Monday, February 23, 2015

The Great Escape - Boston to DC

So I've been quiet the last week; has anyone noticed? No? Well, in case you were feeling cut adrift from the latest in my repatriation faux pas (faux pases? faux pase?), it's not because I had nothing to say. That happens no time ever. The silence was because last week was Winter Vacation for the Weston schools and I try really hard not to "work" on vacation.

Since late last year, we had planned to go to Costa Rica. My kids were nuts with excitement for the last two weeks before we left--shoveling snow, thinking about the rainforest. Breaking icicles while talking about learning to surf. Telling everyone in their school who would listen (at this point they might be down to the custodian. Or not. Maybe the stuffies in the kindergarten classrooms) that they were going to Costa Rica, a country they studied for a couple of weeks earlier in the school year.

Our scheduled flights were the cheapie flights. Yes, I refused to pay $100 each more to go on Friday night,  so we were flying to DC at 7 pm on Saturday the 14th, spending the night in a hotel near Dulles airport, flying to San Jose from DC,  then flying back through Houston, again overnight and arriving Sunday the 22nd back here in Boston. Or so we thought.

As you may know if you are friends with me on facebook, I am obsessed with watching the weather predictions. Starting about Wednesday the 11th, I got pretty nervous. Another storm (Neptune, apparently) was trying to dump a whole lot of white stuff on Boston. And, as the weathercasters love to say...this one was a Nor'Easter. Oh yay. The forecasters went back and forth on timing, but finally settled into an early Saturday night arrival for the storm with the worst of it coming on Sunday morning. 

I called United on Thursday morning, right after BH arrived from Brazil. No, they said, no waivers have been issued. I could change my flight to earlier in the day on Saturday to DC, but it would cost $300 per ticket to do so.  I decided to stay with our flight.  Two hours later I changed my mind and was willing to pay the fee--I called back United and said we could fly anytime Friday or Saturday but United told me that now there were no seats left.  I asked them what would happen if we drove to DC on Saturday and just picked up the Costa Rica flight on Sunday. They said "just let us know, and we'll charge you the change fee." Change fee? What?

Given the forecast, I decided to reserve a rental car in case we made a break for it on Saturday. Even though DC is a seven hour drive on the best of days, I was DESPERATE for this vacation. 99 inches of snow in Boston, people! I put a good face on it but I wanted sun! I wanted beach! I wanted little rainforest creatures at my window! I wanted to see my stepdaughter and her boyfriend who were flying up from Brazil to Costa Rica to meet us (that's halfway for each of us. Cool, no?). We decided to make our decision on Saturday around 1 pm (car rental reservation was for 2 pm).

At 6 am, our kitchen sink broke. Yep, the kitchen faucet had not a drop of cold water in it. Our wonderful neighbor came over to see if he could figure out what 9:30 am, he had left but we had called the plumber on a possible valve problem. At 9:45 am, I had checked in for our flight on United's site. At 10:00, the plumber arrived. At 10:09, United canceled our flight from Boston to DC.

While the plumber worked, I fed kids and BH packed. We decided to drive down. Now we had to shut down the house for our departure--not totally because we did have a college student house-sitting, but it's amazing what was left to get done. Finally, after a $200 plumbing bill pay, dogs settled, United advised of our change, housesitter called and generally freaking out left behind, we waited for a taxi (40 minutes!! Freakin' 'burbs!) to take us to the Waltham Avis car rental.

I had called Avis earlier in the morning to see if our car would be ready a little earlier than 2. The guy said "sure, come on down whenever." So we did. As I am handing over the documents a little distractedly in the miniscule Avis office inside the Westin Hotel Waltham, he says "hey, I have the same birthday as you!" And I said "wow, this is the first time I have ever met anyone with my birthday" (December 28 is not a popular day to get born). And he said "I am giving you an upgrade to a luxury full-size car because you're my twin." So we got ourselves a nice Lincoln something or other for what would be our 10 hours of hell.

Well, that would be an exaggeration. Not the nice car part. It was a nice car; all 10 hours were not hell. About 2 of them were. BH started driving through Massachusetts and all was snow-free until Connecticut. Clearly Connecticut still harbors some resentment that I moved away, or the Whalers moved to Houston or Charlotte or someplace warm, or possibly that they are a tiny state, and started blowing snow towards us just as I took over the steering wheel at the border. 

Light fluffy snow bothers no one from Connecticut. We were doing the speed limit all the way to NYC where we started having some problems with traffic getting on to the GW Bridge. But still making good time. It was then around 4:30 pm when we crossed into New Jersey and began our trip down the NJ Turnpike.  Things were going so well that we stopped for dinner just before crossing into Maryland. Where things got hellish.

There are many jokes about southerners giving up when the snow gets to 2 inches thick. It turns out that this is not a joke. For two hours we crept through 2 inches of snow at 40 mph (photo at top is from Maryland). We saw about six snowplows total in all of Maryland and DC. Nothing was happening in taking snows off the roads.

I knew that the big wind gusts were expected later in the evening so I was starting to get very tense. As night fell, I had to ask BH, the poor jetlagged boy, to keep driving until we were about an hour (theoretically) from DC. Then he was too sleepy so I took over.

And then passed the hairiest driving hour of my recent memory. I had one other white-hair-causing trip 7 years ago in Michigan due to black ice and freezing cold. But that was with drivers who knew what they were doing. No offense, south, but you do not. 

The gusts came up, the light fluffy snow flew across the highways, pushing the luxury Lincoln and whiting out my vision. I am not a good night driver. I just got night driving glasses but of course I had left them in Boston because I did not expect to be driving through the night in a white out.

Suffice it to say, I was terrified. Totally. The kids behaved as well as you could expect--by the last hour they were tired and just wanted to get there. I just wanted to get there. The last hour took us two hours. I pulled into the parking lot at Summerfield Suites Dulles and burst into tears. Fortunately the kids were sleeping at this point.

Wonderful BH took charge of the kids and the luggage, and I took charge of getting two Sam Adams at the little store attached to the reception desk. I am forever grateful to Summerfield Suites Dulles for saving my life with a Sam Adams.

Finally we were in our room. And the kids fell asleep. And I stayed up all night worrying about our flight from Dulles to Costa Rica the next morning at 9 am...would it be cancelled from all the gusting winds? The hotel wasn't even made for winter--the gusts blew through the air conditioner all night, we slept in our clothes to keep warm (no clue how the heat worked in that room). But we were on our way. We had escaped from Boston. 

The lovely God-given land of Costa Rica will be my next was all worth it. But even now, at 3 pm on a Monday afternoon, the telling of the tale has me wanting a Sam Adams. It's a good year to be a Boston beer brewer.

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