About 25 years ago, the wife and I went to our first knife show. It was in Detroit. I had found out about it from a knifemakers’ magazine I had subscribed to. Raising the kids, we had not been on many trips, for many years. We had driven seven hours to vacation at a lake where the brother-in-law liked to fish. We took a one-year-old and a four-year-old to Niagara Falls, as my parents had taken my brother and me, and we drove a hundred miles each way, every month to visit my parents.
We had not been away by ourselves, and had not been out of the country for over twenty years. I reminded MasterCard of that fact, the month we got a charge for a J.C.Penny store in Buffalo. We could afford a weekend away, and needed it.
There might have been online map sites, but back that far, we hadn’t even bought a dial-up connection. High-speed internet was still only a gleam in my computer’s eye. I relied on tour-books and maps from CAA. That’s AAA, with a Maple Leaf on it. I found a cheap motel a quarter-mile from the expensive hotel where the knife show was being held, right across I-94 from the airport. While I assured the wife that there were 5 or 6 hotels/motels within a stone’s throw, she insisted that I phone in a reservation. I told the clerk we’d arrive around 8 or 9 PM.
The show back then was held near the end of February. I got off work Friday at 3 PM, loaded the wife and luggage into the car and headed for the bank, to get American cash. We exited the bank on a clear, and still sunny day. Just as I got into the car, one little snowflake hit my nose.
Soon we were zipping along Highway 401, Ontario’s answer to Interstates. It started to cloud over and a bit more snow fell. Thirty miles along there was a clot of cars by the center median. I buzzed past at 110 Km/h (70 MPH) and realized there were two stuck in the snow, one of them upside-down. Perhaps I should slow down a bit, first to 100, then to 90, as the snow got more serious.
We were listening to local radio stations for weather reports as we moved. I had just passed London, ON when the radio report said that the Ontario Provincial Police had closed the 401 “at London.” 90 Km/h became 80, and then 70! The snow thickened, and the traffic thinned out. Soon I could see no other vehicles in either direction, speed down to 60, then 50. See other vehicles? I could barely see the edge of the road.
As we crept along, debating what to do, finally I saw a big-rig slowly overtaking me. He’s got more lights and a better angle on the road, so I slowed down and let him pass me. It was a Verspeeten Transport truck, from back where the car was upside-down. With his headlights, and him breaking trail for me, we’re back to moving at 65/70. I followed him for miles and miles. We’ve had a soft spot for Verspeeten ever since, and always look for them.
Near an overpass, a car was way down in a deep ditch. We both stopped and checked it out, but the driver must have climbed the hill to the crossroad. The trucker told me he had to turn off at Chatham, and I would be on my own, but time and distance had broken the storm. The snow was abating.
When he finally pulled off, I continued. Just as we passed the Chatham interchange, the new radio station announced that the O.P.P. had closed the highway, “at Chatham.” Dead-of-night dark, no other traffic and over a foot of snow on the road, we ventured onward. More than another hour of driving till we reached the outskirts of Windsor, at the border.
Just as we pulled off the highway, onto city streets, the radio told us that the plows were going out to clear the road, and the highway had been closed at Windsor, till they were finished. It was the fastest we ever crossed the border. Two drivers from Windsor and I wanted to cross the Ambassador Bridge, and the border guards were happy for the business.
When we got to the Detroit side, the snow had stopped, and the Americans had cleared most of it away – except on the traffic signs. This had been a wet, clingy snow, and every sign was coated. I managed to get onto I-94, and headed towards the airport. My little CAA map gave me no idea of scale.
I had no idea how big metro-Detroit was. I drove and drove and had no idea where I was. I finally pulled off I-94 on an exit that seemed to go only into a Ford plant. I booted a street-sign to knock the snow off it, and checked my map. I was still only ¾ of the way to the motel. Back on the road, I soon found where I was supposed to be.
The huge snowstorm had closed the airport. There were hundreds of stranded passengers. I pulled into the motel, and went in to register. I wound up at the end of a row of 9 or 10 people. Each one in turn would approach the counter and ask if they could get a room for the night. The clerk would tell each one in turn that they were full up, and there were no rooms available. And yet the next in line would step up, and ask the same dumb question, and get the same resigned answer.
Finally, it was my turn. I stepped forward and noted the look on the clerk’s face. Oh no, not another one! I pulled a piece of paper from my pocket and placed it in front of her. “My name is “John Smith”. I have a reservation. This is my confirmation number.” And the face lit up, finally someone she could help, who wouldn’t bitch. The wife couldn’t resist an, “I told you so.” about phoning in the reservation.
I checked the registration form later. I officially checked in at 12:07 AM. The estimated 8 or 9 PM arrival time was considerably delayed. Our hoped-for 3 to 4 hour drive had taken over eight hours. One little snowflake on my nose before we started was fun. It was when he brought a couple of trillion of his friends, and ganged up on me that things got a little hairy.