January 29, 2014

Misty Watson: After snow hits, dad comes to the rescue

— I don’t even like to drive when it’s 65 degrees and sunny.

So when you throw a layer of ice down disguised as snow, I’m definitely not a fan of being behind the wheel of my little 2007 Ford Focus.

The little old 80-year-old lady within comes out as I lean forward over the wheel, gripping so hard I have white knuckles, my teeth clenched, my stomach a ball of nerves, trying to tell my foot to quit shaking on the gas pedal.

I was sitting in the newsroom wishing for more snow around 10 a.m. Tuesday. I was confident that once the mad rush of people trying to get home passed through, road conditions would improve. Snow isn’t great to drive in, but I know if you stay at a reasonably steady speed, you’ll be fine.

When my husband, Chris Wheeler, who works off Abutment Road, called to say he’d gone about eight miles in an hour and a half, reality set in, and I knew I’d struggle to make it home myself.

He had slid backwards on a hill because people in front of him had stopped, thankfully not into anyone or off the road.

At 2 p.m., after hours of hearing the wrecks on the scanner in the newsroom, I did what any 31-year-old girl would do.

I called my daddy to the rescue!

My dad, Donnie Watson, who works in Tunnel Hill, drives a four-wheel drive truck. I’ve never been with someone who has more control of the road in these situations than he did. I was relying on Chris to make it to our daughter’s sitter’s and to stay home with her. He would have also willingly picked me up.

Dad arrived a little before 3 p.m. I bolted out the door, gathered everything I could out of my car, which also serves as my coat closet, and climbed in his truck ready for an adventure.

Dad sits confidently and relaxed, but alert, behind the wheel.

We drove through downtown Dalton, hit the bridge across Waugh Street at 3:12 p.m. (where I snapped a rather lovely photo of Hamilton Street blanketed in snow from the passenger side of the moving truck. Yes, every photo I shot Tuesday was from the passenger side. I was not taking photos and driving.)

We cruised across Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in four-wheel drive. The road often so white in places, you couldn’t make out lanes very clearly. Usually my drive from the office to my house in Chatsworth takes about 20 minutes depending on traffic flow. After seeing MLK Boulevard, I was confident with my dad behind the wheel, this trip wouldn’t be much different.

But then we got to the traffic light at the four-lane, ready to turn east.

Cars blocked the intersection bumper to bumper. When the light turned green, we had no way of moving onto the four-lane for several rotations. Cars westbound were running red lights instead of chancing slowing down and sliding.

It took us an hour to crawl from that intersection to the light at the bypass.

Dad and I had some good bonding time griping about how apparently all traffic laws fly out the window when icy snow is involved.

Finally, we were next up at the light. People hung out in the intersections, determined to make it onto the four-lane that would carry them home, creating a massive traffic problem.

Dad made it through the light, his tailgate barely clearing the intersection as the light turned red again.

The driver of a transfer truck turning onto the South Bypass decided he’d had enough. He ran the red light completely blocking the intersection and nearly taking off my dad’s truck bed with him as he eased more and more toward the South Bypass.

Dad inched closer to the truck in front of him, still stuck in a gridlock. The transfer truck passed slowly, just missing dad’s truck.

Then we saw cars stalled in the left lane, yet a car in the right lane was trying to merge in front of us.

I rolled down the window and told her her lane was clear to stay where she was. She didn’t listen. Traffic merged from the South Bypass onto the four-lane, clogging up our chance to get into the right lane and away the chaos happening around us.

Finally, a car let us over, and we saw what the holdup was.

An SUV was pulling a truck up the icy incline with a chain. Cars were using the grassy median to get enough traction to make it up the hill.

Once you got up that first hill near Maddox Chapel Road, the road cleared.

We didn’t hit any more problems.

And we’re fortunate. At 4:38 p.m. we rolled into my driveway. My husband took two and a half hours. Some of his co-workers took four hours.

Still, it’s nothing compared to what some people have faced or are facing, especially in the Atlanta area. At noon on Wednesday, some people have been stranded for 24 hours on main arteries in and around the city.

There are reports of mothers in cars with babies down to one diaper. Nursing mothers who cannot reach their infants. Elderly couples who abandoned their cars in dress shoes to walk for shelter.

The more I hear those stories, the more I’m thankful my adventure was annoying and amusing instead of life-threatening.