RICHARDSON: The Great Teacher

February 2, 2014 

The Great Teacher came to visit last week. He, or she, doesn’t visit often, but when the Great Teacher drops in -- literally -- he always brings a lesson. Although the Great Teacher can’t sneak up on us like he did Feb. 9, 1973 -- when he dumped 19 inches of snow on an unsuspecting area -- he can still pack a punch even when we know it’s coming.

Some folks, including Gov. Nathan Deal, went on the now-false premise that if the Great Teacher is predicted to visit, he will never show up. Wrong. Locally, meteorologists Jeff Cox, Ben Jones and Chris Simmons were on it. Cox at WGXA had been preaching for five days about the teacher’s pending arrival. WMAZ’s Jones said it was “not a case of if, but when.”

Still, Gov. Deal said the storm was “unexpected” on Wednesday. What did he say that for? Al Roker of “The Today Show” chastised him for trying to shift blame. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed got drilled by CNN’s Carol Costello. Chad Myers, CNN’s weather guy, blamed bad planning at the state, city and school system levels for the gridlock that saw kids spending the night at their schools and on buses. Thousands of commuters were stranded on area highways. The governor, on Thursday, accepted responsibility after throwing -- rightfully -- his emergency management chief under one of the stranded buses.

The Great Teacher is a fabulous real-time instructor. I learned more about Newton’s laws of motion from skidding down a highway in the Sierra Nevada Mountains than I ever learned in class -- particularly laws one (Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it) and three (For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction).

The external force applied to stop my 1968 gold Chevy Impala sport coupe’s motion was a 1959 Cadillac DeVille sedan. I made contact with the De­Ville’s left side rear bumper. That model Caddy has a rear deck that looked like airplane fins at the top and large round chrome protrusions at the bottom. It was real chrome-plated steel, not an inch of fiberglass.

If my memory serves me, I had no business being where I was. I had no experience driving in such wintry conditions. When the Great Teacher explained in detail that I was powerless to stop, my only prayer was that I would skid in a straight line. This was the mountains, after all, and I could see the steep embankment and the tops of trees to my right.

As I came to rest on the DeVille’s bumper, all kinds of issues ran through my mind: Did I hurt anything besides my now deflated ego? How much damage did I cause? And what would it cost to fix it?

I met the guy in the DeVille where our cars impacted. He quickly looked down at his bumper. Not a scratch. “See ya later,” he said and drove off. I wasn’t so lucky, but the damage, looking back on it, was minor. Chevys were made of steel, too.

I’ve gained more experience driving when the Great Teacher comes to visit. Even though I now pilot a 5,578-pound, big, hulking, gas-guzzling SUV, I know the Great Teacher can still send me slipping and sliding into places I’d rather not go. If it can make a 18-wheeler go cockeyed, I’m child’s play.

I know people up north are laughing at Atlanta. They measure snow in feet, not inches. They also have large fleets of trucks and plows just for such regular visits. According to CNN’s Myers, Atlanta gets snow every 1,000 days or every 2.7 years. While I hope Gov. Deal, Atlanta’s Mayor Reed and area school superintendents learned a lesson, it’s too bad thousands of residents will have grim memories of an ordeal that didn’t have to happen. Sure, some people had to be out there, but just like me in the Sierras, there were many who were ill-equipped for the conditions but pressed on. I hope they learned a lesson.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at Tweet @crichard1020.

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