Today’s snowstorm arrived right on schedule, the flakes starting to fall at Framingham State around 10:30 am, while I was in my office conferencing with students from my morning class. By the time the college canceled afternoon classes and I left my office around 2:30 pm, the snow was already ankle-deep and still falling.
This is the second time in a row that my afternoon Tuesday/Thursday class has been canceled because of an early dismissal, and it’s the third time this semester I’ve driven home through falling snow. In each case, my commute from Framingham to Newton has been slow, messy, but otherwise uneventful. I don’t really mind driving home in snow if I have the luxury of taking my time…and when work lets you out early, you have no real reason to hurry.
On these snowy drives home from campus, I’ve been impressed at how calm my fellow commuters have been. When Atlanta saw three inches of snow several weeks ago, there was widespread panic, but New Englanders are well-practiced at winter driving. Here in Massachusetts, we joke about the obnoxious aggressiveness of so-called Massholes, but in a snowstorm even the most assertive drivers become calm and focused.
Whenever I’ve driven home in a snowstorm, I’ve been struck by a sense of cooperative camaraderie amongst my fellow commuters. We seem to share an unspoken understanding that we’re all trying to get home, and rushing or driving aggressively won’t help. Even in stop-and-go snarls, I find drivers maintaining a safe distance, calmly changing lanes, and letting cars merging from side streets or parking lots to go ahead: small courtesies offered in an attempt to keep a smooth traffic flow. There’s nothing like a snowstorm to (temporarily) cure a Masshole’s tendency to speed, tailgate, or cut off other motorists.
Although I’m always relieved to pull onto my own street at the end of a snowy drive, I don’t necessarily find these commutes to be stressful, just attention-intensive. Driving home in the midst of a snowstorm is a powerful form of mindfulness practice; you can’t hurry the journey, so you take each slow moment as it comes. The worst thing you can do when driving in snow is to make any sort of sudden movement, so everything you do slows to a calmly steady, sedate, and intentional pace. Whether you’re inching in stop-and-go traffic or cruising at 30 mph, the key is to stay steady: no jerking stops, no lurching starts, and no sudden swerves or turns. Instead, you spend a lot of time coasting, tapping your brakes to warn the car behind you as you gradually slow to an eventual stop. There’s no slamming of brakes in a snowstorm, just a patient tap, tap, tapping. Instead of tensing into a skid or swerve, you follow your breath, your secret mantra being “slow and steady all the way home.”