Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ice Journey

On February 3, 2011, a Thursday, much of Mississippi and Louisiana had frozen over. This freezing didn't occur until I was halfway between Baton Rouge, LA, and Cleveland, MS. By McComb, it was a little slow going on the bridges. I-55 slowly got worse and worse. By slightly north of Brookhaven, the bridges were frozen solid. After crossing the last frozen bridge I was willing to cross that evening (the car did finally start slipping along the ice), I pulled into the first exit I saw. It was the apocalypse. Completely shaken up, I pulled into Exit 51, Wesson, which took me to Old Sylvarena Rd. Hands shaking, I passed the Baptist Church on Sylvarena, and eventually realized there wasn't civilization anywhere down this road. I pulled into the first driveway I saw, and just parked so I could fidget a bit and use my GPS and cell phone to get me to a hotel without having to cross any more bridges. I called my father, who told me to call the Highway Patrol. I called the HP, and they told me to call the Copiah County Sheriff's Office. I called the Sheriff's Office, and while talking to a woman in the office over the phone, I noticed a large pick-'em-up truck had pulled up behind me in the driveway, and nearly had touched the back of my car.

The driver eventually got out of the truck, leaving it on, and looked down to me in my car through my driver-side window. I rolled down my window so we could talk. Standing before me was a man who likely weighed about 240 pounds, was in his early 60s, and had little hair and an angry look on his face. He said in broken English, "Kanjelpja?" (or "Can I help you?"). I told him, "Yes, please! I escaped from the almost completely frozen interstate so I could pull over somewhere and figure out where the closest hotel would be. I'm talking to the Sheriff's office right now and I'm just figuring out the best way to get to Hazlehurst." He looked at me with eyes of utter not-care, and said to me, "This ain't workin'." My heart sank. I said, "I'm terribly sorry, sir. I will be on my way." I was still on the phone with the sheriff's office and she helped me get to Hazelhurst on a back road with no bridges. I eventually pulled in and saw that only one hotel was in the city, the Western Inn. I parked my car there and got out of the car, so oblivious to reality that my cell phone went crashing down onto the ground, since I had left it in my lap. I picked it up and went into the hotel lobby.

When I walked in, I said desperately, "Is there any vacancy." It didn't occur to me that out of my desperation, my accent had shifted from its normal flavor to a more English one (I said [ˈveɪ.kən.sɪ] instead of [ˈveɪ.kə]). The manager asked me, "Are you from Britain?" I told him I was not, but was on my way to my home in Mississippi. "Well, have you ever been abroad?" He asked me. I told him I had spent a week and a half in England back in 2006, but that wouldn't have much effect on my accent. I asked if he had been abroad, and he admitted that he was from abroad. He was raised in London (though was originally from India). We shared stories while he set me up for my hotel room that evening.

I spent the night trying to calm down.

The day after the apocalypse, I waited until the rain had washed most of the ice off the road before leaving Hazlehurst. I made it as far as between Jackson and Yazoo City before the only passage across the river was blocked off. I was detoured about an hour and a half to make it across.

When I made it home, I was a changed man. A four-and-a-half hour trip was turned into about 20 hours.

1 comment:

Lee said...

I just happened to read your blog this morning about your "Ice Journey". Strange--on February 3 we were also traveling, south from Missouri to Texas, and had a similar nightmare. We had had a record snowfall in Columbia (MO) and weren't even certain we could get out, but our streets were finally plowed so we could leave.

We traveled through Missouri, Kansas, and northern Oklahoma with minimal trouble, but after driving through Oklahoma City everything was worse--ice everywhere, and no apparent efforts to clear the roads. We reached Dallas/Fort Worth thinking the city would be better, but it wasn't. We stopped in Hillsboro TX (just south of Fort Worth) to grab something to eat, and things seemed a little better, but as soon as we got back on the highway there was a blizzard with nearly white-out conditions.

We finally made it to our destination (Georgetown, TX, where our son lives), but it took us 20 hours to make what is usually a 12-hour trip. Worst driving experience of my life--we saw many, many cars go off the roads and down embankments, and for miles could only drive by watching the white stripe on the side of the highway.

I have made a vow NEVER to plan travel again between December and March--I'm just staying home and anyone who wants to see me can come to where I am.

Lee Miller