Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

Safe Driving 101I have just learned some excellent advice for wet-weather driving emergencies. It works for rain or snow.

This tip comes from Campbell Countian Ray Penn. Years ago, he made a discovery that not only involves safe motoring, but also spiffy dressing. If that’s not the epitome of multitasking, I’ll eat a dipstick along with my hat.

It occurred during the days of Ray’s doctoral studies at Northwestern University. (At this point he broke into the NWU fight song, gleefully chanted during athletic events whenever “the other” school scores, which is often: “Hey, hey, that’s OK; you will work for us some day!” How weird. You never hear anything like that during games at Tennessee, at least not from Vol faithful. But I digress.)

On weekends, Ray would pilot his Chevette from the NWU campus in Evanston, Illinois, to his tiny (population 450) hometown in central Illinois. After visiting his folks and doing laundry, he’d head back to school.

“I always took the toll road around Chicago,” he said. “It’s a multiple-lane road, and I usually drove in the middle lane.”

Ray continued as only a novelist would appreciate: “It was a dark and stormy night, rain pelting my windshield like a sandblaster. Suddenly, to my panic, both wiper blades fell off at the same time!”

Misfortune like this is bad enough when it happens to a single blade. To have it occur in stereo is off-the-charts bizarre.

Ray’s vision instantly was reduced to zero. Yet he knew he had to get off the road to assess the situation. He turned on his right blinker and crept over, inch by inch, fervently praying nobody was passing on the right. Finally, he reached safety.

“Still hyperventilating, I tried to figure out how to replace those blades,” he said.

“Somehow, my eyes fell to my laundry basket. On top were two pairs of black, knee-length socks. Braving the deluge, I put one on top of the other on each wiper arm. To my surprise and relief, they did the trick until I was able to find a service station.

“Ever since then, my travel motto has been ‘Long black dress socks. Never leave home without them.’”

(Hint to fellow UT alums: A 12-pack of Wally World white crews oughta work just as well on our pickup trucks.)

Sam Venable is an author, entertainer, and columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. Contact him at