The first snowfall was early that year—October 1977. And it was to keep coming. The driving along I-95 was hazardous enough as it was. In the cold rains of Maine or especially when the night fog came in from the coast you longed for a warm fireplace to come home to. I remember the many late nights driving back to Portland and on Friday nights all the way to Boston or Hartford after a long day and a longer week, singing, turning up the volume on the radio, drinking McDonald’s coffee that had been in the pot too long, trying to stay awake. And sometimes getting so sleepy I just pulled off to the side of the road and barely had time to put the car in park before slumping over the wheel with the motor still running.
Two nights are burned deeply into my memory bank. I got onto the Maine turnpike, the section of I-95 from Augusta to Portland, in fog so thick I could barely make out the tail lights on a semi ahead of me. The highway was two lanes going one way, but I decided to follow the tail lights ahead of me all the way and not venture out in the left lane. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made because, not very many minutes after leaving the toll booth I was jarred by a flash of light streaking by in the left lane going the opposite direction. A driver had apparently got confused and got in the wrong lane coming from the toll booth from the south. This was not exactly a near-death experience because it happened so fast. However, there was no more temptation to pass the vehicle I was following.
That was a story I could tell in years to come of my adventures in Maine on the Town Meeting circuit. It would have been a good story by itself had not the very same thing happened on another trip a few days later. Same turnpike, different foggy night, different semi, and different car (I assumed). Who would believe it?
My most humorous encounter with the weather as a driver in Maine was in the snow. I came from Minnesota so had much experience navigating partially plowed streets and roads after snowstorms. The back roads in Maine were more of a challenge. And I had been away from Minnesota for several years. The ‘69 Chevy Nova I was driving had seen better days. Cars in Boston and other major cities that have lots of snow tend to become rusted around the edges within a short time. My trusty steed had seen more than enough Boston winters, so what happened should not have surprised me. But it did.
I was driving on a snow-packed country road that had just two tire tracks with a foot and a half of packed snow between them. Suddenly I became aware that the floorboard was growing. As I drove along the rubber mat was lifted up so that my knees were now against the steering wheel and now pushing my legs up on either side of it. I stopped the car right there in the middle of the road to figure out what was happening. When I pulled the floor mat up I discovered a hole in the bottom of the floor board just large enough to act as shaver so the car was skimming the top of the packed snow and shavings were accumulating inside the car. I had to run the car heater with the car sitting idle for about a half hour to drain the snow which had now become hardened into ice. I had to laugh out loud at myself and my rusty Nova and still chuckle to myself whenever I think of or tell this story.