Our 1993 Loyola track team had a great week of training in Gainesville, running on some of the same trails described in "Once a Runner", and turning in some solid performances at the Florida Relays on Friday. But weather reports were iffy up north, the certainty of snow in Georgia and Tennessee 100%, forcing us to skip the Saturday competition if we wanted to get home safely.
Not a great way to end Spring Break, but...
So we left Gainesville Saturday morning, March 13, heading north towards Atlanta, snowfall increasing as we neared the Georgia capital, Gordon and I having doubts that we would get through the hills of Tennessee if this precipitation continued. But we were experienced drivers and had been through worse, so...
In Chicago we call 4"-5" a dusting, an occurrence that probably happens 15-20 times/year, just a typical winter experience. But in Atlanta such a snowfall is given apocalyptic names like "Snowmageddon" or "Storm of the Century" (wha..?) citizens of Georgia clueless on how to drive in even such a minor snowfall.
It became dangerous for us to proceed on I-75 because of the ludicrous decisions of Atlantans, some cars going way too fast, others blocking traffic because they were creeping along at 10mph, a couple of fools actually stopping in the roadway - for what, I don't know. It was clear we were going to get nowhere, so we looked for a hotel, pulling off at an exit near downtown.
As we searched for a place to stay we watched cars (more than 5 and less than 10) - slide down hills through red lights, furiously pumping brakes as they flew sideways through intersections with faces awash in panic; other drivers foolishly spinning tires as they tried to extricate cars from a ditch, their efforts only serving to bury the car up to the rear axle.
The only thing missing was popcorn and a Coke.
But the most spectacular was a driver who failed to slow as he approached a stop sign, smashing into an idling car waiting to proceed, pushing it into a light pole like it was shot from a cannon. The mini-bus erupted in collective laughter. It was tempting to sit and watch more but we needed to find lodging.
Eventually we stumbled on a hotel...but there was a hitch - it only had four rooms. And we had a party of twenty-eight! As they say, beggars can't be choosey, and we weren't, so we divided up the men and women, putting seven in rooms with two queen beds, grateful to be in a safe place for the night. We were barely settled in and two of the guys approached me.
Let me guess. Food.
It was nearly 4pm and we hadn't eaten since we left, so I stopped at the front desk to ask for a suggestion. Turned out there was an Italian restaurant nearby, the owner hesitating a bit when I called, finally saying he could handle our group. The place was nearly empty when we arrived fifteen minutes later.
"So...there's a problem...I'm the cook, but none of our servers showed up...because of the snow. So...since you two are coaches I figured..."
"Let me guess. Gordon and I have to take the orders and serve the food." The cook nodded sheepishly.
He waved us into the kitchen and pointed at the refrigerator. Gordon and I carried the prepared salads covered in Saranwrap to the hungry athletes, the cook bringing out warm loaves of bread in baskets, setting bottles of dressing and butter on the tables to get them started.
"Now all you have to do is take the orders."
"Already done." He pinched his eyebrows together. I smirked. "It's amazing." I winked. "But they all want spaghetti and meatballs!"
In the end, it all worked out well, everyone leaving with a smile on their face and a stomach full of food, but there was that still bugs me today...after all this not one of the athletes left us a tip!