This time the forecast was right. Snowstorm overnight, followed by a blizzard in the late afternoon. Up to 20" of precipitation expected. Blowing and drifting snow. White-out conditions. No one should be driving unless it’s an emergency. But you know there are always a few idiots who ignore the warnings and are out driving around.
Yesterday, I was one of those idiots.
I didn’t mean to be one of those idiots. When I got up that morning, the overnight storm was mostly over leaving 4" to 5" of snow. It was snowing lightly when I went out about 12:30 PM, shoveled my driveway and cleaned off my car, finishing a little after 1 PM. Then I went back inside, did some emails, printed a couple of recipes for the annual Wooden Spoon Valentine’s Day dinner (this year’s theme is “harmonious pairings”) and took a shower before heading off to work. When I looked out the window 45 minutes later, it was snowing so hard my driveway didn’t look as if I had done any shoveling and my car had disappeared.
My common sense also disappeared. The plow had been through my neighborhood several times during the morning. Reasoning that the highways are always in better condition than the residential streets, I thought all I had to do was make my way a few blocks to Rt 28, the main drag through my town, and I would be fine.
Rt 28 was in worse shape than my street. There was no traffic, just wall-to-wall plows falling hopelessly behind the predicted blowing and drifting snow. Again, I (falsely) reasoned that there would be more traffic on Rt. 22, the heavily traveled highway I take to work, so it would be in better condition.
It was, but just barely. And deteriorating fast. By the time I reached my exit 40 minutes later (twice the normal 20 minutes), it was snowing at a rate of 2 inches per hour and visibility was down to about two car lengths. I didn’t exit the highway, I slid off of it, white-knuckling my way to Springfield Avenue. Two traffic lights later, I discovered that Cardinal Drive hadn’t been plowed. I couldn’t even see it. I made my best guess where it was based on the position of the traffic light, turned left and started ramming my car through a foot of snow.
Thank goodness for front-wheel drive. And for all of you sissies out there who are weeping and wailing on the evening news: I am the proud owner of a 2007 Toyota Camry. I have never had any problems with mats or accelerator pedals. Mr. Secretary, you will have to pry my Camry from my cold, dead hands.
I reached the end of the street to find that the parking lot had been plowed. They were just finishing up as I drove in. I’m sure the crew thought I was out of my mind, trotting into a building that everyone else had exited hours ago. I paged management to let them know that I was in, then called the nightshift guy and told him to forget coming in. If road conditions were this bad now, and the storm was predicted to last until midnight, there was no way that he was going to make it in at 10 PM nor did I want to be trying to drive home at my usual midnight. I fired up my PC and settled in for the night.
At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering why I was so hellbent on going to work. Very simply, we just moved into this building. We haven’t had a chance to test the generator so we have no idea if it will failover or not. Management needed a body in the building overnight in case of a power failure during the storm. If we lost power and the generator failed, then I would have to make the call to the GM that no data center employee ever wants to make: there has been a power outage, the genny has failed and we are on UPS.
For those of you who are not fluent in "GeekSpeak", that means that the data center would be running on a backup battery which lasts only 20 minutes, a terribly small window of opportunity to perform an orderly shutdown of the network. There’s no way that we would be able to shut down more than a hundred servers within 20 minutes, so we would try to shut down and "save" the important ones, and hope that the others wouldn’t be damaged or lose data when the battery was drained and the power suddenly went out.
It was at this point that the realization was made that we have no flashlights. A flashlight is crucial because the best way to know if the generator is running would be for me to make my way in total darkness (because the generator is only for the data center) to the stairwell on the far side of the building from my desk, climb up one flight of stairs, again in total darkness, and listen for the generator which is located on the roof. Very high tech, I know.
Fortunately, I work with a really great guy. He is so well-liked by everyone in the company that our programmers, who are mainly Indian, have made him an honorary Punjabi and bestowed the name "Geet Singh" on him. Geet is one those people who has everything you could possibly need squirreled away in his cubicle. We have known each other so long and so well (we went to computer school together) that I knew he wouldn’t mind if I borrowed the small flashlight he uses when working in tight spaces or poorly lit areas.
The other essential tool I needed, a snow shovel, I had tossed into my trunk before leaving home. Having worked the nightshift for the past six years, I am accustomed to digging my car out after the parking lot is plowed in the morning. We are in a new building with a new plowing company so at 5 AM when I heard the plow arrive, I dashed downstairs to ask if they could try not to plow me in too badly.
It was the same crew that had seen me arrive 13 hours before. One of them was already cleaning the snow off of my car. They jokingly asked if I had slept at the office overnight. When I responded that I was working a double shift because no one else could come in, all three grabbed snow shovels and dug out my car.
I was amazed and grateful. Time is money for these guys. They have other parking lots to plow and then day jobs to go to. Thanks to them, when I left work a few hours later, all I had to do was scrape the ice off of my windows.
It reminded me of all the stories I have heard about how neighborly people are in New Jersey. I always try to be a good neighbor, helping out when asked or offering to lend a hand unasked. Wish I could say it’s reciprocated. Sadly, I wasn’t at all surprised when I got home to see that every driveway in my neighborhood had been cleared except mine. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 15 years. Everyone knows me. Everyone knows that I am single and live alone. Everyone knows that I work nights. And they know that I don’t own a snowblower. They never hesitate to ask me for favors but no one even had the humanity to clear out the huge pile that the plow left at the end of my driveway.
My trusty snow shovel was in my trunk but I had been awake for more than 24 hours. I was too exhausted to shovel my driveway. I left my car parked in the street, climbed the glacier left by the plow, then wearily trudged up my driveway to the house. The Fur Patrol was glad to see me. They were hungry for their breakfast. I fed them and then collapsed into bed.
Would you be surprised to learn that I am not upset with my selfish neighbors? I’m a firm believer in karma. What goes around, comes around. This will come back to them and bite them in the ass. As for me, I will continue to do favors for my neighbors and anyone else that needs my help. I know that it will come back to me. It did this morning when three good Samaritans took time out from their workday to shovel out my car so that I would be able to go home and sleep.