Musings from all members of the Thomas family, even our dog.
As per usual, this southern winter weather is inconsistent and features dramatic changes from day to day. In the middle of last week, we had wintry precipitation overnight, resulting in about an inch of snow on the ground by morning, and roads covered with deceptively treacherous black ice.
If you don’t know what black ice is, it’s a thin layer of ice, called “black” because it’s so thin that it blends with the black pavement of the road. You can’t see it, therefore it’s particularly dangerous. You drive along normally, thinking the road is merely wet, not knowing the treachery beneath your tires until you start to slide.
Growing up in Ohio, I learned to drive on black ice. It was a common feature of our Ohio winters, and sometimes our falls and springs. I remember one particularly brutal winter, when I was working as a waitress at a local restaurant. We had this chef—a great guy, this big, gregarious African-American classically trained chef from New Orleans. The guy was absolutely a magician in the kitchen, and he was fun, and had a great sense of humor. I really liked him.
The restaurant was dead—zero customers, due to a combination of snow and ice that had left, what else, a thin layer of black ice on all of the roads. We were at work, though, prepared in case some hungry soul decided to brave the weather because they were so desperate to get out of the house, which, with the recent Atlanta Snowpocalypse so fresh in my mind, was probably not an unrealistic expectation.
The staff was all gathered around a couple of booths, drinking coffee and talking, mainly about the weather. I was talking in a very dramatic fashion (incidentally, this is usually the only way I talk about anything) about my drive to work. I said, “It was crazy! I had to drive so slowly, because black ice was everywhere! It was so dangerous!”
Chef had come out of the kitchen and joined the group shortly before I said this, because he was in the kitchen making gumbo. Yes, we took full advantage of his New Orleans roots. I was facing him, and his face changed when I said that. He was visibly angry, which was confusing. I didn’t know if perhaps he had some inexplicable fondness for black ice, or if he just thought I should be a more confident driver than that and was disappointed, or what was going through his head, until he said, “I can’t believe you would say something like that. I really thought you were better than that.”
I went ahead and apologized, even though I really didn’t understand what was happening, and I had that feeling in my stomach that I get when I know I’ve hurt someone. I followed him out of the room and apologized again, and said I’d like to understand what it was in what I said that offended him.
He exploded with anger. “So, you’re scared of black guys, huh? You can’t drive slowly when there are black guys on the road, because that’s too scary?”
And, I exploded with laughter, because of course, this was not even remotely close to what I had said. I explained, “First, I said “black ice.” Totally, totally different. Second, you were correct, I AM better than that! I would never say something so terribly racist! Third, ‘black guys was everywhere’?! In what context would I ever say something so grammatically horrible?” I take racial equality very seriously, and I take grammar almost as seriously. I then had to explain the concept of “black ice” because this is a term with which they are not familiar in Louisiana, which was probably the root of this misunderstanding, really.
Sadly, Chef passed away a couple of years after the restaurant shut down. He had this congenital heart defect that was always a matter of concern for him, and he succumbed to complications from it. He was only 29 at the time. Every time I hear the term “black ice” I think of him and remember him fondly, and have a good laugh about this ridiculous misunderstanding.