Pat Keane, 48, writes, sells skis and technically resides in the Lake Tahoe area, but can be found "somewhere between Chamonix and Kirkwood."
I was blasting over California's Donner Summit one warm October day when it first happened. A fall blizzard of wet, gargantuan flakes plastered my windshield like a volley of paint balls. My immediate reaction was to welcome winter's early arrival as I sped along with other drivers well above the posted limit. But the wiper blades on my old Subaru loaded up with piles of snow so heavy the little wiper motors began to whine and lose the struggle to clear the glass. Countermeasures-sliding the defroster to high and fluctuating the wiper speeds-proved ineffective. Stuck in the middle of a convoy of speeders with my view obliterated, there was only one option left to me: I had to do "The Flick." I rolled down my window and executed the maneuver with my left hand- a quick, athletic grab of the blade as it arced down within reach, followed by a pull away from the glass so it could snap back and dislodge the growing load that threatened to block my view completely. At least, that was my intention.
The Flick previously had served me well. This time (the first time it ever failed), it nearly cost me my life. The second time it failed, it almost ruined a good relationship. Blazing ahead in the fast lane of a divided highway, boxed in by cars on three sides, I sat in horror as my limited vision narrowed to nil. Holding the wiper blade that had just released into my hand, I listened to the screech of metal against glass as the wiper arm continued its arc sans the rubber blade.
I hit my left turn signal, let up on the gas while watching the edge of the road out my driver's side window and coasted to a stop. As I got out to reattach the wiper blade, it was hard not to notice that I had stopped about 25 feet short of an overpass, while the shoulder I was parked on dropped 50 feet into a ravine.
Since that day, I've been meticulously careful whenever initiating The Flick. I know it's infinitely safer to pull over and clean the wiper blades, but I still can't break my habit of reaching out the driver's-side window and flicking.
I never assign The Flick to my passengers, a lesson I learned while departing Mammoth in a storm last season. With great caution, I flicked my driver's side wiper many times, allowing me to maintain momentum past those who had stopped to manually clean their blades (cowards!). However, the passenger side of the windshield had frosting a pastry chef would envy. That's when I asked my girlfriend if she'd like to Flick.
I explained in detail how The Flick was executed, showing her as I did it again on my side. I was less than gentle when she ripped the blade off the passenger's side wiper arm, letting it fall from her grasp as she watched in disbelief as the metal arm carved an arched groove on the glass. The expletive I uttered, which ended with the word "klutz," served well to reverse the serenity of an otherwise perfect road trip and introduce fragmentation into a theretofore solid relationship.
Once again, I found myself on the side of the road. But this time I really felt like a fool. After insulting a perfectly innocent woman for making a mistake I myself had made, I learned not one, but two valuable life lessons as I searched in the back of my Subaru for tools to remove the metal wiper arm quickly defacing my windshield. One: Never Flick up. Two: Don't flip out. For there, in my emergency road stuff box, was a spare wiper blade.