Down the Road a Piece

By MILT GROSS | Dec 10, 2013

That black ice

By gorry, they are right.

But not the Maine way.

Now that we’ve had our first touch of late-fall cold weather with a tad of snow here and there -- mostly there, northern Maine and the mountains, we’re also reading and hearing of a slew of vehicles sliding off the road.

Now I don’t think it’s all that clever, going 60 mph on a cold road where there may be some ice. I’ve driven on my share of slippery roads, and, let’s see now how brilliant this is, I’ve always slowed down.

The accidents are bad enough, sometimes deadly. But what always annoyed me are the hassles insurance companies cause. I’ve never had an insurance-company class accident from ice, black or otherwise, but I’ve had a couple from people who have run into me.

One Massachusetts guy hit me from behind, while I was sitting at a red light in South Paris, which is generally how you’re supposed to act when it is red. He apologized and said he didn’t know Maine had any red lights.

“It does,” I commented, “It has this one. And you found it.”

He remained apologetic, possibly because of my warm smile spreading beneath the trickle of blood moving down my forehead.

But it’s “black” ice that concerns me at the moment of this pecking away on the keyboard. I looked it up in Webster’s finest and found it. Right there after black hole. I won’t go into black hole; it’s the black ice about which I’m herewith concerned. Webster states that it is “a thin film of ice on paved surfaces (as roads) that is difficult to see.”

That definition is okay for the U.S., you know, that other part of the land mass of which Maine forms a significant part.

But in Maine? In Maine, during my fairly long history of hanging around the Pine Tree State, trying to earn a living while finding some time to play in the great outdoors made up mostly of pine and other trees, black ice hasn’t shown up until later in the winter. Late enough that the thin layer of ice has been on that road for a fair amount of time. After it was here long enough to notice and grow weary of as you motored along, it got to be labeled black ice. I think “black” because you can see the pavement through it, and pavement is generally kind of black.

Webster is all right as far as he goes. But obviously he never was in Maine during mid or late winter. If he had been, he’d have known to define it a bit more seasonally.

I’ve seen a bit of black ice while hiking in cooler weather, such as the time on Cadillac when I didn’t notice it until I found myself sliding on my seat down the slab rock. But the rock wasn’t black, so that must have been gray slab-rock ice. The seat of my pants changed the definition to very hard gray slab-rock ice.

I’ve slid on ice while driving, but I never called it black ice until later in the winter. By then, I was sick of the stuff, which is how I knew it was black ice. I slipped on non-black ice in South Paris one morning, narrowly missing a car coming out of a side road. My first wife slipped on what may have actually been black ice one night above Danforth and slid down the bank with my oldest daughter aboard.

A guy passing in a pickup kindly stopped and towed them back up to the road. Which is one way you can tell you’re in Maine. In other states, that pickup would have blown by while the driver blew the horn or gave you the finger. He didn’t actually give it to you, but used it to proclaim some negative feature about your driving ability as he flew past. But you get my drift.

Once in a huge Ford wagon, I think they’re called LTDs, I rounded a curve on Route 119 somewhere in mid-Maine on a Sunday morning, the day after a fairly rousing snow storm. Mr. Ford took one look at the snow covered road and dove off it into a snow-covered field. I noticed that we were still moving, so I kept my foot on the gas pedal -- a Maine rule, if you’re still moving, don’t stop -- and we kept moving. Right through that snow-covered field awhile until I was able to steer the big beast back onto the road.

But that wasn’t black ice. That was white snow.

With that non-explanation of the difference between black ice and white snow, I’ll leave you so you can go about some other activity -- other than reading this black-ice and white-snow dribble.

Just be careful out there.

It may be black, but it is still slippery.

And you don’t want to see your insurance adjuster rubbing his hands together, shaking his head, and noting in his notebook.

“The ice wasn’t actually black. Just expensive.”

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross copyright 2013

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