Two inches of snow = 13 hours in the car

A guy marching up 285 in University of Michigan pajama bottoms, shouting commands at dawn, was the only authority figure I saw during our 13-hour commute home Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

“TAKE COBB PARKWAY!” We obeyed and finally got home.

Thanks, Michigan Man. Thanks for nothing, everyone whose job it is to deal with traffic and weather calamities. Gov. Nathan Deal called the state’s response “reasonable.” The director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency said he wouldn’t change a thing.

 Gov. Nathan Deal at first called the state’s response “reasonable,” then later apologized and promised better response to future storms.

"We have learned some things from this last ice storm. We are going to make sure that those lessons are implemented in terms of preparation for future such events,” Deal said this week.

Oh wait. He actually said that three years ago, following the January 2011 snow and ice event that, then as now, paralyzed Atlanta for days. 

 Charley English, director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, engaged in similar backpedaling this week. “In this particular event, if we played it exactly the same again, I would have made the same decisions,” he said initially. By Thursday he had fallen on his sword, saying “I made a terrible error in judgment," and promising that “In the future you can rest assured that when the forecasts change, there will be a much more aggressive response.”

In the future you can rest assured I won't go near any vehicle but a snowmobile when there’s so much as a hint of snow in Atlanta. I was an idiot for not staying put this time.

I watched it snow starting about lunchtime on Tuesday. 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 and it just did not seem like a huge blizzard .(The total amount tallied up to about 2.3 inches, I heard on the radio this morning).

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.

I had left our 110-year-old house in Marietta on Tuesday 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. By 10 p.m., surely folks who’d all hustled out to get their kids midday would be on their way, right? Wrong.

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?)

After this misleading progress, we hit a wall of traffic at 285 at 75 and did not move from about 3 a.m. until around 8 a.m. We kept updated with 95.5 FM/750 AM News Talk WSB, and when Capt. Herb Emory returned to the air Wednesday morning, he clued us in. Wrecks on 75 had shut down the ramp, jacking up 285.

Just before dawn, I went on air with my colleague Scott Slade, host of Atlanta’s Morning News on WSB. (The station and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, along with Channel 2, are all Cox Media Group properties.)

“I usually write about movies,” I said during my call-in. “Today I’m starring in one, called ‘Dude, Where’s My Car? Sitting on 285.’”

This was 10 hours into our odyssey, and we had yet to clap eyes on any emergency vehicle. Shortly before I left the office, I heard an interview with a Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman on Channel 2 Action News. The spokeswoman told Channel 2’s Lori Geary that GDOT had learned from snowmageddons past, and her quote was something like, “We’ve been waiting three years to show how ready we are.” As I signed off with Scott, I wondered if it would take us three more to get home.

Just then, Mr. Michigan appeared, hollering about Cobb Parkway. Once we got there, our fortunes improved. Unlike 285, it was well sanded, although littered with abandoned cars. Before long, the sight of Marietta’s favorite landmark, the Big Chicken, literally brought tears to my eyes. In a few more minutes, we were home. Thirteen hours after we left.

So, what have I learned?

First: To repeat, I AM AN IDIOT. I am never leaving my house again. At least not until the weekend, when it is supposed be in the 60s.

Second: Thanks to my colleague Mark Arum, Channel 2/WSB traffic guy and radio show host. He also writes a traffic column for the AJC, and once listed things to keep in the car for emergencies, like bottled water, warm clothes and such. Our cell charger kept us in touch, and we listened to the radio on my iPhone, to keep from draining the car battery.

Third: Thanks to my colleague Rodney Ho. I remembered Mark’s advice just before we left the office. I didn’t have any blankets, but RoHo, who writes about TV, had a pile of promotional sweatshirts on his desk and I filched a couple on the way out. They literally kept us alive. When it became clear we were going to sit for hours, we cut the engine, fearful of running low on fuel. As temps plunged, we huddled in warm swag from television shows I’ll have to be sure to watch now.

Fourth: A big salute to my long, long-suffering husband Charles Gay, who drove calmly and ably and never lost his cool. He’s clutch in a crisis. Our 17th anniversary is coming up; I think we have the “for worse” part checked off. Thanks to my friend and Sunday school classmate Amy Johnson. “Just want you to know someone is praying for you,” she wrote as we approached Hour No. 8. Those words were real sustenance.

Fifth: Do not count on emergency assistance. Never did we ever see a single public safety official. Certainly no one from GDOT, which, remember, has been waiting three years to show everyone how ready they were. Mr. Michigan was the only one who came through for us.

Anyway, our antique plumbing is fine and our cats greeted us with customary indifference. I know others were stuck for far longer. My friend the Rev. John Moeller said it best in a Facebook post about Atlanta’s weather and traffic crisis: “After winter brought us all to our knees, being home took on a whole new meaning.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.