It was February 1, 1981—a Sunday. I had been visiting a friend in Columbus, Ohio, and was ready to return to Bloomington for the beginning of my last semester at Indiana University. I anticipated an uneventful trip along Interstate 70 to Indianapolis and State Route 37 to Bloomington. As I passed Springfield, Ohio, the wind picked up, and the first ominous snowflakes struck my windshield. North of Dayton, gusts rocked my Cutlass while the snow fell so fast that my windshield wipers could not keep up. Darkness quickly descended, and the snow was accumulating in such a way that I could no longer see the white line along the edge of the highway.
Blinding Snow and No Good Options
When I reached Richmond, Indiana, traffic had slowed to a crawl. My car heater was unable to conquer the chill from the bitterly cold blasts. I wondered how long it would take me to get to Bloomington, and I worried that the snow on 37 would be a problem. The audacity of the impatient truck drivers amazed me, as the semis rumbled past within inches of my car. I knew they could not see any better than I could, and I could barely make out the taillights of the automobile ahead of me. The squalls were increasing to blizzard intensity as I crept along at five or ten miles per hour. I could see nothing but a hypnotizing pattern of snow as if my car were the Enterprise abruptly entering warp speed. Now and then, red lights flashed just ahead of my bumper, and I slammed on my brakes so as not to hit the car in front.
Somewhere near an overpass, the car ahead of mine stopped completely. I followed suit and waited nervously until the car behind me stopped. When I saw the driver emerge from the automobile in front, I released my seatbelt and got out. Drivers were walking forward, their heads down to shield their faces from the driving snow. We found a fender-bender had occurred, and one of the cars was disabled. We pushed the immobile car off to one side, and the driver of the working car kindly gave the other driver a ride. Fortunately, both had the same destination. We returned to our vehicles and slowly restarted our blizzard caravan.
When I came to Indianapolis, my radio announced that the state police had closed Interstate 70 because of the number of accidents, including a jackknifed semi, which was behind me. I had never been on a closed interstate before, and I wondered what the consequences might be. I approached a sign for the road where my brother lived and decided I would stay overnight with him, but, when I saw the condition of the exit ramp, I chickened out. It looked impassable to me. I had visions of becoming so mired in the snow that I would slide off the ramp. As I left the exit behind, I confronted the stark reality that I had no options left.
I knew that I would never make it to Bloomington, but I had no idea where to stop in Indianapolis. I saw a street sign with a name I recognized. I had once visited the home of a friend of mine in the IU Marching Hundred Band, and I remembered that he lived on that street. I wondered if I could find his house.
The exit ramp was level, and cars had bulldozed a lane along it. I took the exit. In the blinding snow, I kept watching for landmarks that might be familiar, even though I had been that way only once before. I could not believe my good fortune! I spotted the house, "a refuge from the storm"! I slid my Cutlass to a stop in the half foot of snow, hopped out, and rang the doorbell.
My friend’s parents were surprised to see me, but they quickly grasped my dilemma. They said it would be no trouble to put me up for the night. The mother brought me a cup of coffee—about the best coffee I ever had, especially because I was still shaking from the cold and from spending several hours in anticipation that my car would be involved in a crash. I joined my friend’s parents for dinner, and we passed the evening in conversation and laughter. As soon as I climbed under the covers of the bed in the guest room, I fell asleep and slept like a baby.
I had breakfast with my friend’s parents and stayed at their home until I felt certain that the streets were clear. To this day, I am grateful to them for sheltering me from the storm, and I consider it a lucky break that I could find my way to their house.