Monday, November 14, 2016
I Survived Thanksgiving Drive '85
I am one of the MTU students that survived one of the most harrowing drives back to school in 1985. Here's my story... it's a long one that gets better every time I tell it. I left Detroit Sunday morning with my friend Pete who was from Chicago. We were juniors. He was in Detroit to buy a used Audi from a friend; it had a stick shift and was really sporty. Pete had also just broken his leg and had a cast. but there was no way he was going to let me drive his new (to him) car. We were also ferrying a tank full of PIRANHAS in the back seat for one of his fraternity brothers aquarium. The blizzard hit about the time we got to Gaylord or so...word was they were going to close the Mackinac Bridge because of the wind, but when we got there, they let us on. It was swaying like one of those pirate ship carnival rides! We made it to the other side and wanted to get out and kiss the ground but we couldn't. We had to press on because of the PIRANHAS....if we stopped, we were afraid they would freeze to death. They are a warm water Amazonian fish; being smart engineers we reckoned they couldn't handle the cold. Ever so brilliant, we pressed on...decided to take the southern US2 route given the weather. It was a slow go....you couldn't see where the road was. Pete's leg was cramping up from all the downshifting, but he didn't want me to drive his car. We slowed down to make the turn at 117 and a car that was behind us plowed into a snow drift to avoid rear ending us. He couldn't see us! Conveniently, as is typical of the U.P. , there was an open bar up ahead. We decided to stop and let Pete stretch his casted leg and and partake in a beverage to "steel ourselves" for the rest of the trip. Of course, we left the car running and the heat on for the PIRANHAS. The bartender told us the state police were closing all the roads and so we better get going if we were going to make it. So off we went again. Eventually, there was no seeing out of the windshield; the wiper blades had long frozen over so I had to roll down the passenger window to watch the tree line (just like a winter road rally) to figure out where the road was. I navigated, he steered. We limped along the Seney Stretch, made it through MQT with no sign of the police so we kept going. The PIRANHAS, after all, etc. When we hit Keweenaw Bay, Superior was washing over the road...cars were frozen to the road. (see carsickle picture shown above) We dared not slow down for fear the same would happen to us. We rolled into Houghton about 19 hours after we started (should have been a 10 hour drive). I crawled on my hands and knees up to the front door, the snow was so deep. I was shocked to find that I was the first one back! About an hour later, my sorority sister Jenny arrived in her VW Golf. She and I shoveled a car sized parking spot for her car, you can't leave a car on Houghton streets in winter and we didn't want her to get towed. We watched the sun come up as we shoveled. We were the only ones out of 20 in our house that made it back. Word came that school was canceled, so we we went to the Doghouse to celebrate. In case you were wondering THE PIRANHAS SURVIVED.
My mother had a story of her own regarding Thanksgiving Drive '85. You see, there were no cell phones then and the storm was big news all over the country. (Here's an article in the LA Times about it) She watched the news and then promptly flipped out. She called the Michigan State Police and asked them to find me...she told them her daughter was somewhere enroute from Detroit and Houghton and they needed to track me down. My mother was a force to be reckoned with and would not take no for an answer from anyone. The MSP told her that I would be okay because all of the roads were closed and and the bridge was closed. She wasn't buying it...she wanted them to send a state trooper out to look for me. I think they told her they would (probably just to get her off the phone) send a car out right away. I did call her when I got there finally, even though it was "long distance" and already Monday morning and full rates applied. (In those days I was only allowed to call home on Saturday mornings before 8 am, because the long distance rates were 60% less during non peak hours) She was relieved to know I was safe and I was mortified that she called the cops. If she were still alive right now she'd be having the last laugh on me for sure.
Every MTU student in the 80s has their own story to tell....I wanted to document mine here.