This week blessed the schoolchildren and college kids of Columbia, Mo. with some snow days. What we gained in snowy (and sometimes booze-fueled) fun, we lost the ability to travel with ease. Coming from a suburb of Chicago, I have pretty high expectations when it does to snow clearing, expectations that Columbia shies away from. When they do finally put their plows to the pavement, there is an ordinance on cars parked in priority plowing areas saying that if there is 2 inches or more of snow on the ground that the cars have to be moved or else they will be ticketed and possibly towed.
Walking the streets of downtown Columbia and seeing all the snow piled up in the intersections (seriously, why did it take them so long to move that?) and the cars wedged in between banks of snow reminded me of my treacherous travel tale of when the Polar Vortex first hit when I had returned from the Cotton Bowl (thank you, ESPN, for catching me hyperventilating on TV). In the wake of these snow-filled days, I thought I would share my crazy story for you to snuggle up with a cup of hot cocoa with and read before you catch up with Gossip Girl on Netflix (no shame).
For some context, I left my house in the late afternoon of Christmas Day to go to California for a family vacation. We came home on New Year’s Eve, well technically New Year’s Day because we pulled into my garage after midnight. At 10 a.m. on New Year’s Day, I was on a train to St. Louis to get picked up by my friend Mary to go to Columbia for the night before departing on Jan. 2 for Dallas for the game.
I got into STL okay and we made it to Columbia for Mary to realize that her apartment keys weren’t on her newly gifted Vera Bradley wristlet. We spent time trying to see if any of her roommates was home to let us in and at a friend’s house watching “The League” until her one roommate finally got off work to let us in the apartment. Mary’s boyfriend, Justin came later with her keys so she could unlock her room and we both crashed knowing that some snow was on the way for our early morning drive into campus.
It was snowing a decent amount overnight into the morning, making it hard for Mary’s car to leave the Cottages (her apartment complex), thus having us all travel in Justin’s car to campus for our bus ride to Dallas. We made in it just fine and were ready for our Cotton Bowl Adventure.
Dallas was a couple days of MIZ amazingness, to say the very least, even though it was unseasonably cold in Texas. We planned for the worst as we headed back, knowing that snow was on its way. When we safely made it back to Columbia, everyone headed to Walmart to stock up on the necessities (wine, for those who were of age).
My ticket was for the Sunday 3:00 train after we got home on Saturday, but MoDoT gave us little hope for making that with their purple lines painting a “completely covered” picture over I-70. Mary, Justin and I made the executive decision to cancel my ticket for the train that day, meaning I got to bond with Susan the Amtrak automated customer service lady, and try to head into the St. Louis suburbs that evening when the highway was cleared so I could get on the train the next day.
The St. Louis suburbs had seen little love from the plows and Mary and I practically sledded down the cul-de-sac to Justin’s house. After some luggage to car exchanges, Mary and I made the drive to Wildwood in the sub-zero temps, just hoping that the car wouldn’t quit on us. We flopped into Mary’s basement bunk beds, planning on waking up early to try and get me to the 7:55 a.m. train.
Sleep held us nice and tight and that 7:55 a.m. train quickly became not a thing, especially with the temperatures threatening for the car not to start that early. We were lucky to make it into the city for the 3:00 train, where I gave many thanks and hugs for Mary and all her help. As I walked up to buy a ticket for the train, I thought my journey was finally going to be on its way to ending.
Wrong, I was just so wrong.
Being the little bubbly chick I am, I went up to the Amtrak ticket booth and asked for a ticket to the 3:00 train.
“That train is canceled,” the seemingly crotchety Amtrak man replied.
“Okay, well how about the 5:30?” Silly, naive me.
“Well anyone with the 3:00 tickets is being put on the 5:30 train, so there isn’t any tickets being sold for it.”
I begged for someway to get on that train, especially after he went on to say that people had the option to refund their tickets, thus freeing up seats. I, of course, called my mother in a panic to figure out what to do. Being the strongly stubborn women that she is, she told me to continually go up to the Amtrak ticket office and make my case to get on a train home that night. I cried in front of these navy vested people to no avail. Their hearts were Polar Vortex frozen to my tears.
Mary came throughout once again after she asked me how it was going and I spilled the whole ordeal to her over text. Her brother lives several blocks from the station and had a nice loft with a coach that was just waiting for me. His car was in the shop so he took the bus to walk back to his apartment with me. The Amtrak lady told me to buy a ticket for a train the next morning because worst came to worst, they would move me onto a new train if anything was cancelled because I had a seat bought already. The only ticket available before 3:00 p.m. the next day was the 6:30 a.m. train, and it just so happened that Mary’s brother was getting a ride to volunteer that early and that they could drop me off for my train.
Once again, everything looked like it was working itself out, even when I got the call saying that my train was canceled because I (thought I) knew that they would put me on some other train like they did yesterday for the other people. I get to the train station and go up to the ticket office that I spent almost all of yesterday floating around to see the same stone-cold faces. I bounced in asking about what train I would be put on since mine was canceled, referring to what happened the day before.
“All trains are canceled for today.”
The words echoed in disbelief around my brain as I stammered, “Well, um… But…”
“We are putting people from the 7:55 a.m. on buses to the stops.” Typical. The train that I wanted to be on but couldn’t get a ticket to. The begging and tears began once again as I tried to wiggle my way onto being one of the passengers of that bus, citing how I was told to buy a ticket the day before because they would take care of me and how I couldn’t keep couch surfing. I hadn’t been home for more than 9 hours (which were just packing and sleeping hours before the Cotton Bowl trip) since Christmas Day and Naperville sounded absolutely amazing.
I called my mom once again to explain the whole situation. It was 7:00 a.m. and all I was guaranteed was a spot on the standby list for one of the buses. My mom started to yell at how she wanted to give the Amtrak people a piece of her mind and told me to say all the things that I already tried to beg. Then my dad clicked in on the line.
“Honey do I just start heading to get her,” my mom talks over me. “I can’t deal with this bullshit anymore.”
My mom started the 4 hour drive to STL as I sat awaiting and hoping to possibly be put on a bus, nervously flipping through my Vogue.
It’s 9:30. One of the Amtrak workers walks up to me and puts his hand my shoulder asking where I was headed again because he had a spot a bus for me. I called my mom and told her to stop at the nearest Amtrak station on the route. She was waking her way toward Springfield so we planned to meet there.
After sitting at the station in the bus for about 20 to 30 minutes, we were off to stop at all the stops the train would’ve made on its way to Chicago. I am still astounded that they wouldn’t run trains but instead put buses on roads, some of them being decently covered still.
After a couple hours, I saw a myriad of Abraham Lincoln statues in a park and I knew that I had reached my destination (not final, by any means). I hopped off the bus and there was my mom, awaiting my hug. I wrapped my arms around her, in a shirt I had worn 1.5 times in the previous week, my hair slicked back to prevent nervous pulling (also because of the greasy, travel feeling) and my glasses sliding down my nose. She told me how the Amtrak people at this station got equally screwed over by the STL Amtrak people because they were selling tickets to trains/parts of the line that STL had just canceled and had yet to inform them.
It was Tuesday. I was in my mom’s minivan eating a mini chicken pot pie from a local Springfield eatery and I was on my way home, something I had been trying to do since Sunday.
Those days that I spent way too much time in the Gateway Station in St. Louis taught me a few things. One, I am not a big fan of the Gateway Station in St. Louis. Two, Missouri is really shitty when it comes to snow. Three, and most importantly, I am incredibly lucky and blessed to be surrounded by people that care enough about me to drive through snow and deal with the Polar Vortex to get me to the train station, make sure I have somewhere to stay, and eventually rescue me.
You may not be able to rely on train, planes, or automobiles, but you can depend on the people that love you. That’s all I can ask for.