Two years ago my husband and spent 13 hours in the car, along with thousands of other metro Atlantans, after a 2-inch blizzard paralyzed the city.
I have resurfaced the piece I wrote then detailing all the dumb decisions I made that ended with us stuck on the road - and the contents of the emergency kit that resides in the back of my car to this day.
To be sure, my own stupidity is to blame for our ordeal. I had a radio appearance that morning and then drove home before leaving again for the AJC. If I'd stayed at home, everything would have been fine. If we had stayed at the AJC, everything would have been fine.
Instead I made one idiotic decision after another. Here I am in my courtyard, taking a snow selfie that morning before heading to the office when what I should have been doing was going back inside the house. Dumb.
I watched it snow starting about lunchtime that day. It seemed to be falling about as hard as the gentle snow in that scene from "The Nutcracker," and from the AJC newsroom on the sixth floor it just did not seem like a huge blizzard. (The total amount tallied up to about 2.3 inches).
Plus, it seemed like volume, rather than conditions, were proving to be more vexatious. When schools all started announcing early dismissal, EVERYone hit the roads at the same time, in a panic. Roads quickly became parking lots.
By 10 p.m. the roads surrounding the AJC were cleared of traffic and it seemed like a good time to begin the 12-mile ride home. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
I had left our 110-year-old house in Marietta that morning without dripping the faucets since I thought I’d be back soon. I dreaded a costly plumbing disaster, and my cats needed to eat.
We got on 285 at about 10:30 p.m., after a false start taking Hammond Drive toward Glenridge Drive, where a steep hill near Ga. 400 proved impassable. Hammond in the other direction wasn’t so bad, and traffic on 285 was moving. We clicked along reasonably well for a time, and this imbued me with disastrously false hope. (Remember in “The Perfect Storm,” when George Clooney’s character sees the sun peeking from behind ominous clouds and thinks they’re going to make it?)
We stopped moving around New Northside Drive and stayed there until the sun came up.
A guy marching up 285 in University of Michigan pajama bottoms, shouting commands at dawn the next day, was the only authority figure I saw during our 13-hour journey.
“TAKE COBB PARKWAY!” We obeyed when traffic started creeping agagin and finally got home. I cried when I saw our house and didn't leave it for about the next week. By the way our faucets were just fine and our cats greeted us with their customary indifference.
Once the sun came out I loaded up on every conceivable emergency preparedness item I could think of.
For guidance I consulted:
- This car-kit advisory column posted by Mark Arum, traffic guy on Channel 2 and 95.5FM & AM750 News/Talk WSB and a WSB radio host.
- My own recollections about what came in handy and what might have been nice to have during our unpleasant camping trip.
I put this in the back of my car and have never taken it out. Here's what all is in there:
- A high-powered flashlight, ice scraper, a mini Coleman lantern with an "emergency" blinker setting, plenty of extra batteries, some orange traffic cones and a whistle. If your car breaks down on the side of the road you want to be able to alert other drivers. If you've run off the road and landed in a ditch, no one will be able to spot you and you might not be able to get back up to the road. You want someone to be able to hear or see you to come to your aid.
- A very thick, plush, warm blanket, sturdy walking shoes, umbrella and a few clothing items. A candle in a coffee can and a windproof lighter. If you run out of gas you want to be able to stay warm. We never came close to running out of gas during our overnight on 285 but we turned the car off anyway. Who knew how long we were going to be sitting there? Thanks to the promotional T-shirts I boosted from my colleague Rodney Ho's desk on our way out the door we were able to keep the car turned off. (Come to think of it, that's the one halfway smart thing I did that day: filch PR swag from my coworker. Nice.)
- First aid supplies including scissors, tweezers, Neosporin, iodine, wound cleaner, bandages of varying size and sterile pads. If you or your traveling companions are hurt and can't go anywhere for a while you want to be able to administer some initial aid.
- OTC medicines like cough/cold tablets, cough drops, eye drops and nasal spray. It sucks to be sick. It would really suck to be sick and stuck in the car with no way to access remedies. Note, if you're on prescription drugs you would certainly want to keep a supply on hand as well. If you have allergies you'd want to keep an extra inhaler or EpiPen, depending on your situation.
- Personal hygiene items like toothpaste and toothbrushes, mouthwash and towelettes. Imagine how awesome it would have felt to have been able to take a little bird bath and brush your teeth on about Hour # 10 in the car. I also included some other items like (avert your eyes, fellas) feminine products. No explanation necessary. Also, a couple of large and sturdy cups you are fine with never seeing again. If you have a baby or elderly relative you'd definitely want to stock the pertinent items necessary for weathering an overnight in unpleasant surroundings.
- A few things to eat and drink. I bought a big bag of almonds and freeze-dried cranberries and several large bottles of water in sturdy containers. I love Mother Earth but those super eco-friendly bottles made from recycled plastic seemed too flimsy to count on.
- A cell phone charger and solar-powered charger. If your car wrecks or the battery dies you want to be able to stay in touch. Also I never let my car's gas supply get below half a tank.
The Atlanta Red Cross also advises a hand-crank NOAA weather radio and a multi-purpose tool so I will add those. I have seen others advise carrying items like a snow shovel or sand but I didn't stock those. My car is a 4WD SUV but I pledge to never get on the road if conditions call for enough snow to warrant a shovel (or any winter weather whatsoever). The road conditions actually weren't so bad the other night - it was the tangle of jackknifed tractor trailers that kept us in place for so long.
This whole kit and caboodle cost about $200.
I probably have more than I need. I don't care. I have learned my lesson and will never get in the car when there's so much as a hint of snow.
So I hope there's never a next time. If there is, I'll be ready.