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Ready For Anything

Nov 14, 2017

Winter driving in South Dakota can be hazardous if you aren't properly prepared.

Kit-Kat bar, miniature (8)

Cup, styrofoam (2)

Kleenex, box, small (1)

If you had to guess, what would you say the above items have in common? Go ahead, guess. You’ll never guess. Not in a million years.

Okay, I’ll tell you. That’s the winter survival kit we carry in our car. You know. For emergencies. Out of all the things in this world, from shoes to ships to sealing wax, I’m not sure how we ended up with those three. But I do know this: We’re ready for anything.

Unlike most of my columns, where I write whatever pops into my head without regard for the facts or common decency, I actually did some research on what is supposed to be in an Approved Winter Survival Kit.

Flashlight. Extra batteries and bulbs. Spare alternator drive belt. Ice scraper. Jumper cables. Warning triangle. First aid kit. Warm blankets. Spare clothing. Food. Fire extinguisher. Tow rope. Maps.

Spare alternator drive belt?

What planet are those people from?

I doubt we’ll ever have an Approved Winter Survival Kit in our car. I don’t think we could even manage the flashlight. It’s not that we don’t have one. We have at least a dozen in the Put The Flashlight Away When You’re Done Using It So We Can Find It When We Need It I Swear To God You Kids Never Put Anything Away It Makes Me So Mad How Would It Be If I Made You Buy One With Your Own Money drawer. The problem is none of them work. Or you flip the switch and there’s a feeble little glow deep within the bowels of the bulb — which is less than useful when you’re trying to locate a remote control under the couch.

In that same drawer we have roughly 3,000 batteries. A, AA, AAA, C, D and those big honkers with springs on top. None are any good, but I can’t bring myself to admit that. I need a flashlight. I try one. It doesn’t work. Of course, I yell at the kids, which is my standard response to anything bad. Then I take out the batteries.

I put them back in the drawer. Maybe it’s a bad bulb, I think. Or this cheapo flashlight. I can’t risk throwing away good batteries.

I try different batteries. They don’t work. I put them back in the drawer. I get two more. From the drawer. The flashlight still doesn’t work. “Okay,” I tell the kids. “Two of you lift up the couch while the other one looks.”

Even after devoting considerable mental energy to the subject, I still can’t see any flaw in this process — nothing to explain why we never have a flashlight that works. If by some miracle we ever came to possess an Approved Winter Survival Kit, with an actual functioning flashlight, it would be borrowed quicker than a desperate child can wail, “Where’s the remote? I’m missing ‘Sponge Bob Square Pants!’”

Now that I think about it, we already have some of that other stuff in our car. Ice scrapers? At least four, crammed underneath the seat, all cracked, along with the pieces of a couple more. Jumper cables? A brand new set, guaranteed to be a foot shorter than necessary. Warning triangle? We’ll send the kids out with a red rag to wave. First aid kit? Seems like a waste of money. Blood congeals pretty quickly in the cold. Problem solved. Warm blankets? Got it covered. We have one that’s been in the trunk for years — it smells like dust, spare tire and gas. Spare clothing? This I don’t get. You’re stranded in a howling blizzard. Wind chill 800 below. You ran out of gas an hour ago. At that moment you decide you want to change clothes?

Food? Got it covered. Kit-Kat bars are what kept the Donner Party going. Fire extinguisher? The problem with having a fire extinguisher in your car is that, most of the time, your car is what’s on fire. It would be better if everybody else carried a fire extinguisher and you could borrow theirs. Tow rope? Sorry. Every rope we’ve ever had gets whittled away piece by piece. Put up a tire swing here. Drag your sister on roller blades behind the bike there. Pretty soon there’s not enough rope to hold up a pair of pants. Maps? Why? You’re in the ditch or stuck in a snowdrift or your engine’s going rrr-rrr-rrr-click. You’re not going anywhere, so you don’t need to know how to get there.

I guess we’re set, winter driving-wise. If you happen upon us by the side of the road — whether we’re stuck, on fire, rolled over or whatever — don’t bother stopping. We’ll be fine.

Editor’s Note: This column is revised from the January/February 2003 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.


08:46 pm - Fri, April 6 2018
Chris Aesoph said:
Love this story.
09:42 am - Tue, January 15 2019
Great column
01:44 pm - Tue, January 15 2019
Jan said:
Thank you for the laugh!
02:02 pm - Tue, January 15 2019
Deb Boschee said:
I agree with you about everything in this hilarious article, thank you so much for the laughs!!

I also agree with you about the alternator belt - - what the heck? Besides, even if we could replace an alternator belt, most people wouldn't know an alternator from a cactus.
02:12 pm - Thu, January 17 2019
Winter weather usually starts worrying me about the time for Halloween, so in addition to the hats, and scaves, and gloves, I have a bottle of water and a baggie of leftover Halloween candy that I drive around with all winter long.

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