It was 7:00 a.m. and snowing hard. I was dressed for work in my tall boots and long wool skirt and sweater. The car was warming up, and I had my go-cup of coffee filled. The phone-tree person was supposed to call by 7:15 if school was cancelled for the day.
I stood around drinking my coffee and cleaning up the breakfast dishes. Normally I would have been out the door by then to make it to school fifteen miles away for the first bell at 7:45.
No one called, so I headed down to the car port and backed out into the unplowed snow. It had been coming down all night.
I slipped and slid to the freeway ramp and passed a couple of snow plows on the way. Not too many drivers were out in the weather. I slowly made my way, staying in the far right lane as semi-tractor trailers passed me by. Each time their tires threw snow up onto my windshield, and prayed. Let me get to school without having an accident.
From I-80 East I crossed over the Missouri River and then turned north on I-29 and made it to my exit for Lewis Central Middle School. As I tuned up the hill to the school, I realized that I hadn’t seen any buses back at the high school I had just passed. I hadn’t seen any cars in the kids’ parking lot, either.
At the top of the hill, I saw the principal standing at the entrance, turning away the teachers. When I pulled up, he said, “Go home, school is cancelled today.”
“But I didn’t get a call!” I said.
“Well, it’s cancelled,” he said.
“I’m here. I might as well get something done in my classroom.”
“Go home,” the principal said. “The storm is only going to get worse.”
I was not a happy camper. Snow days were unpaid days. We’d have to make it up at the end of the year. I’d come out in the weather for nothing. And now I had to drive fifteen miles back home on treacherous roads.
The storm was getting worse. I did okay in the slow lane until I got back to I-80 and was approaching the bridge over the Missouri River. A sign was flashing “Icy.” I stayed in the right lane along the guardrail. A semi with a double trailer was coming up behind me, in the fast lane, going too fast. Once we both hit the bridge, the back trailer started to fish tail. I saw the truck’s brake lights come on as the second trailer was coming alongside my little Chevy Cavalier.
He’s going to knock my car right off the side of this bridge.
I took my foot off the gas and said a prayer. Even though the second trailer was still swinging back and forth, it made it past my car without hitting me. I could barely see through the blizzard, but I sensed that the trucker had pulled it out of the fishtail as he roared over the bridge.
My hands clenched the steering wheel. I checked my rear view mirror. No one was behind me. I gave the car a little gas and got over the bridge. I was suddenly too hot in my sweater and coat.
I am never leaving the house early again on a snowy day. If I live through this drive home, I will be late for school on any day when there is any chance of school being called off.
I got off the freeway at the next exit and took the side roads home, even though they weren’t plowed. At least there were no fish-tailing tractor trailers going by me.
By the time I got back into my apartment, two hours had passed since I’d left that morning. I’d only driven thirty miles. I sat down, exhausted, and thanked my guardian angel for getting me home safely.
To celebrate my survival, I ate junk food and watched soap operas all day and tried to get the image of the fishtailing trailer out of my mind.
On another wintry November day in a previous year, I had been a passenger in a carpool to the same job at the same school. Two trucks pulling trailers over the Missouri River hit an icy patch as they went around us on the bridge. The guys were laughing and racing each other while transporting horses. The red truck lost control and got off the bridge just before it rolled over in front of us. The whole thing was in slow motion. The trailer unhitched and rolled down into a ditch. The doors flew open, and one of the horses was thrown from the trailer. It stood there in a daze. Another horse was still inside.
“Stop, stop!” I said.
“We’ll be late for school,” the driver said.
“We have to stop and help the people!” I said.
Buffy pulled over, and I ran to the victims. The truck was on its side and flipped the wrong way. On the passenger’s side, blood was running down the woman’s neck.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
“Honey, I just want to find my purse,” she said.
I reached into the cab and felt around for it.
“Here it is,” I said.
Lots of other drivers had stopped, too.
“Come on,” Buffy said, coming up behind me. “We have to get to school.”
I got back into her car, and we went to our teaching jobs. All day long I relived the accident in my mind.
“Are you okay, Miss Middleton?” the kids asked.
“I saw a bad accident this morning,” I told them.
A couple days later I read in the Omaha Herald that one of the horses had to be put down. I guess the people were okay.
Couldda Wouldda Moral
Don’t mess around with bridges on Midwestern winter days.