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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
January 07, 2002

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Snow Driving

One of the best things about living in Greensboro is that we get snow just about as often as I ever want it -- a couple of times a year at most, and some years not at all.

One of the worst things about living in Greensboro, however, is that so few people actually know how to drive in the snow.

An amazing thing happens during snowstorms. Everybody you meet who's out and about either learned to drive or went to school in a region that has lots of snow.

Not that there aren't raised-in-Greensboro-and-never-left-it drivers out on the roads. It's just that their cars are all in ditches, or spinning crazily through the snow heading straight for me.

Lighten up, I don't mean you.

Besides, for those of you who don't know how to drive in snow, I'm about to tell you.

Best advice: If you don't have to go out in the snow, don't.

In snow, four-wheel or all-wheel drive is best. Front-wheel drive is nearly as good. Rear-wheel drive is perilous, with different dangers for light and heavy cars. Pickup trucks are the most dangerous, unless you've got a heavy load in the back.

Second best advice: There are storms that nobody can drive in, no matter where you grew up or what kind of car you drive. On ice, four-wheel-drive vehicles are just as helpless as two-wheel-drive. In a heavy snow, even a front-wheel-drive car won't make it up some hills. So use some brains before you decide your errand can't wait.

But if it's a fairly light snow, like what we had last Thursday, you can drive safely. Here's how:

1. Drive slowly. No, slower than that. No, I mean slo-o-o-o-owly. Ten miles an hour, maybe fifteen. Twenty is pushing it. Of course you can go faster. You won't realize it's a mistake until you suddenly need to stop. Or turn.

2. Wait. Don't try to catch the light. Don't try to turn left before the oncoming car can reach you. You won't make it. Or if you do, you might cause the other guy to have to brake suddenly and lose control of his car. Even if he's the one who gets the damage, not you, you're still the jerk who caused it.

3. Back off. Don't tailgate the guy in front of you, unless you want to smash into him when something goes wrong.

4. Don't be an idiot and try to pass somebody. The second you hit the untouched snow (or ice) between lanes, while accelerating, you're far more likely to spin.

5. If you start to fishtail, don't brake, just let up on the gas. If you start to spin, let up on the gas, don't brake -- and turn the steering wheel in the direction that the back end of the car is going. So if the rear end is sliding right, then steer that same direction. Even if you're heading straight for some horrible collision, until you get control of your car you can't do a thing to prevent it -- and you can't get control of your car any other way than steering into the spin.

It may drive you crazy to move at fifteen miles an hour. But think how late you'll be after standing there in the snow looking at your broken axle while an overworked tow truck takes three hours to get to you.

And if you lose control of your car and run over another guy standing beside his car waiting for a tow truck, all because you couldn't bear to go so slow, well, won't that just ruin your day? It'll sure ruin his.

Best Ideas of 2001 -- Part I

Soup

So we had that big snowstorm on the third of January, and my daughter's outside playing in the snow because she's still young enough to think that getting cold and wet is fun -- you know, like a duck hunter.

She comes inside, frozen to the bone, and what does she say?

"Mom, I'm so cold, I need some tomato soup to warm me up!"

I mean, have we spawned a walking Campbell's Soup ad or what?

The thing is, Campbell's really has come up with a good idea: "Ready to Serve" tomato soups in big plastic jugs that you can store in the fridge. So when somebody wants a dose of hot soup, you just pour out as much as you want into a bowl, nuke it, and eat.

Meanwhile, you screw the lid back onto the jug and put it back in the fridge, and voilá: no wasted soup.

Good idea, and when are they going to do it with chicken noodle and split pea and all the other family favorites?

Satellite Radio

Remember those tv commercials showing cd players and pianos and stuff dropping out of the sky and crashing near people? That was about satellite radio ("strad"), and I remember thinking at the time, I have a car radio and it works fine. Why would I want to pay a monthly fee for what I'm getting for free?

The answer is: I don't.

I want to pay a monthly fee for what I can't get any other way.

Here's what my new satellite radio gives me:

-- Radio stations that don't exist locally, like Fox News and C-SPAN and Weather Radio. Not to mention stations with truly rare formats: Broadway, Movie Soundtracks, Brazilian, "Frank's Place" (singers from Bing to Bennett, Clooney to Day). Stations with playlists from each decade, starting with the 40s. Kids' stations. Sports stations. Talk stations.

-- Radio stations that travel with you. Driving from one city to another forces you into that vast twilight zone of mindless call-in shows and Christian radio. With strad you take your stations with you all over the country. Unlike your cellphone, no dead areas.

Drawbacks: If you don't want to upgrade your dashboard radio, you have to get strad as an add-in, which broadcasts from a box in your trunk or under a seat to station 89.1 on your dial. It has a separate control, which can be a pain.

Also, you have to have an antenna on your car and it costs $120 a year.

Of course, that's half what I pay for AOL.

Every time I drive to DC or New York or Myrtle Beach or the Outer Banks, I'll be glad I forked over ten bucks a month.

Uncle Orson's Wish List

We need a second horn on our cars.

The first one works just fine for blaring out a warning: "Get out of the way, I'm more important than you!"

But sometimes we need to send another message. I mean, I'm fifty, which means that as a driver I'm pretty much gomered out. I try to drive properly, but I sometimes make dumb mistakes.

So I need a horn that gives a ding-dong sound or a raspberry or something, to send the message, "I know I'm an idiot and I'm so sorry and thank you for not killing me!"

If I sent that message right away, admitting fault, maybe other drivers wouldn't feel the need to punish me by flipping me off or tailgating me with their brights on or pulling the pistol out from under their seat and waving it at me.

In fact, I might send you that message even when I know perfectly well that you were the idiot, just so you'll go away and leave me alone.


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