Experiencing winter sounded like a good vacation suggestion. The word winter literally had the word “win” in it, so it had to be fantastic. The only decision left to make was where? I remembered from my science class that every part of the Earth experienced some form of winter during the year. Winter was really just a word that meant the opposite of summer, and I had experienced plenty of summer in my three decades of life. I wanted to experience winter in all its traditional glory. Cold, wet, and icy.
I spun my antique globe and jabbed a finger down on a random spot. The ocean. What were the odds? I didn’t want to visit an ocean. There was plenty of ocean around me now. It was wet yes but icy no.
Second attempt: Florida. In Florida I wouldn’t be able to do the traditional winter activities I had seen at the movies: sledding, building a snowman, drinking hot chocolate. Actually, you could drink hot chocolate anywhere, anytime, but for some reason it was supposed to be much more satisfying when drunk on a cold winter’s day.
My selection method was flawed, so I searched the globe and chose Michigan.
You seem surprised. Was Michigan not the ideal choice? According to my research, during the winter Michigan had snow. It was cold. Every activity I wanted to try could be attempted in Michigan.
Why Michigan? You ask again still stumped. Well, to be honest because my name is Mich, so it seemed like a logical choice.
I pulled out a suitcase and attempted to pack, but it quickly became obvious that I lacked the necessary items for a successful visit to winter. Instead, I threw my suitcase back in the closet and checked my bank account to make sure it was full. I could buy whatever I wanted upon arrival.
With no other preparations to make, I left my home and stepped into my boat. Floating outside my home, I locked the front door and then paddled my way towards the airport.
“One ticket to Michigan,” I told the lady behind the window.
“What year?” she asked me.
Oh, no, I thought. I forget to pick a specific year. I knew I had to go back far enough to beat global warming, but I didn’t want to go too far or the conveniences I cherished like indoor plumbing and pizza delivery would be non-existent.
Looking down at my watch, I searched for the year my favorite winter movie came out: 2014. A little more research determined that January of 2015 was a heavy snow year in Michigan – several feet accumulated without melting that year. Sounded like the perfect choice.
I boarded my plane and with just a quick take-off and landing we taxied into a gate to the past.
Upon arrival, I gazed around in wonder at my first glimpse of winter. It was much grayer than I expected. In all the movies, the sky was blue, the trees were all evergreens, and the white snow sparkled like glitter. The sidewalks at the airport were devoid of snow though there were little blue crystals crunching under my feet as I walked, and all the trees I passed in my uber were just brown twigs. I eventually saw some snow and the occasional pine tree, but under the blanket of gray clouds above, it lacked any kind of luster.
My first task was to find a convenience store and stock up on everything I was lacking: fleece clothing, heavy boots, plastic lined gloves, a hat with a little pompom on top. I grabbed several packets of instant hot chocolate and a plastic saucer sled from a seasonal display. I thought of all the other things I wanted to do and wondered what other gear I might need to purchase.
“Do you have ice skates?” I asked a lady stocking shelves in sporting goods.
She looked me up and down, noting my shorts and flip flops.
“Just arrived from down south?” she asked me with a kind smile.
“Something like that,” I told her.
She just nodded. “You don’t need to purchase your own skates love. You just rent them at the rink.”
“Of course,” I said relieved.
“Sweetie,” she said laying a hand on my cart before I could roll away. “I don’t see a coat in there. You are going to need a coat.”
“Thank you! I knew I was forgetting something. You are so kind.”
We both smiled at each other, and then I headed back to the clothing section. I searched and searched for a coat that I liked, but I quickly became confused. Did I need a puffy coat or a long coat? Was fur lining on the hood a good thing? I found something called snow pants, which seemed like it would be a necessary item, but they didn’t have any in my size. Could I go without them or was the fact that they were sold out a clue to their necessity?
In the end, I decided that since I was on vacation, I could buy them all. I got three different coats to try, and I bought snow pants that were two sizes too big rather than go with none at all.
Exhilarated after my shopping trip, I ventured to find some pizza, glad to discover I had picked a year where it was in such generous supply. While eating my pepperoni, I debated where to start.
Sketching my to-do list on a napkin, I could not resist the call of my favorite song, so I decided to start by building a snowman. That was when I realized I had forgotten to buy a carrot, so back to the store I went.
“Excuse me,” I asked another sales associate. “Where can I find some coal, a button and a corncob pipe?”
In the end, I bought a kit called “instant snowman.” How efficient, I thought.
My uber driver recommended a place called a metro park where they had a sledding hill and plenty of wide-open spaces desperate for snowmen. Stepping out of the car, I heard the first true crunch of snow under my boots. It was a sound unlike any I had heard before. Like a little kid, I spent a while just walking around listening to the sound of my own feet and examining my own footprints.
“Make a snow angel,” my driver recommended. I looked back to realize that my current driver had been too concerned to just drop me off alone at the park and had stayed with me. He was young like all my previous drivers, and he leaned against the side of his car, phone in hand, pretending not to be watching me too much.
“A what?” I asked him.
“A snow angel,” he repeated shoving the phone in his pocket. “You know…” and he started flapping his arms up and down. I wracked my brain trying to think of what a snow angel was but came up with nothing.
“Can you show me?” I asked him.
“Are you crazy,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t have any snow gear on. I’d get soaked.”
“Oh,” I said looking down at the snow. “I have two extra jackets in my bags. You could borrow one.”
He seemed to consider it. “Would you like to help me build a snowman instead?” I tried again.
The driver stood in silence for a while looking at me and the park surrounding us. He looked over his shoulder and down the road. I wasn’t sure what he was checking on, but whatever it was, he didn’t find it.
“Why not,” he said with a raise of his arms. He reached into the car and popped the trunk. Then he pulled out a jacket, gloves and hat. I noticed that his hat didn’t have a pompom on top like mine and suddenly I felt a little self-conscious.
He crouched down in the snow and showed me how to get the ball started. He told me I was lucky that this was good “packing snow.” I hadn’t realized that you needed a certain kind to build a snowman, but he assured me that you did. Together we rolled three balls and stacked them. Then he ripped open my instant snowman box, and we decorated it. When the snowman was finished, I was elated. The driver, Tommy, took my picture with the snowman on my phone. Then I took a selfie of the three of us together.
“What next?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. I realized I was probably the most interesting passenger he had pick up in a while. If only he knew how interesting.
“That snow angel you mentioned, can you talk me through how to do it?” I asked Tommy.
He thought for a minute and then threw up his hands again. “Ah, the heck with it,” he said, and then he fell back into the snow with a thunk. He flung his arms up and down, and he moved his legs side to side. Immediately, I understood what he had meant by snow angel, and I fell down beside him and imitated his motions. We both carefully got up and inspected our work. Just at that moment, the sun finally made an appearance, bursting through the clouds and lighting up the snow like glitter just like I had seen a million times before in the movies.
“Fantastic,” I whispered.
“Yeah, it kinda is,” Tommy agreed. “But, now, I’m frozen man, and I’m soaking wet. Can I take you somewhere and drop you off?”
“Sledding,” I told him with enthusiasm.
“Man, I meant somewhere warm and dry,” he laughed at me.
“Well, I only have one day of vacation right now,” I told him. “I need to maximize my experience.”
“Dude,” Tommy said shaking his head. “Come on.”
He motioned me back to the car. When we got in, he cranked up the heat to maximum and started to strip off his wet gear. For the first time, I noticed that I was cold. My feet were a bit numb, and I was pretty sure some snow had found its way inside my boots despite my snow pants. It was then I realized that I had forgotten to get extra socks, a must on all the ski travel sites.
“Maybe some hot chocolate is in order,” I told him reluctantly.
“Excellent suggestion,” he agreed. “I know just the place.”
He drove me to a local coffee shop in a nearby small town. I treated him to a cup of hot chocolate with extra whipped cream as a thank you for teaching me how to make a snow angel, and he heartily thanked me. I realized I was lucky to have such a kind soul for my uber driver.
“Tommy, any chance I can talk you into sledding with me next?” I asked again.
“Nah, man,” he said with a hearty laugh. “I gotta get home. I was planning to be off shift way before now.”
“Oh, that’s ok,” I tell him though I am heartily disappointed. I hadn’t realized how necessary a companion was to fully enjoy winter activities.
“You can’t do everything in one day,” he told me.
“No, I suppose not,” I agreed. Tommy, of course, didn’t understand the mandatory one-day return on time travel. “Back to the airport then, I guess.”
Tommy squinted at me and then nodded slowly before leading the way back to his car. We rode in silence, and I watched the world pass by finally looking the way I had always imagined: green trees covered in snow, white hills shining in the sunlight, a few happy snowmen smiling from front yards. Idyllic winter was apparently the property of the small town.
Eventually, we passed by a giant sledding hill covered in people whooshing down and then trudging back up. A huge grin covered my face at the site. To my surprise, Tommy pulled into a parking spot and turned off the engine.
“Come on,” he told me before getting out of the car. I quickly scrambled after him, pulling on my gear in a rush. He popped the truck, and he removed my sled.
“I haven’t done this in years,” he told me.
I grinned stupidly at him before rushing towards the hill. “Race you to the top!” I called out over my shoulder.
“Hey, wait,” he called back. “It’s your sled. You have to carry it!” But I didn’t stop. I only had one day after all, and somehow, I knew Tommy would follow me.