Catastrophe | Mark’s Remarks

Yes, we were caught in the recent icy nightmare that came upon the St. Louis area on Friday, Dec. 16. The entire day amazed me for several reasons.

My younger son and I began our day heading down to pick up my older son at school. We had a borrowed vehicle with a trailer behind us, hauling some used furniture to my son for use in his dorm room. It was to be a quick trip; a turn around and come right back type trip.

During driver’s education in high school, we often heard about hydroplaning and black ice, two things I’d never seen or dealt with. I can no longer say that.

On the way down to my son’s school, a little front moved through and deposited just a light mist on the road.  However, when I turned on the windshield wipers, there seemed to be a little freezing going on. Later on down the road, we had a little bit of a scare when I put the breaks on.

Hello, black ice. I didn’t see you there.

Soon, the weather was fine and we got back up to the luxurious speed of 70 miles per hour. Son No. 1 was picked up in short order after depositing the furniture and grabbing some lunch. Off we went.

That little voice told me to stop at an exit near Sullivan, Mo. But heck, we had plenty of gas and we had just stopped for a soda and snack. All was well.  I should’ve listened to that little voice; we soon found ourselves in that traffic nightmare that will surely go down as one of the monumental St. Louis catastrophes of 2016.

We stayed on the highway for 90 minutes, not moving. It was weird but also strangely comforting to know we were all in this together. I told the boys that we were very blessed with full stomachs, a fairly full gas tank, and each other, too. We were entertained by the guy on the country station who had given up playing records in favor of taking calls from stranded motorists.

Funny how certain situations cause you to make decisions you wouldn’t usually make.

After the first hour of sitting on the highway, I had decided to find a hotel. Once traffic started to inch along, we found the nearest exit and turned in to an inviting hotel, all lit up and cozy looking. As I passed by the on ramp back to the highway, I noticed traffic was piled up again. In fact, even an hour later, the on ramp was impassable.

As we pulled in, I made the comment that I hoped there were rooms left.

“We can stay in the stable out back,” quipped one of the boys.

Just like a scene from the movies, there we stood in a line waiting for rooms. I heard the lady say that the hotel across the road — the only other hotel — was booked solid. Then I heard her say they only had one room left. Ugh. I started to think about sleeping in the car.

The last room left happened to be their “presidential suite” of a cottage out back. It was luxurious, a perfect place for a family taking a sight-seeing vacation or visiting Six Flags and St. Louis area attractions. For three guys, two without a change of clothing or even a tooth brush, it seemed a bit much.

With a gulp, I paid the fee and we slid across the parking lot to this luxurious cottage.  Once inside, we began laughing at the posh surroundings and the fact we had no choice other than the car. Oh well. Thank you, Lord for providing for us.

We ordered a pizza and made a night of it, pondering which of the three bathrooms we’d use first and how warm the gas powered fireplace would get.  It was a fun evening of catching up with college sun, eating pizza, and watching some old movies.

We had nowhere to go and nothing much to do.

As I watched the news that night, I was still in awe of the sense of camaraderie, the sense of community, and how everyone seemed to be able to handle the whole thing. I’m sure the folks of the old days would laugh at us, but I was pretty proud of how everyone worked together.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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