Last Wednesday I was working in NE Portland when the snow began to come down. “No problem,” I thought. “I know how to drive in snow.” I had, earlier, dropped my phone and it had broken. I had been planning on getting another one on the way home, and my plan was not swayed.
I slipped a little on my way to a main road, but turned into a parking lot and I was fine. I paused to pray and remind myself to keep the gears low, and I continued.
Traffic was slow, so slow that I decided not to take 26 West as the line toward the freeway was not moving at all. I took the Highway 3o Exit, Vaughn Street, and headed South on 25th. It had taken an hour and 45 minutes just to get that far in all the traffic, and I was desperately in need of a pit stop. But there was nowhere to go.
The snow on the road was packed into ice by then and, heading up 25th toward Lovejoy, I hit a little hill and could go no further. After several attempts sliding, I realized that continuing wasn’t safe, and I turned onto an untouched road and drove easily to a parking spot.
I had not been prepared to leave my car that day. I knew there would be snow, but I knew I knew how to drive in it. I hadn’t planned for this. All I was wearing was non-waterproof boots, a simple light rain-jacket, a sweatshirt, and light pants, I pondered what I was going to do. Two days before I had, over a week early, put in my car a package of 40 hand and foot warmers for a friend to give to the homeless, so I had those. I looked in my car for chains. What I found, among other things, was a pair of track pants that I had left in my car, snow boots I’d bought at a garage sale three years ago and forgotten about, a sweater, and poster paint I needed to return to my place of work as I’d hauled it for some reason. I found no chains. Chains would have been nice.
I took the poster paint and a brush and painted “stuck in snow” in very bold letters on a piece of paper and put it on my dashboard. I took an envelope I had in my purse and wrote in pen, “stuck in snow, please don’t tow,” and stuck it to my back windshield wipers. I put the track pants over my own, attached footwarmers to my socks and switched to the snow boots, added the sweater to my layers, and set out. Before I even reached the sidewalk a woman walked by with dogs and I began speaking with her. I let her know I wanted to call my family and let them know I was OK. She said she wished she had her phone on her, but I should knock on a door. “Knock on a door?” I asked, wondering why anyone in this day and age would open a door to a stranger.
“Everyone understands a snowstorm,” she replied good-naturedly. “I’ll wait here to make sure you are safe.”
I knocked, and two young men and a woman let me use a phone and facilities. I was surprised and very thankful. Afterward I walked over to one store that I knew of in the area. The boots were too big and my feet were hurting. I was so excited by my adventurous predicament, yet aware that I needed assistance that I spoke to everyone who walked by. I was especially intrigued by the fact that my phone had chosen today to die, and I must live by my wits. My usual fear of annoying people disappeared with the adventure and the need.
The store had no way to give me cash from a card for bus fare, but I bought some compression socks and the man working gave me some free carbs. He suggested that I could get cash at Zupan’s. As I was leaving the man added, “I don’t think the 20 is running.” I wasn’t sure quite what I was going to do at that point. The Max (transit train) stop that I knew of was farther than my feet were going to carry me. At some point someone said the Max might not even be running. There were cars stalled on the tracks and a switch had frozen.
At Zupan’s I bought some dinner, an abundance of water, and got change for the bus. The man was most likely right: the traffic heading West into the hills on Burnside was not running, so the 20 wouldn’t be able to take me. The people at the counter verified this. I wasn’t sure about the Max, but I had nothing to do but try. If I couldn’t get home, I didn’t know where I would go. Yet I was still more excited by the adventure of it than afraid for some reason.
While I was eating my dinner, I was aware of many people coming in, sharing their predicaments about the snow or simply making it obvious by their way of moving. I heard someone advise a woman to get an Airbnb as traffic was going nowhere. Her phone was running out of battery power and I shamelessly made it obvious that I had been eavesdropping as I offered her my phone cord. She was thankful.
Again, somehow unafraid to simply approach people whom I might be bothering, I asked a man if he could check on some Trimet information on his phone for me. He told me he didn’t think they’d have anything but I could take the Max at a stop four blocks away. I had forgotten about the stop, and I had no idea it was so close. Relief washed through me and grew even stronger as, after I’d gotten a block away, I saw a Max go by. It was running.
While there, I spoke with some people at the stop. One woman had left her car in a place she didn’t even know if she was allowed to park. There were other stories. Everyone seemed jovial though their plans had fallen, they were cold, and they were only focused on getting home. Was it because it was an adventure? Was it because no one was alone in this? We were all simply thankful for the Max. One man told me that he’d checked and the trains were running every 15 minutes. Such good news! I asked if anyone was cold and gave out my extra pair of foot warmers and a hand warmer, and we took the train together. I commented on how friendly everyone was, and one young woman shared that she was concerned about her phone running out, and I wondered if that is why people weren’t staring at their phones. It was a welcome change. However, I think there’s more to it. People were coming together to share the experience.
After I left the Max, I made my way over to the Hospital I live near. I was going to go into it and rest a while before taking the long way to my house, but I just wanted to be home. The short way was down a steep hill, but I could do this. It would get me home quickly. I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to go, but I went.
This was a fairly deserted path. Others use it, but I hardly ever see anyone. I made it to the top, about to go down, and I saw two figures behind me. It was a man and a woman. After chatting briefly, the man carried one of my bags of supplies while helping his lady friend and I down the hill. At the most slippery places, a hand was there to steady me. And I made it home.
Portland isn’t very equipped for snow. We don’t salt, we have so many hills, we have more people than the roads can handle, and the temperature stays so close to freezing that it ices and melts and ices and melts creating very slippery conditions. But in what other people considered a disaster, all I found was blessing after blessing. An empty parking lot was there when I slid. A parking space was there when I needed to park. Though I was unprepared, everything I needed for the snow and keeping warm just happened to be in my car, and I hadn’t prepared. I am not even one to put an item in my car a week and a half early, yet I did, and the needed warmers were there. The woman was walking her dogs at the exact right time to help me have the courage to ask for help. The people in the house helped me. Helpers suddenly appeared when I needed to go down the steep hill. And the amazing thing is, if I had had those chains, I would have been stuck in traffic for hours to come. Everything worked out in the best way possible.
There are so many lessons for me in this. Most of all, I was struck by what was providential. I found out recently that my friend who was giving the warmers to those on the streets has the exact amount she needed plus one, the others that I had used and given away that day were, all along, destined for me to use. Sometimes what seems to be the worst situation is really the best (remember the lack of chains). Despite whatever darkness I see in the world, so many people are still kind. Even if I’m not prepared and not doing the absolute right thing, or if I have a fault such as leaving things in my car, God can work anyway. It’s not up to us doing the perfect thing or having our ducks in a row. Joy is found in living the experience of the moment which is a gift. And of course I can’t deny this one: Adventure makes the heart soar. The whole adventure, those difficult and physically painful, was a gift.
Whatever you are struggling with, may you pause to notice what good you’ve been brought today, and may you have hope.
May God bless your day.