Friday, December 23, 2016

left lawrence kansas at like ten thirty a.m., having had a good breakfast, last hugs on my new grandson, one and a half months, and granddaughter, six, and off i went through kansas city and east through missouri. my destination was carbondale illinois, six hours mostly east, requiring me to go across missouri on seventy, through columbia, then through saint louis, and finally an hour east and an hour south.

a freak icy drizzle hit western missouri, and trucks slowed down. it's really hilly out there, and after kansas city there were signs that it was glazed if you got off the road, and kind of dicey on the road. fortunately seventy was crowded - it seemed like the freezing rain didn't have a chance to land on it, and i did what i often do in such circumstances, find a truck whose speed i like, and hang a save distance behind him, letting him test the icy parts, if not crush them. at the rest area west of columbia they gave me the coffee for free; some truckers were talking about the trouble but i barely understood them.

but in columbia, there were more signs of trouble. by now the traffic was at a crawl and often stopped, sometimes for minutes at a time. going north-south, at the exits in columbia, it was clearly icy all over the place, and because it was hilly, cars had slid off the road, into wire fences, turned over, smashed into each other, etc. i found a columbia radio station and they were saying, basically, the whole city was paralyzed. people would try to get on the interstate and we'd let them in, but we weren't going very fast either.

more hills on the other side of columbia, but things didn't get real bad until around wentzville. just before that i pulled off to pee the coffee i'd been given at about noon. but now it was about six - i still wasn't hungry. the roads off the interstate were very slick; the parking lot was slick. a lot of people had pulled over, given up. that wasn't an option for me. i saw the cars moving below and went back down in it.

but now, near wentzville, we stopped altogether, and it turned out to be for four hours. i kept the car running the whole time, since i was on the interstate, and i never knew when traffic would start again. the radio now was my solace. they would report on people's efforts to get off the road and take back roads. they would take calls from people who were stranded out there somewhere near me. it felt better, knowing there were a bunch of us in the same position. the heck of it was, it had gotten warmer, and they said so - the slick glaze was ending in most places, like saint louis, and the roads themselves shouldn't be a problem. they couldn't tell people when to break out of their logjam.

some people blamed mo-dot, but mo-dot's main crime was not salting the roads beforehand, not knowing it would freeze. once the roads were packed, they said, mo-dot couldn't get out there any better than anyone else. and the problem was clearly jackknifes - some trucks had gone too fast, stopped up all traffic, in both directions, and while mo-dot, or someone, could clear up a jackknife, they can't always determine how fast to unloosen traffic. they have other priorities. if there are medical emergencies, they deal with them. they don't direct traffic.

eleven thirty, i got to driving through wentzville an into saint louis. saint louis was clear but people were ok with me going only about fifty, still leery about the ice. it was warm and wet, and what little traffic there was, was flying through it. got across the mississippi at about one, determined to never set foot in the state of missouri again. but, on the illinois side, at a rest area a half an hour into the state, there was another one. trucks were slowed down or stopped. i pulled off in the rest area, which was very slick, frozen solid. couldn't walk on the sidewalks; everything was glazed. people were waiting or sleeping in the rest area. they freely told me what the police had said; they were working on it, salting the roads, hoping it got warmer. i saw the trucks moving and got back in the lanes.

once again, behind some truck the roads themselves didn't seem too bad. you let the trucks do the dirty work and give them plenty of room. sure, lots of the drivers were asleep already, having given up. i had no information about one twenty seven, my road south to carbondale, a two-lane which, when slick, could leave me out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. but when i got there, and this was about two thirty, it was warm again. water, yes, but ice, no. seemed like a steamy evening in southern illinois, like usual. i shot down, and got to carbondale about three thirty, fifteen hours after i'd left.

i was traumatized by the whole experience; still am. it was wild that it would be the whole state of missouri, pretty much, but apparently it has happened before, and could easily happen again. i'm avoiding driving. i'm paranoid of ice. i did go back through the state, and all was normal, but upon arrival at home i got sick with a cold and sore throat, and haven't been myself. i was glad my car handled well and didn't end up on the side of the road - i did it right. i got through it the best i could. it wasn't a disaster as some people experience - a lost or abandoned car, a three day nightmare, no. it just happened and was over.

the icy glaze, on the trees and grass outside columbia, and even in columbia, was beautiful. for hours i'd be by a brambly woods with no way out, but the woods were beautiful, and i was warm enough, with music, not running out of gas. it was merely an exercise in patience. and in reaching out to people who were in a similar situation.


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