January Travel, in Three Acts

Act I

I had driven my parents home in their car from Asheville to Winston-Salem after my dad’s heart attack. I figured it would be easy to make the 2 hour journey return home somehow: rent a car, fly, take a bus… options were (almost) endless. I chose to purchase a bus ticket. I’m still not that fond of driving, and riding along, watching the scenery, appealed to me. Greyhound e-ticket on phone, I headed to the bus station at 1 pm on New Year’s Eve.

We got almost to our destination, basically 20 miles away from Asheville, when we saw blue lights flashing ahead of us. The State Troopers had closed the interstate. They said that a freak storm had hit and all the roads were covered in black ice. Multiple accidents had already happened, and they were closing the roads until they could be treated. The bus pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot, where the driver announced we’d wait for an hour or so until the roads had been salted and brined. As the 20 or so of us that were on the bus started to disembark, I thought to myself, “What if this is the start of something wonderful? What if we hunker down in the McDonald’s and talk and discover each other’s stories and have a lovely afternoon?” That didn’t happen.

About two hours later, we were back on the road, heading east, back to Winston-Salem. The roads would be closed until later that night, not passable for buses. On the way back to Winston-Salem, the driver said that he was re-routing to Charlotte, where the folks who had tickets for Knoxville, TN, could catch a bus to Atlanta, then on to Knoxville, avoiding the icy mountainous roads we had just left. The folks heading to Asheville could spend the night at the bus station (it was open 24 hours) and catch the first bus to Asheville in the morning at 7 am. If everything went well, we’d be in Asheville by 10 am. I thought to myself, “Not ideal, but not the worse thing in the world either.”

At the Charlotte Greyhound bus station, we stood in line to get re-ticketed. As I approached the counter, the clerk said, “Sorry. We’re sold out.” I looked at him. “What did you say?” “We’re sold out, ma’am. First come, first serve. No more tickets to Asheville.” I looked at him. “What are my options, then?” He clicked onto his keyboard and said, “Well, you can catch the midnight bus to Raleigh (five hours east), then layover there for four hours, then take the Asheville bus from there, which would get you into Asheville at around 10 pm tomorrow night.” I looked at him. “That’s not really an option.” I continued to look at him. “I’m just going to go right over here and have myself a think. Thank you.”

I went and sat down. I had been on a bus or in a McDonald’s for almost nine hours, and I was still over two hours away from my home, the highways were closed, and it was nearing 10:00 pm. Exhaustion swept over me. I booked a hotel room in Charlotte and a Lyft to get me there, and decided that I would be a better decision maker after a good night’s sleep. The Lyft driver who picked me up at the Greyhound station asked me what I was doing there. I explained my predicament. He looked at me and very seriously asked, “Baby girl, why your family hate you?” I paused. “I don’t think my family hates me.” He shook his head slowly. “Soon as you said you was buying a Greyhound ticket, if they cared ‘bout you, they would’ve told you no. When you buy a Greyhound ticket, you never get to where you trying to go.” I told him I wished I had met him earlier in the day.

The hotel I chose was also the hotel that about 100 teenagers had chosen to ring in the new year. I put ear plugs in and wished myself a happy new year.

In the morning, I checked the Department of Transportation websites. The highways were open, and by all accounts, it seemed like they were clear. I thought about my options. I could rent a car, I could buy a one way airplane ticket, or I could book a Lyft. Booking a Lyft was the cheapest option, so I waited as the (what I hoped was AWD) car pulled up to the hotel. He opened the rear door for me to deposit my tote bag. “Before we get comfortable, I need to tell you where I’m going. I’m heading to Asheville. Are you okay with that?” He held up his hand for a high-five and yelled, “Sweet!” The roads were fine, the conversation was delightful, and I walked into my home 24 hours after my journey began, at 1 pm on Monday, New Year’s Day.

Act II

At the end of the month I traveled back to the west coast for a dear friend’s birthday and another dear friend’s wedding. The night before I was due to fly, a snowstorm hit Asheville, dumping four inches of snow on the city. For those who have not lived in the south, any amount of snow shuts everything down. As I prepared to go to the airport, I received message after message saying my flight to Atlanta had been delayed, my flight from Atlanta to San Francisco had been rebooked, my flight to Atlanta had been cancelled, I had been rebooked on another flight, etc. I slowly drove to the airport (thank you, AWD). I checked in and the gate agent cheerfully wished me a happy trip to Atlanta. “Thank you, but I’m going to San Francisco.” He looked at his screen worryingly. My flight to San Francisco had been cancelled when my flight to Atlanta got rebooked. He punched some keys and made some phone calls, as I waited and the line behind me grew deeper and deeper. He said that he thought he had booked me on a flight to San Francisco, but they couldn’t confirm it until I physically arrived in Atlanta. That didn’t sound like a great plan, but it was all I had.

In Atlanta, they confirmed my (delayed and delayed) flight to San Francisco. I arrived exhausted, but happy to be there.

Act III

We were driving from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe. As we drove further and further up the mountain, the weather became more and more inclement. Emily turned on the windshield wipers, which just made a smeary mess of the spray from the road. She tried to spray windshield wiper fluid on the mess to clean it up, and we discovered we were out. I said, “Oh, I’ve got this!” I rolled down the window, uncapped my water bottle, and attempted to throw fresh water on the windshield. The water came flying back into the car, prompting a ten-minute hysterical laughing fit. Travels were going okay after all.

7 thoughts on “January Travel, in Three Acts

  1. > As the 20 or so of us that were on the bus started to disembark, I thought to myself, “What if this is the start of something wonderful? …”

    Freak storm? Stranded strangers? This was one silent visitor short of the opening to any Stephen King book.

  2. Oh Lori! This all sounds terrible but I had a good laugh at the the whole thing. I hope I was laughing *with* you, at least in retrospect! I can’t wait until the next time I get to laugh with you in person!

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