Just throw the brain in the back seat, lock on four-wheel-drive and let it snow

January 04, 1996|By KEVIN COWHERD

A few years ago, I was afraid to drive in the snow, so I went out and bought a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Now the only thing I'm afraid of when it snows are other four-wheel-drive vehicles.

This is because owners of four-wheel-drive vehicles seem to suffer some sort of brain malfunction whenever roads conditions are bad.

Instead of slowing down and driving like sensible individuals, they drive like idiots through the ice and snow.

If they're not barrelling down the highway, they're weaving in and out of traffic, apparently convinced that having four-wheel-drive means they no longer have to worry about skidding into the nearest bridge abutment and ramming their pointy little heads through the windshield.

Part of this has to do with terminal dim-wittedness. But part of it stems from all the propaganda they bombard you with when you buy a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

I remember what happened when I finally decided to ditch my Toyota and buy a Jeep Cherokee.

The salesman was one of these guys: Aryan Nation haircut, leather coat, silk turtleneck, tan slacks, Gucci loafers.

You know the type. He looked like every homicide detective you've ever seen on "The Rockford Files."

In fact, when he first latched onto me in the showroom, I thought he was going to ask if the lab boys had dusted for prints yet.

Anyway, I was checking out the sticker price on this one Cherokee and trying not to keel over when he said: "You could climb mountains with that baby."

"I don't want to climb mountains," I said. "I just want to get out of my driveway when it snows."

"A vehicle just like this," he continued, "drove from Canada all the way past Tierra del Fuego."

Apparently I don't look too bright, because he felt compelled to add: "Tierra del Fuego is the southernmost tip of South America. It's in Argentina."

"I just want to drive to the Safeway," I said.

Anyway, when I left the dealership, I looked at a map of South America and discovered an interesting fact: If you drove your Jeep past Tierra del Fuego, as the guy said, you'd end up in what is commonly known as the Atlantic Ocean.

And if you kept driving, you would -- and I don't want to bog this down with a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo -- drown.

Me, I don't see anyone sitting in a Jeep and staring out at the cold, dark Atlantic and thinking: "Let's see what this baby does in 120 feet of water."

But apparently the Jeep salesman's point was that you could drive a Cherokee just about anywhere, over any terrain, in any conditions.

But not at any speed -- a news bulletin that apparently has not reached some of these four-wheeling fools today, judging by how fast they drive when there's snow on the roads.

On a related note, I remember seeing a brochure not long ago -- I'm not sure if it was for Isuzu or Chevrolet or Ford sport-utility vehicles.

Anyway, on the cover of the brochure was a picture of a happy family in one of these vehicles zipping up a snow-covered mountain -- Dad smiling confidently behind the steering wheel, Mom riding shotgun and gazing at him in obvious adoration, kids securely buckled in and having a ball in the back seat.

It was your basic Winter Wonderland setting: 10-foot snow drifts on either side of the road, icicles hanging from the trees, wind whipping up whitecaps on a nearby lake.

Me, I'd be thinking: What the hell are these people doing out on a day like this?

But two things in that picture were even more disturbing.

No. 1, Dad seemed to be doing about 75 mph -- you could tell by how blurred the trees were in the background that he was really gunning it.

I don't know whether they were late for an appointment, or they were being chased by a motorcycle gang that Junior had given the finger to, or what.

What was even more disturbing was this: If you looked at Dad closely, you noticed that his eyes appeared to be closed.

Yes! CLOSED! I showed the picture to five other people, and they all said the same thing: Whoa, Dad is nodding off here. Maybe he had a few cocktails.

So, let's recap, shall we?

A family outing in the four-wheel-drive vehicle. Frozen mountain road. Rugged terrain on all sides. Dad's doing 75. No one else is paying any attention to the road.

And now Dad decides to catch a few Z's.

You gotta have a bad feeling about this one.

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