It’s been a hell of a winter. Everyone agrees. Talk to any random person on the street and before long the conversation turns to what a hard winter it’s been. For a professional driver, it’s been even worse. We don’t have any choice. While others are curled up safe at home, we’re on the roads. Granted, as a school bus driver I supposedly get “snow days”, but when your school board is as cheap as mine – snow day? What’s a snow day? My fellow drivers around here will heartily agree that we’ve been on the roads many days we shouldn’t have been. It’s one thing to be out in a blizzard or on black ice with your own car, but when you’re driving an unwieldy vehicle full of other peoples’ kids – well, that adds a whole different level of stress. And for Stephen, slogging regularly along I94 around the Great Lakes, it’s been an even more stressful winter. So when he decided we needed a winter holiday, I sure wasn’t going to complain!
On our way home from Cuba last year we had read an article about Costa Rica and were both instantly intrigued. We did some research into the country, and decided that’s where we wanted to go. Long story short, found the right package, booked the trip, made all the plans, were good to go.
My last day of work was Thurs Feb 27. The plan was simple enough – do my AM route, run a charter to Simcoe, come home to finish packing, do the return of the charter, do my PM route, take the bus to the yard where Stephen would pick me up, and off we would go, having a nice dinner out, a night in a hotel near the airport, and jetting off to Costa Rica on Friday. You know what they say about the best laid plans… The universe wasn’t letting me off without one last dig.
The day started off well enough, bright and sunny, not too terribly cold, and my route went off without a hitch, as did the pickup for the charter. I headed for Simcoe along Rest Acres Road. Just outside the city I heard another driver radioing in about poor visibility along Rest Acres Road, not being able to see for the blowing snow and whiteout conditions. What on earth? I had just come through there not five minutes earlier and the sun had been shining brightly! I chalked it up to the blustery winds, and kept on going. I dropped my group off in Simcoe and headed home. As I turned onto highway 24, I saw a massive dark cloud ahead. Hmmm, I thought, wonder if this is what that driver was talking about, and it’s followed me.
I had no choice but to head towards it. I’ve never seen anything quite like this. One minute it was bright and sunny, and then it was as if I crossed an invisible line and drove into a blizzard. As I came out of Simcoe, it got worse. I couldn’t see more than a car length in front of my bus for the snow blowing across the road. I slowed right down and put on my four ways. Visibility kept getting worse, until at one point I couldn’t even see the front of my bus. I had no idea if I was still on the road or if I was heading toward the ditch. I had to stop where I was, hoping anyone coming behind could see my four ways and brake lights. I sat still for what seemed like ages, but was probably only about fifteen seconds, until the snow eased back a bit and I was able to make out a speed limit sign on my right. That at least meant I wasn’t heading for the ditch! I started to creep forward and found a patch of road where the snow had blown clear and I was able to see the yellow center line. As I crawled along the yellow line the wind eased somewhat and visibility improved marginally. It was a horrific drive home. Periodically the snow would stop and I would be able to see clearly and drive better, then without warning the snow and wind would start again. I have never been so relieved to get home in my life. And of course, once I got to Brantford, there was no snow. Figures.
I finished my packing, had lunch, and was ready to set off to Simcoe again. Knowing what the weather had been like, I left an extra twenty minutes early, just in case. Good thing I did, because as I was pulling onto Veterans Parkway, my bus started coughing and gagging, jerking and jolting. It settled down, but then did it again and I couldn’t get any acceleration. So I did what any good school bus driver should do – I radioed for help. I pulled off into a gas station and waited for them to bring me a spare bus. There went my extra travel time. The wonderful mechanic brought me a bus, I leaped in and headed off once more. The roads were bad, but nothing I couldn’t handle, and I actually made it to Simcoe only five minutes late for my pickup. They were ready and we turned around to head home on those bad roads. At one point the teacher leaned in and asked me, “Is it this bad all the way back?” I nodded and she sat back quietly.
When we got to the school she stood up and reminded her students to take everything with them as they got off the bus, then she said to them, “I don’t know if any of you were watching as we drove home, but the roads were very bad and it was hard for our driver to see where she was going at times. Please remember to thank her for getting us all home safely.” Best teacher ever.
My route went without a hitch – by this point I half expected something else to go wrong but it didn’t – and I delivered my spare bus to the yard. I sank into the passenger seat of Stephen’s car with a huge sigh of relief. We headed onto the highway, and as travelers are wont to do, we were quizzing one another –
“Did you remember the -”
“Yep, got that. Did you get the -”
“Yep, I packed it. What about the travel documents?”
“I thought you packed those.”
“No, I left them for you.”
Luckily we were easily able to slip home and pick them up, and I’m delighted to say, the rest of the evening went without a hitch. We had a delicious dinner at Tucker’s Marketplace in Burlington and found our sleep/park/fly hotel without any trouble. After a good night’s sleep, we headed for Costa Rica. More on that later.