On December 21, 2013, I departed from my residence with my cousin Nancy to embark on the journey to Newfoundland’s south coast. I would be spending some time visiting my parents during the holidays, growing plump on Newfie Hors d’oeuvre and a bottomless bag of Sour Cream ‘n Onion chips. Just two days later, my roommates Mark and Mike would also be heading to the Mainland, to the shiny jewel in the sky known as Taranta.
Little did we know it would be weeks before we saw each other again.
What happened over the course of three weeks became one of the most traumatizing incidents of winter travel in the history of the world. We can only place the blame on Mike, who returned to St. John’s before New Year’s Eve and became blissfully unaware of the events that would unfold.
On January 3 2014, Mark Sanders headed to the airport to board his flight with Porter Airlines. Up until then, air travel had been relatively steady and consistent. That day, however, Toronto Pearson had turned into a minefield of irate passengers, backlogs of oversized luggage, and airline attendants who somehow dealt with the whole thing without smudging their lipstick or wrinkling their trousers. I’m not sure they even sweat.
Mark quickly learned that his flight would not be going ahead that evening. Indeed, thanks to the backlog of delayed flights, he wouldn’t be able to fly out until Monday, this time with Air Canada. He went back to his parents’ home to spend a little more time there.
Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador was experiencing one of the coldest winters in history. And since nowadays the glamour of woodstoves spouting delicious sooty smoke into the sky has been mostly replaced with electric heat, people were cranking their thermostats to the max. My parents, for example, cannot function in temperatures under 30 degrees Celsius, it seems.
It all became too much for the province’s power grids. The whole island went dark.
In St. John’s, Mike rushed to put up blankets over the windows, as our drafty old townhouse has been known to not deal well with extreme temperatures. He gathered the kittens near. He stocked the fridge with beer. Thankfully, our propane fireplace withstood the chaos.
In Bay d’Espoir, my family and I were also being subjected to “rolling black-outs” as a means of alleviating the stress on the power grids. Every time the power went out, my mother lost her cool. She had important medication that needed to be stored at a certain temperature, and she was certain that the outages meant absolute death. Together they filled buckets of water, dug out every flashlight and blanket in the house, and waited a whole hour for the lights to come on again.
January 6. Mark shows up at Toronto Pearson, only to discover that his flight is once again cancelled. He must wait in a line-up filled with hundreds of angry people, waiting for hotel vouchers and food. People are losing their tempers. Others have been waiting in the airport for days, having literally built forts to sleep in using luggage carts and blankets.
He returns the following day. Luck is still not on his side. All he can do is go wait at the hotel, reading in bed and crying over reruns of Oprah. Meanwhile, I’m negotiating an escape route with my parents to return to St. John’s on the following Wednesday, but am being held as a prisoner of love, and so I do not make my bus. Mike must suffer it out in St. John’s alone, for a few more days.
We never once suspected it might be Mike that sabotaged our travels; that in fact he wasn’t miserable without our company, but rather enjoying the quiet of the house occupied only by kittens.
Finally, on January 9th, Mark Sanders boards his flight. He sends us urgent Facebook messages in an ongoing conversation that has started over a month ago as a means of relaying information in a time when such information is sparse and not all over social media.
“BOARDING FOR REALLY REAL”
But it takes some time for him to get into the sky. “Any second now. There will be a ‘Ha ha, just kidding’.”
Finally, after Mike and I hold our breaths for five whole hours, another message is received: “I am on land. They have made Toronto look just like St. John’s. Clever bastards.”
Two have made it home. Now what about me?
I awake at 6 AM on January 10th, only after falling asleep at 3 AM. I head to the bus stop and say good-byes to Mom and Dad, who had reluctantly agreed to my release under the conditions that I will return again in June.
The bus is crowded. Everyone’s going to visit their grandchildren, it seems. And then, after just turning off the Bay d’Espoir Highway, the bus comes to a complete stop on the shoulder of the Trans-Canada Highway.
“Our transmission blew,” said the driver.
I threw back my head and screamed, “MIIIIIIIKE! YOU DID THIS!”
The passengers, many of whom are catching flights, all wait patiently for the tow truck. By the time we are back on the road over an hour later, we somehow find ourselves three hours behind schedule. Tension is high. The driver drives like a madman. It seems impossible that any of us will make it out of the day alive.
But ‘lo, there it is. The sprawling metropolis of St. John’s. The colourful jellybean city flanked on each and every corner by the tallest snow banks you have ever seen. The roads are narrow. There is no space. I am once again confined to my household as none of the streets are cleared for pedestrians and leaving home every day is like playing a life-threatening game of Frogger in the streets. The snow has taken over the city, and it will never loosen its grip.
As a final insult, Mike leaves me standing at the bus stop for ten whole minutes before picking me up. My toes take hours to thaw.
But we are reunited, and despite my homesickness, the eggrolls and beer and fireplace with kittens and the promise of social interaction is all too thrilling. Mike is forgiven for his sabotage. We all recline on the futon for some much-deserved board game fun, and then the power goes out.