DATE: 12/02/2003 07:34:00 PM
Well, I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain...
"DANVERS, Mass. -- It was just one inch of snow. It might as well have been two feet.
A powerful line of snow squalls shocked commuters Tuesday, leaving behind a thin coat of snow and black ice that made travel treacherous. Hundreds of accidents statewide snarled major highways and side streets alike, turning roads into virtual parking lots.
The squalls lasted only a few moments as they blew across the state.
The morning commute lasted into lunch."--WHDH.com
...But I've never seen a commute like this morning's.
As usual whenever anything goes awry in my life, my mother tried to warn me. She woke me up this morning with a weather report. She told me it had snowed a little bit, and that traffic might be slow. As I was sleepily buttering my morning bagel, preparing to leave at my usual seven o'clock, she called to tell me that a traffic report she had just heard on WBZ had said that traffic was slow on 495, so not to go that way if that was my usual route. I grumbled something approximating "Thanks," and hung up.
I had looked out the window, you see. What I saw was the lightest possible dusting of confectioners' sugar across the lawn. A barely perceptible sprinkling. My poor mother. She worries too much.
I went out to the car. Placed my bagel and Uncle Ben's Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowl (tm) into the car, and turned the defrost on high. Most of the snow flew off the left side of the car when I slammed the drivers' side door again. The rest went flying with barely a touch of the ice scraper. Maybe I'd be a little late, I thought, but this was nothing. And as it was I was making good time. It was just barely past seven now and I was ready to leave--not bad for having woken up at 6:42 (yeah, I have that down to a science).
Wh--well, you know what comes next.
The road was a little slippery as I backed out onto my street and headed up to the main road, but then, my street is always at least twice as bad as any main road during inclement weather, so when I got to the main road, I figured, things would be smooth sailing.
Well, okay, so the main road wasn't as well-tended as I had anticipated, but once I got to the even bigger road, I figured, it would be all right. Things would start moving. 495 was always backed up during the rush hours anyway...
The first traffic report came at around 7:20. Someone had been killed when he flipped his car at the junction between Rtes 128 and 93. Similar accidents were beginning to sprinkle the highways more thickly than the snow.
Because the snow was still not all that terrible. That fine powder I had brushed off of my car (all the while thinking, with uncharacteristic good cheer, how glad ski buffs would be at its texture) was ever-so-delicately limning the trees and lawns. It was nothing to worry about, I surmised, despite the accident reports.
Which is when the truck in front of me, a blue moving-company semi with a retractable, black, corrugated metal ramp under its back gate, stopped. I remember the rear end of this truck in such detail, you see, because I was to spend the next forty-five solid minutes staring at it through my windshield. When it stopped, I was approximately half a mile from my front door.
Nearly an hour later, I was stopped almost precisely another half mile away. I was on the back street I use as a shortcut to get to a lower exit on Route 3, thereby circumventing Drum Hill, the Rotary and the Lowell Connector. Most days, this saves me time. Most days, however, I don't stop to park my car for twenty straight minutes on this side street I use to get there. Which was precisely what I was forced to do today.
I am no stranger to traffic. Many's the time I've found myself parked on 128, or, especially, on the lower deck of 93 heading into Boston when I worked in Dorchester. In fact, I have been the cause of a traffic snarl on the lower deck of 93, when my sister's red Plymouth Acclaim stalled out in the middle of the HOV lane. On a lesser scale, Rte 3 travels at a crawl most weekdays (while the nearly-completed new lanes taunt us, empty, from the other side of the road). But there's only one time I can remember simply being stopped on a road for longer than a few seconds.
When I was a kid, my family would go to Hampton Beach on special occasions, to eat at Markey's, play on the sand, and walk the strip by the arcade and the candy store. If you went up there during the height of the summer, sometimes a bridge connecting the mainland to the main drag would be raised to let a tall boat through. When this would happen, traffic would, of course, cease to move. To the point where people would get out of their cars to converse with one another or to retrieve things from the trunks or truck beds. To the point where antsy kids would be let out to run up and down the lanes of the highway to blow off some steam. To the point where my father would often put me or my sister on his lap and let us work the steering wheel as we crept along. That was the only time I'd ever been stopped in traffic like that before this morning. And this time, there was no bridge, and far, far less entertainment.
It was at this point that I surmised I would be late to work. So I called the only person I knew would be in the office this early: George. George is a salesman, and a very good one. No one, to my knowledge, has ever beaten George to the office in the morning unless he was out on a sales call. I'm not sure how he does it, unless he has a direct teleporter link to his desk chair, or if he gets up at an hour I frankly don't want to think about. But this morning I was grateful for his early habits--it meant that I could prove to someone that I hadn't just overslept or left late.
After hanging up with George, I looked around, expecting that I could ease off on the brake now, a little bit, and get moving again.
It took me two hours to get from my front door to Rte 3 via my "shortcut route", a distance, according to mapquest, of 2.50 miles. Along the way, coming around a curve on Billerica Rd., my car began to slide ever so slowly toward the ditch. I managed to stop my low-speed crash (the speedometer needle had hovered around "zero" ever since the truck stopped in front of me) and watched as a slick silver Porsche 911 just barely managed to stop before its driver and I got to see whether the paint on our cars was the same shade of gray. I had been going approximately 0.0002 mph. There was approximately 0.00000000000002 mm of snow on the ground. I was beginning to get annoyed.
Another hour or so later I was crawling down Rte 3. I don't mean literally crawling (although that might have been faster)--no, just creeping along behind the wheel, my car suddenly an unwieldy 2-ton sled. I could tell which of the cars in front of me had rear-wheel drive, which had front wheel drive, and which had four-wheel drive, because only the cars with four-wheel drive had all tires turning. The rest were either pushing their font tires crazily along over the ice or dragging their rear tires in clumsy fishtails behind them, respectively. It wasn't the depth of the snow, I had by now concluded. It was the fact that the entire landscape in front of me had become a sheet of solid ice. One unfortunate man in front of me in a black sports car made most of the trip down Rte 3 backwards, spinning and slipping like a kid on a water slide. I called work to advise them as to just what extent I was probably going to be late.
Another hour and change later, I had seen three people spin out, two near-crashes, and a bewildered-looking man sitting in his car on the northbound side of Rte 3, facing southbound in the left lane. Just sitting there. It was like the end of the world. Infuriating little flurries of snow were still falling. The cast of the morning radio show I listen to was staying late to cover for the late morning/afternoon DJ, who was also stuck in traffic. I called work again to report that I had finally made it to 128.
Finally--FINALLY--a little over four and a half hours from my mother's phone call, I was walking in the door to work. Four and a half hours. I was not, believe it or not, the last to arrive. Even the mailman didn't get there for his daily morning pickup until mid-afternoon.
Let's put this in perspective, shall we? It took me four and a half hours, maybe a little more, to go 21.45 miles this morning. According to MapQuest (which, as you can tell, I've leaned upon heavily as a resource here), in four hours and 44 minutes, I'm supposed to be able to drive from my house to Syracuse, NY. Which is, for the record, 310.30 miles away.