Crisis in sweet home Alabama

Traffic jam in snow

Cars at a standstill during a snow storm

Birmingham under siege

Written late at night on Tuesday, January 28th.)

Birmingham Alabama, USA received a completely unexpected snow storm today. At around 8:30 a co-worker asked if I knew it was snowing. I wasn’t worried about it. The forecast had called for little to no accumulation. I worked steadily for a couple of hours and then took a break to take my Seeing Eye Dog, Kismet, outside.

I had only taken ten steps when I froze. We lived in Maine for fifteen years and I know snow. I did not like the feel of this at all. It was clear that the forecast had been off and we were in for some trouble.

All at once schools and employers let everyone go home. The result was over half a million people unaccustomed to driving on snowy, icey roads, hit the roads at the same time. The result was complete chaos. Interstates turned into parking lots.  My office is atop Red Mountain and in short order, the police blocked all traffic from the roads leading to our office.

Thousands of people are stranded far from home. Parents are separated from children. People are crowded into shelters with limited room and supplies. I’m still in my office with the prospect of sleeping on the floor. My husband is stranded at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center where he works.

We’re separated, but we’re okay. We’re warm, dry, and safe. My heart goes out to those who are not so fortunate. Things will eventually get back to normal. It won’t be quick and it won’t be pretty. As midnight approaches, I think of the obstacles I’ve overcome in my life. I’ll live through this. We’ll be together again. Life will go on. We’ll enjoy another night in front of the fire with our dogs and a glass of wine.

Just as during the ice storm of 1998 in Maine, we’ll survive.

My heartfelt wishes that others in this city under siege will make it through okay.

Angels in Street Clothes

Because of the snow and traffic chaos, Jim and I had to remain at our places of employment Tuesday night. I cleaned off my desk and slept on it. Jim tried several different strategies, none of which really worked very well. We each got only a couple of hours of sleep. Wednesday morning, we were determined to get home. Making the decision was the easy part. It was carrying it off that was difficult.

Jim called at 10:00 to let me know he was leaving. There was absolutely no way he could get up the hill to my office. I’d have to walk down the hill to meet him. We agreed to meet at the corner of Valley Avenue and Beacon Parkway East.

There were eight or ten people outside the front door of the building when I walked out. They warned me that they had been watching people with 20/20 vision slipping and falling. I thanked them for the warning and attempted to move out, down the driveway. The only problem was Kismet. She’s my only dog who has never lived in Maine. She tried to turn around and go back to the office every chance she got. Eventually I just had to ask for help. A man helped me get my recalcitrant child down to the road, advised me to try to stay on the snow covered grass for better traction and bade me farewell.

So we began.

Anyone who has ever seen me work a dog knows that I like to move out. Well, that wasn’t going to happen on this trip. I was completely alone, I didn’t know whether my next step was going to land on the snow covered grass or a sheet of ice, and Kismet was determined to turn around and go in the other direction. Was she hesitating because of an obstacle? Was she hesitating in hopes that I’d throw in the towel, give in, and go back to the office? She was still the one with the functional eyeballs and I had to respect her decisions. But, was she being balky or was there really a legitimate reason that she couldn’t guide me forward.

We still weren’t making much progress and I decided a little reprimand might be in order, just to remind her that she did have a job to do and that I was counting on her to do her job.

Finally, we arrived at the turn onto Beacon Parkway East. Then it happened. Total strangers began offering me advice. “Ma’am, if you go a little to your left I think you’ll have better footing.” “Ma’am, there’s pretty much solid ice in front of you. If you back up a little and then turn to the right…” “Ma’am, here, this might help.” Turning to the man who had spoken, I said, “What?” “Here you go, this might help you balance a little better.” And he handed me a branch from a tree. A total stranger had gone into the woods, found a branch of wood, and brought it to me to use as a staff.

By now, Kismet’s reluctance was gone. She was totally focused on her work again. We were all in this together. My foot slipped a little, just as my phone rang. What should I do? Stop, put down my staff, unzip my pocket, lose the mittens, and answer the phone? I knew it was Jim. But I also knew there was a good chance that attempting to answer the call would be futile. I let it go to voice mail. As the last guy who helped me ensured that I knew where I was and that I’d be okay walked away, I listened to Jim’s voice mail.

He hadn’t been able to park at the place we’d agreed to meet. He was going to begin walking up the hill to try to find me. But I was fifty feet from the street by then and there was a good chance we’d miss each other. Just as I was placing the call, Kismet got all excited.

And he was there. We were together again. It was okay.

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2 Responses to Crisis in sweet home Alabama

  1. Maurie Hill February 1, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    I have come to respect ice this year, which I never did before. I’ve fallen 3 times and one of them really hurt! Nice story, it is in After a long, deep freeze here in Vermont, it is 37 degrees today and feels like Spring. My daughter wore shorts home form basketball practing, only 200 yards away, but still not too wise.

    • smartin February 1, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

      LOL, Shorts? 37º? But I suppose if you’ve lived where cold can kill you, you know what you can get away with!

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