By now you’ve probably heard all about Snow Jam 2014. If you haven’t, it’s the story of how 2” of snow crippled a Southern city and how one mother had to go get her kids from a stranded bus.
I’d been watching the weather forecast for days, hour by hour. On Monday night I even made a bet that school would be called off. It wasn’t. A regret that now haunts every school official and for good reason.
The first snowflakes began falling around 11 a.m. They were more like specks really. The kind of “flakes” that Northerners might conflate as freezing mist. I thought about my children cooped up in their classrooms, looking out the window and dying to just get home. After all, snow days are rare in Georgia. I checked the news and waited for the robocall telling me that school was being dismissed early. By 1 p.m. I still hadn’t heard anything. Finally, at 1:45 I got the call. My kids were headed home.
I made some hot tea and kept the extra water warm for my girls. They’d be home any minute. I unwrapped two sticks of butter, softening them to make a pound cake to eat after the chili I had simmering in the crockpot. A perfect afternoon of snow and comfort food.
Snow began sticking to the brick walkway and gravel driveway. I watched out the window so I could greet the kids and ran to the front door whenever the dogs barked. Still no sign of them. By 3:00 p.m. I was calling the school to find out why a ten minute route was taking over an hour. The school is only ¼ mile from home. They said that the bus departed but they had no other information. I’ve always relied on and trusted the buses to transport my kids. Going to the school only slows down the dismissal process and clogs the roads. And I’d always felt that my kids were in safe hands with their driver who has fifty, yes 5-0, years of driving experience.
I peeked out the front windows, unable to see the pavement, but watched as a steady stream of cars passed by on the main road. I figured the roads must be okay because the school wouldn’t send kids out on treacherous roads, right? Wrong.
Meanwhile, my middle schooler called me. A call that was drowned out by the background chaos of hundreds of kids crammed inside a gym. He told me about accidents nearby and buses that couldn’t get into the school lot. He asked about his siblings, worried that they hadn’t arrived home yet. I was concerned, too. He asked to walk home, but I told him to wait. I didn’t want him walking along the congested roads. I also thought his dad would pick him up on his way home from work once traffic eased. Two hours later and my husband was going nowhere. Only later did I realize that asking him to buy cocoa powder on his way home was an early sign that I had no idea about the crises unfolding across the city.
3:45 p.m. and still no sign of my elementary kids. I was most worried about Peter. He already complained about the long ride home and never understood why he was the last stop. I called the school once again. There were no other updates about the departed bus. I wondered whether to leave the house on foot to find it along its route. Something had to be wrong, but I tried assuring myself that the bus was probably stuck in the traffic from the flood of children released from three other nearby schools.
The panic I’d been suppressing now came out in a ranting, profanity laced tirade at the damn school board for putting my kids in danger. A board with the motto “where children come first.” You might blame me for sending my children to school. But most every parent did, entrusting that school officials would follow the right protocol. I don’t think any parent believed that a school system would put children in harm’s way. Yet that’s exactly what happened.
I shoved the bowl of pound cake batter in the fridge and ran to my closet, ripping off my clothes and trading them for a wool sweater and heavy coat. I grabbed a blanket and rushed out the door. Scarves and mittens aren’t everyday attire and I knew they’d be cold on the walk home. My jogging/speed-walk pace was slowed by the cold air settling in my chest and heavy snow boots weighing me down. I gritted my teeth to keep my furor from spewing out at the passing motorists. By now the cars were inching along the sheet of ice building on the roads. Conditions that already forced one man to abandon his Mercedes SLK convertible.
I neared the school where another busload of innocent children was coming down an icy hill ready to set out on another bus route. A feeling of disbelief and anger possessed me. One bus sits in a ditch and others are leaving the school? Where’s the rationale in that? And who the hell was guiding this ship? I motioned for the driver to open her window, nearly bringing her to tears as I told her about my kids. I told her that the school board didn’t care about her or any of the kids she was driving. Like many people these days, she had a job that she was expected to do. Just another underpaid worker in the school system.
I made a detour up to the school to seek out the principal. I’m not a vocal parent, but on this day I had to speak up. What were the administrators thinking by sending the children out on icy roads? I would’ve never allowed my children to board the bus had I known the roads were hazardous; neither should she. Would you believe that the principal didn’t know about my children’s bus? The one I was trekking to so they didn’t have to wait to be “rescued.” I’m shaking my head as I write this remembering the surreal events.
Nearly a half hour later I reach all four of my kids just atop the impassible hill up from the disabled bus. I apologized to my son for the adventure that was anything but what I had imagined that morning. And would you believe there was another bus waiting to go down the hill and trailed by a police car with flashing lights? I felt surrounded by a city of officials and school administrators who seemed to have lost their common sense.
I asked Peter’s siblings how he held up during the ordeal. They said that he didn’t cry but he scrunched his face up instead. They passed the time playing hide n’ seek on the bus and ate some Goldfish handed out by a passerby. One of many tales of people helping people.
Yesterday morning I went back to the road to see the abandoned bus. Two other buses were also parked along the same road as well as twenty or so cars. I wonder which bus got stuck first, and why the others weren’t notified. And now, nearly forty-eight hours later, my stomach is still in knots, even defying the calming help from a few Long Island Iced Teas. I still can’t make sense of it all. Apparently neither can the whole city.