Flat Tires, Mega Snow, Power Outages, and Memorable Moments

2014 has certainly started off in a memorable way. Between January 3rd and February 7th I’ve experienced two major winter storms, two flat tires, two separate power outages, three nights without power, the perfect car rental storm, and last but not least a pair of broken eye glasses.

I’m notorious for not paying attention to the weather forecast and most of the time I learn about incoming hurricanes and snow storms from one or more of my family members from the Midwest. The winter storm Hercules was no different, my daughter gave me the head’s up the day before and so I thought I was prepared for my drive to Lancaster to deliver an on-site workshop.

Based on my calculation I figured I would have no problem beating the storm. Boy was I wrong. For the first time in my life I was listening to the traffic announcer on the radio say something like:

traffic on 202 is bumper to bumper and barely crawling due to heavy snow and near white out conditions,”

And I was in the conditions. It took me nearly 2 ½ hours to drive the final thirty miles. I’ve never been happier to pull into a Holiday Inn Express and be within walking distance of a Ruby Tuesday.

Glass of wine at Ruby Tuesday

The Sunday following my weekend in Lancaster was highlighted by a terrifying blow out on I95 at 4:30 in the morning. I now understand why there are emergency pull off areas on the interstate and I have a whole new appreciation for the importance of knowing how to change a flat tire. You’ll be happy to know that I now belong to Triple A.

I’d scheduled another on-site training workshop for the week following the Lancaster one. When I booked the training in Virginia I didn’t realize that my travel conflicted with a hair appointment. I figured I’d hit the jackpot when my hair dresser had availability earlier that same day. In retrospect I probably should have rescheduled the hair appointment for the following week and not just to an earlier time, but looking good for my training session was a priority at the time.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if the car rental process hadn’t taken so long. I stared at the Hertz Rental car sign and the snow packed parking lot for over an hour waiting for someone to deliver the rental car from another location. There’s only so much small talk one can make with the guy manning the front desk.

My impression of Hertz didn’t improve when I discovered that I’d been double billed. In addition to the original Hotwire charge there was a charge for the full amount of the rental from Hertz. To add insult to injury, I received an automated message from Hertz threatening to pursue legal action for the car I had not returned.

I called and confirmed the return and check in of my car before responding to the message. After three separate hour long attempts to speak to the next available agent, I gave up trying and am hoping that since no one has shown up with a warrant for my arrest things have been sorted out.

The trip to Lancaster taught me to pay more attention to the weather and I monitored the incoming snow to help me decide whether or not to reschedule the workshops I had scheduled to begin on Monday and Wednesday. The forecast for Monday morning changed from 2 – 4 inches to 4 – 8 inches while I was sleeping. One student rescheduled and one did not.

While shoveling I spotted a woman trudging through the snow toward my house; she wasn’t my student, but easily could have been.

woman walking through the snow stormIt was amazing that we started only 30 minutes late and her Toyota didn’t end up in a ditch between here and New Jersey. We spent the day with our fingers crossed that the flickering lights wouldn’t go completely out. Luck was with us, and we had power all day.

Shoveling is hard work, especially when it’s heavy and wet and you run out of daylight.

snow piles in the darkLavender scented hot bath water and nice music is a great way to sooth jangled nerves and achy muscles. My relaxing bath was disrupted by a loud whirring noise accompanied by a bright blue glowing light and total darkness. When I called to report the outage, the blue glow seemed like a crucial piece of information however the gal at PECO seemed less than concerned about it. All I know is it was pretty scary.

I found the only open restaurant in town and made my meal last as long as possible.

margharita flat breadThankfully I had power when I returned home and we had both lights and internet access for the second day of training.

A forecast of freezing rain for Wednesday had me wishing I could reschedule the second class of the week; however my student had already driven in from New York City so cancelling wasn’t an option.

Tuesday night I was preparing for the next day and absentmindedly put my eye glasses in my lap instead of on the table. Preoccupied with weather conditions and Hertz rental charge issues it didn’t occur to me that the loud crunch under my foot was the bow snapping off.

The realization I’d crunched my glasses and not a cheap pen from the bank almost caused an official melt-down.

Wednesday morning the lights flickered on and off a bit but the freezing rain stopped. We broke for lunch at noon. My mission to replace my frames was thwarted by road blocks, fallen trees, and downed power lines.

There were no lights on when I got home. The temperature in the house was tolerable so between the remaining battery life on my laptop we made it through the majority of the training material. My student then fired up his laptop, connected to the internet from the hot spot on his phone, I downloaded the presentation from my Google Drive and we finished out the day.

I bundled up for bed and lit a few candles.

candles

I drew a little by candle light, and drifted off hoping I would wake up to power and heat. Not sure I love this one, I was experimenting with some new ink and haven’t decided whether or not to finish the entry.

experimenting with new inks

Thursday morning brought no power, 50 degree temps in my house, and a flat tire. We arranged to meet at a local coffee shop, one of the few places in the area that still had power.

Before meeting my student, I drove to the closest service station to get my tire looked at. The loud rumbling sounds of the generator powering the station made it impossible to hear the conversation between the guys in the shop. I kept my fingers crossed that they would be able to spare the power to fill my tires. He filled my tire from 10 lbs back to 35 lbs and checked the pressure in the other three tires for free.

The owners of the coffee shop were accommodating and we made it through Thursday and wrapped up training on Friday at Friday’s. It seemed appropriate to avoid over-staying our welcome at the coffee shop and find a place that served lunch and wouldn’t mind having me linger until it was time to catch a train to Philly.

I knew I would have to change my plans to spend the evening in Philly as soon as I saw my rear tire. Thankfully Friday’s is next door to a Firestone and I dropped my car off to have the tire repaired. A glass of wine and a salad later, I got a call from one of the service techs. Long story short, I’m the proud owner of four brand new tires.

blown out tire mechanic

Over 600,000 people lost power during this storm. The electric company reported that it was the second worst storm in their history. My power was restored sometime Friday afternoon and slowly but surely the temperature rose from 40 degrees to comfortable.

If the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is true, I gained a whole bunch of strength in the past two months.

I’m beyond happy to have power back and second to that is having my glasses back. Yesterday on my way to the gym, I stopped at the place I originally purchased the frames from. I was hopeful, but not certain that the owner would be able to find a pair of frames he could pop my lenses into.

The great new is, he did!

The funny thing is, the design on the bows almost look like something I might have drawn.

new glasses frames with design on bow

That’s a Really Bad Place to Change a Flat Tire!

My phone’s ringtone was hardly necessary this morning; it was 3:30 am and I’d barely slept. I tapped the screen for snooze; ten more minutes in my warm bed was preferable to the chilly air outside the comforter.

Christian’s flight back to college was scheduled for 6:10 am this morning. Last night we backward calculated and decided that we could leave at 4:00 am, make it to the airport in plenty of time even if we stopped at WaWa to get coffee for me and doughnuts for him. We sailed along I95 at just the right speed to avoid getting pulled over and were on track to make it to the airport in plenty of time.

I hate driving on I95; the closer I get to Philly the more I hate it. The minefield of potholes gets progressively dangerous the deeper you drive into the construction zone.

I made the mistake of driving in the middle lane, which turned out to be the most treacherous of the three available lanes. I won’t prolong the suspense or try and find a clever way to describe what it felt like to connect dead center with the pothole that ate my tire and then spit my car back onto the highway with a jolt.

“What was that!?”

Christian said, “I think we just hit a pothole. I hope we didn’t get a flat.”

The car balance of the car shifted and leaned toward the right front passenger side; the sound of air leaving the tire confirmed we had a flat tire. I won’t repeat what I said as this is a family friendly blog. :). I pulled over to the side of the road next to a construction barricade.

It was 4:30 a.m.

In theory I know how to change a tire, in practice I’ve never done it. I had sense enough to turn my hazards on and retrieve the jack, the spare tire, and the lug-nut wrench out of the trunk.

Christian figured out how to jack up the car and then Googled “how to change a tire” while I paced back and fourth trying to remember the trick to getting access to the lug-nuts. The lug-nuts on my tires are covered by a nice decorative cover, which is great unless you need to change a tire and don’t know how to take them off.

It was a good thing that I wore my white winter jacket instead of my black one; a last minute decision that kept me from blending into the pre-sunrise sky while I stood behind my car making calls for help.

My first call was to my parents because that’s who I call when I’m having a disaster and I hoped that because my mom has a Volvo they could shed some light onto how to get to the lug-nuts. My second call was to a 24 x 7 emergency road side assistance service that was 1 1/2 hours from where we were stranded.

Six rings into my third call Christian said, “Someone’s stopping to help.”

I turned to see a tow truck and a stocky, bearded man walking toward us, “This is a terrible place to change a flat tire! Do you have any idea how dangerous this is?”

I just nodded, hoping he intended to help and didn’t stop just to tell me how dangerous my situation was.

He tugged up the back of his pants and squatted in front of the tire. After a few failed attempts at removing the lug-nut covers with the factory provided tool, he retrieved a screwdriver from his truck.

It took more than regular muscle strength to loosen the lug-nuts. For each one, he positioned the lug-nut tool as a platform of sorts and forced the it free through a series of jumps and grunts.

He gave me instructions to add air to the spare and not to drive over 50 mph. I have no idea what his name is or what his company is, but I’ll always be grateful for the unexpected and free roadside assistance. I’ll also always wonder what he thought of our improvisation and that we used suitcases to block the tires. (if only we’d known that there were blocks for that purpose in the trunk)

As for the rest of the story, Christian missed his flight and will be headed back to St. Louis tomorrow. All of the flights were booked today; the airlines are still playing catch  up from last week’s weather related cancellations and delays.

Christian took my tire in to have it fixed; turns out it’s not just a flat tire, I have a broken rim. It’s a bummer, but there are so many ways that it could have been much worse.

In case you’re wondering about the feature image; well I’d rather enjoy roses than think about flat tires. And  after this morning’s mishap it was especially nice to have this cheery bouquet in my den.