We knew it was coming. The night before the weather service said there would be snow and the temperatures would be in the teens. I went to bed that night sure I was not going to work the next day. I knew how the roads would be in Atlanta, and I worked in Kennesaw, a 50 mile one way drive from my home. Yep, I was staying home.
But then I woke the next morning. My job at the time was a pressure cooker. I knew that two of my colleagues that lived on the same side of town as I did would make it into work, and my bosses would question why I didn’t. So against my better judgement and all my instincts I got up, dressed as warm as I could, stopped by the gas station to fill up, then set off to work. But I had a plan. The snow was supposed to hit around noon, so I was going to leave at 10:00 am. That gave me a two-hour head start. I’d be at home in bed snug as a bug in a rug when we got slammed. (Worst plan ever.)
Except that didn’t happen. By 10:00 am I was deep into a project at work. No one acted as if anything was going on. It was 11:00 am when one of my coworkers came into the building and said, ‘It’s snowing!’
I jumped into action. I shut everything down and sprinted to the parking lot. Sure enough, the white stuff was falling. I started the van, and that’s when the adventure began. It usually took me twenty minutes to get from my job to I-75. It took two hours. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. See, apparently everybody else in Atlanta had my plan. Every last one of us were trying to get on the highway and get home at the same time.
To my surprise the highway wasn’t crowded. But it was snow covered and the driving was . . . interesting. I drove as slow as I could, occasionally sliding, but nothing serious. I eased through the I-75/I-285 interchange and kept driving. The closer I got to home, the better I felt. I was going to make it!
As I passed by the Cascade Road exit, my hopes faded. There was a huge pileup ahead of me. That slight incline had become a treacherous hill because of the snow and ice. But I still had hope. I weaved between stalled cars and trucks, making my way through. But then I ran into a solid wall of vehicles. There was no way I could get by. I knew if I stopped driving, I wouldn’t be able to regain traction, but I had no choice. So I stopped. And I stayed right there for the next 24 hours.
It could have been worse, actually. I had a full tank of gas, I was dressed warmly, and I had my laptop and phone. I called my wife to let her know my situation then I hunkered down. Using my wifi hotspot, I logged in and chatted with my friends. They were great. They kept me distracted from the situation as I waited for the National Guard the governor promised that never arrived. As it got dark, I began to worry, not so much for me, but for my fellow drivers. Folks were running out of gas, having to shut off their cars. As I looked around, most weren’t dressed for the weather. It got down to 17 degrees F that night. And I was hungry. Really hungry. But I waited, knowing the National Guard would show up any minute to set us free.
By three a.m. in the morning, I figured that National Guard stuff was a pipe dream. We were stuck stuck. That’s when I start trying to figure out how I was going to get somewhere to eat and find a bathroom. I saw people leaving their cars and walking away. An ambulance pulled up on the other side of the highway and the paramedics scaled the divider to rescue a woman from her car who had apparently called for help. I was still chatting with my wonderful friends, smiling at their words of encouragement and laughing at their mean jokes. My friends roll like that.
When the sun rose, things were getting shaky. Gas was running low. But that’s when relief came. Not from the National Guard, but from the people that lived nearby. People went from car to car, checking to see if folks were okay. A team shuffled back and forth providing gas for those about to run out. I learned that two convenience stores were open at the Campbelton Road exit, so I left my car and made the walk to get something to eat and use the restroom. On the way back I saw a brother with a huge gas can filling his truck and I asked if could use it. He said yes, so I went back to the convenience store for gas (How did I not know gas was so heavy?). I shared the gas with him and offered to pay him for the use of his can; he shrugged it off and told me to give the rest of the gas to the folks that were filling up other cars. The support everyone gave was amazing. I still get choked up thinking about it.
An hour or so later, a man came by and told me they found a way to get off the highway. He told me to work my way to the emergency lane and get in line. We creeped up the lane, and when we reached the steepest point we drove onto the grass until we reached the road. I went to the nearest convenience store. I pulled up there, prepared to spend another night on the highway. But then I noticed that even though it was still below freezing, the ice was melting. I was sitting in my car with the prospect of staying another night inside, or I could try to make it to Camp Creek Parkway, where there were a number of hotels. I called my wife and told her my plan. She said the news was monitoring which roads were passable. So we went to work. I figured I couldn’t use the highway, so I took the back roads. As I drove, she told me which roads on my route were passable. Some of the roads were, and some weren’t. Eventually I reached Camp Creek and made my way to a hotel. As I walked in, I saw mattresses in the lobby and the main areas, places that folks had spent the previous night. The desk clerk told me they would have rooms available, so I was set. I wouldn’t make it home, but at least I’d be in a cozy room for the night.
I was walking back to my car when someone rushed inside the hotel and announced the McDonald’s down the road was open. Now I’m not a big Mickie D’s fan, but I was hungry as hell. So I was in my car again, creeping toward the McDonald’s when I reached the bridge crossing I-285. I looked at the highway; it was completely empty. All the cars were stuck at the previous exit. I said the hell with fast food. I was going home.
I drove onto the exit and began my slow roll home. I slipped and slid down the highway, off the Riverdale Road exit, and eventually reached the house. Our driveway is a hill, so I parked on the street and walked through the grass up to the house. As I opened the garage door, my wife came out to meet me. The worried look on her face said it all, but all I wanted to do was eat, then sleep. I left my job at 11:00 am on January 28, 2014. I arrived home at 4:00pm January 29, 2014.
I neve saw the National Guard. I found out later that my coworkers got stuck overnight on the highway was well. One of them was trapped two nights. I’ll never forget that day, but what I remember the most was the support of my family and online friends that helped keep my spirits up during the night and the help of complete strangers that instead of staying warm in their homes, came out in frigid temperatures and dangerous conditions to make sure the rest of us were okay. To this day, whenever snow is predicted for Atlanta Metro, I stay home. Period.