not slow down. Your toes vibrate from the sensation of your brake pads open-palm slapping against your tires. It is the knee-quivering sensation from those “Why can’t I punch anything?” nightmares. Your car is not stopping. You are seriously pedal-to-the-metal on your brake. Nothing is happening. Your car, with indifference, just keeps on going forward through the mandatory stop intersection.
That’s all there is to it. Almost.
You will slide through, and be flushed and panting afterwards. It is a natural reaction to suddenly realizing that you have absolutely no control over a flammable gas gobbling, two-ton, metal box. It is a simply a matter of the elements and physics having a bastard child on your way to work.
Some things to remember when you slide through your first stop sign – honk your horn. Beep! Beeeeep beep beep! This at least alerts others that you are not capable of stopping at the intersection, and hoping to Jesus, that the other drivers are capable of stopping, notice this beep-alert, and do not continue through the intersection after their turn. I have many a time had to “honk-honk-fuck-I’m-sorry-honk-honk-honk” my way through a stop sign that was at the bottom of a hill near my old house. It doesn’t get easier the more it happens to you.
Do not try to correct your car if the back end starts fish-tailing out from behind you during your slide-through. Just attempt to remain calm and adjust in tiny, tiny increments. Again, you don’t have any control over your car, and so attempting to “steer in the direction you want to go” doesn’t work. It might actually make things worse.
“Tapping your brakes” is often the number one piece of advice you will receive to avoid barreling through an intersection. This means that under no circumstances, should you ever “slam” on your brakes. Instead, anticipate slowdowns and try to coast for as long as possible, and then apply your brakes when you are barely even moving. When you do need to use your brakes, tap them gently. Slowing down by tapping your brakes is important. These are gentle taps, mind you. The purpose is to keep your tires from locking up and scooting freely on ice-skates, not to seatbelt check the doofus behind you. One big toe – a little bit, and then a little bit more and then a little bit more. Gradual, not abrupt.
In keeping with advice on avoiding spinning out of control, watch for “black ice”, one of winter’s worst smut-monkeys. This nearly invisible ice on the roadway is clear, and may appear to be a harmless puddle or may be impossible to see at all. It is slick as fuck. Keep a look out for ice on guardrails and ditches, as this may be a sign of icy road conditions. If you hit a patch of black ice, take your foot off the gas pedal and don’t tap your brakes. Once your tires regain traction, reduce your speed and stay alert. Do not let the smut-monkey-black-ice win.
Chapter IV: Snow-Day Prepping – or How to Remain as Master of Your Domain
The Snow Day – it will happen eventually, even if it is just one measly day out of the whole season. This is sweetest and most cherished day of winter. Children get up early, pace in front of the television and pray for the announcement. Single adults watch with baited breath to see the message come in to their inbox with the glorious news. You officially do not have to go anywhere because it has been verified (by multiple, and reliable sources) that there is too much winter outside to handle. Your responsibilities have been postponed. You will be chastised for leaving the house in “this weather”. At last, your boss has reluctantly, but essentially, expressed “I can’t even.” Revel in the overwhelming child-like joy you feel, and consider these elements in maintaining the best Snow Day ever.
Avoiding Frozen Pipes
Some Snow Days might follow immediately before, or after, it hits below freezing as the forecasted high. The greatest concern you must pay attention to on such days, is not allowing your water pipes in your house to freeze. And when I say freeze, I mean that the water sitting in your pipes will literally turn into ice and then expand, and then explode, and then (eventually) flood your house and ruin your life. Do not risk spending your Snow Day on the phone with your landlord, attempting to negotiate the sacrifice of your first-born child in exchange for unfrozen pipes. Your landlord will be unsympathetic if you do not at least attempt the following precautions:
* Just to be super-duper clear: the following applies when the temperature is BELOW freezing – do not do this ALL winter – it will be a very fucking expensive winter for your utilities *
- Leave the heat up if you leave the house – not it’s-so-warm-in-my-house-that-I’m-wearing-shorts-in-the-middle-of-January high. A safe temperature would be between 58 and 65 degrees.
- Open your under-the-sink cabinet doors to allow the warm, ambient air to aid in keeping pipes unfrozen.
- Leave one or all facets on a drip. Moving water can’t freeze. The faucet can be JUST BARELY dripping, doesn’t need to be “running”.
- Buy these funny looking Styrofoam insulator things to put on your outdoor spigot (if you have one) – water is most likely to freeze at the point where it enters the house
- And if you get to experience watching your water freeze in front of your eyes while attempting to turn the kitchen sink on, your backup system is to get a hair dryer (and preferably an extension cord), and find the pipe closest to the outside of the house and POINT THAT MUTHA’FUCKIN’ HAIR DRYER STRAIGHT AT THAT PIPE ON HIGH!
The Importance of a Tidy Perimeter
So, there are a couple things that I particularly look forward to when winter comes; namely, the death of flying insects. Win, win, win! However, the frost does not eliminate all creepy-crawly pests. You will see crawly bugs that you don’t even recognize sneaking out of your drains, and scuffling along your kitchen floor. Spiders will be an especially disgusting nuisance. This is due to the crawler-bugs running away from the cold outside, and into your warm home. To help decrease the total number of unwanted creeps, be mindful of the yard waste accumulating along the base of your dwelling.
These seemingly harmless piles of dried up leaves and dead branches are in fact, insulated, wind-shielding trenches for bugs and mice. Using an actual adult rake, or just fury-kicking with your own limbs, attempt to scatter these would-be hostels for pests away from the entrances and nooks and crannies of your home. Do not give the spiders and mice the pleasure of getting any closer to your warm, snow-free kingdom. Let them turn into sick, furry popsicles.
But also celebrate that there are no flying bugs. Yay!
SALT – Buy it Early, Buy it Often
Ok – this one is pretty easy (and secretly fun.) You will need to buy the big, 10lb bags of “ice melt” from your local hardware store. It is always a good idea to buy it before you need it, because your local hardware store, along with every hardware store and gas station within a 6 mile radius, will sell out of it when you need it.
Keep said bag of “ice melt”, which is just big pearls of salt with some extra-sciency-sounding-additives, close to your front door (or on the front porch) with a cup and/or mug. When the humidity point is reached and water sneaks down from the sky in the middle of the night, and freezes everything with a tiny layer of SERIOUSLY SLIPPERY AS SHIT coat of ice, you will be ready. Scoop and fling. Fling like you are feeding invisible birds on the grounds of Hogwarts. Scoop a hefty load and shake generously over each step and sidewalk square as if you were putting out tiny lava-fires. It is fun to scoop and throw salt pellets, and hear the surprisingly satisfying “Tut-pssshhh” of scatter along the ice. You will also gain a tiny inner glee from knowing that you are basically telling the ice who’s boss – you are, baby. You are.
Also, because you enjoy throwing salt all over everything so much, you will volunteer to be the salt-thrower the evening before it is supposed to “storm” or “flurry” or whatever made-up weather bullshit word they say is going to happen. Every day some stupid weather shit is happening. It is never just “a day.” So, because salt is kinda fun, be sure to have plenty of it!
At this point, you should now feel confident in navigating the Polar Dungeon ahead of you. Drink lots of fluids, moisturize like nobody’s business, and wait for that sweet, sweet day when it is 58 degrees and you wear flip-flops again for the first time in months.
Winter isn’t as horrifying as I might have displayed in the past hundred paragraphs. It can be as romantic, as it is cleansing. A stroll down the block on a Sunday morning, to get a stack of pancakes, read the paper and sip a cappuccino, is one of the greatest winter memories you can have. To look at your spouses’ face, nose pink and cheeks rosy, all tucked under an adorable knit cap, is a truly endearing image. The snow will look so fresh and whimsical at dawn, as you lazily kick your feet up on the coffee table and watch it fall from inside your apartment.
It would be nice, however, if you didn’t have to actually keep up with all your day-to-day responsibilities in it. That is where it becomes exhausting. However, the oddly satisfying sound of snow crunching beneath your boots will awaken a new kind of perspective and awareness. You will, every day, discover in odd ways, how each of your senses has heightened and adapted to the change in environment. It will be magical, and so you will also be inspired.
Read books, watch movies, snuggle, eat high-in-carb snacks, drink tea every night before bed, and be aware of what is going on around you. Try and remember some things you learn from this go-round, because believe it or not, come next winter, it will surprise you. It surprises everyone.