Little Snowflake

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.

20 thoughts on “Little Snowflake

  1. Michelle says:

    But what a story you have to tell! I don’t mind driving in the snow, but I don’t like to be out with the other crazies driving in the snow. 😉


    • Archon's Den says:

      I don’t like having to drive with the crazies, even when it’s bare and dry.
      Aren’t you supposed to wait till I publish a post, before you comment on it? Do you have insomnia? 😦


      • Michelle says:

        Haha, not quite. But I get myself in these night cycles where I stay up too late, then sleep late in the morning. Then can’t get to sleep at a decent hour the next night and on and on. If I have to wake up early for work I’m exhausted so I sleep a few hours after work… and the night cycle continues. I’m a night person by nature – like you! But it allowed me to hop right on that post, didn’t it? 🙂 I didn’t realize how many people set posts to go live in the middle of the night!


  2. bulldog says:

    Lucky we never have to drive in snow… well not up to now… with the funny weather these days I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a white Christmas in the middle of our summer… but it sounded like an enterprising trip…


    • Archon's Den says:

      I learned to drive in a small town beside one of the Great Lakes. Driving in a storm like that was normal. You just have to know how long/how bad it might get, before you decide to just pull off and give up.

      White Christmases are pretty, but not much fun if you’re not used to them. Enterprising is a good word. Interesting is another, as in the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

      Now that we know our way around the metro-Detroit area, I could find 50 hotels/motels within 20 miles. Back then, we were somewhat restricted to that one. 🙂


  3. BrainRants says:

    This sounds like the year I went to get my Mom for Thanksgiving. We wound up looping down through Missouri and Tennessee just to make it back to Fort Knox (Kentucky).


  4. aFrankAngle says:

    I’ve never been big driving in snow — especially in a snow storm. Then again, I’ve never been to a knife show.


    • Archon's Den says:

      I try to plan it so that it’s not necessary, but sometimes it’s just an unwelcome surprise. 😦

      If you ever feel you might wish to attend a show, I’m sure I can find one less than 8 – or even 4 hours away. They hold them in Toledo and Columbus. There used to be one across the bridge, in Covington, but I think it moved north and east, to Montgomery, almost in your back yard.


      • aFrankAngle says:

        Besides Cincinnati … and even Northern Kentucky, Toledo is about 3 hours for me … Columbus about 90 minutes … Dayton an hour.


  5. linda says:

    Driving in the snow can’t be easy. A well told story, I felt like I was on holiday with you guys. I admire your wife…………. She said “I told you so”


    • Archon's Den says:

      Winter driving is like any other skill. Not necessarily wanted, but needed. I’m happy you liked the tale, although it would have been more like a holiday without all that cold, wet, slippery, white stuff. Yes, my wife said, “I told you so,” and many other things over the years.

      I’m happy for the advent of the Internet. Reservations can now be done so quickly and easily – and without the cost of a long-distance telephone call. 😀


  6. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Glad you made it to your destination safely, Archon, and good thing Ladybug thought ahead about the reservation. I’ve never driven in really heavy snow, but I do love the snow. It’s a rare treat for this far down south.


    • Archon's Den says:

      If it’s rare, it’s a treat. If it gets like poor John E., having to climb out a second-storey window, because it’s drifted that high….well, treat isn’t exactly the word. When we were in South Carolina I noticed signs at bridges warning, “Bridge Ices First.” It might happen one day, every two or three years, but it’s so unusual that the unthinking drivers need to be constantly reminded. Nature can get real nasty, real quick. 🙂


  7. I’ve been in a few doozies of snowstorms, but one time, we were headed around the bottom of Lake Michigan from Chicago to my wife’s folks in South Bend, Indiana, when we literally drive into a wall of snow. I couldn’t even see the edge of the road – my wife leaned out the window to look for he edge! We crept along like that, doing about 10mph, for almost 15 minutes. I stated that the next exit, we were getting off the interstate and just parking anywhere we could find, we drove another 10 feet forward, and we were in absolutely clear air. Weirdest dang thing I’d ever seen, and the local radio stations just talked about some “isolated lake effect snow showers”. Shower? How about “white-out”?!?
    I don’t often miss our old Subaru wagon, but there are times I was VERY glad we had it – especially during that little “adventure”.


    • Archon's Den says:

      I’ve heard about that “lake effect” thing, especially when we used to get our American-channel satellite-feed from Buffalo, but I’ve apparently been fortunate enough not to have run into it. I’ll take your word for it. 🙂 Isolated is what you feel when one eats you.


  8. benzeknees says:

    I’ve driven in these hair raising storms too – in the middle of nowhere (in the bush) of NW Ont. The ploughs were usually pretty good about cleaning one lane down the center of the 2 lane highway quickly after the storm, but the longer winter went on the narrower the highway became. And since they didn’t know how to lower their blade, the highway always became a sheet of snow so it was difficult to see where the road ended & the edge started.


  9. Archon's Den says:

    I’ve driven in worse too, though not as far north as you. The main street in my town was extra-wide. Each winter they would plow out from the curbs, and leave a 6/8 foot tall strip down the center. People had to kick 3 or 4 cuts through it, to jay-walk from one side to the other.

    Maybe I was too fixed on taking this first trip, and didn’t pay attention to the weather forecast, but I don’t remember travel warnings. It came as a complete surprise. It was actually a pleasant surprise….after the fact, the wife and I locked in the car together for hours.

    I’m interested that you – and KayJai – still spell it “plough.” Even as old and grumpy as I am, I’ve given in and spell it “plow.” 😀


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