Snowmageddon 2014 is over in North Carolina. Well, it’s mostly over. Electric power is restored, the roads are clear and the shelves in grocery stores are fully stocked with milk and bread again. There’s a little snow left on the ground but, for the most part, life is returning to normal.
The term massive snow storm is relative depending on where you live. The total snowfall in our area was about 8” to 9” and, with that, roads were basically impassable. The schools closed for three days, most businesses closed for two, all non-essential government shut down and our Governor admonished us to stay home and avoid putting our “stupid” hat on. Reasonable actions and advice since, as everyone is quick to point out, southern states don’t have enough road equipment to handle snow storms and drivers born here have no “snow legs.”
I get that, I really do. But, for folks who grew up and lived in areas of the country where 8” of snow overnight is considered a dusting, the look of panic in people’s eyes provides some level of amusement.
Around Charlotte, the first snowflakes started to fall about noon on Wednesday. By 1:00 PM our manufacturing plant was nearly empty. I was one of the last to leave at about 1:30. Eighteen miles and two hours later I made it home. Hindsight tells me that I should have joined the mass exodus.
As I’ve mentioned before, I drive a little Ford Ranger pickup who I’ve lovingly named Robby. For a pickup, Robby does well in snow but, since he doesn’t have 4WD, he does have limitations. The first few miles were alright. We slipped a bit here and there and had to dodge a car or two that strayed into our lane, but overall I was feeling pretty good about the trip home. Then we came to the mountain passes.
Well actually, they were small hills that I, even with my aged, out of shape body, could have pedaled a bike from bottom to top. Despite that, they were kryptonite to nearly every other car or truck on the road. In that last ten miles I had to exit Robby six separate times to push people up hills. Each time, when I returned to Robby, I slipped the transmission into second and crawled up the hills with nary a slip.
The next morning, the thought of getting stuck behind a bevy of drivers who had no idea how to maneuver a car in snow kept me from giving going to work any consideration. Instead, I shoveled my sidewalk and driveway. Most of my neighbors gave me odd looks when they saw me filling Robby’s bed with snow. A couple of them, who had also come from the north, smiled because they understood that the snow would give Robby traction. A lot of people put sandbags in the bed to get the same result. That works, but you have to go somewhere to get the sandbags which can be challenging if you don’t already have weight. Besides, snow is free and Mother Nature takes care of emptying the pickup bed when the temperature rises. I’ve used that trick many times before, including one memorable time many years ago when I made a trip from Indiana to South Carolina.
My daughter, Kristin, lived in South Carolina and was dating Anthony at the time. They were planning to visit Linda and me in Indiana for Christmas. Three days before they were to arrive, winter decided that it was time to give the mid-west a really white holiday season. The forecast was for 24” to 30” of snow. Even in Indiana, that much snow in a short time demands respect, so I called Kristin and told them to stay home. Then I was faced with a conundrum. How would we get her Christmas presents and the ones that she was planning to take home for her brother, Brian, and his wife, India, back to South Carolina? There were some large items and some fragile ones that I didn’t want to ship. Making a trip after the holidays wouldn’t work; we’d all be back to work by then. In my “y” chromosome challenged mind, there was only one option. I had to pile the presents into Robby and drive through five states during the worst storm of the winter to deliver them in person. It sounded like a good vacation adventure to me. Before I left, the conversation went something like this:
“What are you doing?” Linda asked as I carried present after present into the garage.
“I’m loading the Christmas presents into my truck.”
“It’s 5:00 PM and too late to take them to UPS. It’s also time to eat super. Load the truck in the morning.”
“I’m not mailing them; I’m delivering them.”
“In this snow storm?”
“Yes, I can be there and back in thirty hours. The presents will be there and I’ll be home in time for Christmas.”
“There’s no chance that I can talk you out of this, is there?
“Then sign this.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a statement saying that you are basically of sound mind and body. I’m trying to streamline the process of collecting your life insurance,” she replied as she tilted her head, smiled sweetly and gave me her “You’re an idiot” look.
I gave her my “No I’m not” scowl and finished loading the truck. Then I pulled Robby into the driveway and spent fifteen minutes shoveling five-hundred pounds of snow and ice into the bed.
“Why are you doing that?” she asked.
“It gives me more traction,” I answered.
“Pity you can’t increase common sense as easily,” she replied as I gave her a goodbye kiss, crawled into the truck and drove away into the bowels of the storm.
I made my way on back roads to Rt. 31, which was the main north-south route to Indianapolis. Three hours later I caught I-70 E towards Ohio. The first thirty miles or so went fine, then the snowfall started to ramp up. Fifty miles from Indy, I was in a virtual whiteout and pushing snow that was up to the bottom of my bumper. Fortunately, I had a good selection of music. I popped a Kenny Loggins CD into the stereo and set it to play “Danger Zone” on a loop. That’ll keep your mind focused.
Suddenly, through the snow ahead, I saw flashing blue lights. As I got close, two Indiana troopers directed me towards an exit ramp. I stopped, rolled down the window and said, “I don’t want to get off here. I’m heading for I-75.”
“You can’t get there this way. We’re closing the Interstate,” one of the troopers answered tersely. Then he waved me on down the ramp.
I followed his instructions but, when I got to the bottom, I used my internal male GPS to parallel the interstate until I found another on ramp so that I could continue my path east. Unfortunately, one of the troopers who had ushered me off of the freeway had moved east too. Since he had a shorter route, he got ahead of me and was waiting ten miles down the road at the next exit ramp. Again he flagged me to the exit. Not knowing that it was the same officer, I rolled down my window and tried to plead my case again. When he saw it was me, he wasn’t amused.
“GET OFF of the Interstate!” he bellowed. “If I find you on here again, I’m taking your license and giving you a $500 fine.”
If it had just been the fine, I might have risked it. But, losing my license was serious, so I decided to find a motel and wait it out. The first one that I came to was a Holiday Inn. The snow was so blinding that I could barely make out the lobby lights. As I pulled into the parking lot, I missed the driveway entirely, ran over a curb and through what I later found out to be a flower garden. I skidded to a stop near the front door. As I walked to the entrance, I noticed that there were only a half dozen cars parked, so I was sure finding a room wouldn’t be a problem.
“May I help you?” the desk clerk asked.
“I need a room. How much for the night?” I asked.
“A room with a King Size bed is $195,” he answered.
“How much is your cheapest room?”
“That would be $195.”
“For a Holiday Inn in the middle of nowhere. That’s ridiculous.”
“Not if you’re also in the middle of a whiteout.”
“I’m not paying it. I’ll go to that Hampton Inn down the road,” I threatened.
“Well first, I saw you drive in and you don’t have a prayer of leaving in that Ranger until the parking lot is plowed. Second, I know the clerk at the Hampton and their rate is even higher.”
“Watch me!” I said as I turned and left. The clerk just smiled.
The company that I worked for had a 24 hour travel line. I called them on my cell phone when I got back to the truck. “Please book a room for me tonight at the Hampton Inn in Richmond Indiana,” I requested.
“Absolutely, Jerry,” the agent replied pleasantly. After a minute she said, “You’re all set. Your rate is $89 and here’s your confirmation number.”
“Thanks!” I answered as I ended the call. Then I started to sweat a bit. I had the room, but getting there might be an issue. The clerk was an idiot, but he was right about Robby getting out of the parking lot. I started the truck, glanced at the bed full of snow, said a silent prayer, pulled the transmission into second and eased pressure on to the gas pedal. The tires slipped just a bit, but then caught traction as the weight of the snow did its job. Slowly, Robby started to move. The best chance I had to get out was to follow the tracks I’d laid as I came in. Back through the garden and over the curb I went as the desk clerk watched from the door with an astonished look.
I made it to the road and saw the sign for the Hampton in the distance. Five minutes of white knuckle driving later, I pulled into the Hampton Inn parking lot. This time, I’m pretty sure that I missed the flower garden. I walked into the lobby, stepped up to the desk and said, “I have reservations.”
“Great! The room rate is $205,” the clerk answered.
“Nope, I have a confirmation number and the rate is $89.”
“Oh, Ok,” the dejected clerk replied.
So, I stayed the night and left in the morning after the plows had made a couple of runs. The snow eased up by the time I got to Tennessee and the rest of the trip down was relatively uneventful. I even had a chance to have a snowball fight with a couple of kids at a gas station who were impressed with five hundred pounds of snow in the back of a pickup truck. Nine hours after leaving the motel, I delivered the presents, gave the kids a hug and headed back to Indiana. On Christmas Eve, forty three hours after I left, I pulled into the driveway at home. I wouldn’t have made it without Robby and a pickup bed full of snow.
So, when people start talking about the next massive snowstorm that’s on the way, remember that Snowmaggdon is relative.