Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Curious Travels of the Amazing Ski Goggle Man

The journey home started off like any other: scrambling to leave on time; accepting that we would instead be two-hours late; and using the interim to safeguard my apartment for my ill-adventured cat.

And it was, as many of you know, freakishly cold this past weekend. Near zero before the windchill; somewhere in the negative teens thereafter. It was the sort of cold that made the insides of your nose feel like they were freezing shut.

But the next time you hear yourself complaining about the weather — the next time you simply can't believe how cold it is — remember this: it could always be worse.


Washington and I were about 70 miles into our drive when we approached a dinted blue sedan filled to the brim with clothes, a coffee pot and other sundry items that one throws into the car when relocating on a whim.

"That looks like all sorts of crazy," Washington said.

"No kidding," I said, looking to my right as we passed this tiny blue beast.

What I saw when I looked over was, I'm sure, as embarrassing for the driver as it was for me. You see, he happened to be looking at me just as I was looking at him. Eye contact was most assuredly made, even though I had a difficult time making out the driver's pupils through the thick plastic goggles he was wearing.

Yes, that's right. He was wearing goggles.

Or ski goggles, to be more precise.

"Why was he wearing ski goggles?" you ask.

Because his driver's side window was nowhere to be seen. Rather, he was driving on a state highway, in "wind chill advisory" weather... with little to protect him from the elements.

My thoughts immediately turned to concern, as my own car (whose passenger side window rolls down quickly, but takes a good hour or two to roll back up) is in a similar state. What ensued was a 10-minute conversation with Washington solely about this man.

Trying to figure out why he hadn't tried to block out the wind with clear plastic. Trying to figure out why he wasn't wearing a ski mask. And, yes, ruminating about the various scenarios that would even lead to his apparent conundrum: bad break-up; dropped out of college; family emergency back home; etc..

[It's true some time was spent chuckling about the ridiculousness of what we had just seen, but let's not talk about that.]

"Crazy is a few cars behind us," Washington said as we pulled into a regularly-scheduled pit stop.

"If he turns here," I said, "let's buy him a coffee."

"Coffee?" he replied, pointing at a nearby Wendy's. "I'll buy him a frosty."

After I rebuked Washington from his unnecessarily cruel remark, the Ski Goggle Man made his way into the Wendy's.

We talked for awhile in the car, trying to determine our course of action. And then we talked some more after we got behind the guy in line at Wendy's.

"Just say something," I whispered. "You're better at starting conversations than I am."

"No," he said. "You're the one who wanted to buy him a coffee."

"But you talk to strangers all the time!"

Meanwhile, Ski Goggle Man stood in front of us, with his chapped hands sticking out of his pockets, gripping the insides everytime he'd shake.

We got out of line and decided to break for the restroom, where I worked up the courage to approach this mysterious wind-whipped man.

But Washington beat me to it. Rather, I joined him at SGM's table, where we explained that we'd seen him on the road and figured he was having a really bad day.

"Yeah," he said. "I'm moving from Colorado back home to New Jersey, but when I rolled my window down in Kansas, I heard something snap and it wouldn't go back up."

To add insult to his situation, he was clearly in desperate need of cash. He had ordered a single sandwich (no drink, no fries) from the 99 cent menu. And his hands and lips were both so badly parched by the wind, he could scarcely hold the sandwich to eat.

"Here," Washington said, throwing a few ones onto the table. "We wanted to buy you dinner, but we wound up getting out of line because we didn't want to make you feel awkward with so many people around."

"Yeah," I added, pointing. "And there's a [MEGA-STORE] right over there. Maybe grab yourself a ski mask or a makeshift window."

I paused for a moment.

"Or a coffee. Just... stay warm."

He thanked us, and we left.

Suffice it to say it wasn't so easy to laugh about the "crazy guy in ski goggles" after we'd actually talked to him. My sole thought walking away -- aside from concerns for the hundreds of miles he still had to travel -- was my hope that this guy's a writer.

Whether he is or not, he has quite a story to tell.


thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

I should add, too, that it occurred to us after-the-fact that he may have also been a crazy psycho killer (and/or a bank robber) on the run. But we've since determined that when you're running from the law, you probably don't stop to grab your coffee pot.

Given his age, and he dedication to getting as far away from Colorado as possible... we're thinking it was a break-up.

Anonymous said...

It would have to be something horrible to make one move from CO to NJ in the dead of winter. It was -18 in Denver on Friday. This had to be one of those "I'm grabbing all my *&^% and getting the hell out" things.


Academic Advisor said...

Sometimes, it's not any one "horrible" thing. Sometimes it's the steady accumulation of things until you think you can't take one more moment. ...there is a line of students at your office door wanting you to "fix" their papers; you've been grading essays for days, and the stack never seems to diminish; there is a load of prep to do for the class you teach tomorrow; you still haven't done any of the reading for the class you are taking, which is also tomorrow; AND your mentor is pressuring you to submit something to a summer conference she is working on.... and it's been like this for nearly a decade... and suddenly you think, "What if I just took off? Said 'F-you' to the whole lot of 'em, threw some clothes (and a coffee pot) in my car, and disappeared? Would the world stop turning? Would the polar ice caps melt? Why don't I just do it?" And then reason takes over, or cowardice, and you begin to make a task list to help you prioritize and get through it all.

God bless Ski Goggles Man for following through, especially in a run-down vehicle in the middle of winter, when so many of us don't. I hope he made it to Jersey... although personally, I would have chosen somewhere a little more hospitable.

disgruntled world citizen said...

Buy that guy a beer, or a shot of whiskey. I hope he gets to his destination okay.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

AcAd - Honestly? Lately I've been thinking about doing the very same thing. You can only deal with so much frustration, for so long, before there's relatively little to lose.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

DWC - Call me a prude, but I don't think it's a swell idea to mix booze with driving... and bad weather. But, yes, he definitely deserved something to warm his belly.

=) said...

what a strange, strange world you live in.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...


No kidding! I can only tell stories like this for so long before people will begin to think I'm making them up. I'm just glad I wasn't alone for this one, so that I had someone to substantiate the experience.

disgruntled world citizen said...

yer right. he certainly needed something to warm him up. perhaps a good old bowl of campbells soup. the whiskey for when he got to where he was going. ;)