As I sit outside at Starbucks writing and enjoying a sunny, 65 degree day, it’s hard to believe that just yesterday, we still had patches of snow on the ground. I’m sure you heard about the storm that hit Atlanta this week. Let me tell you…no matter what you heard, it was both more surreal and far more devastating in reality.
I started my week with a sick kid so, instead of getting my Monday reprieve from the munchkins and a doing little freelance work, I got a big dose of “Mom, entertain me…my fever is down and I’m ready to party!” Ugh. I can’t be the only parent who has been tempted to withhold Advil so the sick kid stays lethargic on the couch watching Nickelodeon. When I called school to let them know that Smalls wouldn’t be in, the woman in the office said, “It looks like she may just get a snow day tomorrow, too!” at which time I ran to my computer to check the forecast. Yessiree, another winter shitstorm coming our way, only this one was bringing more than just arctic temperatures.
Because I’ve lived through one big snowstorm in Atlanta that had us iced in for a week, I headed straight to the grocery store when Ad Man got home that evening. Many of the shelves were already bare, but I managed to get some necessities…beer, wine, frozen pizzas and kale and went home to await the inevitable call that school was cancelled for the next day.
Only that call never came. This was odd. The last time we had a winter storm, the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) cancelled classes upon just the rumor of snow. This week, we had a damn good idea what was coming our way since it was already barreling through parts up north. I assumed we’d be getting a call in the morning saying the kids would have a half day of school, but nope, still no call. So I put the girls on the bus, ran to Toys R Us to see if they had any sleds (sold out), and then ventured no further than the Caribou Coffee a few blocks from my house where I could write and await the call to go get the kids or head home to meet the bus.
I sat staring out the window of the coffee shop when the flurries started. They were quickly followed by big, fluffy, Chicago-style snowflakes. I went home to avoid having to later drive on slick roads and still there was no message from the schools. Finally, the APS tweeted a notice saying that the middle-schoolers would be released one hour early and the elementary schools and high schools would get out at their usual times. APS specifically requested that parents allow children to return home the way that they had arrived so as not to create chaos in carpool.
I wasn’t thrilled having to wait what I thought would be another three hours for the girls to come home on the bus, but after frantic calls to Ad Man and a number of neighbors, I was assured that the bus was safer than heading out to retrieve them in our relatively light, non-four-wheel-drive car. So, I sat tight as the snow started sticking and creating a winter wonderland in our backyard that would have been thrilling on any other day.
Biggie and Smalls generally get home on the bus around 3:15 pm. Instead, I got a call from Biggie’s teacher shortly after that, letting me know that the buses hadn’t even arrived at the school to pick the kids up yet. We and our neighbors quickly decided to divide and conquer, each heading out to a separate campus of the school to pick up stranded kids. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but the short story is, it took Ad Man more than an hour and a half to retrieve Smalls and it took our neighbor almost three hours to bring Biggie home from the other campus.
The girls reported back that there were still lots of kids and teachers stuck at school and the buses still hadn’t arrived when Biggie left at 5:30 pm. The girls were exhausted, but excited by the snow so we played outside a bit before heading in where we lit a fire in the fireplace and I poured a glass of wine to calm my frayed nerves. After dinner, the girls passed out, but Ad Man and I sat glued to the television watching horrific news pour in.
Traffic was at a bumper-to-bumper standstill all over the city. No one could move because of thick ice covering all the roads. Kids and teachers were stuck in schools, people were having to spend the night in their offices. And, those were the lucky ones. People were stranded in their cars everywhere, many whom ended up sleeping in them overnight. Others had abandoned their vehicles and walked for hours trying to get home to their families or find somewhere safe to sleep for the night. Cell lines were jammed. Every hotel in Atlanta was booked solid and a baby was born on the freeway.
At about 10:30 pm, I got a text from the neighborhood bus chain saying that our beloved bus driver Mrs. W was still out on the road trying to get the last few children home from school. She was stuck on an icy hill with five kids and couldn’t take her foot off the brake or they’d slide down the hill and crash into the cars abandoned there. The “bus mom”, my friend A, managed to get a hold of a few families on that street who brought out food, drinks and blankets. Ad Man drove as close to the bus as he could before the streets became too icy and had to walk the rest of the way. He and a neighbor on the street with a 4-wheel drive managed to get the last of the children home to their anxious parents.
Mrs. W never once left that bus, even when Ad Man offered to take her place so she could rest a bit. Despite many offers of a warm place to sleep, after waiting forever for a sand truck, Mrs. W ended up getting back to school at 3 am and slept there.
But Mrs. W is just one of thousands of ordinary people who did extraordinary things last Tuesday night to help out others, many of whom they didn’t even know. It was amazing. I’d like to believe that good people anywhere in the country would rise to the occasion in a situation like this. I know it happens here in Atlanta. When I sat down to have a cup of tea last Tuesday morning, I was intending to write a humorous account of what happens on the rare occasions that it snows in the South. I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined the story that I’m sitting here recounting today.