Archive for December, 2008

HOWTO: Drive a convertible in a New England snow storm

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

So, it’s been a year since I wrote what is now part one of this HOWTO guide. I was a little younger and somewhat more naive about New England winter driving at that point, which means it’s now addendum time.

Required items:

* Blizzak LM-25 High Performance Sports Car Winter Tires
* Face mask
* Gloves (Summit Ascent)
* Mountaineering jacket
* Shovel (plastic)
* Yaktrax

Photo: Blizzak LM-25 High Performance Sports Car Winter Tires

The first thing you need to know about New England weather (in winter especially) is that it can really suck big donkey balls. Unlike the near perfection that is California, it’s quite common to have huge snowstorms that begin as regular storms sweeping across the country (or up the Eastern coast – colloquially referred to as a “nor’ easter”) and wind up dumping snow as they reach the North East and mix with our air fronts. Using the latest storm as an example, we had around 14 inches of snow dumped on us over this weekend – most of which came on Friday, but rounds two (and even three) are underway at the moment.

Photo: empeg Linux car stereo system

At times such as these, the Cities of Boston, Cambridge, and their dependents (Somerville, Medford, Brookline, etc.) will declare a “snow emergency” – as witnessed by the emergency blue beacons that will flash all around town. Snow plows are dispatched in earnest, and an entire industry specializing in snow dispersal is activated. These guys are highly efficient, as is the city in towing your car if you leave it in their way (don’t park on any street with those red “snow emergency” signs erected). At times such as these the parking in various public places becomes free – for example, Cambridgeside Galleria Mall – in case you get stuck.

Photo: Trixie the MX5 covered in snow

This time last year, I had the somewhat foolish notion that I might be able to drive at this time. How bad could it really be, I pondered? I quickly discovered that low profile summer sport tires aren’t such a good idea. I was able to get out of the parking lot (just) but wasn’t able to go more than a block without having to turn around. I think I said many things about New England weather that can’t be repeated in polite company, but suffice it to say I was pretty miserable without my car for much of the winter snow. On the days when it didn’t snow and I did venture out, I was able to experience such joys as getting stuck on ice.

Since last year, I’ve learned a few things. One of the first purchases of the season was a complete set of Blizzak LM-25s, mounted on a second set of smaller rims (affording greater contact with the snow than the low-profile variants). These are seriously high performance snow tires (the best on the market), of the kind you need if you’re going to try driving a rear-wheel drive lightweight sports car on a weekend such as this. I stayed in on Friday during the main snowstorm, but decided to venture out on Saturday for a test drive. I really am that annoyed at the weather here that something had to be done about it this year.

Photo: Trixie the MX5 after de-snowing

Despite (or one might rather say, in spite of) the snow, I was able to drive around without much interruption, and without skidding and sliding everywhere – the same cannot be said of other vehicles on the road (of which I was the smallest, by a fairly sizable margin) – and nearly made it to Ikea before we decided we weren’t really all that desperate to get there. Today, I drove all over town – between the snow plows – getting coffee, picking up a few things, ferrying others around, and for a good workout. I seem to be able to cope with up to 2-3 inches of snow without a big problem, and my car can tolerate several inches more before requiring a little more effort – this is mainly an issue entering/exiting driveways.

Photo: Yaktrax Professionals installed on older shoes

The snow is annoying, but so is being cold. For that, I strongly recommend mountaineering equipment (I’m a delicate flower when I’m going out in search of coffee). I generally wear the kind of gloves and face mask that you’d wear climbing Mt. Washington when shoveling snow out of the parking lot (recommendation: use plastic shovels, not metal ones – you think it’s environmentally better, but unfortunately they break. Live with the oil use). I also have taken to wearing Yaktrax Professionals that I’ve semi-permanently fitted to an older pair of shoes. These are essentially chains for your shoes, and they allow me to run in snow without fear of slipping and skidding. Definitely come in recommended and can be worn while driving. (ab)using old shoes and keeping another (identical) pair in the trunk to change into if absolutely necessary prevents the annoyance of repeated removal/re-application. You just have to careful not to slip indoors.

In summary, fuck the New England winter. Fuck it very very hard. While I eagerly await spring, I shall continue to stick my non-frozen fingers up at this weather. Oh dearest California (San Francisco especially), I miss you so very much. I look forward to seeing you again soon, and enjoying your golden glow.