Mother Nature doesn’t want me to work at Sports Spectrum.
All I wanted was snow for the holidays. And, well, she gave it to me—just not when I wanted it.
On Dec. 22, I had to drive back to my hometown of Indianapolis from Charlotte, where Sports Spectrum’s offices are located and where the NFL’s Carolina Panthers call home (my editor asked me to add sports references, since, well, we’re a sports magazine, and this column has nothing to do with sports). I was sick of Charlotte, though—sick of exercising outside in shorts and a tank top, sick of playing golf on the weekends (sports shout out!) and sick of still wearing flip-flops.
I wanted winter.
I couldn’t wait to get back to Indiana, the home of the Crean and Crimson. I wanted to bundle up, slip on my blades, and skate outside in the frigid Hoosier air. I wanted to pelt my little sister in the face with a snowball. I wanted to take my girl to Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis, buy some hot chocolate, walk on those brick streets, and kiss her with the beautiful one-building Indianapolis skyline in the backdrop (how is that city hosting a Super Bowl?) as snowflakes softly fell from the sky and stuck to our eyelashes.
But I didn’t get any of that weather. It was 60 degrees. Every. Single. Day. The local ice-skating rink looked more like a swimming pool. I still hit my little sister in the face, but it was with a Wii remote while playing Just Dance. And my girlfriend…instead of a romantic date downtown soaking up the Christmas spirit, I think we just got Chinese takeout and watched Shrek.
Christmas was still great. It always is. I wasn’t mad about the weather at the time. But I was mad in hindsight. You see, Mother Nature would give me her snow. Oh, she’d give me that wintry mix I asked for. And she’d do it in the most inconvenient way possible. She’d do it on my trip back to Charlotte.
When I left on Jan. 2, I decided to drive through Cincinnati (home of the surprising Bengals) instead of Louisville (where Rick Pitino’s Cardinals have lost their last two home games—that was fun to write) since the bridge in Louisville was closed. I was trying to be smart. But that’s why you shouldn’t try something you’re incapable of accomplishing. Like flying.
“Remember you wanted snow?” Mother Nature asked me, as I continued south of Cincinnati on I-75. “Here’s your snow.”
It snowed for 10 minutes. That’s all. Growing up in central Indiana and attending college in northern Indiana, I was used to it. As a Hoosier, driving through snow was second nature—like farming, playing basketball and never doing anything fun. Not a big deal.
But this snowfall was much different. No one was ready for it.
The person in front of me slammed on his breaks. So did I…with both feet (for some reason I thought it’d help.)…and I didn’t slow down.
My silver Chrysler Concorde came to a halt two car lengths from the vehicle in front of me. I stared blankly out my front windshield, my heart pounding. Then I looked in my rearview mirror, saw a car flying toward me, said something that can’t be printed and closed my eyes.
“Remember that kiss you wanted in the snow?” the blasted hag whispered to me. “Well, I’m sure your Concorde will love a little smooch from a Honda Civic.”
Next thing I knew, the car seemingly warped in front of me and was spinning uncontrollably like it hit a banana peel on Mario Kart. Miraculously, he didn’t run into me or anyone.
Being the journalist I am, I talked to him afterwards, and he told me, “I couldn’t stop, so I threw on my e-brake and just went around you.”
If I were the GM of a racing team, I would have offered him a contract right then and there.
Traffic had come to a complete stop. And several people, to my surprise, were walking around in the street. It eerily felt like the scene in War of the Worlds where the civilians of New York were scoping out the gaping hole in the road that a giant piece of alien machinery would soon grow out of. I got out of my car, too. I wanted to see an alien.
I joined a number of drivers on a bank to the right of the Interstate and saw something that was just about as shocking as one of those blood-sucking tri-pod mechanisms from War of the Worlds—a 30-car pile up, literally right in front of me.
From the reports I saw, there were no deaths, only injuries. But there was a semi-trailer involved, a truck flipped over and cars pointing each and every way like a giant jigsaw puzzle. And of course, by the time I got out of my car, the snow had come to a complete stop.
I could almost see Mother Nature diabolically grinning.
We sat in traffic for two and a half hours as they cleared up the mess. Being one of the first cars allowed to go through (that’s how close I was to the pileup), I had an open road ahead of me and knew I could make up some time.
But again, it wouldn’t be.
In Tennessee, there was a second wave of snow, this time for maybe a half hour. Since it was about 4 p.m., I pulled over for dinner to wait out the quick wave of winter weather. Smart, right? But again, I’d learn my lesson: Don’t try to be something you’re not.
When the snow ceased, I got back on the road again. About 30 miles north of Knoxville (just one week before the Vols upset then-No. 13 Florida), however, I came over a mountain only to see more trouble. This time there were a dozen semis and cars stuck at the bottom of the mountain and several more scattered up the next hill—wheels spinning, hardly moving, unable to get up.
“Remember when you wanted to ice skate?” she asked. “Well, here’s your ice.”
I hated her.
Venturing up and down the next two hills were unexplainably frustrating and emotionally wearing. It took two hours to probably go a mile. Going down, I hugged the rumble strip for better traction. Going up, I threw my car into low gear and literally went 5 mph, swerving up the hill, sometimes sliding backwards, dodging semis that couldn’t move, fairly certain that I was going to get stuck and have to sleep in my car on the side of I-75.
That night, I was stranded. I had to stay in a shoddy hotel in some unknown mountainous town.
I don’t mean to complain. I felt fortunate to be alive. Felt fortunate to not be in one of the totaled cars I saw being towed into the hotel parking lot. But I also felt scared. Lying in my hotel bed exhausted, I made a vow: The next time I drive from Charlotte to Indianapolis will be when Sports Spectrum fires me. So, realistically, within the next week or two.
After a terrible night’s sleep, I checked the weather and saw that there was going to be more snow in northwestern North Carolina. Of course.
That meant I’d have to drive all the way down to Atlanta (a week before the Falcons were humiliated in the NFL playoffs against the surging New York Giants) then flank Charlotte from the west. But first, my tape player that allowed me to play my iPod (the only relaxing thing about driving) would break. My front-left tire would go flat. And I’d spend about twice as much money on gas as I anticipated. My 10-hour one-day trip became a 17-hour two-day quest. If I would’ve known my journey to Mordor was going to be this painstaking, I would’ve packed more lambas bread.
When I finally passed through Atlanta and crossed into the South Carolina border, I was welcomed by those cliché Christian signs along Bible-belt Interstates…like a giant picture of Jesus (I’m not lying) or a black sign with white lettering that reads, “Let’s meet up before the big game on Sunday. – God.”
I can just see it now. An intellectual spiritual seeker drives along. He or she sees the sign. Then a light bulb goes off, “Ohhhhhhh, let’s meet before the big game on Sunday. That explains the Trinity. That explains why there is pain in the world. That explains the inerrancy of Scripture. Wow, I’m going to give my life for Christ.”
As disturbing as it was, there was also something comforting about it. After 16 hours, I was finally in the south. So I turned on Rush Limbaugh just to make my arrival even more authentic.
Soon enough, I was back in Charlotte. I went straight to the Sports Spectrum offices since I was incredibly late to work. And I knew immediately that I had to write about my journey. Writing, for me, is therapeutic. And I needed therapy more than ever. Plus, if I approached my journey to Charlotte in a light-hearted manner, perhaps it’d make all the fits of rage, (cough) tears and all the money I spent worthwhile. And, most importantly, if I could laugh about it, maybe Mother Nature wouldn’t do that to me again.
Then it hit me…right after I got done proofreading this joke of a column that has little to do with faith and sports, the niche of our magazine.
Maybe Sports Spectrum hired her.
Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.