A flurry of panic? Please stay cool: The doctor is in


January 02, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

Ask Dr. Columnist, hello?

"Is this Dr. Columnist?"

Yes, it is. The meter is running. Go ahead with your problem.

"I'm calling from my car phone. I'm stuck on the JFX."

I'm sorry, but Dr. Columnist deals only with deep-seated emotional and psychological problems. If you need a tow, call the AAA. They'll send a tow truck. From Frederick.

"No, no, my car isn't stuck. I'm stuck. I'm afraid to drive away."

Why is that?

"The snow."

But the snow is gone. It's all melted. Your problem is solved. That will be $40, please. And Dr. Columnist thanks you.

"I know the snow is gone. But I'm still afraid. I've been sitting here by the side of the road since the big snowstorm last Thursday."

You've been living in your car for almost a week?

"Yes. But it's not so bad. I have both AM and FM."

But what have you been doing for food?

"Oh, that's no problem. The back seat is full of Ho-Hos, Ding-Dongs and Twinkies."

The three essential food groups.

"Four if you count the Doritos in the trunk."

Do you always hoard food like this?

"Just in the winter."

I think I can guess where you were born.

"Yes. Of course. In Baltimore. The City That Hoards."

But don't you realize that hoarding hurts others? If you buy up all the Doritos, what are other people going to eat?

"Cheez Doodles?"

That's very considerate of you.

"I try."

Look, you are clearly a case for Ask Dr. Columnist. And I'm going to help you. But I really think you should come into my office.

"You got a couch and everything just like a real shrink?"

Well, I couldn't afford a couch. But I have an Army surplus cot. And instead of those little doilies for under each patient's head, I use bar coasters.

"Very chic."

Patients appreciate the little things.

"So you're a psychiatrist as well as a columnist?"

Well, not exactly. But I find a lot of people don't need a real psychiatrist for their problems just like they don't need a real plumber every time their sink backs up."

"You mean you use Drano on people?"

No, but I give them good advice and I charge them $75 an hour.

"What's the difference between that and a real psychiatrist?"

About $100 an hour.

"Well, I guess maybe you can help me. See, I was at work downtown last week and it started snowing real hard in the late afternoon."

Let me guess. You left work early so you could join the Let's All Rush Out Into the Snow at the Same Time Panic?

"Yes, exactly. How did you know?"

It's Phase One of the City's Snow Emergency Plan. All employers are encouraged to send their employees home at the sign of the first snowflake so all city thoroughfares will become impassable at the same time. It's called urban planning.

"Well, I get on the JFX and the snow is coming down and visibility is about five feet and cars are sliding and spinning and crashing all around me."

Of course they are. That's because nobody knows how to drive in snow.

"That's true. But people around here can't be expected to handle snow the way the people up north do. Our total inability to drive in inclement weather is part of our charm."

If your 6-year-old came to you and said he could not tie his shoelaces and he refused to learn because it was part of his charm, would you accept that answer and buy him Velcro shoes for the rest of his life?

"Uh. Well. Actually I have Velcro shoes."

Sorry. This may be a longer session than I thought. Let me give you a little test.

"This isn't going to be an essay, is it? I'm a lot better on multiple choice than essay."

It's just a simple question: What does the phrase "life in the fast lane" mean?

"I have no idea."

Of course you don't. That's because around here nobody knows there is a fast lane. Everybody goes the same speed in all lanes of the expressways.

"You mean you're not supposed to?"

In other parts of America, the left lane is generally considered the "fast" lane.

"Wow! That's amazing. They ought to put signs up or something. I always go the same speed in the left lane as the other lanes."

Which is?

"Ten miles under the limit."

Of course. In Baltimore, people approach the speed limit the way early test pilots approached the speed of sound: It might be attainable, but it also might result in total destruction.

"Another part of our charm."

But there are some occasions when you actually go over the speed limit, aren't there?

"Why yes, Dr. Columnist, there are. When it's snowing, for instance."

Amazing. Would it interest you to know that in places like Omaha and Buffalo people actually slow down in snowstorms?

"But that doesn't make sense! If it's bad weather, you should go as fast as possible so you can get home as soon possible!"

Do you think this attitude might be why there are so many accidents during storms here?

"No, I think it must be the streets. Or maybe the tires. Or the wiper blades. Or. . . ."

What's that noise?

"Oh, it's just my Dustbuster. I'm cleaning up in here a little. I got Twinkie crumbs all over everything."

Do you have the Power Brush and the Wet/Dry attachment?

"Just the Power Brush. You think I need the Wet/Dry?"

Depends on how long you're going to be in there.

"Yeah, well, that's why I'm calling. I'm getting pretty bored in here."

Why didn't you just abandon your car like most drivers do?

"Well, I heard this rumor that there's going to be a new law. Baltimore highways are going to be treated like the high seas. And if you abandon your vessel, salvage operators can come along and claim it. So I'm staying right here until I get the courage to drive away."

I'm looking outside my window right now, and it's pretty sunny. What do you say you give it a try and just ease out into traffic?

"OK, I'll try it. But what if I'm driving along and it starts snowing and hailing and there's sleet and lightning and fog and freezing rain?"

I realize that this is a common nightmare. But if that happens, just fall back on your native abilities.

"You mean?"

That's right. Just speed up.

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