Thursday, October 02, 2014

25 Stories About Work - Plains Blizzard

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)...

Somewhere in Iowa, the 90's...

I was an auditor for a long since merged together utility. We used to fly in and out every week, leaving Sunday night (in your suit, in case your luggage was lost by the airlines) and leaving the office at 5pm Friday and driving to an airport 3 hours away to arrive home about 10pm Friday. We did this every week for the "busy season" which lasted about 3 months or so.

For Thanksgiving weekend one time we left on a Wednesday. A giant storm was coming up over the plains as we drove across Iowa into Nebraska where the airport was for flights into Chicago. At the time we didn't really have cold weather gear, we just had long wool coats and leather gloves to go over our suits. We didn't even have boots, just work shoes.

We stopped at a gas station and the wind was really whipping across the plains. When I got out to pump gas I was almost knocked flat on my back. While shivering in the car after pumping gas I told them we ought to turn back and just give up for the night and stay in Iowa.

I was the lowest ranking guy so I was overruled. There were obvious reasons why everyone wanted to get home for Thanksgiving and away from work in Iowa.

As we started driving, I could see in my rear view mirror that they were closing the interstate behind us. There was a single car behind us and then there was no one on the road.

Up ahead there was a snowplow on the interstate. He was carving out a path through the snow on the right side of the road and I couldn't figure out what he was doing. Then I realized that he was really just trying to make the right yellow painted line of the highway visible. They did this because otherwise it was just an infinite white flat sheet on the plains and you could not see at all where the road began and the fields ended. It was just a flat view of a white-out.

While we drove blindly along the interstate the car behind us followed, slowly. He was looking at our rear lights. He was following us to stay on the highway. If we slowed down to 20 mph he did the same. We cursed him for being a wuss and using us as an informal guiding light.

The weather got even worse. At one point we could barely see beyond the hood of the car. All around us were people that were stuck in the ditch but had been rescued previously and left their vehicles behind for a break in the weather, whenever that occurred.

As we neared the airport, the weather was better in that we could see several car lengths ahead and we finally made it into the Omaha airport. Our flight was delayed a bit and we had a few drinks at the Omaha airport bar. As we put our luggage through the scanner I think I even made some sort of dumb joke about a weapon or something and my manager gave me a baleful glare. We didn't come all this way to get held up for saying something stupid. This was a long time ago, long before 9/11, and no one gave airport security a second thought.

Finally we all arrived home in Chicago for Thanksgiving. It was incredibly stupid to drive across a featureless plain in whiteout conditions without winter clothing just to get home for Thanksgiving. Plus, we were lucky that the flight wasn't canceled anyways. But this was in the days before "telecommuting" or "working from home" and we barely even had computers - if you wanted to get work done, it was on site, and our on-site was in the middle of Iowa. Consultants / accountants probably wouldn't even travel Thanksgiving week - they would just work from home a couple days and call it done.

Nowadays I would never let someone push me into doing something as stupid as driving across Iowa in those conditions. Live and learn.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

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