About That Time I Got Stuck in the Snow

I’m not what you might call a car guy. I have never really cared about cars. I don’t know much about them at all. I couldn’t change my oil if my life depended on it. I am so inept at car repair and maintenance that I once had to call Kerrie to come to Sam’s Club to change my tire.

December 2022: About That Time I Got Stuck in the Snow

  • “Location is Everything” — Piebald
  • “Start Choppin’” — Dinosaur Jr.
  • “Helmet” — Steve Lacy
  • “Your Party” — Ween
  • “It’s Over” — The Halluci Nation (w/ Chippewa Travellers)
  • “Next Levels” — King Geedorah
  • “Here Comes the Hotstepper” — Dr. Dog
  • “Home Again” — Lucy Dacus
  • “Ghost in the Machine” — SZA (w/ Phoebe Bridgers)
  • ”Shadows of Tomorrow” — Madvillain (w/Quasimoto
  • “Punk Tactics” — Joey Valence & Brae
  • “Birthday Pony” — Fugazi
  • “Giving the Past Away” — Quicksand
  • “Substitute” — Car Seat Headrest
  • “The Record Player Song” — Daisy the Great
  • “Certainly” — Big Thief
  • “Stupid Kid” — Tim Heidecker

Listen on Spotify. Listen on Apple Music.

This is who I am, and I feel no shame about it. There are hundreds of thousands of people who specialize in fixing and maintaining vehicles, and I trust them to do it for me. The exchange of money for services, and so on and so on.

So it’s with a bit of contradiction that I do consider myself a Toyota 4Runner person — or, at least, I have been for the past three years, since bringing ours home from a car lot in Watertown, SD. It’s the best car I’ve ever owned — it’s got a weird pearl white color that the salesperson insisted is a super special collectors color, and it is just old enough that it doesn’t have one of those iPad-shaped flight consoles, and it’s big enough that I can haul a small camper or a borrowed trailer or a dog in a kennel. I love this car. I love this car so much that I don’t care how much 1997 Corey would give me shit for owning a friggin’ SUV.

I love this car, but that poses a problem: I love it, but not for any of the reasons I’m supposed to love it. The 4Runner community is intense. It’s one of those communities where, when accosted by another 4Runner owner, you’re sort of obliged to pretend like you know things about your car. They ask what generation it is (4th, I’ve recently learned) and they ask about certain modes and they want to know about specific packages. They use words I don’t understand or even know. I can only nod and then mention that my car has a button that says “Party Mode,” and then I wonder why anyone else would care about anything other than the presence of a button that says “Party Mode.”

This all came to a head a few weeks ago, during one of our now-weekly snowstorms. This was a big one – a major blizzard, one that led to late starts at school and an eventual snow day. It held up all afternoon, and into the evening we were being assaulted by the biggest snowflakes I’ve ever seen. On the busier streets, fully illuminated by street signs and other cars, the storm looked like any other major snowstorm — a sloshy mess upon a backdrop of silhouetted neon, each car cautiously driving along. On the side streets, under the single street lights, the storm transformed into something spooky and sinister — giant flakes slowly accumulating, crushing the sound, flurrying around the light like mayflies. It was beautiful and a little unsettling.

It was made all the more unsettling by my 4Runner’s seeming lack of traction. For three years I’d been surprised that this giant SUV was difficult to drive on even the lightest snow. I’d even attempted to get new snow tires, until the people at Costco told me that I was being a dummy — my tires were fine, and they didn’t need to be replaced.

On this night, I did what I could. The streets weren’t quite plowed, and the snow was coming down fast enough that plowing would be worthless. I drove out to pick up the 15YO from show choir practice at the perfect confluence of weather — the earlier rain had turned to ice, and the snow was now starting to pile higher than the curb. I made it out with no trouble, but on the way home — on one of those residential side streets with the spooky and sinister street lights — I lost momentum going up a hill.

There was no one around me, and I was only three or four blocks from home. But my 4Runner just … kind of stopped.

I couldn’t get traction. I attempted to rock my way out. And then, the cavalcade of follies began.

I got out to survey the situation (as if I knew what I was looking at!) and then told the 15YO to get in the front seat to drive. I went back to push. And man, did I push. I pushed and pushed and made no progress, until I gave up and popped my head into the passenger side door to check on things.

“Sierra. Are you pushing the gas pedal?” “Yes, dad!”

“… Sierra, is it in drive?”

It was not in drive.

We tried again, but despite actually being in gear and prepared to move, the 4Runner did not move. I tried to head back around to get in the car, and I slipped and fell. Sierra says I dropped a major f-bomb, but I have no recollection. Sierra attempted to text Kerrie, who was back at our warm home waiting for us. She said we were stuck … and then her phone ran out of batteries. I saw a text come through from Kerrie but ignored it as a neighbor walked out and looked at our very stuck vehicle. We all looked at the very stuck vehicle, for a second, considering all of the choices that led us here, and then I got back in to try again. Both the neighbor and Sierra pushed and pushed and I rocked the car back and forth and then they pushed some more and at this point I was just hoping that I could get the car to the side of the street. That I could leave it there forever, maybe, but at least until the next day. That we could walk home in the wet blizzard and just forget about it until the sun came out again.

And then I finally looked at Kerrie’s text: “I don’t know how to help.” Followed by:

“Are you in 4WD”

Listen, I’m a 4Runner person. I have been for the past three years, since bringing ours home from a car lot in Watertown, SD. On that car lot, the salesperson eagerly walked me through the buttons and levers and pulleys and whatever — there are buttons that are for anti-traction and there’s one that looks like a truck driving over a pyramid and there’s an extra shifter that I’ve never once used in the entire three years I’d had the truck. There’s also Party Mode, which I’ve already covered.

For the past three years, I’ve just kind of assumed my car was … in four-wheel drive. I just assumed it was a thing that … happened. So you can imagine my surprise when I futzed with that extra shifter and suddenly the 4Runner blasted out of the snow. It slid around a bit and grasped for some real traction — it was still a sheet of ice under all of that piled-up snow — but it moved.

We got home without any other issues. And, for a second, I was embarrassed.

Not for long. Eventually, I got over it. Now it’s like I’ve got a brand new vehicle — I’m even MORE of a 4Runner person, now that I figured out how to actually use the 4Runner parts of it. More to the point, this blizzard folly is now one of my favorite stories, because it’s as honest as I’ve ever felt. I was a fool, and I learned from it, and there feels like dozens of lessons to be learned — it’s a chameleon of a metaphor, able to blend into whatever issue you might need explaining.

It’s a metaphor for how we make assumptions without actually diving into the truth — and how discovering that truth can change our whole mindset. It’s a metaphor for how we continue to learn, even if we think we know everything about a topic. It’s a metaphor for finding new solutions. About being inspired to keep trying, about never being truly down and out.

It’s a metaphor for something, I’m sure of it. Choose your own ending, here. I’m going to head back out and blast through these new snowbanks.

This was lovingly handwritten on December 31st, 2022