I could write the word c*nt and have a better chance of not getting censored than if I write the word C*vid. But this weekend has all been about taking risks so here I go…
My son Jackson and I were in Texas this weekend, Austin specifically, and before I continue: nope, didn’t check the weather forecast…
When we got to Austin on Friday, it was 11 degrees and there was no sun. We have been to Toronto many times and we thought we were in Toronto. I told that to my husband on the phone. He had never heard of Austin being compared to Toronto.
It was grey, all of the trees were covered in ice and it looked like another planet.
Friday and Saturday were marginally quiet. Some glazy cars but nothing a windshield defroster couldn’t handle.
Come Sunday, an ice storm of the century moved in, coating an already coated city in an inch of additional ice while we were at a hockey game. When we came out, the world had fallen apart. Our eleven-mile drive back to the hotel took over an hour.
6:30pm: There is now a declared state of emergency and every food establishment and grocery store has been closed since 4pm. On the most treacherous drive I have ever experienced, we were able to stop at a 7 Eleven to get cans of soup and cereal because the cashier had been there since 2pm and stayed to work “his shift” because his relief called in due to weather. He had walked to work.
8:00pm: I am able to sit and call Jet Blue about our flight home on Monday but the wait time to talk to an actual person is at least 80 minutes, the recording tells me. The website gives me no flight options until Friday.
2:00am: the power goes out in our hotel (and we would learn most of the surrounding area).
9:00am: It’s no longer warm in our hotel room.
9:05am: We are now in the care of two angels, Sue, in my husband’s office, and Mark, her trusty Travel Agent (remember those??)
10:00am: We have a choice: to move to a hotel two miles away that has power, or to drive to Dallas on untouched highways with 5 inches of snow, some higher due to snow drifts.
The sun had emerged for the first time during our trip and it sparkled on the snow that blanketed every surface in Austin. It was dazzling. But like a beautiful mean girl, her beauty was fleeting.
10:05am: My son selfishly or prophetically, votes for driving to Dallas, where there are many more flight options. I agree. At this time on Monday, our flight options on any airline out of Austin were on Thursday.
10:10am: We drive out of the parking lot in our Nissan Rouge rental car and head north. We were going to know in the next half hour if we stood any chance of driving in that unplowed snow.
Note dear reader (I’ve watched Bridgerton too many times): the Nissan Rouge is a rock star.
In hindsight, we were foolish on barely passable highways with NOONE else, there were long stretches of time when we saw no cars. One spin out and we were screwed. Route 35 from Austin to Ft. Worth is farmland and nothing else. That’s why the actual speed limit signs say 80MPH. It’s straight and flat.
We truly had divine help.
Meanwhile, Mark the Angel travel agent has been working feverously on his day off, trying to get us a hotel and a semblance of a flight home.
1:00pm: The roads improve the farther we get away from Austin. Less snow, more slush, actually seeing the pavement.
3:30pm: We arrive 180 miles later at the Sheraton, Arlington (5 hours later for a 3 hour drive). By this time, all Arlington locals have been out of power since 2am, like we had been in Austin. I walk into the Sheraton to a check-in line 18 people deep. I have to pee but am not getting out of line because droves of people are walking in behind me.
Oh and the manager just made an announcement. This Sheraton has no power and the generator has been frozen over. But the rooms are warm from sheer design, he tells us. Locals have nowhere to go, most stay, even after hearing the news. I am in line for almost an hour while Mark tries dozens of hotels but all are now sold out from locals leaving their homes.
I chat with two lovely, humble, local women as I wait in line. One is seventy. She has driven to every hotel within the area, and says this Sheraton is the best bet. The other hotels are worse. But all she seems to be worried about is getting her next Covid shot and not getting sick in this crowd of people. The other woman was using the flames of her gas stove for heat in her home until her pipes froze. She had no choice but to leave her home.
Just as I’m next in line to check in, Sue calls me. Mark got us a room at the Omni downtown Dallas, a half hour away. I wait for a confirm number for that before leaving the Sheraton to drive downtown (after I pee). It’s now almost 5pm and getting darkish. Driving in the bright sun and snow was one thing. Driving on the now iced over roads in the dark is quite another.
As I exit, I look back at the check-in line at the Sheraton. It now has about 70 people on it waiting to check in.
5:15pm: We made it to the Omni. It was an oasis in a sea of desperation for many including me. Confirmation number in hand, I wait my turn to check in while more locals carrying their own blankets, with yesterday’s bed head, stream in to ask if there are any rooms available. Every one of them gets a “no, I’m sorry.”
What happened to those people? Where did they go?
6:00pm: Jackson and I are in one of the most beautiful hotel rooms I’ve ever been in, on the 13th floor! Room 1333 to be exact. I was happy the Goddess was with us. Like I could have any doubt.
6:10pm: We go down to a hot meal and a 15oz. glass of Pinot Noir (yes, 15 oz., the gal gave me a double after hearing I drove from Austin)
7:00pm: Back up in the room for the night, I sob in the bathroom from gratitude that we are in this place, my son is safe and fed and we can sleep.
Most of the day Jackson is whining that he is missing school. My parental lessons of gratitude and perspective go over his head and I give up and just ignore him until we leave for the airport. The way this trip has gone, I was not going to lose the dread in my stomach until we touched down in NY. So I had a while to go.
Dallas was expecting more snow and ice so if we didn’t get out Tuesday, we would be there until probably Friday.
12:30pm: I drag us away from our glorious Omni and trek to the airport.
1:15pm: I have mixed feelings about giving up our Nissan Rouge, it had taken good care of us.
1:45pm: The terminal is on a skeleton crew, due to Covid and the storm. It was eerie. The Departures screens list 90% of flights to anywhere cancelled.
We get to our gate, our plane is already there. Sigh of relief. We are taking American Airlines and Dallas is their hub. I feel confident, yet dread still lingers in my stomach.
4:45pm: Screen says Boarding in 5 minutes.
4:50pm: Gate Agent reaches for her trusty microphone. “Ladies and Gentlemen the plane has a mechanical issue, boarding is delayed ½ hour.”
I look over at the plane, there are attached tubes to an open hatch. You don’t want to see attached tubes to an open hatch.
As the sun sets and the temp goes down to single digits again, I start round the clock pleading to God, Divine Mother, Angels, anyone who may be left on this skeleton crew.
There is one other flight leaving for NY right now. We get two standby tickets and run 15 gates to see if we can get on that.
Jackson runs back to our gate to check on the status.
Gate change, new plane.
Not just gate change but terminal change, C to A. Jackson had been complaining of not much exercise today so he is getting it now.
We pass a different gate agent telling his lot of passengers that “tomorrow will have even less flights than today so please be patient.”
We arrive to the new gate, screen says boarding in 2 minutes. The crew boards the plane. I have never been so happy to see a pilot.
We are a go!
I felt like Airforce One in the movie Independence Day as we taxied down and away from a city literally imploding with no relief in sight.
Austin is currently under another ice storm and expecting snow tomorrow.
I just read a mayor of one of the impacted cities resigned after his comment about residents needing to “sink or swim.” It wasn’t politically correct but it was truthful. Oh how we get punished for telling the truth.
I had a first hand account of what is truly happening in most of Texas right now. Most of these folks have never seen weather like this in their entire lives. And now, more than 24 hours without power in single digit temperatures, and no emergency services anywhere, they are simply unequipped without supplies or knowhow to manage this. It truly IS sink or swim. It reminded me of Hurricane Katrina. No real relief ever came to those people. And I didn’t see any relief coming to the city of Austin.
Hotels were taking the brunt of emergency management but were very limited with their food supplies due to Covid restrictions. In fact I saw many injustices to those in need simply because workers were following Covid rules. It was very eye opening and disheartening, how human beings could deny helping another because they were following bullshit rules made by some bullshit agency that was nowhere to be found during an emergency. Every one of those people turned away or on line at the Sheraton for two hours to check in would gladly risk Covid to have a warm place to keep their families. I talked to one of them.
I haven’t even mentioned the homeless population whose makeshift shelters were blowing in the wind under many a bridge in Austin. They were abandoned to more formal homeless shelters and probably had gotten a better night sleep than most locals.
Or the cattle, how do free range cows deal with 4 days of ice? I saw many a bird die on the highways Monday.
Now home, snuggly in my bathrobe, I feel blessed for so many reasons, one being this experience. It was raw and brought me to the brink of what I think I can handle in one day, make that 5 days.
I also know for sure our world is broken. The system is broken. And no one in so-called power is going to fix it. It’s yet another wake up call that we all have to take responsibility and pitch in to see the world we want to see, by realizing that as a race of human beings we are all connected through our humanity. And when one suffers we all suffer. This trip changed me, for the better.
In Austin, they are waiting until the snow melts to restart life. That could be days from now.