J A Garrett

Curiously nerdy posts.

Snow Jam ’14: Or how I survived a Georgia Blizzard.

I usually just cover my thoughts on fiction here, but I figured in this case, a slice of real life was far more interesting than anything I could read. Tuesday was one of the worst and weirdest days of my life so far, and I felt like I should share my experiences to those who weren’t here, who don’t understand why it happened.

To preface: I live in Atlanta, Georgia (it would be more accurate to say one of the suburbs, but whatever). I work at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In a lot of aspects, I’m just your average guy who has a 40 hour work week, and passions on the side. I have also never driven in ice before, even if my parents (who moved here from Philadelphia) have given me advice on how to handle it.

 

Life imitates art sometimes.

My day started the same way many of them do: with me hitting the snooze button on my alarm twice, before finally grumbling my way out of bed. I turned on the TV to the local news station, and ate a pop tart and washed it down with a cup of juice. The local meteorologist had the same story she’d been saying for days – We’re getting snow, all of our simulations show it, but we currently have no idea how much. All we know is that it’s going to start around 1 or 2 PM. Then and there, I knew that my ride home was going to be difficult. But there was no helping it, or avoiding it. I had a very important meeting to attend at work that day, and missing it over the threat of snow wasn’t an option. Putting on my blue dress shirt, black slacks, and black dress shoes, I took extra steps of caution and put on my thick wool coat, fleece lined hat and gloves, and a scarf.

The drive to work was completely normal. The first half of the day, in fact, was completely normal. Business as usual, as I checked basic operations, took a snapchat pic on my phone to wish my fiancee a good morning, and updated my building database.

Minutes after my 11:15 meeting began, one of our faculty members poked his head in the door. “Just an FYI,” he said in his Memphis drawl, “Tech is closing at 1:30.” We all nodded our acknowledgement, and started discussing our big international competition that happens in late February. I didn’t do much talking at all… since I was the new guy, all I could do was listen and nod in acknowledgement whenever a responsibility that sounded like it would soon be mine popped up in conversation. But still, I knew it was important to be there, even if there were times I felt like an ornament more than an actual worker.

Right around noon, snow started falling. And these weren’t errant flakes… it looked like Tech was suddenly inside a snow globe. One of our professors got a call mid-meeting to come pick up his kids ASAP from Daycare. Another lady got the call to go get her son. The second the meeting was over, they all scrambled out. Me? I had just taken half the day off the day before to handle some personal matters. I wasn’t going to cut and run until Tech officially closed, I decided. Little did I know what a costly decision that would prove to be. Students remained in the building as if they had nowhere else to go. Once the time came, I interrupted my boss, the department chair in a practice room, where he was tutoring students on the piano and how to read music. Even though his job is primarily that of an academic politician, he still loves to teach when he can. I asked him if he wanted me to shoo all the students out, since we were closing. “No need,” he said. “I plan on staying here teaching another hour, and then I’m going to stay until 5, load up my van, and get going to a educator’s conference.” “Alright, well I suppose I’ll go take my place in the gridlock,” I said jokingly. My boss is normally a very upbeat, jovial man, but today his face didn’t even flicker with a smile. “Oh, good luck with that,” he replied. “It’s pointless to get on the roads now.”

Little did I know how accurate his assessment would prove to be.

Didn’t take long to know I was in trouble.

My first hint that things were bad came quickly… I didn’t even get out of the parking lot before I noticed that Hemphill Avenue, my usual route out of campus, was completely full of traffic. This had never happened before. But I pressed forward. What choice did I have? I pushed my way into the main line of traffic. Almost a full hour passed before I even got onto Northside Drive, a mile away from campus. I inched forward every couple of minutes, with only the radio to keep me company. It would prove to be one of the few bright spots of my day… 97.1 The River played nothing but classic rock hits to keep me sane. The DJ mentioned that traffic was awful because EVERYONE had been let out of school, work, etc at the exact same time, and Atlanta’s roads simply could not withstand the volume. “Just sit tight if you can,” he said. “Once the school traffic gets home, traffic should get a little better. But still really bad.” Now, I love Steve Craig. I’ve been listening to him on the radio since I was in high school a decade ago. You can hum the first few bars to almost any rock song, and he can immediately tell you who played it. But he was dead wrong on traffic. It wasn’t going to get any better. In fact, it would only get worse.

I kept in contact with my close friend and neighbor, Jennifer, the whole drive. She also works at Tech, but had left an hour before I did. She gave me updates on the roads ahead that proved invaluable. It took her 4 hours to get home. She told me that the big hill close by the mall where I live was particularly treacherous, and her wheels had spun quite a bit. I wasn’t looking forward to that in the slightest, not even in my rental car.* Later on, I would realize that it was wishful thinking for me to even make it that far.

*My car was in the body shop being repaired after being hit the month before… guess I’m lucky it’s getting fixed now, as body shops all over Atlanta will be ridiculously busy for a long time to come.

My parents also called after me, and of course my fiancee did as well. She called the most, god bless her, checking to see if I was all right. After about 5 hours in traffic, she finally just said “Why don’t you just park somewhere and walk the rest of the way? If you’d just walked from work, you would’ve been home by now!” But I stubbornly kept pushing forward. The distance wasn’t what daunted me… the bitter cold and the fact that while my upper body was sufficiently protected, only a thin layer covered my legs and feet was what gave me pause from doing that.

But once the sun went down, it wasn’t an option to keep driving anymore. See, one misnomer about this entire situation was this… it was NOT one inch of snow. It was a nasty mix of icy slush that stuck to the asphalt almost immediately. By the time I got close to the hill Jennifer had mentioned, the traffic had dispersed, and I quickly learned why. The highway had turned into an uphill slope completely covered in untreated ice. Every couple of feet that I tried to cover, my car suddenly wanted to go sideways. Eventually I got honest with myself… I wasn’t getting any further. Not in my underpowered 4 cylinder car. I quickly taught myself how to handle the car in ice, and used a controlled spin to U-turn and go into a Kroger parking lot. From there, I slid into an open parking space, and parked it there. That was as far as I was getting by car that night. 7 hours, and I had only gone 7 miles in it. Bundling myself up, I took a deep breath, called Jennifer to basically say “I’m walking, and if you don’t hear from me in like an hour saying I’m home, I’m probably in deep trouble.

I’ve walked several miles in a day before, many times. But the reality was that I hadn’t eaten anything, or taken in any liquids in over 8 hours. I had no idea what my physical limits were at that point. All I knew was that if I was going to get home, I was going to get there on foot.

What I saw as I walked looked like something out of a disaster movie. People were spinning out in their cars, panicking and just pushing their cars engines to failure while getting nowhere. People were getting out and pushing in the hopes of getting just a little bit farther, or getting their vehicles out of harm’s way. Cars would just slide out of control, and slam into other abandoned cars before sliding on. I saw more and more people walking. I passed a mother with an infant in a stroller who was crying uncontrollably. I think everyone else felt the same way. Why were we all out when we knew it was coming? I wondered idly. Then I remembered: because none of us had a choice. It’s not like anyone thought it would come so soon.

I coached myself like my own personal drill Sargent. Keep your feet at a steady pace, stick the snow and not ice, work your fingers to keep them loose. I used techniques I’d learned from DDP Yoga to keep my heartrate high, and my body warm.

2 miles later, I ran into Jennifer and her fiancee, who had brought me another coat and two scarves to help warm me up more. We walked over the bridge, and saw what a disaster Highway 285 was.

Just to remove any doubt, none of these vehicles were moving.

It was 9:30 by the time I finally got home. It was two days later before I got my car back. Some people are still without their vehicles. Some had to sleep in theirs. Others slept in stores, and gas stations. Children were stranded in schools. Georgia had a State of Emergency. There’s lots of fingers being pointed at whose fault it is, why it happened, etc. It doesn’t matter, really. It seemed almost inevitable.

The basic gist of what I want to say is…. it was not just snow. Georgia is not equipped to handle any winter weather. And I have lived a week of my life I shall NEVER forget.

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This entry was posted on January 30, 2014 by in it's personal. and tagged , , , , , , , .
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