Friday, February 12, 2010


I'm just back from another business trip to southeastern Pennsylvania. I usually expect to see Amish folk with their horses and buggies. I didn't. I usually don't expect to be shoveling a couple of feet of snow. I did.

The trip started badly. I was booked on a flight with AirTran. The night before I was scheduled to take off I checked to see that everything was okay. There had been snow a couple of days ago in the mid-Atlantic, so there was some possibility of delay, but no problem, the flight was listed as being ready to go. Fifteen minutes before I was to leave home I got a phone call. It was AirTran. Psyche! Now I had to scramble to find a way south. I checked the other airlines. None would get me there on time (unless I wanted surpass my annual travel budget on one trip). I checked Amtrak. Nope, nothing I could get now. If the airline hadn't fibbed the night before I might have caught an early train, but too late now. I had to do one of my least favorite things -- drive 390 miles to get to a meeting that was six and a half hours away.

I reserved a car online, walked over to the rental place, then took off. I stopped once at a fast food drive-through for lunch and then twice for quick rest stops. I almost made it before the “low gas” warning light came on. Had to stop for gas just short of my meeting, coasting on fumes. I got there just a little late.

I'm usually a pretty slow driver. Cars zoom by me as I putter along, carefully observing the speed limit. This time I couldn't do that. I generally don't speed for short distances. I was over the speed limit for hours at a stretch this time. Not my idea of fun.

I saw a couple of cool birds. There was a turkey vulture sitting next to some roadside carrion in New York. That may not sound like much to you, but I've never seen a vulture before and I've always wanted to. Amazing damn thing. During the meeting itself someone spotted a hawk and someone else, a better birder than me, identified it for us as a cooper's hawk. It's a beautiful creature and another life bird for me.

The snow began to fall late in the second day of our meeting and kept snowing until late into the night of day three. It was one of the heaviest snows I've seen in quite a while. While it was a serious problem for a lot of Pennsylvanians and for some of my colleagues who found themselves temporarily separated from home and loved ones, it had something of a magical quality to it. It's just not supposed to snow that much in that place. It fell so quickly that the landscape, already white from the major storm just a week before, was transformed. High winds created huge drifts, leaving some spaces with just a few inches and others with several feet. Strange formations were created in this new white world. Lines, curves, and ridges abounded, as if some giant hand had been cutting abstract shapes into the snow. Snow had slipped off the low, peaked roofs over the houses we were sheltered in, then curved up and under the eaves, freezing at impossible angles. Icicles that had been vertical were now nearly horizontal. Winter wonderland indeed.

We drove out on Thursday, me giving a lift to another northbound attendee. Shoveling the cars out was a pretty good chore, even for a New Englander, and the local streets, while they had been plowed in the night, were more packed down than cleared. No problem, just slow driving. The highways were better. Only one major route was closed. That was the one I had planned to be driving on, but not that day. My boss suggested another route and Google gave me the details. I'd be getting out of Dodge on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It was mostly okay, but there was a lot of packed down ice on the way. It was pretty rough and occasionally dangerous highway driving all the way to New Jersey. The fine people who take care of the Jersey Turnpike did a better job of clearing their road.

While I was in New Jersey I thought I might sample the local culture, so I pulled off the road at the Woodrow Wilson Service Area. It was named to honor our 28th president. During his administration racial segregation was established in the federal government for the first time in fifty years. He was one of our most well educated presidents, having served as president of Princeton University, where he successfully kept black people from becoming students. The scholar-president wrote several books, including a ten-volume history of the American people, in which he declared his admiration for the Ku Klux Klan. He is today remembered as being a great peacemaker, having been an enthusiastic supporter of The League of Nations and one of the principal authors of the Treaty of Versailles.

He is honored in the state where he served as governor by a service area that presents weary travelers with architectural beauty and a range of fine cuisine choices. I stopped at Roy Rogers and refreshed myself with a cheeseburger, widely known as a “Trigger-burger.” Roy's Fixin's Bar makes it a meal.

North through New Jersey we traveled, and on into New York City. The city, by the way, is still huge. Traffic, on this day after the big snow, was relatively light. As we continued north into Connecticut, snow cover became less and less. By the time we got to Boston it was not there at all. From the snowy south into the sunny north. The weather forecasters had been predicting a big storm for our region too, but even at the worst of the weather the grass was still visible.

Safe again in the land of the bean and the cod I went out for my traditional homecoming meal of a roast beef sandwich and a cup of clam chowder. Then I slept for ten hours. It is always good to be home.

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