I recently suffered through a soul-wrenching personal tragedy that I wouldn't wish upon even the vilest of human monsters (like self-proclaimed "Son of Satan" Charlie Sheen, for instance, or beloved American superstar Angela Lansbury).
The tragedy was that my winter break ended, and I had to return to the ill-conceived Midwestern metropolis - known fictionally as Midland City - where I go to school.
The day before leaving Saranac Lake, I carried out my usual pre-trip car-preparation ritual. First, I drove my sensible four-door sedan - a 1999 Chevy Malibu, constructed almost entirely out of rust - to Stewart's, where I filled the gas tank and inflated my tires well past the recommended maximum pounds-per-square inch (on the theory that if fully inflated tires improve fuel efficiency, then extra-fully inflated tires - tires inflated almost to the point of exploding with the force of several tons of dynamite - must improve fuel efficiency even more).
Next, I purchased a jug of windshield-washer fluid - the blue variety, which I like best, because it tastes of grain alcohol and ammonia.
[Note: do not drink windshield-washer fluid. For one, it isn't as delicious as I've implied. Also, it's the deadliest poison of all time ever produced by man. How deadly is it? It's so deadly that if you so much as imagine imbibing the stuff, it will burn a hole through your insides, killing you in the slowest, most excruciating fashion imaginable. And it won't lose a wink of sleep over the whole affair, either, because wiper fluid lacks even a rudimentary conscience.]
When I left town the following morning, I found the roads moist and salty. By the time I was halfway to Tupper Lake, my windshield was smeared with more grime than Rob Schneider's reputation after the premiere of Judge Dredd. I squeezed the washer-fluid button, but the wipers only thudded dryly across the windshield. I figured they were icy - that I could stop at the Save-A-Lot plaza and scrape the blades off and everything would work out fine - but I figured wrong.
I did stop at the Save-A-Lot plaza and scrape the wiper blades clear of ice, but they still refused to squirt anything out. So I popped the hood and stared at the skinny tube running from the washer-fluid reservoir to the wipers, hoping I might secretly possess the power to fix the defective mechanism with my mind.
Despite the 20-degree weather, I'd neglected to put on a jacket when I got out of the car, and, after 10 minutes of standing there in my t-shirt, I decided that I'd done enough staring. The roads weren't that moist and salty, I told myself. I'd be fine, even if I didn't have the useless-at-all-times-except-for-right-now power to mentally fix windshield-washer fluid mechanisms (which, it turned out, I didn't).
Somewhere between Tupper Lake and Cranberry Lake, a red pickup truck pulled out of a side road ahead of me and proceeded to putter along at a cool 35 miles per hour, its tires spewing a gritty paste onto my front window. (I understand that I could have slowed down, put a few car lengths between us, and avoided the truck's back-spray, but, to paraphrase Sammy Hagar, I can't drive 25.)
At the same time, the sun came scudding out from behind the clouds, as if it had overslept and was rushing into work at eleven-thirty, hoping no one would notice its tardiness. Well, I noticed, because when the sunlight hit the windshield's white crust, I went blind.
The smart, responsible thing to do would have been to pull over and clean the front window with a handful of snow - but I decided that was for nerds. I could sort of see the road through a few dime-sized holes in the glaring sheet of light blanketing the windshield, and that seemed good enough. I had a long way to go, after all, and I couldn't stop for something as small as not being able to see the road or anything on it.
But then I spotted a dark shape from the corner of my eye, looming in the side window - a passing van. That I hadn't seen said van until it was right next to me (if I'd swerved even an inch into the other lane, I would've clipped it) scared me into doing the smart, responsible thing. In fact, before I reached Watertown, I did the smart, responsible thing five times.
I squeezed the wiper-fluid button periodically over the course of the next nine hours, but nothing ever happened. The next day, of course, when I tested the button while driving to the grocery store in Midland City, washer fluid sprayed from the wipers as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I can't say I was surprised.
Dan Leonidas makes shallow observations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or myspace.com/lastminuteconcerns.