By now I’m sure all of you have seen, heard or lived through the Day Atlanta Shut Down. I myself was not left unscathed by this mind boggling traffic nightmare. You see, over the weekend, newscasters had been talking about “snow” on Tuesday. I scoffed at this because I knew damn well we’d probably get a light dusting of the white stuff. Worst case scenario, schools would close at 6:24 a.m., right as I would be walking out the door for work.
It didn’t happen like that at all.
The weather guys said my area of town would maybe see an inch. The city and south of could see up to five inches. Tuesday morning, we all got dressed, packed lunches and headed out. No schools were closed, no snow had fallen. At the office, we trucked on and cracked jokes about the impending doom of SNOW. By ten a.m., there was nothing. Yet as I stood outside on break having a smoke, I knew. I grew up in the burbs of Detroit and there is an unmistakeable muffled sound that comes before a snowfall. I felt it on Tuesday morning. There were no birds, no wind, just that heavy muffled calm.
By 10:30, I got the automated voice mail from the school that they’d be closing up shop around one and if we could, please have all your kids in your car and out of their hair no later than two p.m. I told my boss and said I’d leave around noon. At a little after eleven, my coworkers were urging me to leave, as it was snowing thirty miles away.
I gave an eye roll, shut down for the day and hit the road.
It was a solid twenty five minute drive before I saw the first inclination of snow. Little tiny flurries floating about. I actually said, “Awww, look! Tiny southern snow!” By time I hit I-75, it was a full on blizzard, followed by a, “Holy shit.” Ahead of me were brake lights. I saw people driving, yet they were on their phones, panic rising upwards with hand motions. I looked at the clock and noticed it was just a little after noon.
Seeing the humor in the moment (and sitting on the interstate), I put a post up on Facebook that said:
It’s been snowing FIVE minutes and traffic is at a crawl. I love the south.
Little did I know, I would be spending the next eleven hours in my car.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Once I realized it may take me awhile to reach the school, I took inventory of what I had in my car: half a can of Diet Coke, my e-cig, five pieces of nicorette gum, a nearly full tank of gas, no CD’s (in the trunk) and four home made cake pops that my girlfriend Ilene had made for MD.
Looking back at the clock, I figured worst case scenario, I’d make it to the school after two pm. Actually, I reached the exit right around 2pm. It was also about a mile before this exit, that I realized I had to go pee. Bad. There is nothing worse, and I mean nothing, than having to take a piss and being stuck in a car. My husband called to check in with me and I was in near tears. He kept asking if I was okay. My only response was, “I don’t know if I should pee my pants or not. Do you think I should? Oh my God, I’m really going to pee.” He assured me I would make it to the school in time to use their facilities.
As I was sitting on the exit ramp, I realized I was really, truly, going to piss myself.
And right at the moment I was about to give up, I looked over in my cup holder and saw that someone didn’t toss out their large frappachino cup. Seeing that I wasn’t going anywhere, I put the car in park and thought about my strategy. I looked over to the car on my left. Their windows were fogged up, so I knew I was good. Draping my coat over my lap, I pushed the driver seat back, yanked my pants down and pissed in a plastic cup. Sure, this is probably a little too much information, but these are the hard cold facts people. This is also where I realized I should invest in a Shewee for future travels.
My parents checked in on me and I spent the afternoon chatting with friends via text. I decided to use my time stuck in the car to keep a comical record of my journey home. That and I figured my parents would be frantically checking facebook to make sure I was still alive. Some of my friends had already made it home (jerks. Kidding, I still love yous) and family in Northern states had made our plight the butt of their jokes (as well as many other news outlets and social media posts). There were comical photos comparing the Snowjam to the intro to The Walking Dead (it’s spot on, trust me). I was very aware that the panic inside every vehicle was exactly what it would feel like to be in a real life apocalyptic evacuation (I’ve since decided that we will not evacuate on roads for any future apocalyptic adventures).
Eventually I reached MD’s school. SIX HOURS AFTER LEAVING WORK.
Sure, I thought about leaving my car on the shoulder of the road and walking the rest of the three miles. However, everyone who made it to my location hours before me had the same idea. I was essentially trapped in the right hand lane for hours. At one point, I was so thirsty, I was eating snow off the roof of my car. I graciously saved one of those cake pops Ilene made for Md. When I finally parked my car in the school lot and walked in, I was greeted warmly. The first thing they asked was my son’s name. The first thing I asked them was where could I find the bathroom.
After being reunited with my son and gathering an armful of snacks, the principal urged us to stay the night in the gym. I refused (graciously, of course). I was on a mission at that point. Md’s school is maybe nine miles from our house. I would spend the next five hours trying to get there.
While doing so, I picked up one of Md’s school mates and her Mom. Their car was stuck in the snow and the school mate was wearing her P.E. uniform (SHORTS and hoodie). I told them our location and noting that we hadn’t moved in thirty minutes, that they could surely find us in time. From there, we all kept each others spirits up by cracking jokes and pointing out the people we knew who were walking… somewhere else. Here’s a small list of what I noticed:
Sheets as coats were all the rage on Tuesday.
Blankets as coats were also popular.
I saw people making snow angels on the median of a major interstate.
I wasn’t the only one pissing in a cup.
People were leaving their cars, going to get food and coming back.
People were also leaving their cars and not coming back.
No one was fighting.
No one seemed furious.
This was a pretty popular photo:
People were helping each other either by: providing food, laughter, kitty litter, a shove to help move a car or to use their phones. I’ve read several stories about people opening their homes to strangers and businesses staying open to provide shelter (mad props to Kroger, Publix, Whole Foods, CVS and local liquor stores).
The kids thought it was fun to get out of the car and walk to Walgreens to buy snacks and drinks. I thought it was fun to drink ice cold water that wasn’t snow from the roof of my car. By time we reached my neighborhood, it was eleven p.m. We were tired, hungry and getting slightly cranky. We emerged from the car victorious. Stretching our limbs, we snapped a quick photo under the street lamp and headed in. Also note, my husband kicks ass. He had warmed up sliced ham, made tacos, had snacks and drinks ready for us all. Once inside, I quickly ran upstairs and grabbed pajama pants for our young guest who had been wearing shorts and cozy socks for the Mom who had braved the elements in ballet flats.
Wednesday morning, I woke up to watch the news.
It was non stop.
Government officials pointing fingers, passing blame, giving excuses.
There was one baby born on I-285.
Facebook groups that cropped up in the midst of it all, pairing strangers with strangers, all who helped one another in some form or fashion.
And of course, the collective “What.the hell.” that the rest of the nation gasped simultaneously. Atlanta is the ninth largest city in America. Three inches of snow crippled us in a matter of forty five minutes. In all fairness, that snow instantly melted with all the traffic, which then flash froze into ice. Ice is a whole different beast itself. Yet, let’s just not get into it.
There are countless articles and photos popping up all over the internet in regards to all of this. You can google them if you’d like. I, for one, have read most of them and they are all very well said. It’s not that we don’t know how to drive in the snow down here. I’d actually like to believe we do. The problem comes when you have a mass exodus of over one million people. Many trying to get home to children, pick up kids, get medication, have babies, etc, so forth and so on.
Am I upset that our city was ill prepared? Yes. Am I embarrassed for our city officials? No. They had fair warning, to which they dismissed. For eleven hours, I was stuck in my car. Yes, that’s true. However, I took that time to really just… be. I watched the snow fall, I watched strangers become friends, I laughed hysterically at the fact that I was pissing in a cup (not once, but three times) and that I have never felt so much love from all over.
With that being said, I hope that we are better prepared for the next “snowstorm.” At least, that’s what everyone is hoping for. Seeing that the Mayor said we would be ready for this one when it happened back in 2011.
And now, I’ll leave you with the greatest quote from this whole mess:
“The road is somewhat slushy right now. That means the sun is working!” – 11 Alive Newscaster.