Travel in the New Year began on Friday, January 9, a short flight north to Syracuse. I was headed, for the second time, to the Queen’s (University) Marketing Association Conference QMAC. I landed a bit late, hopped in a rented Ford Focus, and in no time was zooming north on I-81, toward Kingston, Ontario, 120 miles away. Less than 50 miles later, flurries began. They thickened a bit, about the time I noticed an 18-wheeler in the left lane, and it appeared to be stopped. Yes, it was. Full brakes, and I’m headed toward a collision. Happily, the pickup in the right lane was able to slow down and move a bit to the right, and I missed the truck, which in fact was dead stopped, just behind an SUV. What were they thinking? A mile later, we were in full whiteout, a lake-effect squall. “Lake effect” means moisture-laden clouds from the nearby Great Lakes, in this case Ontario, dump huge amounts of snow quickly.
We crawled along at 8 to 12 mph for more than an hour. I checked the National Weather Service radar, and indeed it was a mini-storm, not more than 50 miles east-west and 15 or 20 north-south. Google Maps helpfully indicated that the red line of I-81 became amber a bit north and, sure enough, speed increased to 30, then 40, then the speed limit. It was nearly clear at Watertown.
I arrived at the conference venue just at the end of the reception, and we processed to dinner. I had been to QMAC once before, and enjoyed it. Seatmates at dinner were Dominic and Lindsey, interesting young Canadians, and there was plenty to talk about. After an interesting post-dinner panel discussion, which included WestJet’s senior marketing fellow, I headed to my Airbnb digs, a simple guestroom in a student rental house close to the Queen’s campus. Filip, a Queen’s student, was my affable host; we chatted a bit, and I hit the bed, on a cold night grateful for the old iron radiator adjacent.
Saturday dawned cold and clear. Tiptoed around the house, said goodbye to Filip, and headed back toward the hotel. Kingston is a wonderful small city with splendid 19th Century buildings, many built of gray limestone quarried nearby. I had a bit of time before breakfast, and no trip to Canada is complete without a visit to a Tim Horton’s coffee shop (even if they are now mostly U.S.-owned), so I parked at one a block from the hotel and headed in for a jolt.
Waiting in line, I had the first Talking to Strangers moment of the new year, with a guy in a Montreal Canadiens cap. We were roughly halfway between Montreal and Toronto, so I asked him about the geographical divide between Habs (as the Canadiens are known) and Maple Leafs fans (as would exist in the United States, say, between partisans of the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Rangers, or Chicago Black Hawks and Detroit Red Wings). Geographers like to know those things, but the fellow, good-natured, wasn’t sure. “It sorta depends,” he said, although he allowed that he was from Brockville, 50 miles closer to Montreal. We agreed the Habs were playing good hockey.
At 8:45 I headed into the Holiday Inn, to breakfast, then onto a panel discussion, joining three young Canadians at least half my age. But experience is useful, and I lobbed in some views, and even a bit of provocation. After that, I listened to an outstanding ad guy, Ron Tite, who had the crowd spellbound. A bit past noon I hopped back in the Focus and started toward Syracuse. It was still clear, and the scenery around the 1000 Islands, where Lake Ontario empties into the St. Lawrence, was spectacular. Crossed a couple of high toll bridges, and the cloud began, then quickly another lake-effect storm. Happily, traffic was much lighter, and we could move at about 50 mph.
Unhappily, I needed to pee, and the sign “Rest Area | 2 Miles” beckoned. As soon as I took the exit ramp I realized I had erred: it had not been plowed, and about eight inches of snow had fallen. Momentum carried me even with the toilet building, and then I was stuck. Stuck. There were no other cars, and a few semis. I figured I’d be there a few hours, awaiting the plows, but luck appeared in the form of a friendly New York DoT employee driving an oversized snow blower that had a little cab. It was tiny and seemed underpowered, but he agreed to blow a 25-foot path in front of me, enough for one wheel to get traction. That worked, sort of, but got stuck again. So he plowed more, about 150 feet on a gentle downslope, and that was enough to get me back on the road (two days later I tracked down the regional NYDoT head and sent an email of praise).
Like the previous day, the storm ended quickly, back into blue sky, pedal to the medal. Stopped for gas in Central Square, New York, and the travails continued: the car inexplicably locked with the keys (and mobile phone) inside. The kindly store clerk looked up Budget’s number, handed me her phone, and a 50 minutes later I was sprung, the friendly fellow explaining that Fords self-lock “all the time.” I smiled and told him that might be good job security.
A former American Airlines colleague, Renee Foisy Kleiner, lives nearby, and we had a nice catch-up chat for an hour (it would have been longer without the lockout). Climbed on a US Airways Express Bombardier Dash 8, a solid little turboprop (hadn’t been on one for years), and flew south to Philadelphia, then home on a little jet, landing just before ten. I was plumb wore out, but despite the weather and the locks it was a good start to 2015 travel.
Three days later I got up way early, and flew to Boston for a day trip with my SmartKargo colleagues in Cambridge. Landed at 9:20, hopped on the T (public transit), the Silver Line bus through the tunnel and the subway north to Kendall Square. I always enjoy visiting their offices, which are right on the MIT campus, in a place that just hums with brainpower (the whole metropolis does). It was cold, but bright. At noon, we walked across the street to a cafeteria in the Sloan (business) School. All good.