Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mother Naure, Courage, Humanity

Yesterday I went out for a lunch with a fellow jewelry maker. It was wonderful. We talked and laughed and shared information. And had I known that it would be almost the last food (and water) I'd have for 12 hours, I might have eaten a bigger meal. ~wry smile~

I left the restaurant at 2 pm, and that's when my own personal nightmare (and a nightmare for millions of others) began. I couldn't get out of the area where the restaurant was located. Cars were totally gridlocked at all exits. I sat for THREE HOURS straight and managed to travel about 1 mile. Why? Because it was snowing...


As innocuous as that sounds, I was in Atlanta. We were having a massive storm. And I was unfortunate enough to be right in the midst of the city's logjam. The snow came down thick and fast until about 8 pm that night, and around 1 pm all the city's schools decided to close early, the businesspeople were leaving to go home, and weather-related accidents were starting to happen. My local readers will understand exactly what I'm talking about (I know some of you were caught in this as well).

I finally turned the car around when the section of road going the other direction opened up a bit, and traveled about two miles. By now it was around 5 pm and streets were looking pretty slushy. I knew it was going to get REALLY ugly once it got darker and colder; everything would turn to sheets of ice. But I couldn't go anywhere. Less than ten miles from home and absolutely trapped in the sea of cars that also sat, idling, frozen, (you might say) in place.

By 6 p.m. I was thinking that I might have to sleep in the car. It was THAT bad. And it showed no signs of improving. I'd given up trying to get to the freeway, trying instead go home on surface streets. I know that they are usually more treacherous, but I was hoping to get out of the gridlock. Unfortunately there WAS no "out of the gridlock". Between 6 and 8 p.m. I was in laser-focus mode, alternately creeping and sliding through the hilly streets, eyeballing the other cars skidding in my direction, looking for parts of roadway with less icy areas, where there was still some crunchy snow. I'd break free from sitting in a line of cars and go ten, twenty feet, only to be blocked by another line of cars. I also hadn't eaten, had no water, hadn't gone to the bathroom, and was worried about running out of gas.

Around 8 p.m. I was stuck in another line of cars, and considering parking on the side of the road. I was stopped at a flat area and I figured it was at least a place where I could get out in the morning. But I really, really didn't want to sleep in my car if at all possible. I would have tried to walk home (as so many others did) but I was still five miles away and I knew I didn't have a five-mile walk  - in twenty degree weather - in me. So I stayed put. Eventually the line of cars started moving again, and I crept forward. I skidded around the banks of the Chattahoochee River, telling myself "don't skid to the right!" as I eyed the water. I watched the cars ahead of me fishtail. My GPS tried to take me through a subdivision, but I knew if I got onto those roads I'd never get back out. I needed to stay on the most traversed streets, so I continued on, even though doing so took me further from home. 

I stopped at the bottom of a wicked hill that wast my next turn, and I watched three other cars attempt it, start fishtailing, then turn around s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y and head back. I really thought that might be where I spent the night. I wasn't going back, but I wasn't sure I could go forward. Two more intrepid souls attempted the hill and they made it! I watched where they started, how they angled the car, when they hit the gas...and I took my shot....and I, too, made it. I crested the hill and inched onward, creeping and crawling, skidding and braking.

Even when traffic gridlock wasn't an issue, the streets looked like this (that's the road, on the right side of the photo). Total ice.

I came to a crossroads...Holcomb Bridge, the main road that would take me home. Left was the way I needed to go. But it was packed with cars. By then it was after 9 pm and I didn't have it in me to sit in another line of cars - I was still four miles from the house and this line was massive. So I looked right. The road was mostly deserted, but I'd have to get up BIG hill. The biggest one I'd encountered so far. I wasn't sure I'd manage that...but I did. I got up the hill, passed an abandoned delivery truck, ran a red light (I needed the momentum), and made the next turn. Which brought me to the high school near my home. Three miles now. I was facing another crazy turn - a left followed by a quick right, because I was going into another hill immediately after the left turn and would again, need momentum. Tricky...but there was already a car ahead of me, skidding and sliding and finally, stuck in the middle of the intersection. I couldn't go through the intersection with that car there. So I thought to myself,"Well, I'm in an SUV. The snow in the median doesn't look too deep..." and before I could think about it further, I hit the gas. Front wheels over the median, all four wheels on the median, front wheels off the median, and then I was past it!

The next two miles were relatively peaceful (lack of traction notwithstanding!); streets were wide, with very few cars on the road, and I wasn't skidding too much. I started thinking that I might actually make it home (or close enough to finally walk). And then I got to a mile from home and had to stop. I was at the bottom of another hill, on a narrow road, and it was just littered with cars, both those abandoned in the street and those with drivers who were still trying to get home. I watched an SUV attempt to go up the hill, but it was blocked by the cars trying to come down, and it started sliding backwards. I realized that this was my last stop. I just wasn't going to make it any further in the car.

This is the kind of navigating I am talking about. Not much room for managing your sliding and skidding...

So I pulled my car over to a flat area, hoping it would be far enough out of the way that no one would end up sliding into it once I left. The distance to home was one mile. The walk I regularly take around my neighborhood (sans snow, of course) is just under two miles. I knew the area and terrain. I'd be chilly, but if I got home, I'd have some dinner, some water, a bathroom, and my own bed. I started bundling myself up and grabbing anything I thought I needed, and while I was getting ready, two men began taking charge of the hill traffic. They held up the traffic at the top so the people at the bottom could go through, and then let the top cars come down.  So I got in line to go up, and I made it through. I can't tell you how I felt when I crested the hill and KNEW I could get to the church parking lot across the street from my subdivision. Which I did. And then I walked the quarter-ish mile home. I had on boots, but they didn't have any traction, so I very carefully navigated the street and then kept to the snow covered lawns to make it home - my neighborhood is very hilly and I didn't want to slip on the hills now that I was so close.

When I saw the house I nearly cried. I opened the garage door and I think that was the first time I'd taken a deep breath in nine hours. HOME!

It was 11 p.m.

I had spent 8.5 hours in the car, and half an hour walking, to navigate what is normally a twenty minute drive.

I have never been so happy to come home in my life.


So. It's an understatement to say that I didn't enjoy my day. It was awful. It was stressful. I hope to never, ever, have to do that again. But I learned a lot about myself:

First, that I have more fortitude than I thought I did. I nearly gave up on my travels several times. But I was really motivated to get home if at all possible. I was fortunate that there were no wrecks to block my way, no abandoned cars blocking the road so fully that I couldn't navigate through.

Many of my blog readers know that I'm from Arizona; I've never really driven in ice and snow. I tried to use common sense, I watched what other drivers did, what worked and what didn't work, and emulated the actions that worked. I laid on the gas to get up the hills even though I was afraid of skidding. I crept, foot cramped on the brake, infinitesimally down the big hills to try and minimize sliding.

Several times I was at a literal crossroads and had to just make a gut decision to try or not to try. I worried about going into the water, skidding off hilly roads into nothingness, and smashing into other cars (or them smashing into me). I was tired, sore, hungry, thirsty (the only things in the car were some leftover sunflower seeds of my husband's from a previous road trip, and - don't ask - a bottle of champagne, of which I eventually drank about a third). I had no bathroom break for nine hours. But at no point was I ready to quit. Which doesn't mean I didn't think about it. But each time I thought, "I'll just try to go a little further" and I was fortunate to get further, until I was close enough to continue on foot.

It's not the most courageous thing anyone's ever done, not by any means. But for me it took a lot of courage to continue, to persevere when I thought I couldn't. To believe in myself that I could actually get where I needed to go. If I hadn't, it wouldn't have been a personal failure - there were a lot of circumstances out of my control. Many others didn't make it home that night, and they DID sleep in their cars (or churches, or schools, or hotels, or others' homes). That's not their failure either; they did the best they could with what they had. Some of them were less fortunate than I. I'm not kidding myself - I know that I was very, very lucky to have gotten all the way home.

But I am proud of not giving up. For setting myself a plan and sticking to it until I had to make another plan. For being adaptable when I needed to adapt.

And I can tell you that it would have been a lot worse without my husband, my mom, my ATL girls (one whose husband was also stuck out on the road most of the night), who texted, called, Facebooked, and checked in on me regularly. They offered me their houses, updated me on the news, kept me sane and made me laugh. It would have been a lot less tolerable without them. My peeps: you all were so wonderful, thank you!!

I also want to recognize the total strangers who were a part of my journey. I wish I knew your names:

- the kids who stood out on Chamblee Dunwoody and urged motorists to use more momentum going up the long hill

- the stranded motorists on Eves Road who yelled and gestured and told me to "keep going, don't slow down, go, go go" as I climbed that crazy hill

- the two men I mentioned earlier who managed the traffic on Old Alabama, helping more of us to get, if not home, at least closer to our destinations

- the woman who, when I finally parked the car in the church parking lot and started walking, yelled "the church is open if you want to get warm!"

- and the people out for a stroll in my neighborhood, who yelled, "you okay, sweetie?" as I was plodding my way home. I told them I was. It wasn't a lie. :)

I am touched by the kindness of these random strangers. And all day today, while the city struggled, the people of Georgia went out into the streets, onto the frozen freeways, bringing water and food and blankets and medicine and god knows what else to those who didn't get home last night. Who might not be home still. Bless them all. Shining examples of humanity doing what it does best. I'm not a Southerner, but I can tell you I've never been prouder to be living here.

Carry on, all y'all. I love you even more than I did before.


  1. Wow what a day you had! Glad you got home safely...eventually :)

  2. Thanks so much! I'm glad it's becoming a distant memory. This week is looking MUCH better. :)