Just another flurry in Buffalo

Their flight was leaving out of Buffalo Niagara International. We’d heard the ominous snowy forecasts: “Flurries in the south towns, increasingly heavy toward the city,”

My daughter and son-in-law, who was hobbling on crutches with a broken leg, had come for the Christmas holiday, 2001. Alix and Ian’s return to Boston on schedule was mandatory. They were in a wedding in Maine, needing to arrive on Thursday. It was Wednesday morning, clear and dry in our driveway.

The airline reported that all flights were on schedule, so we shrugged our shoulders, loaded the car, and left just a little bit early. For some unknown reason, I grabbed my medicine bag on the way out.

Everything was fine the first hour to the Thruway. The flurries began about 10 minutes up the highway, rapidly morphing into blizzard conditions. Trying to stay in-lane was a juggling act among fighting the huge wind gusts from the west, keeping the car off the right shoulder, and trying to see anything straight ahead. Like a parked car. My eyes burned.

Snow was blowing sideways. Traffic was less and less as the snow we were pushing through got deeper and deeper. We learned later that the Thruway plows weren’t out for one simple reason: the thruway was closed. We must have been the last vehicle admitted through the Dunkirk toll. All our extra time was gone.

After we finally parked near the terminal, the departure level inside was a noisy, disgruntled mob scene. The terrazzo floor was covered with water being traipsed in. I realized that Ian should not be navigating that floor with crutches. Their flight was canceled just as we arrived.

Alix joined a long ticket line and began working her phone.

I reserved a Day’s Inn room directly across the street, which the reservation clerk confided was the last room available. I drove Ian to the hotel and settled him into the room.

The phone rang just as we got Ian’s shoes off. Alix had talked to someone about the trains running to Rochester. My girl, a fast-thinking, fast-dialing problem solver, booked a flight out of Rochester. And the train was scheduled to leave in a half hour.

The city of Buffalo had closed all roads but this scofflaw found the train station – in the era before GPS – just in time. Ian boarded precariously while his live-in Sherpa handled all their luggage. We exchanged goodbye hugs in the still dumping snow. I was anxious about backtracking to that hotel room in the still zero visibility and deepening drifts. I passed the lighted sign of a Wegmans, made a quick decision, and drove across their parking lot to the front door.

My hasty haul included a sub sandwich, a bunch of fruit, cottage cheese, some forbidden snacks, and three paperback books. There. That should hold me until they open the Thruway tomorrow. Fuggedaboudit.

Thursday came and went – no open Thruway. By Friday morning I was out of cottage cheese and had two bananas and one paperback left. The scene at the hotel was dire. The vending machines were empty. The coffee was gone. The McDonald’s down the street was out of food as were the two nearby hotels… with employees sleeping in the lobbies. The heavy snow continued.

We, the hostages of the storm, were a motley bunch. My fellow travelers were from all parts of the world, not just Western New York. Most, like me, were sleeping in the clothes on our backs.

The family of seven beside my room were traveling from New Delhi to St. Catharine’s, Ontario. Only the husband spoke some English. They had an infant, a toddler, two other children, and an elderly grandmother shivering in her sari. I wondered about their supply of diapers and medicines. I’m pretty sure they ate their first pizza, the only deliverable food. The pizza guys were working around the clock, navigating the roads illegally, and receiving huge tips.

The desk clerk never left, sleeping between inquiries. She made me deposit $20 for use of her only shovel. In addition to walking the halls, I exercised shoveling out my car morning and afternoon. I desperately needed to move, plus I wanted a head start when they finally opened the thruway. As I cleared it each time, I started the car and sat in it for a while.

On day three, the desk clerk just nodded at the constantly traded 20 and said to put it back in my pocket.

She knew I wasn’t leaving. The snow and winds continued.

The kids got to Boston late Wednesday night and arrived in Maine on time.

The Thruway opened Saturday afternoon. My first stop was for coffee.

To say I was thrilled to be home after four days, is an understatement. The weather forecast that Saturday evening was “flurries in the south towns.”

This is a recording.

Marcy O’Brien can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com


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