I performed a concert in Atlanta one March evening. The next morning was quiet with snow – about seven inches of it, a lot for the deep South. As a hotel bellhop helped me load my little truck he shook his head and asked “Are you going out there?” I responded, “I have a gig in Florida,” as if that explained everything.
Out on the highway, I switched on the radio, looking for weather reports but found only bored DJs reciting an endless list of canceled bingo games and high school basketball games. I inched along the unplowed roadway, carefully staying in the ruts made by earlier motorists. Snow was steadily falling, clumping to my wipers in a big icy mass. I leaned close to the windshield and peered out of the little clear space they left.
A familiar kind of blue sign appeared through the snowy mist. It looked like it might be one of those signs announcing a rest area. I carefully took the exit. My truck and a brown sedan were the only ones there. As the other driver ambled from the washroom to his car, I smiled and asked if he knew anything about the weather up ahead. He gave me a look of annoyance and moved his right hand up toward his face, signing, “I’m deaf.” It’d been a long time since I’d taken that American Sign Language class. I searched the dusty recesses of my brain, finally remembering how to say “snow.” I pointed down the road, made the sign, and hoped the questioning look on my face was enough to get my point across. He furrowed his brows, angrily shrugged his shoulders and ducked into his car. He didn’t have to sign anything for me to know he was thinking, “Dumb broad, of course it’s snowing.”
I crawled into my truck and crept back to the highway. Soon the gas tank’s needle inched to empty. Unable to read the snow covered signs I guessed which exit had a gas station. At the end of the icy ramp I looked to the right and saw … nothing. To my left was a small bridge crossing the highway. It was slick but if I went slowly, I thought I’d be okay. As I reached the other side a small gas station appeared like The Promised Land. I filled up and cautiously got back on the road.
Not long after that the snow stopped; dry pavement replaced the icy ruts. That’s about the time the gale force gusts whipped up. Several times I blinked and found my little truck in the next lane.
After what seemed like days, I reached the coastal highway and that meant only two hours to my gig. The winds were still pushing me around though, and now there was more traffic. I finally conceded defeat and looked for a hotel for the night. None of them had lights. One had a hand-lettered sign that said simply “No electricity.” I elected to keep moving.
I stopped for gas again, deciding against the station that had a portion of its roof peeling off, like a super sized can of sardines. I opted for the station on the other side of the road. It only had a stories-high sign swaying crazily back and forth.
I finally arrived at my gig in a small seaside Florida town. There were signs of life – a kid’s bicycle, cars, houses, and the concert venue but no humans. I walked around a few minutes and found no one. Just as I was about to leave, I came around a corner to face a woman who exclaimed, “Jamie? We thought you weren’t coming! We canceled the show.” She explained that they’d had a rare tornado and there was no power. I wearily climbed in my truck and headed to a friend’s house close by. Twenty miles from Jacksonville, it started to snow.
This is a true story. It took place before the internet was a well-used resource. It also happened before cell phones were widely available. I relied on radio reports and pay phones. I wore animal skins and rode a triceratops to gigs.