It was the perfect storm. Like so many times here in St. Louis we have a mix of bad weather and this one had all of the elements. It started off with wind and a cold, drenching rain. As the temperature dropped, (it’s been known to drop 50 degrees in one hour around these parts), the rain quickly changed to freezing rain and then sleet. A few hours later a snowstorm piled several inches of snow on top of all of that.
The roads and highways were treacherous. It was about 8 o’clock in the morning, right in the middle of rush hour, when I came to the Meramec River Bridge on Interstate 44 approaching Fenton. I was driving a four-wheeled drive vehicle and that had given me a false sense of security. They were fine for driving in snow, but as for the thick layer of ice beneath it, not so good. I was in the far left lane right in the middle of the bridge when I hit the patch of ice. My car went out of control and slid sideways all the way across the highway and slammed into the guardrail of the bridge. At one point did I not only see my life pass before my eyes but came very close to going over the rail and plunging into the freezing river.
The car was still sort of perched up on the guardrail as I sat there and assessed the situation. I had put a large crease in the right side of the car and also had knocked the right front wheel off. It was rolling down the highway at that very moment. I was uninjured except I had smashed my head against the driver’s side window and busted it. (Busted the window, that is, but my head wasn’t in too good a shape either. Good thing it’s hard.)
But I was still in sort of a delicate situation. There were a lot of cars on the highway and some of them were hitting the same patch of ice that I did. Several of them lost control momentarily and skidded in my direction. I was sure one of them was going to hit me if I didn’t get some help. Fast. I had my cell phone and tried to make a call. I couldn’t get through. Gridlock. After trying several more times I got out of the car. At least I wouldn’t be in it if somebody hit me. I tried waving somebody over but they just kept speeding by. Finally, I spied a house back off of the highway a little ways and decided to go there and see if I could use the phone. But getting there would be a problem. There was so much ice on everything that I must have fallen a dozen times before I got to the fence of the house’s backyard.
I literally fell over the fence and into the yard. I was more bloodied and bruised from trying to walk than I was from the accident. Then I heard the dog. Big vicious German Shepard-type dog in the yard, and he was headed in my direction. Luckily I wasn’t the only one having trouble getting traction and it took him a while to get to the fence. By that time I had jumped back over it. I slipped and slid my way back to the highway and eventually a Fenton police car pulled over and asked me if I needed him to stop the traffic so I could pull out. I told him that might be a little difficult since the car only had three wheels left. “Oh.” He said.
He called a tow truck for me and I was on my merry way to the repair shop, with a brief stop at the hospital for a couple of stitches on the side of my face. I picked up the cell phone and put it in my pocket. Useless. I remember thinking, “what good is the thing if it won’t work when you really need it.”
According to CNN, (www.cnn.com), cell phone users, particularly in the Washington D.C. area may suffer the same kind of gridlock on January 20th during president-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration. A similar gridlock occurred around Times Square on New Year’s Eve when it was impossible to make calls and even text messages took several hours to send.
Sprint and Verizon are spending millions of dollars to help bolster the number of calls that they can handle at that time. Sprint is planning on deploying services that are usually reserved for hurricanes: COWS and COLTS. COWS stands for Cell on Wheels and COLTS stands for Cell on Light Truck. These act as mobile cell towers. But even then a typical COLT can only handle an extra 1,500 calls and only 60 of them can go through at the same time. Emergency services will receive priority access.
The phone companies say not to panic, the calls and texts will go through eventually. They also suggest using a landline. Just watch out for the German Shepard’s.