Leo Morris: Drivers, like Pierre the cat, are knuckleheads


He was my first feline companion and lived to the ripe old age of 19 despite being an indoor-outdoor cat with more spunk than sense. At least once or twice a year, he would come home after a neighborhood excursion all battered and bloodied and spitting mad. A nap and a bite of food or two later, he was ready to head back out.

It’s not that he forgot the dangers lurking outside. He just didn’t care.

I can say that with some confidence, because there was nothing wrong with his short-term memory, especially when it involved something right there and then that he had trained me well to do.

He remembered just the right sound to make (meeerow) rather than random cat noises to signal that he wanted me to open the front door for him.

He remembered precisely where every piece of furniture was to the inch so that when things were inexplicably moved, he could nag me mercilessly until each and every chair, plant stand and end table was back where he and God intended it to be.

He remembered exactly which basement step (third from the top) to stand on when there was a thunderstorm so that the Big Cat Who Controls Everything (me) would know to make it go away (which I always did, to his profound gratitude).

He remembered completely that I kept the raw hamburger balls wrapped in wax paper in the freezer and that when he wanted one, he merely had to pat me on the leg to direct me to the kitchen.

Pierre’s long-term memory, though, could have used a little work.

Every year, Indiana being a typical state in the temperate time zone, the heat of August would ease into the chill of October, which would yield to the cold of December. And then, just like clockwork — in fact, precisely, exactly, completely like clockwork — would come the first snow of winter.

Which Pierre would have totally forgotten, no matter how many first snows he had endured. He would stand there at the front door, looking quizzically at the blanket of white and patiently waiting for me to let him out.

“You’re not going to like that, Pierre,” I would advise him. “Meeerow”

“All right, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Then I would open the door and he would race out but, halfway across the front porch, come to a screeching halt, do an about face and hustle back inside. After shaking the snow from his paws, whining pitifully all the while, he would lead me to the back door.

“Meeerow, meeerow, meeerow” he would say, which I took to mean, “Surely, that awful stuff won’t be on this side of the house, too.”

“Yes, you knucklehead, it fell all around the house, just like it has every other year.”

But of course he had to discover that for himself, not satisfied until he had belly flopped on the back deck and slunk back in defeat, having to content himself with alternately howling at me with outrage and pouting all day.

Another first winter snow, another failure by the Big Cat.

That cat is long gone, but I recall him fondly when the first major snow of winter hits and Hoosier drivers once again lose their minds. Or, as I like to think of it, pull a Pierre.

“People are still driving like knuckleheads,” said the headline in the Indianapolis Star awhile back. The story quoted an Indiana State Police sergeant who felt compelled to observe, with obvious exasperation, that the roads in Hamilton County were “not awful.” They were merely “snow-covered; they’re slick. The problem is: People don’t remember how to drive on them.”

At the time of the story, there was half an inch of snow on the ground, but there had already been 12 crashes. Half an inch; 12 crashes.

I found a story in USA Today from a couple of years ago listing the prevalence of deadly weather hazards in the United States. Extreme heat — 113 deaths a year. Tornadoes — 110 deaths a year. Floods — 84 deaths a year. Wind — 56 deaths a year.

Car wrecks because of snow, freezing rain, sleet or ice — 800 deaths a year. And Indiana is the fourth-deadliest state for winter car accidents. All of the top five, in fact, are in the Upper Midwest or near the Great Lakes — the other four are Ohio, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.

And experts agree, the story says, on a common ingredient: People are driving too fast for conditions. Conditions that come each and every year. Drivers who are careless and stupid all year get even more careless and stupid when the snow falls. Like they think some Big Cat in the sky is going to change the rules of the physical universe just this one winter.

It’s not enough just to drive defensively. We should drive as if it’s a combat zone out there and everybody else on the road is out to kill us. And in winter, their mission will be so much easier.

And I don’t want to hear a single “Meeerow” out of anybody. Knuckleheads.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].