Cowboys on Ice
As our U-haul crawled down the southern freeway of Minnesota I remember saying to Cowboy, "I bet this is what it's like to drive across Siberia, this weather is ridiculous." We were only traveling around 15 to 20 mph at any given time and even then it seemed way too fast. The glare-ice covered asphalt seemed to be trying to throw us off the road any chance it had. The wind assaulted the fully-loaded box-van, the biggest you can get from U-haul, like a tank running into a cement wall. The visibility was so awful it was hard to tell if the headlights were on or off. I tried sleeping in the passenger seat, but to no avail. Every time the rear end shimmied I had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, tumbling off the road was an unceasing threat. I managed to close my eyes for ten or so minutes when Cowboy shouted, "We're gonna see that moron in the ditch any minute."
"What's that?" I picked my head back up and looked over at Cowboy white-knuckling the steering wheel, sweat was starting to bead on his forehead. "I said that semi that just passed, he's gonna be in the ditch in no time. Didn't you see him fly by us just now?" "No, I didn't see anything, was he speeding?" "Speeding! I'd be surprised if he wasn't doing 90 mph on this shit." Sure enough, ten minutes down the road we passed a devastated big-rig on the roadside. Not 200 yards from the 18-wheeler a man with golf ball sized ice chunks dangling in his hair was staggering down the road like a local drunk. Right then I knew. This was going to be a road-trip to remember.
California. That was our destination. We started the trek back home in Negaunee Township. I picked up Cowboy from his parent's house, his mom waving from the stoop as we pulled away. "You take care of Chad for me!" She always worried when Cowboy and I got together. It was already supper time when we left, the weather was fair in Michigan and we were both anxious to get on the road. We made our first stop at the Holiday gas station in Ishpeming. As I pumped gas I noticed something not so different from a filthy old tow strap hanging from the back of the U-haul up top. I walked back, "What the fuck!"
"What's wrong?" Cowboy looked at me dumbfounded. "You didn't shut the back door when you put your bags in!" He took a step back. He must have seen the fire burning behind my eyes. "Did anything fall out?" As I looked I realized the only thing that fell out were my two luggage bags containing all expensive clothes. "Of course! Of course the only things to fall out were my bags worth over two thousand dollars!" "I'm sorry man, let's backtrack and find them." We backtracked. We found nothing. With a hint of nastiness and a wink I spoke, "Back on the road, Cowgirl".
By the time we reached Wisconsin the weather had turned into an absolute nightmare, "Did the weather report call for this?" I asked. "No, it just said light flurries." Damn weathermen, this was an ice storm which covered 6 states. One of the worst the Midwest had seen in at least ten years. By the time we reached the accident in southern Minnesota our total count of ditched cars was around 100, and about half as many semis. A few of the cars on the freeway near downtown Minneapolis propelled off the road straight in front of us. We reach the accident.
"Get him in the truck Cowboy! He's freezing to death! Oh shit, he's got blood all over him!" "C'mon man, get in!" Cowboy shouts at him. As the strange driver enters the passenger door I see one of his arms still has tiny aggravating pieces of windshield stuck all throughout. "We need to wrap those in something!" I started to think what we could use. "Furniture blankets!" Cowboy's once in a blue moon brilliance shines through, "We have furniture blankets in the back!" He jumps from the truck and returns two minutes later with no blankets. "Well, where the fuck are they!" Now I'm panicking as the seats turn maroon and the man's face turns porcelain white.
"I'm gonna lose my job!" The truck drivers' first words, "Oh god I'm gonna lose my job!" "You're lucky you didn't lose your god damn life!" Cowboy finishes yelling at the driver and looks to me, "the padlock is frozen with a softball size ice chunk, I can't get it open." I take my turn in the blistering wind, "C'mon you son of a..., c'mon!" murmuring as I try to chip away the ice. The wind chill was approaching -50° it seemed and my hands suffered, gloves were too clumsy to open the padlock with. After five or six turns back and forth, warming our hands on the dash heater, I freed the padlock and the furniture pads. Stepping from the rear I saw the full wreckage, the semi was unrecognizable was it not for the trailer. Pieces of windshield and a pool of blood lay 50 yards in front where the man had flown like a football through the air. If he had not been ejected it would be doubtful he could have survived.
"How far to the nearest exi..." before I could finish Cowboy shouts, "There's a plow coming up behind us!" Without realizing I was already outside flagging down the plow like a castaway desperate for rescue. "Stop, we need help!" I struggled to be heard over the engine and deafening wind. The plow driver stared directly at me as he and his CB radio drove right by. "What the hell was that?" Cowboy looked nervous now also. "I guess his job is more important too, let's just get him to the next exit." If the U-haul seemed to be crawling before, now it was at an outright standstill. The man was still bellowing about his job and no sign of an exit for miles. Finally we see a sign for an exit fifteen miles ahead with a gas station and restaurants. Reluctantly Cowboy begins to press on the accelerator like a hen trying not to break her eggs.
"Don't go too fast man! We can't help him if all three of us are in the ditch!" "I know but he's bleeding all over the truck!" Cowboy replies. I checked his cuts again. The bleeding seemed to slow a bit and the man's hair had finally thawed along with the rest of him. "I'm feeling better now guys, I was fucking freezing my ass off out there." "How long were you out there?" I asked. "Not more than five or ten minutes," he replied. "If it wasn't for you guys I'd be a popsicle." I could see the gratefulness in his eyes as he began to tear up. "No worries man," Cowboy piped up. "Anyone would have stopped." "Not that plow driver!" I reminded him.
After some time we made it to the rest stop. The clerk stunned by the moving Rob Zombie movie scene pulling up immediately dials 911. We grabbed the driver and get him inside to a first aid kit. The ambulance takes half an hour to show. "What's your name?" The paramedics look to us for an answer. I realize we never asked him his name. He tells us his name is John and thanks us repeatedly for saving his life. Jon insists he gets our information before his ambulance ride in order to pay us back for our kindness. We never hear from Jon again.
"Almost fifteen hours on the road and we are still in Minnesota!" Cowboy yammers at me with a look of disgust on his face. "Yeah, but we saved a dude's life! And you seem to be forgetting something..." Cowboy looks at me puzzled. With a slam of the U-haul door, "Next stop, Las Vegas!"