The Third Storm: Managing the UnExpected (Part 2)

by mdiehl on November 8, 2012

View in a snow storm

I think the big lump in the forefront of the photo might be a car. Or bushes. I don’t know. It’s hard to make out anything when it’s a blizzard. You don’t know what’s what or where.

In Part 1, I told the tales of two nasty storms I’ve been through and what I learned from them.  And I’ve asked — What bad storms have you been in? And what did you learn from them?

Here’s my third storm…

A spring snow storm in 1994

They’d predicted a major snow storm, but it hadn’t built up yet when I had to go to my job at a large department store at the big mall 25 minutes (on a good day) away. By now, TJ had left and I was on my own  with my two oldest sons in college and the younger ones in middle school at home. We were still in the big Victorian.

I drove to the mall bitterly resenting — well, everything that morning. The fact that I was working in retail, which I loathed. The store, which was teetering toward going under. The fact that I was required to be at the store when everything was closing up in preparation for the blizzard.

Resenting, especially, that I was driving in dodgy weather conditions for a job that paid me — wait for it — $6.25 an hour. It wasn’t like I was a ED nurse or on the police force or anything essential to the welfare and safety of anyone in the situation. No, I was on the road (while they were closing down others) that would become treacherous very quickly — and require those emergency personnel to help out in the inevitable accidents.

But I had to go.

The store and the mall were OPEN. As long as they remained open, everyone working there had to be there. Not to show up could risk being fired.

The store was a bit of a ghost town during the day. We heard reports of how terrible it was getting outside. Whipping winds, snow — heavy, icy snow — piling up fast out in the vast parking lots. Burying our cars. The state police were saying no unnecessary travel. The snow plows could barely keep up.

The mall stayed open. And now and then, a couple of people would come in to shop. Idiots! we fumed. Over-confident 4-wheel-drive knuckleheads. The worst part was — they were just browsing! Arrrggghhh.

The staff began asking – can we go home? If we weren’t allowed to leave early, we risked getting trapped in the store. At least there would be furniture to curl up on. But the store management called the mall management, located in another state — a state that wasn’t experiencing a blizzard … and the mall management said NO.

They didn’t close the mall until 5pm. Now it was dark.

If you live where extreme winter weather happens, you know what I’m describing. Unearthing the car was the first battle. I had a Honda Accord. (AKA: “a sled with an engine”.) I managed to get the car out of its parking spot but the snow was coming down so hard and fast that keeping the windshield & windows clear was problematic.

We all crept along out of the parking lot (plowed continually for hours, filling up faster than they could manage) onto the disappearing roads. Miles of open countryside stretched ahead. The wind shield wipers struggled to clear as the wet snow caked them, turned to slush and then ice.

The worst stretch lay ahead — a north-south road through open fields, with the wind dumping sheets of white so thick you could barely make out the car lights in front of you. The road was obliterated — there were no shoulders, no lines, no trace of the road. So we followed tracks from the car in front (if there was one).

Visibility: ZERO

I had to pull over and try to chop off the ice that kept forming on the wipers, making clearing the wind shield impossible. It was sort of a losing battle. Clear, drive, pull over, clear, drive, pull over… What frightened me was that in the blinding snow, I wouldn’t be visible to cars coming along. It would be easy to be killed by a sliding, out of control car.

After over an hour, I’d finally made it nearly onto the city Main Street — only blocks to go.

That’s when my car just slid sideways off the road. I was stuck. The prospect of getting out and trying to wade through the snow — piling up waist-deep — and struggle another mile on foot…

And then an angel knocked on my window.

“You want a push?” The man behind me had stopped and behind him came another Good Samaritan. Between the two, they got me back on track.

I’ll never forget pulling into my driveway –which had been reasonably shoveled out by my next door neighbor and my two boys at home. My oldest son had waded through blocks of hip-deep snow to get to his younger brothers to make sure they were OK . The lights were on, the house was warm, my boys were OK and I was never so grateful to get to my own garage.

Also, I have never forgiven that management company for putting so many people through a storm and at risk — for shopping that only a handful of idiots people attempted. For wasting light, heat and time. Because they were in a climate that never had to worry about how bad snow storms can be.

The store did close up, by the way — for good. But I was gone out of retail by then.

WHAT I LEARNEDFor some, only the bottom line matters. I never want to work for anyone that puts profit before the safety of others. I learned that slow and steady can get you anywhere. That it’s important to have the right outerwear with you– good boots, a warm coat, scarf, hat, hood, and mittens — being fashionably dressed can be deadly when you’re caught by extreme weather (I was outfitted well, from experience). There are angels out there, just when you need them. The sight of your warm, solid home full of shining light and the ones you love is a treasure never to be taken for granted. And you can rely on yourself to keep a clear head and persevere to get where you want to go.


Photo credit: Snowstorm viewWIXT News

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda Samuels January 4, 2013 at 9:02 am

Thank you, Marci for sharing your experience and lessons learned. You had me laughing and crying. Perhaps the biggest take-away I had was that we always have a choice, even when it seems like we don’t. The choice might be in the actions we decide to take or not, but it can also be in the attitude we choose to have. Clearly, you allowed yourself to experience gratitude in the face of adversity. You also let yourself define what is and is not acceptable to you. Just beautiful.


Yota Schneider January 4, 2013 at 11:14 am

Thank you for sharing your story, Marci!
I can relate to this particular one. Almost 25 years ago, at the very beginning of my life in the US, I worked in retail while going to school. Winter felt brutal for someone who had never seen that much snow before.
One day, just like the one you’re describing, I had to drive in for my afternoon shift. The store didn’t close and I found myself driving home in the worst conditions.
I was really close to home when, as I took a turn, I lost control and my car ended up in the woods. I was fortunate. I didn’t get hurt and someone did stop. No cell phones back then so he drove me home to safety! An angel, indeed!
It wasn’t the last time. As an account executive I had to drive cross state no matter what the weather. My director used to brag about her ability to drive in all kinds of weather. “I can’t possibly let the weather slow me down,” she’d say. I still have mixed feelings about this. Where does perseverance and determination stop and sheer stupidity and arrogance start?
You find a lot of that in corporate. No wonder they are such a mess!
Anyway, these are some of the reasons why I am not in retail or corporate anymore. Too much bravado, too little common sense, and minimum consideration.
By the way, I don’t think that management didn’t close the store you worked in because they didn’t appreciate the seriousness of the situation. It’s an “alpha,” corporate culture, thing:-)


Marci January 4, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Thanks, Linda and Yota! I guess it’s about what we value most. For your director, Yota, the “nothing can slow me down” bravado… the “world can’t do without me” sense of importance she got was most important. But we value our lives and the quality of our lives. Will anyone remember that I was at the China & Crystal desk in an empty store on the day of a dangerous storm? Heck no. And staying open for that day to make a couple small sales didn’t change the outcome that store was headed for, either. It still went belly-up.

I was unhappy in retail — but a star at customer service. I learned a lot of valuable lessons in a poor job at a time when my life was in big transition. I was grateful for the job at the time. But I still say a little prayer of thanks each time I turn down my street on my way to my safe driveway, no matter what the weather.


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