All I Want for Christmas Is Snow Tires for the Rental Car

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         William Lepiesza, Associate Director

The glowing orange digital thermometer, inset along the rental car’s dashboard, indicated that it was -6 degrees Celsius. Its continuous blinking served to crystallize my thoughts: *Blink* the radio had just announced emergency closure of the airport. *Blink* it was approximately 21 degrees Fahrenheit outside. *Blink* somehow, it was still raining.

In my experience, there are only two places on the planet where it can be significantly below freezing and still rain – Providence, Rhode Island and the eastern coast of England. A couple of weeks ago, I found myself unceremoniously stranded in the latter.

When constantly traveling close to year-end, the law of averages suggests getting stuck with some frequency – I’ve had my fair share of difficulties traveling during the holiday season. A few years ago, I was cast adrift in Rock Springs, Wyoming – following the emergency closure of Denver International – chipping an inch of ice off the windshield with a plastic brush at 4:00am, surrounded by wandering elk in the hotel parking lot, and preparing for a 500 mile race to reach the last flight out of Billings, Montana.

I’ve also been derailed in stormy Seattle and snowed-in Boston, so it was not entirely unexpected, and at least a little cosmopolitan, to be trapped in the UK this time around.

I had combined a trip for my sister-in-law’s wedding on England’s East Coast with client meetings and interviews the following days in London. I figured, wedding on the weekend, meetings Monday/Tuesday, back out by Wednesday. I hadn’t counted on the earliest widespread snowfall since 1993 to blanket the UK.

Commuters in England are as unaccustomed to driving in snow as San Diegans are unaccustomed to driving in the rain (San Diego is the first place I ever witnessed people pull over on the highway to “wait out” a light rain shower, and radio announcements like: “severe traffic jams on the 805-North due to accidents caused by today’s rainfall.”).

Not many SUVs or 4-wheel-drive vehicles can be found on London’s M-4 and M-5 motorways, so traffic in and around the city following the snowstorms had ground to a near halt. For me – driving on the wrong side of the road, sitting in the wrong seat, shifting with the wrong hand, with three feet of extra car extended out to my left – crawling along the icy, snow-swept roads on the way to my meetings, was just fine.

Fortunately, on the morning of my scheduled departure, I had just set off from the coast when I learned of the airport closure, and didn’t have too far to travel back.

After two subsequent days of hunkering down on the stormy coast, with gale force winds, sub-freezing temperatures, and – yes – bafflingly torrential rain, I was able to secure a flight connecting through Dallas, back to San Diego.

Not to be outdone by their neighbors in the North, Spanish air traffic controllers chose that exact same three-day stretch to call a general strike, shutting down travel to and from that country, and stranding hundreds of Iberian-bound travelers at the London airports.

Despite the crowds, I navigated through the airport and onto the plane, where I learned that flight time would be10 hours and 10 minutes to Dallas – followed by a 3 hour layover and a 2 hour 55 minute flight to San Diego. That would ensure a good 40% more travel time than the usual San Diego to London jaunt and thus 40% more quality time to be stuck in cylindrical close-quarters with 200 winter travelers, sneezing, coughing, and sharing all sorts of fascinating airborne pathogens.

Of course, by the time I landed in San Diego at 10:30pm, I was as sick as the rest of my fellow travelers. Of course, it had been about 26 hours since I had woken up the previous morning in England. And of course, having to re-check my suitcase after landing in Dallas, the bag never made it.

However, in the cab on the way home, I couldn’t help but be pleased. In fact, I was thrilled. I had already exorcised my annual holiday travel demons the first week of December! Karmic equivalence ensured incident-free travel for the rest of the season. And I’m happy to report: so far, so good.

I’ll be boarding that flight to Boston next week with a smile on my face.


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