We would both like to take a minute to thank our wives for putting up with the crazy traveling we both do. While we are on the road, they are left at home to tend to our kids, the house and any emergency that arises.
Upon us all ...My car radio reported the following: "The National Weather Service warns, Hurricane Floyd will batter the east coast with strong winds and torrential rains."
The rational thing to do would be to cancel your flight and stick close to home. Is that what Bill did? You guessed it, not a chance. I picked him up in Baltimore after driving for hours through bumper-to-bumper traffic. We momentarily discuss his getting right back in the air on the last available flight. This would have been the prudent thing to do, as unbeknownst to us, the show we were scheduled to attend was cancelled due to the ever-worsening weather.
We retrieve Bill's luggage and head off for the parking garage. As I turn out onto I-95, the phone rings and the caller informs us the show is cancelled. At this point, common sense dictates staying put. Once again, logic is ignored, and an executive decision is made.
There is no time to find a hotel and regroup. Instead it is decided we will make a road trip to northern Pennsylvania to call on a customer. As we head north, we notice the wind is picking up and traffic starting to back up. Finally, forced to find a hotel and stop for the night, our sanity comes into question. Each of us call home and we are forced to admit, at least to ourselves, the weather may be a bit worse than initially thought.
The next morning, we set out for our appointment. Picking our way carefully through fallen tree branches and puddles the size of Delaware, we cast a sideways glance at each other and inwardly concede we may have made a mistake. Halfway to our destination, the buffeting winds and torrential downpour suddenly awaken the long dormant part of our brains reserved for making lucid decisions simultaneously and we decide to turn back.
As we attempt to proceed, we are met by one obstacle after another. For the next few hours, closed roads, detours, downed power lines and generally nasty conditions persist. Just when I think it can't possibly get any worse, my cell phone rings. I answer a call from my frantic wife who informs me the electricity is out at home, and water is starting to come into the basement. This is the point in the saga where I admit to being a bonehead. Ignoring the power of Mother Nature and heading out despite numerous warnings was foolishly macho ... another word for stupid. I should be at home with my family, along with all the other sane people on the east coast.
Needing to take my mind off the jackpot we are in, I ask Bill if he has any misspent traveling tales.
"You're heading straight for Frigia!"About five years ago, when courage first met stupidity, we were at a tradeshow in Chicago, and had met a strong business contact from the Manufactured Housing Industry, headquartered in Elkhart, Ind. After brief discussion regarding the particulars, it was determined that we were to meet at this facility in Elkhart on Tuesday morning. Typically, driving to Elkhart from Chicago takes about three or four hours. The show closed on Sunday afternoon, so we felt we had ample time.
On Monday morning, we awoke to about six inches of snow on the ground. Not even remotely unusual for that time of year (February), it wasn't a cause for concern. The fact that the snow was still coming down might have been a cause for concern but not in our world.
The question of whether or not to travel was answered quickly. My traveling mates were raised in Hawaii and I in New England, so my experience of driving in white weather was that of "doughnuts" in the icy parking lots and playing bumper cars with my '68 Chevy Caprice. It was not maneuvering through unfamiliar roadways of the Midwest with increasing macular degeneration and decreasing confidence. Enter foolish pride. I assured my road mates that this was just a passing flurry; a little lake effect dusting that would pass without incidence.
About an hour and six newscasts into the drive, one of my road mates commented on the inordinate absence of passenger vehicles. Increasingly, the only thing we were seeing were vehicles in excess of 5,000 pounds with a minimum of six wheels. That was when someone muttered the first uh-oh. Shortly thereafter, trucks attempting to exit the highway, I-65, were spinning off of the exits and subsequently road blocking any attempt at egress. At this point we knew it foolish to continue, yet impossible to exit.
The weather turned even worse quickly, and soon we weren't even moving. We thought that there may have been plowing equipment that was slowing traffic, but what we came to realize later was that so many trucks had tried to exit and spun out, the highway had become a parking lot.
In the following hours, we alternated between clearing snowdrifts away from the tailpipe to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, and scribbling out our last wills and testaments. I was certain that if we were all to meet our demise in this manner as a result of my earlier decision-making, I would likely be eaten by the others-if not by survival instinct, then as a last bitter act of revenge.
Sometime into the evening and well into the storm, it was determined by committee that rather than entertaining thoughts of cannibalism, it might be prudent to seek sustenance. So, after a rousing round of rock-paper-scissors, I was left to man the vehicle while my traveling mates would brave the snowdrifts to walk to the next exit, buy some food, and bring it back. About two hours later, they returned carrying two brown paper bags. As I watched them walk toward the vehicle huddled as if they were scaling Everest, visions of convenience store tuna sandwiches danced in my head.
They entered the vehicle as in a solemn, businesslike manner. I couldn't smell hot food in the brown bags, but was ready to settle for anything. Out came a twelve pack of Heineken, a fifth of gin and a bag of pretzels. Stale.
"Where's the food?"
"This is all the store had left."
The rest of the night was what I would imagine a shipwreck being like. You wind up on a raft, at the mercy of the elements, becoming more familiar with people than you'd have wished. We listened to the car radio as a desperate sounding helicopter reporter mourned what he perceived from above as a Hindenburg-like disaster. At one point, we had the idea of using the snowdrifts as a refrigerator for the beer.
After midnight, some Coast Guard snowmobiles drove up to check on us and they drove right over the bottles. We knew we were blessed when the soft snowdrifts absorbed the bottles without breaking them. We told the Coast Guard thanks, but to go ahead and rescue those who truly needed rescuing. Twenty-five hours and a half a hangover later, we were one of the only vehicles to drive from the highway through a maze of twisted metal like a scene from Mad Max.
We missed the appointment, yet our lives were spared. As funny as the situation was for us several years later, several people did in fact lose their lives to that storm.
Now, what have you got Kevin Bush?Parallels can be drawn from this experience. Most of us must make important decisions daily that can be potentially life threatening. Those of us encounter many more such choices in the field. Do we buckle under when a contractor dictates an unrealistic schedule, and we climb onto unsafe staging, (or even worse a knot covered plank) because we feel there isn't enough time to proceed safely? Do we decide to start hanging a house not properly dried-in, knowing full well there is a lawyer lurking in the shadows who will represent the homeowner if mold rears its ugly head because there was moisture present in the walls?
Our lives and the lives of those we love are affected by these perceived small and insignificant decisions we are required to make daily. While the anecdotes you just read ultimately had a humorous outcome, the results could have just as easily been tragic.
Remember: Take a minute to think things through before acting next time. The life you save may be mine.