“Did someone say there was an ice storm coming?”
That was me last week at a conference in Dallas, Texas. The temperature was around 75 degrees as I was having this conversation while leaning against a stone wall. My eyes were closed as my face tilted towards the sun. We were on a break and I snuck out into a courtyard for a few precious moments to feel the warmth of the sun.
“What time is the storm supposed to hit?”
“Tomorrow evening? Oh, I’ll be long gone.”
The warmth of the sun lulled me into a calm state. That and I never bothered to watch the news to see for myself what was predicted. I’m not sure if I had if I would have dashed out the first moment I could and changed to an earlier flight. All I can report is what actually happened and I didn’t bother to do anything. The next day, Thursday, I hugged my coworkers goodbye and chatted calmly for at least an extra hour before leaving for the airport. My 3:00 flight to New York showed no signs of delay right up to the moment when we pulled away from the gate. We didn’t get very far when the pilot announced, “Sorry folks, we’re being called back. There’s fog in New York. We’ll give it 3 hours and try again.” We got off the plane and that’s when the thought hit me – this isn’t good.
I called back east and confirmed what I had been told, the place was covered in a thick fog. In the three hours that I paced up and down the E gate corridor, the weather changed. It got colder and wetter. The word delayed popped up on the flight board here, there and then everywhere. My flight was called again and we boarded. Now I could see tiny ice pellets hitting the windows. We were told we needed to get de-iced first before take-off. Friends from the conference texted me. Their flights were having trouble taking off too. Slowly but surely, their messages proclaimed lift off. We had just finished getting de-iced when the pilot announced, “Folks, we’ve hit the 3 hour time limit. We’re going back to the gate. I’m sorry but this flight has been canceled.” It was 9:45 and I knew I now needed to scramble for a room and make flight arrangements. I regretted the hugs and chats I lingered for earlier. I don’t know why I was so blindsided. I was though. Luckily, I know how to scramble. Before we had gotten back to the gate, I had a room and a flight scheduled for the morning.
By the time I made hotel arrangements, all of the nearby hotels were booked. I ended up in a Hampton Inn in Lewisville. It’s a mere 16 miles from the airport but can also be described as being in the middle of nowhere. That is if you don’t have a car and I didn’t. I woke the next morning to inches of ice settled all around the hotel and the Delta recording on my phone telling me my flight had been canceled. It was then I realized yet another mistake I had made. I should have insisted on a full service hotel when calling Hilton to make my arrangements. In the midst of my scramble, anyplace with a warm bed was good enough. In the light of day surrounded by ice, anywhere wasn’t good enough for the long haul. I have food allergies and the food selection was limited where I was. If you ever get caught in a storm, it is better to be in a place that has food. It is even better to be in a place that has food and a spa. I had neither. I will add here that the Lewisville Hampton Inn has the sweetest staff I have ever met. Between waking and 3:00 PM, I managed to get myself on 6 flights and they in turn were canceled almost immediately. I sat in the lobby, hugged children belonging to staff and guests alike, all the while working my phone.
At 5:00 PM, I received a call I hadn’t expected. Mike, an associate from the meeting, was stuck at the airport too. He slept there and had 9 flights cancel on him before making the descion to escape. He was on his way to pick up a car and wanted to know if I wanted a ride to Austin. Mike has a crusty personality that I admit I prefer to avoid. Because the nuts and dried berries at the bottom of my handbag were not enough to sustain me, Mike’s rough personality suddenly seemed palatable. Even though the news showed trucks and cars scattered on the highway, I didn’t hesitate to say, “Sure”. Mike is from Chicago and respects ice. I was right too as when he arrived an hour later at my hotel he had mapped out a plan that involved back roads and the least amount of bridges possible. “It’s the bridges that are causing the most problems. They freeze over immediately and have black ice. These crazy Texans love their bridges and haven’t a clue how to drive on ice.” I just nodded not wanting to admit I’m as bad as a crazy Texan when it comes to driving on ice.
The back roads worked as we made our way to Fort Worth. It wasn’t until we got onto I35 that I wondered if I had made the right decision. That’s when I saw up close tractor trailers spun this way and that. Cars swerved into ditches and the highway going north was shutdown and a mess. It occurred to me that if we ended up in a ditch, I might have to hug Mike for warmth. Now the trip not only had an air of danger but there was a possibility of a disgusting outcome too. Only once was there a bridge we weren’t sure we’d make it up. Just as we were about to get to the “climb” a salt truck appeared. We don’t know where it came from but thanked our lucky stars just the same. Six hours after we began, I pulled into the Hilton Garden Inn in Austin. Our car was covered with an inch of ice and as we opened our doors sheets fell off shattering to the ground. The valet looked at the car and said, “I see you came in from Dallas.”
I flew out of Austin Saturday morning and was home by evening. Mike and I hugged goodbye at the airport. It’s funny but during the six-hour drive we became friends. I’m not sure how or when it happened. I just know when we said goodby, it was far warmer than our past hello’s ever were.
I would be remiss if I didn’t add that you should never drive in an ice storm. Do as I say, not as I do. I might also add that there was another associate whose flights were canceled. He’s still stuck in Dallas.