Look closely at the picture. You can see the front of my car..... lights shining out over the 2 feet deep snow with a travel lane dug out in front of me. Those are the lights of an 18 wheeler truck ahead of me...WAY ahead of me.....
I was driving home to Niagara Falls Thursday evening on schedule to arrive home about 11:30. I hit the snow at about Batavia. That's about an hour from my home in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I expected it... lake effect snow. It was early but hey, whatever. We're a hardy lot in the Buffalo/ Niagara Peninsula area. It was particularly wicked, even for Canadian standards. But you don't stop for heavens sake, you just keep driving, following the lights of the truck ahead of you, reminding yourself to relax your hands and not grip the steering wheel as if it is your last line to life. It was nearly whiteout a for a few seconds several times. A bit scary but still, not horrible. But it started to stack up quickly. It was obvious the plows were not out. In this area near the town of Clarence, NY when lake effect snow comes, so do the plows, with great frequency. But they were nowhere to be seen, the snow was getting deep on the road.
While following a truck I inadvertently followed it off the NY Thruway. I found myself in an endless line of 18 wheel trucks trying to get off the road at a truck stop. But the power was out at the truck stop, the parking lot already full, we were all turned away. In the interest of searching for a place to turn around where I wouldn't get stuck in the snow, I proceeded down the road thinking I would just turn around at the first opportunity. But traffic stopped, and stayed stopped. After about 15 minutes I managed to turn around in the middle of the road and get back on the NY Thruway. I planned to stop at the last oasis before the tolls and check the weather, bridge traffic, etc. before deciding which bridge to cross over into Canada. The weather was deteriorating rapidly so I needed to get home as quickly as possible. I was only a half hour away.
But just before the Clarence oasis we all stopped again. This was about 11:30pm and little would we know that this would be our hotel for the night. For about an hour I phoned Lillian off and on, listened to the radio, talked to the trucker behind me and felt a bit annoyed by it all. Then the trucker behind me came up to my window and told me the accident ahead had been on the Thruway for about an hour when we came to a stop so we were not going anywhere anytime soon. I fiddled and fidgeted a bit more finally convincing my spouse to go to bed, get some sleep and assume I would arrive home sometime during the night. Not to worry, all will be well. As soon as they move the accident off the roadway we'll all be going again.
At about 1:30 I decided to get some sleep myself. I turned off the car knowing I would have a mess on my hands to clear off the windows when we started to move. Nevertheless I gathered my jackets and dropped off to sleep.
A flash of light startled me awake. Lightening. Oh great. Thunder snow. Well, might as well get up and get the windsheild cleared. Wow, it's nearly 4am. And we're still here? Geez. Better get it cleared off. We'll be moving soon. I turned on the car and the windshield wipers. They didn't budge. Hmmm, must be frozen to the window even though I don't see ice. I put on my jackets, remembered the pair of gloves stashed in the "glove compartment" of the car and opened the door. My door pushed snow away from the car. While I had slept, nearly 2 feet of snow had fallen. I know, I know, you're thinking hyperbole. Nope, snow... and a lot of it. My wipers wouldn't move because the snow was too heavy. I took an umbrella and began to push the snow off the windsheild and the hoof of the car. Shivering I got back into the now warm car and swore as I felt the snow melt into my trouser legs and into my sneakers making my socks soaking wet. Then it hit me.... I'll have to dig out the tail pipe if I expect to stay in the car with the engine running or risk killing myself with carbon monoxide. What am I going to dig with? I dont' have a shovel in the car. The winter kit is sitting in my garage, waiting for winter! Wait! I have a fold up stool in the back. I retrieved it and began to use it like a shovel. It worked pretty well on the deep fluffy snow. I got back into the car again, now colder and wetter.
This time it took awhile to warm up. I looked out ahead of me, the headlights of the car nearly covered now by the snow depth. There was 20-30 yards of space between me and the truck ahead. A couple of cars had turned around in a U-turn just ahead when we had first stopped leaving this expanse between me and the truck ahead. I hadn't found it necessary to pull up. Now I wished I had. Me and this stool are going to have quite a time digging out this mess so that when traffice starts moving, I can move. Otherwise I will become an obstacle for everyone behind me to have to try to go around. I better get moving!
I put on my now damp jackets again and get out into the storm to shovel with my stool. I was making good progress when I saw the figure of a man shuffeling through the snow toward me from the truck in front. I had seen him go past the window a while ago. A snow plow had come and plowed out the turnaround just beside the truck ahead of me. This guy had been up there helping a car that was sitting just ahead of the U-Turn get backed up and out heading back east away from Buffalo. Now the guy was coming toward me using his legs to clear out the width of one wheel from the truck ahead to me on his way back. He said Hi! in a cheery voice and told me what I already knew, that the turn around had been plowed and that if we could get the truck ahead to move everyone in the line could get turned around going back the other way. I was shoveling to beat the band. When I got tired, he took up the stool. We traded back and forth for the next hour shoveling and chatting.
His name is Dane. He's a sweet man...maybe in his thirties. We watched the lightening, listened to the trees crash to the ground as the weight of the snow snapped them off like matchsticks. We could see the red/orange light of transformers exploding in the distance. I've heard and seen this a hundred times before in ice storms in the south. Nothing to be alarmed, just keep digging. If the plow came surely help is on the way and soon.
We chatted about the storm. He worried out loud about the old people and the women with small children in the endless line of traffic we were in. We'd been there for over 4 hours by now. He said, "There's a woman with a baby somewhere in this line and we've got to get this lane open so she can get out." Yep, this is really the deal. There are all kinds of people in this line. Dane and me were just fine, healthy, hardy and at the worst uncomfortable. But what about the kids? I had 3/4 of a tank of gas and a credit card in my wallet that would buy me a hotel room if I could get out. What about all the others? The ones that had planned to get gas at Clarence. The ones with no money. The ones who needed medicine. The diabetics with no food. What about all of them? I kept digging so I could get out of the way and let them out when daylight came. When we were finished Dane went back toward his vehicle saying he was going to "find the woman with the baby".
Daylight came late because the snow came again at 6am with a vengence. Dane had convinced the guy in the truck ahead of me to pull up enough that I could get onto pavement and not risk having what we had dug out covered over. But the guy still refused to move the truck forward enough so that I could get out. I waited for daylight, talked on the phone, read my email, listend to the news on CNN on statelite radio. I ate snow when I got thirsty. Dane appeared at my window. I put it down. He breathlessly announced. "I found her, the baby is 3 months old. We've gotta get this guy to move up so we can clear out this lane and let her get out." About this time the driver of the truck got out and started walking past my car.
"Is that your truck?" I asked in my sternest, mother, preacher, authoritarian voice. "Yes." "Then move it up so that I can get out and let these others out." "In 5 minutes." "You said you would move in a hour 4 hours ago, move the truck so we can get out." He ignored me and walked to the truck behind me, climbing up into the cab to chat with the driver.
I got out of my car and began to snap pictures with my Treo 650. The back of the truck. A closeup of the licence plate, the side of the trailer where the company name was emblazoned. As I was moving up to the cab to get the company name and address, he bolted past me and into the truck. Dane had been shoveling (with the stool) in the area beside the truck hoping to shame him into moving the thing or eventually shoveling another path like the one we had dug before so that we could go around. The driver climbed into the truck and moved it forward! Hallelujah! I got into the car, strapped on my seatbelt and headed for the turnaround, waving to Dane and thanking him for his help as I sped by going east, driving away from the prison of stopped traffic. The road was treacherous, dangerous, barely passable with trees in the road, only one lane plowed, I nearly lost it several times. Miles ahead of me, no one following me. If I ran off the road my car would be buried in the snow, slow down, be easy.
I got out, got some breakfast, got some gas and tried to think about alternate routes to Niagara Falls. It soon became apparent there was no way possible. A driving ban in Buffalo, the Thruway closed from Rochester to Dunkirk, nearly a hundred miles of the NY Thruway shut down. Wow.
I keep thinking about Dane today. And the woman with the baby. I wish I'd gotten his contact info. I would like to know more about my snow angel. He hung out with me through the night, helped me shovel, looked after others, and waved goodbye and yelled "Good luck!" to me for the rest of my long journey. What more could you ask from a guardian angel? Maybe he wasn't even real? No wait, I know he is real, I see him in the picture beside the truck, shoveling with a foldup stool.