Caution, Black Ice Ahead!


Over the years, I’ve done a lot of driving and have logged probably somewheres around 450,000 miles.  I mostly drive a stick/manual vehicle so they’re also hard miles.  Up and down the hills of San Francisco, racing across Manhattan and lots of highway driving.  I’ve driven across the country solo, done the SF to LA run several times and also Boston to Florida several times.  I like to think I’m a pretty careful and experienced driver since I haven’t had an at fault accident for 20-plus years.

Looking back, I did get off to a rocky driving start but you learn quickly.  And I’ve driven through some awful conditions ranging from deep fog in Montreal to deep snow in New England.  But sometimes you look back at one time and you shake your head: How did I ever get out of that situation in one piece?!


Looking back to I believe it was early March 1998, way back when.  I had plans to take a vacation trip to Mexico to Club Med and the plan was to fly out of NYC.  From Boston to NYC it was 4+ hours and I had to make a stop in CT to pick up my friend Ed.  I take off about 5pm and it was already starting to snow.  And hard.  Thick, big flakes that piled up quickly.  Since it was dinner time, they chose NOT to plow, they were better off in the early morning.  So the two hour ride became a slog.  But thankfully my brand new 1998 Accord handles it pretty well.  The snow piled up quickly and diminished visibility badly.  I would drive peering through the windshield, trying to use the same car tracks as the vehicle in front and yet, 20 – 30mph was about the best I can do.  I finally get to Hartford CT at about 10pm.  My 2 hour ride had stretched into 4 hours plus and I was tired.   We talk a bit and I get to sleep around midnight.

Given an 11am charter flight out of NYC, I planned for another 4 hour drive to the airport, plus one hour for safety.  That means we have to be out by 6am and I set the clock for 5am.  When the alarm clock rings I’m in a cold daze.  It’s time to get up and I look out the window.  We must have had 8 – 12″ last night and things don’t look good.  We hop back into the car and conditions aren’t better, they’re actually worse than last night.  It takes us a while just to get onto 91 South due to unplowed back roads.  Finally 91 is a bit better but still icey.  Lots of cold crusty, snow packed roads which presents its own set of challenges. We switch over to 95 south and things get much better with the density of travel here.  But things are about to change quickly.

About 25 miles out of NYC we start seeing accidents.  The snow and ice has melted a bit and re-formed into black ice.  A thick, clear layer of nearly frictionless ice. It’s getting late, 9am and we are running out of time.  While we are really close, these last miles are going to be a bitch.  Cars are crumpled into the guard-rail and we start to see warning signs.  We turn on the radio for secondary information, remember, these are the days before smart phones so…  For the first time in my life I-95 is SHUT DOWN.  The ice is so treacherous that they have shut down the BIGGEST highway in the country.

We start panicking, we both have thousands of dollars invested in this trip.  A detour sign shows up and we creep along a smaller highway still trying to make it to JFK on time.  More accidents, we must have seen well over 15 in the last ten miles.  I’m pushing the envelope on the Accord, doing 40+ and the car next to us is keeping pace.  All of a sudden I see the car start to fish-tail, go into a full slow-motion spin and careen into the guardrail and SMASH!  It’s down for the count.  You have got to be kidding me!  This ice is so slick and dangerous, it takes a ridiculous amount of attention to keep my Accord on the road.  No sudden moves with the steering wheel.  Baby-step increments of wheel input and brakes, NO sudden moves.


We finally get near the airport and start looking for parking after an exhausting trip.  Unfortunately it’s a charter flight so there’s NO signage for the correct terminal building.  We take a stab at a parking lot and get out.  Finally see an airport guy and asks for directions and we are of course, on the other side of the airport to National Airlines.  We hop onto ground transportation and half-way to our terminal it stops.  Apparently this bus doesn’t go ALL the way around the airport.  Tired and frustrated, we start blowing off some steam and a nearby limo-driver overhears us.  He offers to give us a ride in his car to the necessary terminal so we hop in and take a cold, short ride over for $20.  Inside we are pulling a full-on sprint through the airport, cold, tired, baggage in hand. Through security we sprint up to the gate and turn in our boarding passes.  As we step into the plane, it’s 95% full and they give us a round of applause, woohoo!  We’re the last ones on, the door closes shut behind us and we are off to Mexico, phew…

Since that drive, I have never been in road conditions like that before.  One of those days when you’re supposed to stay at home but the circumstances deemed otherwise.  We must have seen 25 – 30 major car accidents in 30 minutes and could easily have been one of them but thank my lucky stars, we managed to navigate the situation.  But yeah, I don’t plan on doing that again anytime soon if I can help it.  Cause if I-95 gets shut down, you better believe it’s serious!

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