1 of 2
Winter Storm Leon shades Crest Oxmoor
South Shades Crest and West Oxmoor were impassable as of 10 a.m.
2 of 2
Winter Storm Leon Cahaba Road
Cahaba Road in Mountain Brook is blocked by a nine-car accident.
“No way I’m heading out there now,” I told my wife, Ashley, on the phone. “I did it last year, and there was no end to the misery.”
It was 11 a.m. and everyone in the office had turned loose, arms open to embrace catastrophe. I just sat at my desk and combed my inbox for updates.
I heard from co-workers at different times throughout the day. One was lucky and made it home. Another two made it all of three blocks in three hours. About 3 p.m., Keith, our creative director who left the office first, walked back through my door.
In the meantime, I had found Rhonda and Hannah, a mother and daughter from Montgomery stranded in the complex. Rhonda’s husband and 7-year-old son were trapped on U.S. 280 West near the Colonnade, inching their way up the hill toward Mountain Brook. I made them some coffee and told them not to hope too much for a reunion, but instead get them off the road and somewhere warm.
“He said he would if he could, but there’s nowhere to go,” she answered.
Keith and I gave them walking directions to their hotel and resigned to the idea of staying the night at the office. We took a walk down Cahaba Road into Mountain Brook Village for supplies, passing out copies of Village Living to dozens of stranded drivers before picking out a selection of frozen pastas and pot pies. I should’ve bought a toothbrush.
There was a certain weight to being behind a desk while Birmingham exploded. It was warm and safe, but the bystander’s guilt was maddening. Report after report came through from law enforcement saying, “Don’t get on the roads,” but it was too late. They were already out there, desperate to get to their kids.
Keith and I ate chicken fingers at the conference table and weighed options. After dark, we decided the best bet was to walk to English Village to sleep at a friend’s in recliners as opposed to the office floor. At the top of the hill on Cahaba, there was a seven-car pile up. On our way back to the office the next morning, it had expanded to nine.
A woman stopped us at the site of the wreck to ask if we were looters. Before I could ask what would possibly make her lead with that question, she revealed several trapped cars in the area had been rifled through overnight.
After that, Keith and I walked up to 280 to see if we could help. It was immediately evident we couldn’t. Bits of reflective plastic covered the white road like ice cream sprinkles. Tractor trailers slid into formation to inch past the used car lot 280 had become. People were driving the same direction on both sides of the divide. We were not equipped to do anything but take photos.
We walked down to Brookwood, and Keith struck off on a tour of U.S. 31 and Hollywood. He bravely left for home at about 11 a.m. I was not so brave.
I went back to the desk and powered out the best road update I could put together because, were it me separated from my kids, I’d want to know the quickest remedy for it. I updated it for a couple hours and suddenly felt too tired to do it anymore. What really happened was I realized I was alone. I passed out.
Two hours later, Dan, the publisher, showed up. He had walked from West Homewood to Brookwood and driven to Office Park from there. He said Lakeshore was good, so I went.
I was going to Regent Forest in Hoover, which meant I needed to get up the hill. Columbiana Road was non-negotiable, and I-65 South wasn’t moving. I had already received a photo of South Shades Crest. That wasn’t happening. I parked safely near Samford and started walking.
My hike was better than most — only four or five miles. I felt guilty.
I wondered what was everyone else was thinking when they did this the night before? Anger, surely, over a situation spun wildly out of control. Maybe hope of being warm drug them up this hill and over the next three.
Maybe though, they were like me for most of it. Whether they had kindergarteners in tow, or a spouse or a parent, or they were all alone, too, maybe they just watched where they stepped. The real hope being that the black spot ahead was asphalt and nothing more.