Friday, October 28, 2005

The storm is here (Tues. night, Oct. 25)

I left school at 4 PM and the roads were wet and the fields and mountains were green. But the rain was just beginning the change over to snow. All the people I check in with for their weather lore said I would be fine. So I confidently went to class in Newport. I knew we would probably have to leave for home early but that wouldn't be a problem.

My troubles began on the hills outside of Newport on Rt. 105. The road became snow-covered but as long as I went very slowly (as was everyone else), it was alright. At the Newport waterfront, though, the wind was like a hurricane. I had already decided that since conditions were deteriorating so quickly I had to cancel class, so I ran upstairs, cancelled, and started out for home.

Again, the snow-covered roads were not a problem if I drove slowly. I was worried about the Coventry high land though: that is always the worst area to drive on my way home. And it was that night. I began the drive uphill after the Rt. 14 intersection and the car began sliding even without me giving the engine gas. I pulled into the parking lot of Kingdom Playground because it was the last place with a phone until Orleans (which is on the "down" side of the highlands). The wind grabbed the door from my hands and slammed it into the side of the building. Inside it was safe and warm. Chris, the person there, gave me a phone, and I called Dottie, who called her husband Dave, who said he would pick me up in his huge four-wheel drive truck after 5 PM when E.M. Brown's closed. The satellite TV system began working once the wind blew the snow off of the dish, but the only thing they watched was CMT, not the weather. Traffic was slowing down ominously outside as the roads quickly worsened. I began to worry that Dave wouldn't be able to get through, but the men at the bar said not to worry: his truck could get through anything. I ate the sandwich I had packed that morning for my supper and Chris gave me a Pepsi.

Dave did make it. I threw three of my tote bags, my purse, and twenty pounds of cat food into the cab. The truck was large enough so that all these things were on the seat between Dave and me. The seatbelt holds people too close in these trucks, and it made me feel that perhaps there was a reason for that. Perhaps you needed to be held in extra tight because of the more serious nature of the accidents in these huge vehicles! If I moved my neck at all, even to look out the side window, the seatbelt locked up on me, holding me captive and pinned into the seat.

This was a good thing as it turned out. We saw a car that had slid off the road. Then up ahead there was a line of traffic that had stopped. The descent from the highlands was beginning and everyone had stopped so that they could creep down as slowly as possible. Dave was going slowly and I had relaxed. I actually felt secure in this big machine and thought we could make it home now! But even with over 50 yards (I think it was more), the road was too slippery for the truck, and when Dave braked for the traffic up ahead, the truck slipped. Dave kept it on the road for a long time, gently swerving this way and back as the truck slipped about, but he couldn't hold it and we went into the ditch.

The truck remained horizontal, just a slight tilt to my side. But we had gone over a wire fence and into a wet area. No matter what Dave did to rock the truck out, we only became more mired in the mud. So Dave walked to the next house, barely visible in the snowfall, for help. The people there came immediately with their four wheel drive but were unable to make a difference. They went home and called Bob Croteau, who came with his winch truck and winched us out, lifting the front end right off the ground and successfully getting us on the road. When the truck was in the air was the point when I finally muttered, "I'm scared now, Dave." But he explained what was happening and he was so calm that I was able to return to a low-terror state. My mouth became so dry that my cheeks stuck to my teeth.

We started for home again. Dave tapped the brakes and the wheels never slipped at all, so I was able to relax more. If I talked. Poor Dave, I talked non-stop the whole way home, and of course, I had to tell him every single inch of road that scares me in weather like this. As if he doesn't know the curves and hills. But he tolerated me very well. It was exciting to see the flood light outside the house when we got up Willoughby Lake Road. He helped me haul all of my bags into the garage and went home. I tried to call Dottie to tell her that her husband was safe and on his way home, but the phone was constantly busy until, of course, Dave had gotten home. I let Buddy and Charlie outside to get their desire for the outdoors out of them. It worked: they lasted all of five minutes in the garage, never venturing into the storm, which now looked like, and very nearly was, a blizzard but it wasn't because it was not cold enough.

I began making phone calls: to a student who had left a message (she wasn't home...why not? was she on those deadly roads because I had not cancelled soon enough?), Camille (she was very surprised, the weather in Wheelock was comparatively good!), Amy (reinforcing my morning instructions for her to stay in Newport all night), and Cherie. Cherie was not home. In fact, her brother said that she was in Newport at class. And their father was out trying to find his mother in the storm. But he told me to relax, they would get Cherie home safe and sound and use the interstate. They know how bad Rt. 5 in Coventry can be. I told him she had to call me, no matter how late.

Cherie did call on her cell phone. Her algebra class had not been cancelled but was leaving early and her father was on his way. As I was making the calls, the lights went on and off a total of eleven times. This didn't worry me at all. As I was on the phone I fed the cats and gave them water. I made sure I did chores that required water, like brushing my teeth. Cherie called again from home, but on her cell phone because they lose the house phone without power. She was safe, the ride home was "dicey" but she had known her father could do it in his truck. (I think I need one of these trucks that can "do it.") Finally the lights went out and never came back.

I had my flashlight and extra D cells, some AAA and AA batteries (but no idea what they were for besides remote controls), some nice fat candles, three candle lanterns that made blackouts cozy and homey, and 100 unscented tea lights. I put the tea lights in one of the lanterns, 12 at a time, and it made the most marvelous light. I could continue my phone calls very comfortably. So I called Anna on her cell, using the number Amy had written and left on the counter. A Spanish woman answered and hung up on me. I called Andrew's cell phone using the number in my address book from my purse, but someone else now owns that number. I had turned off the computer to save the battery power, but I fired it up again to get a list of people I might want to call or would need to call. Then I started again: Anna, no answer, so I left a very, very long message. The same with Andrew. I tried Anna's house and left another message. I called Amy again. I was going to call Simonne but I became suddenly tired and took my books, flashlight, and glasses to bed.

I was asleep before 10 PM. Not even that excellent book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time could keep me awake. It was 62 degrees upstairs.

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