(first posted 2/2/2014) It is cold outside. It has been extremely cold many days and nights this month. School and work has been cancelled and my wife and I have been trapped in our house with our children. Today, it warmed up enough to attempt a normal week day: 0 F.
Everyone is excited to leave the house, even if it means dressing as though we are going to Mars. I have been wearing layers of the thickest warmest clothes I can find that still allow me to bend my arms. I wrap my head in a scarf, secure it into place with a wool cap and ear muffs and have thanked god every day I have a full beard underneath it all. I look like the Michelin man as I make a sad attempt to work the little buttons on my key fob with my thick ski gloved fingers.
The Crown Vic awaits, crowned in January white. You cannot brush this snow away, it has to be blasted and scraped. I bang my fist over where I assume the driver door handle should be and knock the snow loose enough to find it and see if the door will open. Nope–frozen shut. Why is it that this kind of cold always makes you need to pee? I refuse to go back into the house, so I bear down and focus on blasting through the snow with my awesome ice blade tool. After a few seconds of scraping, it rips through to find ice beneath the encrusted snow. I hunker down harder. I bang around the door strategically to loosen it enough to pull open. Success!
Inside the Crown Vic’s white winter tomb is a black leather interior which looks warm and inviting. Snow loosened from my work gets sucked into the car, dusting the driver’s seat. I jump in and slam the door. Snow blocks all the windows and insulates the car so all I hear is my breathing and soon my breath vapor is hanging over the frozen dash, giving it a sheen. I pull off a glove and start digging into my front pocket but all the extra layers force me to arch my back to reach it. I slip the key into place and twist the icy cold switch. The V8 sounds for a moment as though it won’t turn, but then awakens with a thunderous shout. It lives! After a minute I discover that it is colder inside the car than outside, but I wait a few moments to steel myself for another venture out.
I carefully brush off the headlights and take a swipe across the grille. As the car runs, I amble around it like a Egyptian Plover scrambling around a hippo, checking for bugs. I knock snow off the heated mirrors, giving the defrosters time to do their work on the big windows. Although I gave myself extra time to prepare the Ford for my jaunt to work, I didn’t expect the snow to be so stubborn. By the time I am finished surveying my efforts, any exposed skin feels like it is being burned. My fingers are feeling cold through the ski gloves and I climb back into the car. I think it is warmer inside, but the automatic temp control is still not sending any heat out of the engine to me. The rear window defroster is enfeebled against this cold. But I can no longer wait and need to get to work.
I shift into reverse. I don’t have any peripheral vision with my face wrapped up, so I coast slowly. There is a huge exhaust cloud enveloping the rear of the car as I pull away from the driveway. The car feels rocky. The tires have flat spots on them. The transmission hunts for the next gear as I get up to speed, then lazily slides into it. Through the scarf across my face, through the cleaned swipes across the windshield, I see a blanket of frozen snow two inches thick covering the entire hood. The car feels heavy and plodding. The steering wheel feels colder than a 21 pound Butterball turkey that I just lifted from a store freezer. The wind is blowing, but the blanket of snow isn’t falling from the car.
After five miles, the auto temp starts to send some heat to the windshield. My breath has caused the inside of the window to begin frosting up, so I need it to work. My hands are still wearing my ski gloves, but they’re going numb and I pull my fingers into my palms to warm them. Within another five minutes, the auto defrost is at full capacity and melting two dinner plate-size spots on the windshield. The rear defroster is still struggling. The tires begin to lose their flat spots and the Crown Vic’s warmed up enough to feel like a car again. The headlights have been on long enough to have melted and cleared.
Everyone is moving slowly this morning. The exhaust clouds drift along traffic waiting at intersections. I am stuck behind a Budweiser truck, but I’m only moving as slowly as it does and don’t care. I feel bad leaving my car parked outside after it had just fought off the frigid cold, knowing that it will return to its earlier frozen state when I find it after work today. But that’s winter, right? I’ve spent years freezing on Chicago Metra platforms, and I’d rather deal with my Ford as together we give Mother Nature a finger. It is a miracle that our cars function as well as they do, isn’t it?