I’ll take “Life and Limb and Snow” for $600 please, Alex.
I drove 43 miles before my tires touched pavement.
And this was a white-knuckled, patience-patience-patience-for-God’s-sake forty-three miles on two-lane roads through rural northeast Ohio that I’d never driven before, not a highway drive where even in bad weather you can take some comfort in being on an interstate. This was 43 miles in a constant snowfall on roads already buried in the stuff, thankful at least for a landscape that was hilly but didn’t necessitate many turns in the road, balancing on that line of speed between slow enough to maintain control and fast enough to keep the momentum up to get over the next hill.
Anyone in his right mind – and especially anyone in his right mind who drives a fuel-economy sedan that in no way resembles a truck or SUV or anything remotely fit for such a trip – would have turned around after sliding through a half-mile.
But I wasn’t in my right mind: I was on my way to a Jeopardy! audition.
Last January, I took the online qualification quiz, thought I did all right, and promptly forgot all about it until late October, when I got an invitation to come to Pittsburgh on Dec. 7 for a follow-up interview and tryout. Used my last vacation time of the year to take the day off.
Planned the route ahead, of course: 97.7 miles, according to GoogleMaps, and a shade over two hours. Peachy. Easy enough to leave by, say 9 a.m. and have plenty of time to spare.
Until, of course, I woke up last Friday and saw the snow. Panic bells. Red alert. Something here from somewhere else. Managed to leave the house by 8:10, but needed to go to the bank and then put gas in the car, so it was 8:30 before I really got on the road. Still, I figured 100 miles, three and a half hours, I’d be in good shape once I got onto
the main streets, so no problem.
Um. Yeah. The first state route I got to wasn’t any more clear than my driveway was, and this is where I started to wonder if maybe I wasn’t going to get to try out for Jeopardy! after all. Okay, I figured, I’ll take the alternate route, which is 12 miles longer, but puts me on Interstate 76 a lot quicker, so I can make up the time.
No sooner do I pass the last major intersection that commits me to this decision than I see a police roadblock ahead at the bottom of a hill. Frak. Frakkingfrakfrakyou’refrakkingkiddingme. (According to the next day’s newspaper, there wasn’t even an accident. When the road gets bad at that particular spot, they just close it off and don’t even let people try to get up or down. It’s apparently called ‘Soap Hill,’ and you know it’s bad because I drove that road twice a day, five days a week for close to three years when I worked up in Warren and I had never seen it closed before.)
There was one more turnoff between me and the roadblock, so I took it. I was familiar with it, but it’s a doozy of a back road, short and winding, and it didn’t look like more than three or four other cars could have traveled it that morning. So now I’m on an all-but-unplowed road heading away from where I need to be going, back toward my original route that takes me through countryside. At the next stop sign, I seriously considered turning right, heading home, and calling to see if I could reschedule my tryout for Saturday.
But I turned left. Skidded through Alliance, then north towards East Goshen and finally west on a three-digit state route for a 15-mile stretch that seemed forever but finally got me to Interstate 76, glory be, where I saw blessed blacktop for the first time that morning, two hours and ten minutes after I left the gas station.
I had 59 more miles to Pittsburgh, and it wasn’t a speedy trek, but the roads were mostly clear and I made it
to downtown around 11:40, found a parking lot near the hotel/convention center, and walked into the lobby where the other hopefuls were filling out their paperwork at about 11:50.
At least I didn’t have time to get too nervous.
The tryout was actually way more fun and less nerve-wracking than I thought it would be, and I was kind of sad when it wrapped up after about two hours. I guess I’d used up all my stressability on the drive over. (I don’t want to write too much about the tryout itself, lest I give up some double-super-secret game show operations formula and muck up my shot.)
On the way home, I ate the lunch I’d packed and drove the same route. It felt like a completely different day, though: Still overcast the whole way, but the snow had stopped, and every road was clear.