Tom Ross: Snow-driving emergency declared

Secret and rarely used journalistic powers of ordinance invoked

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By the power vested in me as an official newspaper guy, I hereby declare a snow-driving emergency in Steamboat Springs. I have exercised my right to invoke an "ordinance by citizen." Henceforth, all motorists shall affix a warning device to the top of their radio antennae so that their fellow motorists might be able discern their rapid approach behind that giant snowbank at the intersection.

As a mild-mannered reporter, I don't like to use my secret legal powers. But extreme situations call for extreme measures. Perhaps you've noticed that at key intersections around town, it's no longer possible to see other cars in traffic. That's bad. And it's not because city, county, state and private snow removal crews have not made heroic efforts on our behalf. Despite all their work, things are getting dangerous out there.

Here's one example: You're driving toward downtown on U.S. Highway 40. You're approaching the on ramp where cars and trucks that have come through the Mount Werner Road interchange are accelerating to merge with traffic. The only problem is that the snow on the median between the ramp and the right lane of traffic is piled so high, the merging cars can't see you, and you can't see them.

If you aren't careful, you'll suddenly find yourself eyeball to eyeball with the driver of a vehicle that appeared out of a seven-foot snowbank to merge left into the space you occupy. If you're lucky, the other driver won't be talking on a cell phone and eating a Pop-Tart at the same time.

The only sane option on this stretch of U.S. 40 right now is to stay in the left lane at all costs.

Here's another example. You're driving counterclockwise on Mount Werner Circle and you've just passed the entrance to the ski area's Knoll Parking Lot. You turn on your right blinker and prepare to veer off to the right to enter AprÃs Ski Way, knowing you have to yield to clockwise traffic making a left off Mount Werner Circle onto AprÃs Ski. However, you can't see if anyone is making that left turn until you stick your nose out beyond the big snowbank on the median. The only safe option is to come to a complete stop and pray the guy behind you isn't taken by surprise.

There are other examples across town, but it was a near incident in a parking lot Friday that convinced me to invoke my secret journalism superpowers.

I don't usually visit fast food restaurants, but my spouse recently had a craving for a Frosty (must have been the recent heat wave), so we looped by the drive-up window at Wendy's and headed back through the parking lot toward Anglers Drive.

I admit I was proceeding with exceeding caution on the icy surface when one of those tiny four-by-fours came buzzing around the corner like it was July. The driver was in such a hurry you'd have thought we'd just had a major earthquake and Wendy's was almost out of square burgers.

Anyway, the driver of the other vehicle waved his right arm wildly over his head in an enthusiastic greeting and shouted in my direction. Fortunately, I can read lips, and I know exactly what the man said. Here it is:

"Thanks for driving cautiously. You probably saved us from an accident. Perhaps each of us should tie flags to our antennae so that next time, we'll have more warning that we're in each other's way. I wish I could be more like you!"

I'm going to follow that man's advice and coil a piece of wire around the antenna of my old pickup to extend its height. Then I'm going to tie a few lengths of blaze orange surveyor's tape on the end of the wire.

If you have a 4-year-old in the household, you could probably rob the warning flag off the back of the child's tricycle and duct tape it to your antenna.

Another option is to poke a hole in a tennis ball and stick it on your antenna.

Whatever you do, don't delay; it's a matter of survival. And I wouldn't want to have to use my powers of citizen ordinance to impound your car.

Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published every Monday in Steamboat Today.

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