Can Yankees Drive Under “Southern” Conditions?

It figures somehow that the Ol’ Bloviator would crawl out from under yet another avalanche of writing obligations just in time to find the capital city of the sovereign state of Georgia “buried” under 2.1 inches of snow and in full OMG! mode. At least twenty-four hours before this now-billed-as-epic weather “event” actually hit the ATL, the local meterolo-guessers, doubtless spurred on by countless hundred-dollar handshakes from the folks who run Kroger, Publix, etc., were bombarding the already-concerned populace with the message that it is never too late to panic. Following the same motif as the “storm” came and went, their message was aptly summarized by the OB’s beloved son (and more or less SOL heir) as Atlanta’s Roads Are a Frozen Hellscape of Cars and Buses! None of this is the least bit funny, of course, to the literally hundreds of people who spent fourteen hours trying to traverse five miles of thoroughfare by car, although it does seem to the O.B. that quite a few of them might have at least considered reverting to the once fairly common locomotive method once referred to hereabouts as “ taking Shank’s Mare, ” but remembered more broadly today as walking.

Naturally, this all but unbearable suffering has kindled a young war of finger-pointing—not confined BTW, either to the index finger or the horizontal plane—at school superintendents and municipal officials, not to mention, of course, the usual suspects who run the D.O.T. At both the local and national level, this interim of real and imagined horror has led to  more than a few ruffled feathers in these parts by affording yet another opportunity for Yankees to mock yet another of southerners’ manifold inadequacies, this being our purported deficiency in the mental and motor skills requisite to driving appropriately in “wintry conditions.”

The most restrained response to this truly tiresome stereotype-mongering might be simply to point out that, if this be so, it is largely a consequence of having so little familiarity with such Arctic-like conditions. After all, the howling blizzard that dropped 2.1 inches on Atlanta on January 28 equaled the city’s 69-year annual snowfall average at one swell foop, a fact, just so you know, that engenders neither sadness nor envy on our part. In the case of places like Atlanta, which has been so thoroughly overrun by northern expats, one might reasonably inquire as well whether a goodly number of the vehicles involved in lane-blocking, roadway-clogging collisions may have once sported license plates from Michigan, Illinois, or—as if we could ever forget, Ohio. In this regard, however, the O.B. thinks the whole thing might well come down to the simple neo-Darwinian notion that people develop certain skills or acquire particular techniques in response to what their specific living environment demands.

The O.B. has mentioned more than once that he and the family spent four winters in Iowa, during which time he developed an enormous admiration and affection for the hardy, determined folks who understood what they were up against for nearly half of every year and prepared accordingly. Simply put, these people realized that ol’ Ma Nature could not only kick your butt, but flat out kill you, if She took a mind to. Yet the spawn of the O.B./Ms. O.B. union missed more days of school because of  weather the first year after we fled Iowa for Mississippi than he had during the previous four years living on the frozen tundra. The climate-induced cultural differences were also reflected in a number of other sectors, including infrastructure. For example, come winter, it simply behooves state and local governments in the Snow Belt to have sufficient well-equipped emergency personnel at the ready.

Differences in historical timing also came into play as well. Older and larger northern cities experienced significant expansion well before the advent of the automobile and thus had greater incentive to develop extensive public transportation facilities. By the time such explosive growth came to southern cities, especially newer ones like Atlanta and Birmingham, the proliferation of automobiles had begun to free urbanites from the residential restrictions imposed by streetcars and local train lines,  thereby setting the stage for the infamous “Sunbelt Sprawl” that was clearly a key contributor to the recent “weather emergency” in both the aforementioned burgs.

If you are inclined to offer such defenses or explanations as the O.B. has suggested above, then more power to you. As for yours truly, the increasingly fervent struggle among the die-hard Yankee supremacists to find further evidence of their own superiority has long since become more amusing than irritating. Yet the O.B. must confess that when confronted directly and individually with this attitude on the part of one of his northern brethren or sisters, he occasionally succumbs to temptation and serves up a little anecdote/parable from his graduate school years. Though a thoroughly fine fellow in every other aspect, one of the O.B.’s student colleagues of northern extraction could not resist responding to each and every winter weather warning with a diatribe about southerners’ utter ineptitude behind the wheel under icy conditions. This inclination abated but little even after he decided to “go native” by renting a little house way out in the country on a road so remote and overgrown that even the sheriff was afraid to use it. Call it karma or poetic justice or whatever you like, but one foggy morning when the old Ice Man cometh in to school, he rounded a blind curve to find himself already well inside braking limits from a flipped pickup whose disgorged contents included several pigs and a prodigious accumulation of their waste products. Driven by their instinctive disdain for any form of untidiness, the porcine passengers had naturally fled the scene, but alas, when our intrepid Yankee panicked and hit the brakes too suddenly to avoid the overturned truck, the piggy leavings, so to speak, contributed significantly to his ensuing skid into the ditch.


An unusually detailed report of the incident made the local paper the next day, all but obliging us to observe that “You Yankees obviously don’t know how to drive on pig poop.” By the time the O.B. finishes dishing out all the excruciating details of this incident, he typically finds his ambushed northern listeners clearly eager to escape both him and any possible consideration of the sociological implications of his story. This suits the O.B. fine, of course, although he does think they might at least hang around long enough to pick up some potentially life-saving tips on proper braking techniques when driving on hog manure.