Thursday, January 21, 2016

Snow Woes

Here in the American Northeast, we're preparing for the first major snowstorm of the year. This is all fine and good, and, as I've discovered since moving here, it comes with the territory. On the other hand, it's giving me some terrible flashbacks to last year's record-breaking snowpocalypsemageddon Winter Storm Juno that we endured only thanks to discreetly cannibalizing our neighbors and using their hides as extra blankets. Let none of it go to waste, I always say!

In January of 2015, my friend, Matt, was getting married to his longtime girlfriend, Carissa. My girlfriend, Steph, and I received our invitation in the mail, and after my insistence that just because I'd met Matt and the other invitees over the internet, it wouldn't be weird and we should go. Steph bought it. We booked our tickets to sunny California and waited.

Well, that snowstorm somehow found out that we'd booked tickets and decided to hit that week. Steph and I were both working, but she kept me updated throughout the day as she refreshed the airline's website. The long-and-short of it was this: the snow had begun falling quite furiously, and our flight had been canceled proactively, because everything was going to be covered in up to three feet of snow on that first day, and with 70 mph winds, cleanup would have been impossible for days. Luckily, there was one lone Little Plane That Could that was planning to fly out at 7pm that evening. All we had to do was bump the flight up a couple days and come home a couple days early. No harm, no foul. Work was closed for the rest of the week at this point anyway. So we booked the tickets and came up with a plan: I would get home first, so I'd throw all of our stuff into a suitcase so we'd be ready to go by the time Steph arrived. Steph's end of the bargain was to find us a ride to the airport. I called Matt, who I assume was wearing shorts and sipping something out of a pineapple and told him the news as I trudged through the beginnings of the storm. I'd see him that night. Suck it, Juno.

Things went fairly smoothly after that. We said our goodbyes, got to the airport, checked our bag, and took our seats. We even took a cute photo on the plane to put on Facebook, even though everyone tells you not to do that because that's how your house gets broken into.

The winds had picked up by now and snow was starting to gather in piles on the tarmac. The pilot assured us that we were all so smart for taking this flight out, because even though it was Monday, the snowfall would be so heavy that there was no way anyone would be leaving the airport til Saturday. Suckers. We collectively patted ourselves on the back and buckled up, put our trays in the upright position, and listened to the dumb “what to do in case of an emergency” speech that they give every time, even though if there's an emergency we're all dead anyway.

The pilot drove us out to the runway where he told us we'd have to be de-iced before takeoff, as the snow whipping around the plane and strong, freezing winds could cause some problems for a tin can that wanted to go into the sky. Who knew? The pilot assured us that it would only take 15 minutes and we'd be up above all this. Everyone in the cabin gave high-fives liberally. The crew drove the de-icing crane over. A guy sat in the seat with a hose between his legs. He looked like a fighter pilot in a World War II biplane shooting the slime from Ghostbusters 2 all over the plane. The de-icing process took 45 minutes. We started to grow restless, but the siren song of California (probably sung by the Beach Boys) kept us calm.

Finally, the de-icing was done. The captain urged everyone to get to their seats and buckle up, because the de-icing only lasted for a few moments, and if we weren't in the air before our window closed, we would have to start all over again. Everyone did, but the plane didn't move. Our captain addressed us again. The snow was worse than anticipated, so we'd have to de-ice again. The WWII crane returned and we all sighed. The captain reminded us not to get up, as that escape window was no joke. To apologize, the flight crew gave everyone a bottle of water. I got mixed signals.

Another 45 minutes later, the plane rolled to the edge of the runway. I texted everyone I had been giving my running commentary, “Here we go!”

The plane stopped. The captain came over the intercom. “Well, folks, we got a computer error. We're going to have to go back to the terminal so I can get the tech crew in here. Then we'll de-ice one more time and get you all to sunny California!”

The crowd cheered. This must be what it's like to be brainwashed.

The IT crew boarded the plane. Three or four guys all went to the cockpit to look at gauges and buttons and levers. I got up to use the bathroom, because that bottle of water was really a bad idea. As I was standing in the tiny stall, the captain addressed us again.

“OK, so we're going to restart the plane and that should fix everything.”

So an IT team fixes a plane the same way I fix my laptop when it can't find my mouse. Excellent. The plane turned off. I peed in the dark.

By the time I returned to my seat, the IT crew was bringing the plane back to life and standing around fairly confused. The reset hadn't worked. I wanted to suggest a factory reset, or a paperclip that they could poke into that little hole in the back, but they didn't appreciate my joke, and paperclips aren't allowed past airport security.

The bad news? We were still getting an error and our captain didn't want to risk our lives on a plane that was sub-par. The good news? They had a second plane ready just in case this happened.

Everyone reentered the terminal as they prepped plane #2. Some of the flight crew made snow angels on the tarmac. A few non-believers on our flight decided to cut their losses and go home. Apparently they decided they could wait until Saturday. At this point, everyone began turning their phones back on to check the weather and complain on social media. The big new development was that the roads would be shutting down after midnight. It was too dangerous to plow without the roads being salted, and it was too late to get the salt out there.

We all got on plane #2 and took our seats. The captain, having checked the weather and complained on social media, himself, addressed us again. Yes, the roads were closing, but that sounded like a problem for Northeasterners. We were all going to be drinking those pineapple drinks on Venice Beach. If not, we'd all be home in bed by midnight and we wouldn't have to worry about road closures at all. But that wasn't going to happen. We were smart enough to stick it out. It was time to get this bird in the air—after one more de-icing.

After another 45 minutes of reenacting the radar jamming scene in Spaceballs, we taxied out to the runway. We stopped. We waited. At this point it was after midnight. We'd been on two different planes in five hours. The roads were shut down, everything would be closed until Saturday, and we hadn't gone shopping in weeks, prepping for the vacation. The intercom came on, broadcasting dead air through the cabin. Then a sigh. “Yeah, we're getting the same error we got on the other plane, ladies and gentlemen. It's just not going to happen tonight. I'm sorry.”

We all groaned. Now what were we going to do? The plane rolled back to the terminal and we all de-boarded. Through the windows of the airport, billions of snowflakes looked back at us, probably with high-pitched giggles, but those were drowned out by the howling of the 70mph winds.

On the way to baggage claim, a few of the airport employees handed out vouchers for free cabs. We'd all have to go home. The airport was closing because everything was canceled, and the nearby hotels were all full of people whose flights had been canceled hours ago. Steph and I grabbed our suitcase and headed to the door where the cab lane is usually three cars deep, all trying to usher you in to bring you to your destination.

It was desolate. Not one cab. What good was a cab voucher when nobody was out driving? Angry fliers began calling cab companies to come pick them up. Steph and I stood in the line, about 50 people deep, to wait for a car. Ahead of us, a woman bounced her screaming baby. He wore nothing but a onesie and snot streamed down his face. The woman balanced a huge suitcase and a stroller with her other hand. Seeing that the woman didn't have nearly enough going on, the airport gave her a complimentary car seat for her child when and if a cab ever came. The baby screamed. I realized I had left my sweatshirt at home, because I was going to be in California.

After some time, a lone cab approached the terminal. The first person in line hopped in and, after a brief exchange with the cabby. Other passengers continued to call taxi companies. After another long dry spell as we all shivered and the baby continued to cry, a man in a trenchcoat made an announcement: No taxi companies were sending people to the airport because they weren't getting paid. They were only getting vouchers.

At about 1:30 am, a van approached. The driver asked where people were going, and the crowd, either pitying the overburdened woman or just sick of the crying, mucus-y baby, said she should take it. She shuffled to the front of the line with her four things in tow and explained to the cabby where she was headed. Turns out it was two states north, and about an hour and a half away. The cabby asked who else was heading north. Steph and I were! We rushed to the exit with one other young girl and began to load our collective excess of baggage into the trunk of the van. The young girl plopped down in the back seat. Snow stung our faces as the rest of us took refuge behind the van. I wished I had my sweatshirt. The baby had to sit in the center row, since it was the only seat with a buckle in it. Mom couldn't get in, obviously, until the baby was in. I couldn't get in until mom has comfortably in the back seat, tending to her screaming baby, who could now add “freezing” to “sick and tired.” But before we could get the baby in, we had to assemble the car seat.

The woman with the baby continued to attempt to calm her slime creature as the cabby ripped the plastic off of the new car seat. The mom directed him: “The cushion has to go over the plastic shell, but-- not like that, that's upside down. See the holes? The straps need to go through them. No, they need to line up so the straps can go through. No, you have the padding backwards. I--” She looked around. “Can you hold my baby?” I glanced around. She couldn't mean me. She handed me the baby. He screamed louder, adding “Being held by a stranger” to his list of grievances. I did what I could with my motherly instinct, shushing him and bouncing him. Mom assembled the car seat and strapped it into the van. As she placed the mandrake-covered-in-lung-pudding in the seat, it became apparent that the child was far too big for the seat. Mom tried to buckle him in, but he cried louder. The only way the baby would fit, would be to fold him in half. Mom called it off and assured us she'd be fine. She and I climbed into the van. Steph took the front passenger seat.

Steph and I are a quick 15-minute drive to the airport on a normal day. The icy roads and slow going ensured that this would not be a normal day. We inched up the first big ramp out of the city, sliding our way across two lanes of non-existent traffic. The baby soon fell asleep, gurgling his sickness into the small heated van.

At 3am, the cabby stopped at the foot of our street. Getting any closer would require going downhill, and once down there, we weren't so sure he'd be able to get out. We said we'd make a run for it, sweatshirt or not. Steph and I pooled our money together to give him something of a tip. He really went above and beyond, even promising the other passengers at the airport that he would return. We grabbed our bags from the trunk and wished them good luck.

The end of our street, likewise, it about a thirty second walk. In sub-zero weather with three feet of snow on the ground, it might as well have been the arctic. By the time we had sprinted to our house, I was shaking from the cold.

We, along with the rest of the city, were snowed in for the next two days. The airport opened late on Wednesday, allowing us to escape the frozen wasteland before the pilot's promised Saturday. When we boarded the third plane of the week, Steph and I had both begun to develop familiar runny noses.

As for the mom and her baby? I think they're still out there driving somewhere.

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