The Filth and Beauty of Midwestern Winter Cars

5 years ago

Now that I officially live in rural Minnesota, I can't help but compare my former life in California with my new reality of small town living in Middle America.  For example, when I was shopping at Walmart this afternoon, I noticed that almost all of the vehicles looked alike.

You see, everyone's car is dirty here and it doesn't seem to bother the natives one hoot.  Out in  Southern California, a car is a definite status symbol and many people will spend a small fortune and an entire Saturday morning having their cars washed and "detailed."

Dirty Car

In Minnesota, the only important 'details' are that your vehicle have good tires, a working heater and enough antifreeze to enable it to transport you from place-to-place in below-freezing weather.  No one, and I mean NO ONE, gives a rats ass if their car or pickup is dirty.  In fact, some people consider it a winter 'badge of honor' and they purposely refuse to wash their vehicle all winter.  Let me tell you, by the end of February it's damn difficult to tell the make or color of many cars and trucks, and you wouldn't want to have to get close enough to push those vehicles out of a ditch should that happen -- and believe me it will happen at some point.

When you do slide into said ditch there is a certain protocol to follow.  First, the driver must pause with a surprised look upon his or her face.  Then, vigorous hitting of the steering wheel and swearing will commence.  Doesn't matter if you are man or woman, young or old.  The hitting and swearing are expected.

Next, grab your gloves and jump out of the vehicle to survey the situation. However, if you are stuck in a huge snowbank, you may have to climb out the driver's side window which will either be less impressive or a more impressive, depending upon if you get stuck in the window opening.

Image: Ashley Jouhar/Cultura via ZUMA Press.

By this time, hopefully someone with a larger (and dirtier) vehicle will have stopped to "help out." Most of these good people will be willing to get up close and personal with your dirty car by giving you a push.  Yet, you will no doubt attract a few of what I like to call "ditch cheerleaders" -- men in their 70's who who have no intention of pushing you out, but they will most certainly stop to assess the situation and make helpful comments.

These cheerleaders will probably scratch their heads and say something like, "Yeah, I saw you were going way too fast when you hit that patch of black ice back there."  Or, "Say, bet you're real glad you didn't get your car washed since it will be full of mud by the time you get out of that ditch."

Your job is to smile, nod (all hitting and swearing is done by this point) and rummage in your trunk for a large bag of coarse gravel.  The gravel is to help your tires gain some traction and hopefully avoid having the vehicle sliding further into the ditch.

However, if you are a city girl like me, you probably won't have coarse gravel in your trunk.  I happen to prefer a store-bought bag of kitty litter, which will basically perform the same task. I have a theory that the dirtier the car, the coarser the gravel.  Hence you will find a nice bag of pristine kitty litter in my fairly-clean Camry hybrid.

That's right, my Camry will only be 'fairly clean' this winter.  Unlike California, where people pride themselves on their individuality, here everyone's job is to blend in.

I figure I'll get my car washed every three weeks or so this winter.  After all, I still have my California plates which will be a major tip-off that I'm really not a native.  People who really live here will expect me to do something stupid like try to keep my car clean.


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