Chaos in Atlanta, Georgia during 2.6 inches of snow.

Chaos in Atlanta, Georgia during 2.6 inches of snow.

The local paper (Quad City Times) had an article from a former resident talking about her experiences driving in the Southland during the recent snowfall. She commented on how she felt that, having grown up in the Midwest, in Illinois, where we are used to driving on snow, she had a distinct advantage over some of the Southerners who seemed totally unable to cope. My favorite description of the recent Atlanta situation:
Q: What do you call 2 and ½ inches of snow with a gentle breeze in Atlanta?
A: The Apocalypse.” (Courtesy of Jimmy Fallon)

Son Scott works for a British steel company as their only North American representative and travels frequently for work to other steel companies as a project manager selling and installing and trouble-shooting software that steel companies use (he previously worked for LTV Steel, which went bankrupt and was later bought by a French company and re-opened.) His current employer is Broner Metals of Sheffield, England. I’ll call Scott’s boss “David” (because I think that may really be his name.)

The boss had flown in from the United Kingdom and Scott had flown to Mobile, Alabama from Chicago to give a presentation at a steel company there. When they arrived, the entire plant had been shut down by reports of snow heading their way and employees had been told to stay home. After trying to salvage a few meetings held in their hotel room with a few of the decision-makers who were available, the boss wanted to fly out and go back home (to England). [Who can blame him?]

Unfortunately, the Mobile (Al) airport was virtually closed, so David urged Scott to find other airports in larger cities, suggesting Miami (a 12 hr. drive). Scott suggested they stay put, but the boss really wanted to fly out. So, they took off on what would turn out to be a 12-hour Odyssey to try to drive the distance between Mobile (Alabama) and Atlanta (Georgia) —a trip that would normally take only 5 hours. It’s also worth mentioning that the rental car company, which had expected their car to be returned to Mobile, wants to charge him $750 for taking the car to Atlanta, instead. (That is still being discussed, since the entire rental charge was only $150).

Scott said he was going 50 mph at first on the Interstate and the snow wasn’t too bad, but, as the day wore on, it got worse. Soon, they were going only 20 to 30 mph and, after that, gridlock. The boss was on the phone, contacting the airport. His original departure time was to have been 8:45 p.m. It did not look like they were going to make it in time, but, in a phone call to the airport, he learned that the departure had been set back to 9 or 9:45 p.m. and the airline employee on the phone said he might as well try to make it, since he was nearly there by that point in time, and he could always cancel at the airport, so they continued on this questionable journey.

Basically, Scott described driving AROUND people who were simply sitting in their cars, acting like they had no idea what to do. He was driving on the shoulder of the road, where there was at least some traction from the grass, at various points, and, in one spot, he saw a detour through a parking lot that would give his car tires something to attach to, since the roads were becoming sheets of ice.

As they neared the airport—with very little time to spare before the flight would board—the exit ramp to the airport was totally blocked with immobilized cars. Scott described trucks that were simply FLOORING their accelerators, smoke coming off their tires as they spun helplessly, as trucks would try to climb a slight incline and find themselves sliding back down into other cars. He described hundreds of cars sliding sideways on the icy roads and they saw at least 50 cars in the ditches. The general populace acted as though they had no idea how to handle an icy road.

At one point, he noticed that a few enterprising drivers who had been stuck there for a long time, immobilized (some were abandoning their autos and walking to nearby convenience stores or gas stations), were driving the wrong way onto on ramps, to avoid the congestion and gridlock that had occurred on the off-ramps. He turned their rented Toyota Corolla around on the shoulder of the Interstate, (where some traction was possible in the grass), and followed their lead. He described getting the boss to the airport with only 20 minutes to spare and the boss texting him from the plane, “I made it!”

So, now the boss is winging his way back to Merry Olde England.

What about the East Moline/Chicago native?

A good friend of Scott’s (Chris Haggerty) who was a groomsman in his wedding (and vice versa) is an attorney in Atlanta and lives only 9 miles from the airport. Scott called and asked if he could take refuge at the Haggertys house. He was welcomed enthusiastically, but was also told tales of a 6-mile trip home from school for Sarah Haggerty (a teacher) taking and hour and a half. (Chris takes the train, so he made it okay). (I once called up an old classmate to see if refuge was a possibility once in Denver when I traveled for Performance Learning Systems, Inc. and got snowed in there, but Jane was less-than-welcoming and said, rather coldly, that there were plenty of motels around the airport—even though I had no toiletry items, nor clothes (except the ones I was wearing) nor anything to sleep in, etc. So, not all friends would welcome you with Open Arms. (I use the term loosely, since it has become readily apparent in recent years that, despite our families vacationing together twice in our youth, Jane was never my “friend.” You live and you learn.)

But Scott was much luckier with Chris and Sarah, who are a peach of a couple. Kudos to them and their dogs, Daisy and (the other one whose name I have now forgotten.)

Scott checked his cell phone for alternative routes off the Interstate because the Interstate looked like a scene from “World War Z:” cars backed up for literally miles, none of them moving. I’m very familiar with this scene, as I remember the Chicago blizzard of 2011 when I could see people abandoning their cars on Lake Shore Drive from my condo window.

He began driving the 9 miles to the Haggertys by alternate routes. It took 2 and ½ hours to get there, with some fancy driving (he gave high marks to the Toyota Corolla’s navigability) necessary.
One of his favorite sights as he crept along in the snow was this: 5 guys waiting for a bus (which, obviously, was never going to show up). One even went out into the street and peered down the street to see if their bus was approaching in the snow (not likely). Between that and the man just REVVING his truck engine as much as he could (he had no traction and could not go forward or backwards), the Midwesterner in their midst was shaking his head in wonderment.

When Scott reached the Haggertys (where he was “stuck” for 2 days), neither Sarah nor Chris went to work for 2 days because of the storm. They actually played some board games with neighbors. The entire city was immobilized and the local populace felt that the Mayor, who kept blaming it on “everybody got on the roads at once”, was being disingenuous. After all, schools and work get out at the same time every day. Shouldn’t the Mayor have expected that? Apparently, the salt trucks that they DID have (and they don’t have many) were much further south than the Atlanta city proper, and Scott said he saw no plows or salt trucks or anything resembling what we would routinely experience in the Quad Cities (or Chicago).

At one point, the 3 of them (Scott, Sarah and Chris) decide to walk to a nearby restaurant that they often frequent. (It was within walking distance). The owners of the establishment know the Haggertys and told them that one of their cooks had left work at 9:45 p.m. the night before and he STILL had not made it home 16 hours later, so they were a bit understaffed.

Sarah and Chris were also quite surprised that Scott had been able to make it to their house from the airport, 9 miles away, since the entire city of Atlanta seemed to have become paralyzed by what we in this area would consider a light dusting of the white stuff.

And, yes, the locals DO think the Mayor and city officials are going to have a hard time begging off with the excuses they’ve heard so far.

Here is a quote from Rebecca Burns, Deputy Editor of “Atlanta”magazine:

“What happened in Atlanta this week is not a matter of Southerners blindsided by unpredictable weather. More than any event I’ve witnessed in two decades of living in and writing about this city, this snowstorm underscores the horrible history of suburban sprawl in the United States and the bad political decisions that drive it. It tells us something not just about what’s wrong with one city in America today but what can happen when disaster strikes many places across the country. As with famines in foreign lands, it’s important to understand: It’s not an act of nature or God—this fiasco is man-made from start to finish.”