It was like that scene in the flick where he falls asleep in his coke.
Now…I admire that we mounted a rescue mission. I really do.
But maybe putting together a convoy of five vehicles to drive into 50 mile an hour winds whipping up more than a foot of snow on a roadway that was invisible (hence the need for a rescue mission) was not the most efficient way to do that.
I, being the only available deputy, was tapped to partake of this rescue. I was fourth in line, behind two giant plows, their boss in a four-wheel drive, high-clearance truck, me in my two-wheel drive crime cruiser, and a four-wheel drive tow truck behind me.
We were told to drive into the nightmare, stop at each and every vehicle, get the occupants out, then hook the things to a tow truck, and follow the plows out.
Problem: one tow truck, five or six known stuck vehicles.
Problem: the plows never stopped.
Driving at less than 5 miles an hour, I followed the convoy into the storm. At the first stalled car, half buried in a snow drift, I got out of my car, slipped and fell on the ice, was blinded by the snow, but made it to the stalled car. I found no one and got back to my car.
Put it in drive, looked up, and saw no one.
Because the plows had never stopped.
They had disappeared into the raging wind and I couldn’t see the road. I told the tow driver behind me that the car was empty and we were leaving it in the ditch where we found it.
Slowly, ever so slowly, we inched forward to the next few cars, going through the same ritual at every stop. My uniform got increasingly wet, I got increasingly frozen, and the plows got further and further away.
At the third or fourth car, I found her. Older, anxious, sitting behind the wheel of her car, trying to drive it out.
It was more than three-quarters buried by a snow drift that continued to grow because of the wind. The back wheels spun and spun, digging her deeper and deeper in.
“You’re coming with me,” I said.
“What about my car?”
“Fuck that car,” I said.
She looked stunned for a moment and I immediately regretted my choice of words. But I was standing there, straining with everything I had to keep her car door open against the wind. I’d already fallen half a dozen times, my fingers were turning blue while I found I couldn’t hardly move my mouth or lips.
We weren’t going to take the time, at the height of the worst storm in years, to hook it up and try and drag it out. Even if the tow truck had been able, which I didn’t think was possible because you can’t haul something out of being stuck when you have no traction on the ice.
“We’re leaving it. We’ll get it later.”
She hesitated for just a second, then came with me.
Once in my car, I realized we were completely alone. The plows were long gone, the tow truck driver behind me was lost somewhere behind me, and I couldn’t see the front end of my car.
I don’t normally suffer from claustrophobia, but seeing nothing but white for 360 degrees is more than a little unnerving.
I drove slowly and everything was fine for a couple seconds. But it didn’t take long before I inched into a drift.
I got out and realized the car was now at a fairly severe angle from the road. So I backed up a few inches, tried to straighten out, and headed forward again.
Into another drift.
Again, the car was at an angle.
Though it felt like I was driving straight, I kept getting sideways.
So I drove a couple feet, got out and checked. Got back in and drove a couple feet more, got out and checked again.
But I had no point of bearing. I couldn’t see the road, which meant I had no visual on whether or not I was passing anything. And I couldn’t tell when the car was moving because the only thing I could see around me – the snow – was moving constantly. It actually left me with a touch of vertigo.
And now I’ve got another problem because my uniform is completely wet. Down to my skivvies. And every time I got out to check the road, the wind froze my wet uniform.
I sat and waited for the tow truck driver behind me to find us. He did when he almost ran into us. Then I got on the radio and called the plows. They were a mile down the road at a staging area.
They had to turn around and come back to rescue the rescuers.
Which leads to another problem: now they’re facing us.
With not enough road space for any of us to turn around.
Eventually, both plows managed to plow out a huge swath so they could get turned around. Then we managed to follow them out to the staging area.
At that point, we closed the road and I went home to change into a dry uniform.
I then spent the rest of the afternoon directing traffic away from the road. In the teeth of that storm, people drove right up (and frequently tried to drive around my squad that was parked sideways on the road with the lights on), and demanded to know why the road was closed.
“Uh…snow?” I said.
Part of the traffic had been directed off of Interstate 80 and around a 20 vehicle accident. A few hours later, slightly further west, there was another giant crash with five or six cars.
It was an ugly day.
But as it finally wound down, the wind and snow stopped enough for us to get the road cleared. It took two state plows and eight tow trucks. Turns out there were something like 13 or 14 vehicles buried in all that snow, way more than we’d realized.
Luckily, there was no one in any of them. So while they may have been stupid enough to drive into the storm, once they got stuck, they were smart enough to get out of the storm.
But my question is: how?
We never saw anymore cars drive into the nightmare. And we never saw anyone walk out.
The upshot for me? I got sick…duh…and had to take three days off. Then I got better and went to an agency Christmas party where…I got sick again!
I love the holidays.