The best car I ever owned was a 1990 Toyota Camry. I bought it new in 1990 and put over 200,000 miles on it in 10 years. I got it with the 6-cylinder engine. With that kind of power and front-wheel drive, “Galileo” (the white car was named for the Enterprise Shuttlecraft) thrived in almost all driving conditions. She could go where 4-wheel drive SUV’s would get stuck.
On the Sunday in January of the 1996 Blizzard, I was scheduled to work on QVC. I packed a bag along with a case of water and a down comforter since they were calling for a major blizzard. I left the house in the early afternoon, 6 hours before my air shift. It usually took me 20-30 minutes to get to work, so I figured I had plenty of time even with the slick roads.
The roads were already covered with a couple of inches of snow and it was colder than a well digger’s belt buckle so it was really sticking. It was very slow going. I was driving about 10 miles-per-hour and Galileo was doing fine. All of a sudden there was a huge Cadillac Escalade on my tail, honking his horn while simultaneously giving me the finger. I checked the glove compartment and felt better when I saw that my Walther PPK was there, loaded and ready to go. Yeah, I have no time for road rage, especially during the “storm of the century.”
I kept driving at 10-miles-per-hour and he continued honking and was now making gestures with his hands that I didn’t understand. They were much more involved than a simple middle finger. I figured it was some ethnic insult from another country. I made a mental note to find out what it was at a later date. Right now, I had a possibly violent fool driving about 5 feet from my rear bumper.
Not wishing the read the headline, “QVC Host Shoots Unarmed Driver,” I tapped my flashers and slightly swerved my car, making it look like I had slammed on my brakes. The roads were so slippery that I did go out of control for moment but quickly recovered. Unfortunately for him, the driver of the Escalade fell for my ruse and ran off the road into a ditch. Bye bye, asshole. Good luck getting a tow truck out in this weather!
A few more miles down the road, another SUV, this time one of those big GMC beasts, was on my ass. Only 2 cars on the whole freakin’ road and I get another jerkoff driving up my butt. Not wishing to go out of control again as the roads were getting much worse, I motioned for him to go around me, which he did. When he was parallel with my car, he rolled down his window and screamed some obscenities and something about a 4-wheel drive vehicle. He drove past me and took off down the road at a very fast clip.
While 4-wheel-drive vehicles have more traction in this kind of weather than Galileo did, they couldn’t stop any faster than I could. Actually, given their greater mass, they probably couldn’t stop as quickly. A few miles further I saw the GMC off the road, laying in its side. The driver was outside and tried to flag me down. Sorry, but I had to get to work. He looked fine and I’m sure the police found him after the thaw. I’m positive he survived and always thought twice about yelling obscenities at slow moving drivers. I consider it a public service.
There were some pretty steep hills before I got to QVC. I had to back up and climb them a little faster than I had been driving on the flat roads. The front wheel drive combined with the power and weight of the 6-cylinder engine made it up every incline. There was a stretch of road that was very icy. I had to literally crawl at 5-mph or less on that. Bottom line, the usual 20-minute trip took a little more than 3 hours.
When I got there, QVC was in full storm mode. Pennsylvania was closing all the roads and only 2 other hosts had made it in. We ran the channel for almost 3 days with 3 hosts and a bare bones technical crew. That night, I sold almost a million dollars worth of flannel sheets. Most of the East Coast was socked in with the blizzard and America was shopping.
I did some of the funniest shows I ever hosted. We were all silly from lack of sleep. I remember demonstrating a sinus mask and saying, “So fat sergeant, do you want to know who Zorro really is?” Didn’t matter what I said. People couldn’t get out and were content to be shopping with their TVs.
We gutted the warehouse for all the Aero Bed mattresses and down comforters for the telephone operators, most of whom were women over 50. I bedded down on a love seat in the lobby, covered with the comforter I brought. I did make a mental note about how many people must have sat there while having terminal flatulence. It was like sleeping in an elephant fart.
My OCD firmly intact, I brought my own towels and soap for the shower in the host lounge. I even kicked the door of the cafeteria open when security said they didn’t have a key. We fed breakfast to our people for the next 2 days.
Although the roads in Pennsylvania were closed, we received special dispensation since we were a 24/7 business and our vehicles could be on the roads, most of which were still unplowed. When more hosts started getting in, I was told our band of 3 could go home. I cleaned off my car, which took quite some time as almost 4 feet of snow fell during the storm. Once on the road, I was sure Galileo would get me home at least as quickly as she got me here.
It took over 2 hours of being the only car on the road to get a few miles from my home. I heard a siren and saw the flashing red lights in my rear-view mirror. It was an area policeman intent on pulling me over. Why? I surely wasn’t speeding.
I stopped and got out of my car. The cop started yelling at me that the roads were closed and I couldn’t drive any more. He wanted to arrest me and take me to the station. No fucking way! I was exhausted, just a couple of miles from home. I told him I would leave the car there and walk home, since he was unwilling to hear my story about QVC employees having special dispensation from the Governor to be on the road.
I have great respect for the police but no time for bullies. I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to end well. My thick leather jacket would probably stop a taser but this guy was really angry, no telling what he was going to do. I told him I wasn’t going anywhere with him and turned to start walking to my home. You know how quiet it is after a snowstorm, especially when there are no cars on the road? That’s probably why I heard him clear leather with his weapon.
Anyone who knows me knows I’ve never been afraid to die. I’m missing that gene. I think it’s all the times I almost died from accidents on the farm. When I turned, I saw a young cop with his weapon pointed squarely at me. I told him to go ahead and shoot, I was so tired I would have probably never felt the bullet. I again told him to check with his dispatcher about our dispensation. He radioed in an officer needs assistance call on his body radio. When he explained a little of the situation, they told him that QVC employees were allowed to be on the road.
He lowered his weapon and started chastising me for not following his orders. He was still yelling at me when I got in my car and drove off. I did get his badge number and reported the incident to his department. I said that pulling a gun on a motorist was way out of line and I was considering bringing charges myself. In a couple of weeks I heard that they fired the officer. Someone that trigger happy has no business being authorized to carry a gun. Sometimes it takes a disaster to bring out the worst in a person.
When I got home, Galileo barely made it down my driveway. I still had electricity and phone service so I called the idiots who plowed my driveway. That story is chronicled in my 1958-1996 Blizzard Blog.
If you’re currently in a blizzard or expecting one, I wish you the best. Be safe! And if you drive a big SUV, don’t think you own the road. The guy you’re tailgating does!
© 2017 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and reposted on any online site or read aloud on any audio media without the express permission of the author.