18 Hours to Home

Feb 1 2014

by Pamela Mason

It was a beautiful Monday – a bright and balmy 50*. The weatherman on my news station said there was a a possibility of a wintry mix, a dusting of snow from the monster storm to our west. But it was heading across the gulf coast to the south of us. I shrugged it off and planned for a ho-hum, run of the mill Tuesday.

That was my first mistake.

5:30 a.m. Tuesday morning my radio alarm went off with the news station’s weatherman saying, “We won’t know what’s going to happen until it happens. We’re watching this system closely, but it’s too close to call.” The tv weatherman announced a “wintry mix, a light dusting”. And the traffic patterns were green, and green means go, right? I poured coffee in my insulated mug and took off for the Y’s pool and aqua-robics.

Sometime around 10 a.m. another mermaid in the pool (we call ourselves mermaids ‘cos we can) announced “Look! Snow’s here!” Nobody panicked; we didn’t think this “light dusting” of southern snow would stick. We continued with our cardio and those who were done for the day left the pool. I stayed another 90 minutes for laps and Tai Chi. And a shower. And I had to dry my hair – it’s cold outside!

When I left the Y, I could tell from the stormy sky and the flying snowflakes and the slow moving train of automobiles struggling up the slight incline that a) I needed to pay better attention to the weather and b) I had to get home asap and finally c) this was going to be s l o w. First I called my husband to get himself on that bus and git home!, and then I called a friend who had heard a different forecaster say this would be bad but went into work anyway.

Here in Atlanta when you’re talking about snow, it’s just like my radio weatherman said – you don’t know what will happen ’til it happens. Well, this time it happened.

It took twenty minutes to make one block and turn left onto the highway – and I didn’t stop to wait for the green arrow. I made a snap decision to take a secondary road – a short cut through a neighborhood that could leave me stranded or get me closer to home faster.

I was lucky. I managed to follow school buses and trucks with monster tires (thank you redneck neighbors) that cleared lanes on the snow covered asphalt. But my windshield wipers were icing up; every swipe smeared ice across the windshield.

I didn’t realize that I was driving on a sheet of ice covered with snow until it was almost too late.
The highways leading to my house vary from well traveled two lane throughways with turn lanes in the center, woods and ditches to each side, to commercial multi-laned highways (that had clogged with traffic by now). I crept up to the crest of one familiar road, peering through the clearer part of my windshield down to the parking lot of cars ahead. They sat. As in, They. Didn’t. Move. In either direction.

No doubt that line of cars contained parents picking up students from the middle school there. But not all – some of us were fighting the same streak of ice that had my rear tires fishtailing. I pulled my emergency brake, put my car in reverse, and pulled out of the ice onto the opposing lane. I stalled out in the middle of the street. Let me tell you, the sound of a spinning rear tire, the sideways slip and slide of my Kia, the image passing through my mind of tripping off the shoulder and falling assbackwards into a ditch, makes me sweat in freezing temperatures.

I admit it – I turned into a cussin’ and crying, panicky puddle. There’s no telling what I would have been had I not done Tai Chi an hour earlier. And then I straightened up and urged my car off to the side.
My next effort on the main road produced the same result – ice patch, spinning wheels, slipping backwards, tears. A young man walked up from behind and approached my window. “You’re okay,” he said. “No I’m not! I’m slipping backwards!” boohoohoohoo…. Honestly, this was my very first time driving in snow. Southern here. Cut me some slack.

Calm Guy walked around to take a look. “Naah. Y’got plenty of room.” Another young man approached from out of nowhere and exchanged words with Calm Guy. Together they put shoulders against my Kia’s tail lights and pushed. My Angels.

Now I was on another sheet of ice, but I managed (read: gripped the steering wheel, pushed my body forward, and yes-I-admit-it-I-yelled-out-loud-to-my-car to MOVE!) a controlled slide this time, in the right direction to the intersection where I finally gained traction. It took three different tries at three different routes to finally make it home. When I pulled into my garage I’d never seen a prettier mess.

The tv news showed one high schooler’s car sunken in slush after crashing into a fire hydrant, school buses in ditches, and streams of red tail lights on parked cars on all the interstates that criss cross Georgia. Tired teachers with four hundred children stranded in school gymnasiums overnight, panicked parents looking for their kids, frustrated truck drivers fussing about the lack of roadsalt.
All. Night. Long.

At four p.m. my husband got on his regular bus headed out of midtown Atlanta. (We call downtown “midtown” and midtown “Buckhead” here. That’s not necessary to the story but I thought you’d like to know.) Thank Jesus he has the motto of a Boy Scout ingrained in his mind – Be Prepared. He’d bought a bottle of water, a pack of crackers, and a blueberry muffin. And another reason to thank God – a good friend sat next to him. Company.We stayed in contact through the night – well, until he told me at 2:58 a.m to quit texting so he could sleep.Now I’ve learned he was really out of the bus to take a pee break. Hey, human stuff – You spend the night on a public transit bus, you get real human.

It was 7 a.m. when the bus driver managed to move the wheels forward again. Semis and tractor trailers ahead had fishtailed earlier, forcing authorities to close exit lanes. Cars were abandoned in the center lanes with engines running, as if their drivers had been raptured. They were really walking to the nearest gas station for warmth and water and a restroom. Not necessarily in that order.

I’d like to thank the skilled bus driver for keeping his wits under eighteen hours of pressure, keeping his passengers safe and calm, and taking a back road to skip over an iced interstate bridge that could have left them still in the bus and on I20 with half a bottle of water and a smushed blueberry muffin.
Hungry, thirsty, and buttnumb.

For my husband to get home it took a total of eighteen hours – including an hour for a normally fifteen minute trip home from the park n’ ride. He had to park at the top of our hill to avoid an abandoned car that was snuggled up to a fire hydrant and walk the rest of the way home.

I met him on the sidewalk, halfway to our house. I took hold of his tired face and kissed him, held his hand, and together we walked through the snow.



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One response on “18 Hours to Home

  1. whitneylong

    Thanks for sharing this story of your Storm Leo experience. Felt like I was there. So thankful for a happy (though tired and cold) ending!

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