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My Thanksgiving Vacation – Refugees

We really had an ambitious travel schedule planned out for the trip. In addition to the wedding, we were stopping in on the missus’ father in the Highlands twice “en route.”

The second visit, ostensibly on our way back home, the missus planned a 70th birthday celebration performance afternoon. She played some Bach on her viola, and her brother performed a one-man play in Scots. The missus’ aunt hosted and cooked a meal of fresh pork. And I mean fresh.

That’s only half a pig, by the way. What you can’t necessarily tell from the photo is that it’s split vertically down the center, and what we were eating was already in the kitchen. There was a lot of work being done with a hacksaw.

As delicious as the meal was, I’m grateful it wasn’t our last. With the missus and I in one car, and her brother and cousin in another, we needed to make our way back to Edinburgh that evening. We had a very early flight the next morning. We listened to some useless weather reports, and picked a route that was likely to have one dodgy bit on a one-lane road, but would otherwise be on bigger highways.

The one-lane road turned out to be pretty okay. A couple of drifts to avoid, but otherwise passable. And we breathed a sigh of relief as we came to the A9 south at Dalwhinnie, heading toward Perth.

And that’s when the snow really started coming down. In just a couple of miles, the road was covered in snow, as if it hadn’t seen a plow or grit truck in days, and we figured out pretty quickly that our lightweight Nissan Note was not built for this type of driving. The real problem was that we had no alternative at this point. Even if we’d wanted to get off at an exit to try to get a hotel for the evening, the exits were impassable. Our car would’ve gotten stuck trying to get off the highway. And so we had to forge on.

The missus was driving, and she was a real champ. Even when we totally spun out into oncoming traffic. Fortunately, there wasn’t a lot of oncoming traffic, and the closest car could see us lose control with plenty of time to stop. The missus’ brother was right behind us, and we found out later that he’d spun out about thirty seconds earlier and was therefore keeping a good safe distance, as was the car behind him. The missus guided the car back into our lane. And we forged onward, now with the hazard lights blinking and never going above 20 mph.

Like I’ve said before, I have experience driving on snow, and going as slow as 20 mph on a highway seems silly to me, objectively. Other cars were going faster and not having problems. But there was no denying the uselessness of our rental car on this road. Anything over 20 mph, and you could feel the wheels slipping. It felt dangerous and stupid. And we could do nothing but forge on.

When the A9 hits Perth, there are a couple of roundabouts, where you can connect to other roads. The A9 and M90 South (the road to Edinburgh) were both closed. The missus’ brother and cousin found an alternative route. Their car was better equipped for the snow. We decided to stay in Perth. Alas, we weren’t alone.

We pulled into a parking lot of a Holiday Inn, which had a “no vacancy” sign. I asked if she knew of any alternatives. She said that there were no rooms in Perth at all, but that the police were setting up an emergency accommodation center. So she gave us directions to the police station, where a kind police woman gave us a little map of Perth with directions to the “North Inch campus.”

The photo above was taken the next morning, as it was dark when we actually arrived.

The parking lot for the community college was jam-packed, and snow made a mess of everything. Several cars were literally spinning their wheels attempting to get in or out of spots. Our emergency shovel became quite handy, and I gave a few drivers impromptu lessons (I tried not to be too pushy of an American) on how to overcome some snow hurdles. (The concept of rocking one’s car was new – or lost – on some British drivers.) A trio of women in one car were very grateful for our help in getting their car into a space. We all then turned around and went to help a very posh couple in their Mercedes station wagon.

The man in this couple largely ignored our help, even as I shoveled and the women literally kicked snow out of the way of his car. He wouldn’t take any advice at all about how to drive on the mess, insisting on just spinning and spinning, and when it didn’t work, getting out of the car and shoveling more. We eventually let them fend for themselves, with a quiet thank-you from the lady and no acknowledgment from the gent.

The posh fella was the exception, though, rather than the norm. There were hundreds of us stranded in the community college, and people were civil. We were all in this shit together.

We found a mat in a gymnasium and slept for a few hours. Even with the blankets from our emergency kit, it got rather cold in there, though, so we moved to the hallway to plan our escape from Perth.

The emergency accommodation was remarkably well-organized. There were police and EMT workers, the Red Cross (which handed out the foil blanket you see above), the Women’s Royal Volunteer Service (which served instant coffee, tea, packaged scones, toast, and more, all with a friendly smile), and people from god-knows-where who kept up with information about the roads, made announcements over the intercoms, and answered any questions you might have. It was a pretty impressive undertaking. And it turns out that there were more than 600 of us stranded in Perth.

The next morning, our roads were still closed.

Our plan out of town turned out to be relatively simple. We abandoned our rental car at the train station (with permission of the people from our rental place, who are now charging us for things they said they wouldn’t charge us for) and got on the first train to Edinburgh. We were there in less than an hour. On the way, I ate the biscuits from our emergency kit.

So from that “hilarious” and “ridiculous” emergency kit, we only didn’t use the candles. Everything else was necessary or handy.

We’d already rescheduled our flight for the following day, although Edinburgh airport was closed anyway, so it probably wouldn’t have mattered much.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see that the smart thing to do would have been to stay in the Highlands with the missus’ father until the roads were cleared. But I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather in Scotland, and honestly, I’m not sure we’d have made it back to New York until this past weekend, if we’d done that.

Maybe that wouldn’t have particularly mattered either, since I got sick the evening we returned and didn’t go to work the rest of the week. And the missus did actually get in a couple of days of work before getting sick herself (with a different illness than the one I had). We were really run down, methinks.

Stay tuned for the final installment of the vacation report.

One comment on “My Thanksgiving Vacation – Refugees

  1. Good Christ! I turn my back on your blog for a minute and I miss all the action. Maybe you could send out alerts to different readers alerting them to topics of interest specific to each reader. So last night’s van dig out in 20 inches of snow complete with lightening and thunder was really nothing….I remember kicking snow out from under the tires until a shovel and cat litter materialized like the Scottish lass in ye story. (read last part with a brogue)

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