Stuck – AN ARTSY JOURNEY # 15
I shrugged into my winter jacket and went out into the rotten weather. I was also in a rotten mood. And I had no jacket for that. I had just driven four hours to North Dakota State University, NDSU, in Fargo for an appointment with the head of the art department so I could complete my art and marketing degree only to have the door never open.
“Mr. Berg doesn’t have appointments on Tuesdays,” said a chirpy girl who studied Perky 101.
Apparently this information was never given to the admission office who had scheduled my appointment.
I was out in the cold, literally.
Outside, the snow flurries had turned to sleet, shooting needle-like pricks at my face. By the time I reached the Chevette my shoes were soaked and my nose was running. Shivering, I chipped a layer of ice off the car.
Halfway to my friend, Cindy’s apartment, chunks of slush stuck to the wipers, caked so thickly they barely scraped the windshield clean. Within minutes the sleet turned into a driving snow. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me. I inched my way into Cindy’s parking lot.
“Cold?” Cindy asked as she whipped open the door.
“Arctic is more like it,” I said, clapping my mitted hands. They stung every time they smacked together.
“You’ll never be able to drive home in this weather,” Cindy said, knowing I had a pile of work waiting for me in Bismarck. Our earlier plan was to have a late lunch, and then I would head home.
“You’re going to have to spend the night,” she added.
My shoulders slumped and my chin almost touched the floor realizing I was snowbound in Fargo. I wondered how I’d make up for the lost time. The lost money.
“We’ll hang out. Watch a romance movie,” she said, trying to make the best of the unexpected weather.
My head stayed down.
“You’ve got no other choice. The highway department has already swung the gate,” Cindy added, referring to a North Dakota practice.
For safety, in white-out blizzard conditions, like now, the highway patrol locks down a steel gate closing off interstate on-ramps. With the flat terrain of the mid-west there is nothing to stop the wind. It blows out of Canada, across the border, and straight into the plains.
“You can leave first thing in the morning,” Cindy went on. “But for now, let’s have a glass of wine.”
Despite Cindy’s kind efforts, it felt like my heart was stabbed with a corkscrew and twisted. It wasn’t just the loss of work time that was so upsetting, the whole trip to see Clarence Berg, department kingpin of NDSU, had been for naught. I angst over driving this far only to have my acceptance interview as an art major squashed.
I chugged my first glass of wine swallowing in self-pity.
The next morning a snow plow rumbled past. After its blinking amber light was out of sight, it looked like the path had never been cleared. The snow continued to pour. I could barely see Cindy’s forlorn scarecrow that was two feet outside the window. The autumn decoration was now an icy-white snowman. I would be held hostage for another day.
Two nights later, the day finally dawned sunny and bright. Piles of snow were whipped into high wavy drifts, but the wind was calm. I could head home.
While the Chevette warmed up, I scraped the windows. When I slid inside, the seat was still rock-hard.
Driving out of Fargo, the tires crunched on snow covered roads. Although the sun was out, nothing was melting. The defroster was struggling to keep up in the sub-zero temperature. I hunched forward so I could see through the frosty windshield.
Out on I-94, the road was packed ice, probably from the early sleet in the storm. I puttered along at thirty-five. At this rate, it would take twice as long to get home – eight hours – dinner time.
Then I came to an incline in the road. The Chevette edged its way up. At the crest, the lightweight car slid away from the straight road and followed the curve of the earth, gliding like Hans Brinker on ice skates toward the drainage ditch. In seconds, the compact was buried in a snow drift. The engine chugged and died.
I turned the key, nothing. The motor was out cold and so was the interior of the car. In the frigid air I grabbed the winter survival can and pried off the lid.
My landlord Marge’s silver space blanket caught my eye. Instantly I hoped this wad of tin foil had some magical powers. But once unfolded, I discovered it was barely big enough to cover my legs. Quickly I spun my jacket backwards so I could breathe into the hood. Hot air blew back at me and I sucked in the warmth.
My mind began to wander and a shiver of self-doubt crept through me like the cold seeping into my feet and hands. What was I doing stranded in a snowbank in North Dakota? I knew the answer. Months ago, when Robert left, I was too humiliated to face family in Michigan so I stayed in Bismarck.
Now the weather was humiliating me, too.
As life blasted me with one challenge after another, I felt defeated, wanting to pack up and quit this “art foolishness,” as my mother called it. I slunk low in the seat as intimidation swirled around me. My elbow knocked the survival can and out rolled the pack of the chokecherry crème. My lifeline.
I snagged the frozen treat with my mitted hand and sunk a side molar into the chunk of rock-hard candy. A piece of chocolate coating cracked off and slowly melted in my mouth. I sucked on the sugar. It was a good thing the other supply of crèmes were miles away or I would have consumed all of it while wallowing in the desire to quit.
Then there was a rap on the frosted window. Actually, I was expecting it. Cindy’s dad, Ed Schmidt, the Superintendent of North Dakota State Highway Patrol, wouldn’t let me leave town until there was an all-points bulletin that monitored the Chevette.
“I’ll be fine,” I insisted to Mr. Schmidt.
“No friend of my daughter’s is driving without precautions,” he barked after informing every highway patrolman the estimated time of arrival the mini-hatchback would cross into their territory. Failure for the Chevette to appear would create a radio ruckus.
Sure enough, my skid was state-wide news. What an embarrassing moment. Anyone could slide off an icy highway, but I’d driven less than five miles. If I had a winter hat, I’d yank it down over my face in shame.
The road crew had the Chevette out of the snowdrift, the engine purring, and the car back on the road in less than an hour. I chugged into Bismarck eight hours later, twice the usual time.
In November, the sun sets early in the Dakotas so it was pitch dark when I dragged my gear into the basement apartment and flicked on a light. But what illuminated wasn’t an apartment. It was an art studio. More than a month ago, giant work tables had replaced my dining room and bedroom furniture.
Instantly, I could tell Beth and Bobbie-Jean, and the rest of my crafty team, had hustled to get out the Pier One order. The girls had stacks of mini-collages ready for shipment to IAC, the California wholesale art company that started the cottage industry.
.This time the shiver up my spine wasn’t from the cold or the self-doubt of wanting to quit like when I was stranded in the snowbank. This quiver was more of a tingle. The studio reminded me that I was making progress in the art world. I felt my spirit soar. The passion to see if I could survive this “art foolishness” was back.
My decision to leave nursing and try to earn a living as a painter was because I didn’t want to become my mother’s age and not have tried. So I was trying now.
I unfolded the hide-a-bed and crawled inside. I would come up with Plan B about the unsuccessful appointment with NDSU art department tomorrow.