Okay, okay, so I may be the only person on the eastern seaboard who had no knowledge of the impending blizzard before Friday morning when Sam Champion informed me of its doomful trajectory on Good Morning America.
I was scurrying about my apartment and loading my car for my trip to New York. It seemed like I would be able to get just ahead of the storm - at least that's what I thought as I tossed the bag of Christmas gifts and my assorted belongings in my all-wheel-drive Subaru.
In Nashville it was only raining, and rain really doesn't seem that threatening. I remained calm in my travels until in one swift moment the rain turned into snow somewhere in eastern Tennessee, a situation that I can confidently tell you the state of Tennessee has no ability whatsoever to deal with. In one terrifying moment, I had the realization that I would see no plows or salt trucks. I was on my own on I40, and then I81.
"Don't worry," I told myself, "You'll be in Virginia soon and they're bound to deal with snow better than Tennessee." The only problem was they didn't. As the snow accumulated and what minimal daylight there was in the white out conditions evaporated, there were no plows, no salters, no lane lines, and eventually no guard rails visible to the naked eye. Cars were spinning out, going over embankments, facing the wrong direction and there were only sporadic streetlights along the interstate. Eventually it became like driving blindfolded. You couldn't tell if you were on the road or going to fly off it into a ditch. You couldn't pull off onto the shoulder of the road because there was no way of telling where the shoulder was. Nor was there a way of seeing exit off ramps.
I prayed, I skidded, I flew clear across all the lanes, and at one point as my car was nearly perpendicular to the highway I am quite certain that it was no longer me steering and straightening my car to face the proper direction.
That Friday, if you had been on the road in Virginia and come out unscathed, you too would know with absolute certainty that there is a God.
When I finally saw an exit I could make the off ramp of, I had no idea where I was. All I knew was that I was in Virginia and I was not near the halfway point in Roanoke where I had made a hotel reservation for that night.
I had been traveling for eleven hours. The first hotel I tried had no vacancies. Then I got back in my car on a dark snowy road and it occurred to me that I might be sleeping in my car. That's when I nearly became hysterical. I say "nearly" because hysteria really wasn't a luxury I had time for at that moment. I had to find a place. So I went to a Motel 8 or Super 8 Motel or whatever it's called. I walked in the tiny lobby and it smelled like Indian food. The guy behind the desk whom I'll call "Sanjaya" for lack of being P.C. at the moment, said they just had a cancellation from someone who couldn't get there, so I had a room. "Hallelujah!" I said either to myself or out loud, I'm not really certain. And I proceeded to drive to the one parking spot that was left.
As I trudged to my room through the snow, it occurred to me that I didn't know how I would get back out. There was nearly a foot of snow already and it was still coming down pretty heavily. I had no shovel, no snow brush, and no idea where I was, other than at a motel somewhere off of I81 in Virginia. I didn't care though. I got inside where it was warm and dry and I could stop driving. I also had no food. What were the chances that this place served some kind of breakfast? I called. "Oh yes, we serve breakfast from six until ten," Sanjaya told me.
When 7am rolled around I headed for the tiny lobby. Stale Raisin Bran and a bagel that looked like it had been purchased in 1987 were what passed for breakfast. I ate the cereal and took the bagel with me for later. After all, it might end up being lunch and dinner too, so no time to be finicky.
Sanjaya, who was still there from the night before, informed me that the interstate was closed. "Oh my God," I thought, "I'm going to end up staying here two nights." He gave me the phone # for Virginia's traffic info and I went back to my room. I called it and called it, hoping for a different outcome than that the interstate was closed. When has an interstate ever been closed? Does that even happen?
I decided to watch TV and take a shower. I kept looking at my car, buried in snow. I decided that I should clear it off just in case I could get out. Minus a shovel and snow brush, my gloved hands cleared off the car itself, and my trusty feet literally kicked away two tire paths to try to back out.
I called again to check the traffic. I81 was re-opened, with the warning to expect massive delays and if possible not to drive it. After considering the options, I decided to leave and so I bid a fond farewell to Sanjaya, who did not lend me his shovel, and I headed out.
In seven hours I drove sixty miles. (I know, you're pondering the reality of that right now.) I ended up going to the hotel I was supposed to have been at the night before in Roanoke. So in a total of 19 car bound hours in two days, I had only gone 450 miles, a distance I normally travel in eight hours.
Upon my arrival, Quality Inn honored my original on line price that I was supposed to have from the night before. I thought that was a classy thing to do. The bad part was, aside from the stale bagel I ate in my car, I hadn't had a meal. There was a Burger King in the gas station that I passed, but I overheard Randy, the Quality Inn guy at the desk say that they had just closed and that no restaurants in the area were opened. The only place left was a Papa John's Pizza that would still be open and deliver for the next hour. Hotel guests seemed to appear out of nowhere and we all placed a big order which the hotel paid the delivery fees for. Again, Quality Inn is totally scoring the points with me. I ordered with 3 other ladies, and when the pizza arrived more than an hour later, instead of taking our individual pieces and going to our rooms, we all congregated in the room that they served breakfast in in the mornings.
I sat with 3 lovely ladies. Rachel, a college student who was forced to abandon her car on the side of the road, Kathy, a church-going lady whose reason for being there I never quite ascertained, and Melanie, a divorced court house worker who got stuck trying to get back home after dropping her son with his father with whom she shared custody.
We each told our respective blizzard tales and laughed, fully appreciating the moment, our safety, and the opportunity to have met and enjoy each other if even for this brief moment in time.
Then I went back to my room and passed out, appreciating that my car didn't have to be dug out and I was some place familiar that I could actually name. Tomorrow would be another day and another opportunity to try to get home to NY.
I awoke at seven and scrambled to eat breakfast and grab as many items from the breakfast bar as were portable. I knew enough to know that I might be stuck for hours on end and not get home for yet another day.
A half hour into my drive on day three of my travels, I found myself yet again stopped dead on I81. Parked. For an hour and a half. I called my father to tell him not to expect me today either. It was only 8:45am and I wasn't going anywhere. What were the odds I'd even get out of Virginia? Not good, I tell you.
Eventually we began to move. Then we stopped. Then we moved. Then we totally stopped. Hours and hours passed. I pressed on. "If only I could make it to Pennsylvania," I thought. Eventually, we really began moving and the road conditions improved. I drove and I drove and I drove, and at 3:30p.m. after a brief pass through of West Virginia and Maryland, I entered the great state of Pennsylvania. Road conditions had improved as I got further north into states that actually owned snow plows and knew how to use them.
I tried to assess whether I really had the stamina to make it an estimated five more hours, the least amount of time it would take me if I kept moving steadily with no unforeseen snafus. I wanted to get to New York so badly that I called my father and told him I was going for it.
I stopped once for gas and to finally get something to eat before immediately heading back on the road. And in five more hours, as projected, I pulled into my father's driveway. I no longer had feeling in my legs. I had been in the car for twelve and a half hours that day.
So to recap - I was in my car driving a total of thirty-one hours over three days to go 950 miles. But I am here, I am safe, and I have no desire to drive anywhere for a while.
Thanks for stopping by and listening to my tale of the Blizzard of '09. Stay safe wherever your own travels take you, and...always have a stash of food in your car.