Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Let It Snow (Somewhere Else)

Set off from Chicago for western Michigan on the last day of February and odds are you’ll see snow before you get to Grand Rapids—in fact, as soon as you turn the corner around the bottom of Lake Michigan. Early Monday morning it had snowed a bit here in metro Chicago, but only enough whiten the grass. It was merely cloudy and cold when the desk at Enterprise rental car offered me a different car from the one I’d reserved. So I got a Chevy Pathfinder, a large gas-greedy machine, for a small bit of money more than I would have otherwise. It turned out to be a wise choice, in spite of the gas it burned.

The most direct route to Grand Rapids swings southward along I-294 and then I-94, down around the southernmost tip of Lake Michigan: a gray and industrial (or worse, post-industrial) territory. I-94 runs thick with trucks. Near the border with Indiana the highway flies right over an amazing hole in the ground, an enormous quarry being worked on both sides of the road. After the border, it’s a continued slog through Hammond, Gary and Portage.

Light snow fell. I stopped for lunch just inside Michigan. Further north, the snow grew heavier, but not dangerous. Periodic reports on the radio, however, told me that more was to come, and soon, especially for western Michigan. It happens all the time: clouds blow across the lake, pick up a lot of water, so much that they have to dump it on Michigan. Living as I do to the west of the lake, this lake-effect snow is usually something that happens to other people. Now I’d joined the other people.

Still, the snowfall wasn’t really heavy till I got near Grand Rapids itself. That night and the next day, it kept up, with reports of jackknifed trucks on GR’s main highway, a big-car pile up in Kalamazoo to the south, and periodic severe snowstorm warnings on TV—for the counties immediately east of Kent County (GR is its city) and due east of the counties along the lake. The wind must have been strong enough to blow most of the snow deep inland.

Yesterday, as I drove home in more snow in the early afternoon, I counted at least four abandoned cars at odd angles on the side of I-196, which connects GR to southwestern Michigan. Then, about 20 miles north of the Indiana border, I saw an 18-wheeler on its side in the Interstate median.

None of this kept me from doing my job, which meant attending a conference. And it didn’t stop me, after arriving at about 4 pm on Monday, from visiting the Gerald R. Ford Museum—a entry for tomorrow.

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