Be it divine intervention or pure bad luck, the weather has not been particularly mindful of the grandees of Washington this fall. There has already been more than a foot of unexpected snow, and that comes on top of a number of nasty storms last January and February that dumped unseemly large loads of snow on the nerve center of the nation. This misfortune has not gone unnoticed by the citizenry elsewhere in the country, especially those living in the snow belt. They tend to chuckle when they see TV news clips of the proud and the powerful plowing their way through that wonderfully egalitarian bombardment of white stuff.
It has become apparent all over America that those who run the country can prepare legal briefs, create fiendishly complex legislation packages, contrive intricate international compromises, produce arcane white papers, make eloquent speeches and glitter in debates, but they can't back out of a snow-covered Georgetown driveway.
Thus, I feel duty bound to offer advice, lest the already tarnished images of our leaders be further denigrated. What follows might even be of some benefit to others in this city who, though they may not decide the fortunes of the Strategic Defense Initiative, nonetheless encounter difficulties navigating surfaces burnished by snow and ice thanks to lousy removal efforts.
To begin with, a well-prepared automobile can be of considerable help. Simple equipment, such as properly inflated all-weather radial tires (which are the best compromise for traction on snow-, rain- and ice-slicked pavements), can be useful. A bit of extra poundage in the trunk will assist braking, steering and acceleration by equalizing the weight bias. (As much as 65 percent of the weight in most cars sits over the front wheels except for those rare mid- and rear-engine sports cars that need more weight up front). A couple of 50-pound sandbags will usually do the job, or, if you're really important, an administrative assistant can be placed in the boot when the going gets rough.
I also recommend that fresh windshield wipers be installed (try the winterized blades that don't allow snow and ice to freeze the blade components) and that the windshield-washer reservoir be filled with premium antifreeze and solvent (the cheap stuff can sometimes plug the system). A sturdy windshield scraper is a valuable addition to the winter driving inventory and will save you the necessity of scratching up the platinum American Express card when clearing away ice.
All of the foregoing is meaningless, of course, if you don't know how to drive in bad weather in the first place. Even moguls must drive when their helicopters are grounded.
Being Jeffersonians at heart, Americans are convinced that wisdom is endemic to majorities, but that can get you into trouble. Mass opinion rules in elections but goes in the ditch while driving in bad weather. If we were to follow the consensus of drivers who operate in snowstorms in Washington, the following styles would prevail: steering with sharp, jerky movements that break the limited adhesion of the front wheels, causing the vehicle to understeer or to follow the higher law of Newtonian physics and continue in a straight line; using plenty of power -- mashing the throttle being the best way to escape from snowdrifts or to accelerate on ice. In reality, those spinning tires melt the ice and increase slipperiness.
A similar sort of thing happens with panic braking -- the tires stop rotating and are dragged across the snow, and the resulting increased friction causes the ice to melt. The vehicle then increases, rather than decreases, speed.
I recommend a more prudent course, one followed by the simple folk who live in the snow belt: Apply the throttle judiciously, preventing as much wheel spin as possible. The first rule of controlling a vehicle on a slippery surface is to drive it as if you have a bottle of nitroglycerin balanced on the dashboard or to imagine that you have a rabid pit bull sleeping on the back seat. Controlling the wheels is the essence of snow and ice driving. Wheels that spin too fast under acceleration promote the loss of control, as do wheels that do not turn under braking.
These rules apply to all social classes and will remain in effect until our much-revered establishment can communicate directly with its heavenly counterparts to alter the weather patterns. Until then, common sense and a good set of radials will have to suffice. ::