A Modest Proposal
Please give me—and my 2WD SUV—a little latitude.
For the record, I bought my fire-engine-red Ford Explorer Sport when I was a 19-year-old at the University of Georgia. Back then I had wanted something big enough to cart my friends and a 70-quart cooler to and from football games. I didn't need a V8 engine. I didn't need heated leather seats. And I certainly didn't need 4WD. I sped away from the dealership in my shiny new vehicle, overjoyed that I had wheels that would get me, my friends, and our tailgating paraphernalia from point A to point B for the foreseeable future.
If only I'd looked a few years down the road, a road that would eventually lead me to Colorado.
I knew I was in trouble within weeks of moving to Denver in August 2001. No, it wasn't a freak summer snowstorm that tipped me off. It was a stop to get my car's emissions tested. As I pulled onto the emissions-check platform, a potbellied, oil-covered lane inspector named Ed poked his head through my window and asked "4WD?" I shook my head no and offered that my car was rear-wheel drive. Ed looked at me, grinned, and then yelled across the garage, "Hey, Charlie, come look at this! This lady's got a 2WD SUV in Colorado!"
Although I told myself that Ed was just a mean mechanic with less-than-stellar people skills, I later found out that Ed was right, and I was so, so wrong. And, as much as I hate to admit it, after eight years I'm still that person that all native Coloradans detest: the ultra-slow snowy-day driver. Because I know I'm "that guy," I try exceptionally hard to be considerate of those with better traction. I don't take my car into the mountains. I drive on less-traveled streets to evade other drivers. I even ride the bus when there's more than a few inches on the ground in the city.
But I can't entirely avoid the road from October through April, and regardless of how hard I try to fit in among Colorado drivers, it doesn't always work. My Southern-born car simply refuses to grip a snow-packed street. No matter how far in advance I start tapping my brakes, I slide through stop signs. No matter how deliberately I take a corner, my rear fishtails and sends me into a full-on 360. No matter how slowly I depress the gas pedal at a green light, my rear tires spin in place. One time I was actually stopped—stopped—at an intersection and my car began sliding sideways off the street.
It's humiliating. But you know what doesn't help? The jacked-up Jeep with giant tires behind me that keeps inching closer and closer to my bumper. Or the guy in the Land Rover who throws his hands in the air because I'm, God forbid, going the speed limit in near-whiteout conditions. Or the fortysomething lady in her little squatty Subaru who doesn't think it's rude to ask how long it's going to take me to get un-stuck, because she wants my parking space.
I do understand that I'm the problem child here. I have the wrong gear—a sin in Colorado in many, many situations. And many Coloradans have asked why I don't just get a different truck. But here's the rub: I like my car. It works just fine about 355 days out of the year. And I have good memories in that car. My grandfather helped me pick it out on that lot in Georgia all those years ago. I packed that car full of friends and drove all of us to the beach during college. I drove across the country to move to Denver in that car. It's a reliable ride that has less than 90,000 miles on it. And, of course, after 10 years, I don't owe a dime on it.
So here is my humble request: The next time you slide into your 4WD on a slick, snowy Denver day, remember that your impatience with the car in front of you—the one that's spinning its wheels—isn't going to magically make that rear-wheel drive grab the pavement. It just isn't. Instead, you're going to make some stressed and embarrassed person feel even worse than she already does. So, sit back, unclench, and enjoy the fact that you were smart enough to pony up for those heated leather seats. —LBK