The first line of this fictional short story was sent to me by one of my longest and very best blogging friends, Cindy Bruchman. A published author and blogger, Cindy lives in Arizona, USA, where she works as a teacher. https://cindybruchman.com/
“On a bitterly cold January morning, after saving for two years, he had enough money to buy a plane ticket to Arizona to visit his friend Cindy.”
Travelling in an English winter was never going to be easy, and the day didn’t start out well. Pete had to get to Heathrow Airport, just west of London, and that was one hundred and thirty miles from his home in Beetley.
And there was something else. That old Jimmy Webb song sung by Glen Campbell was playing on repeat in his head.
“By the time I get to Phoenix…”
As well as a flight of over fourteen hours to anticipate, there was that travelling time to the airport, and having to arrive two hours before departure. Given the problems with trains from East Anglia, and the cost of a taxi being prohibitive, Pete had opted for the long-stay parking option, with a shuttle bus from the compound. That meant a rush-hour drive in pretty awful conditions.
Packing one bag for a two-week stay wasn’t easy when you knew you had to be warm coming and going, but it could be 72 degrees while you were there. Then there were the cameras, two of them carried in hand luggage, plus chargers. He might never get another chance to photograph the wonders of the desert and surrounding mountains, let alone his delightful host.
On that grey, forbidding morning, as he scraped the ice from the windscreen and tried not to hear Glen Cambell in his head, the prospect of seeing the sunset over a giant cactus kept him positive and cheerful. Roadside diners, large portions, and all those things about the American south-west he had only ever seen on cinema screens. What a prospect.
At least his old car started first time, and Pete was so glad about that, he almost kissed the steering wheel.
After that, things went downhill. Light snow became heavier snow. People were driving slowly and carefully around the country roads in Norfolk. All well and good normally, but not when you knew there was a flight waiting for you later on, and you had only got as far as Swaffham.
It took almost another hour to weave along the winding lanes until he got past the air base at Lakenheath, and could get on to the A11 fast road at the big roundabout junction.
Still, why worry? He had allowed well over two hours more than it should take.
Good news followed. The A11 was moving well, probably as so many drivers had not bothered to venture out on such an awful day. Pete pushed the car a little, windsceen wipers on double speed to cope with the snow. Stump Cross junction was coming up. That meant joining the wider M11, and then it was south to the M25 junction where he would turn west in the direction of Heathrow.
But red lights were flashing on the gantry in the distance, and that wasn’t good.
Wrapped up against the weather, a policeman in a bright yellow jacket stood next to his police car. Its blue lights were flashing, and he was waving his arm to indicate drivers had to turn off. Pete stopped close to him, and let down the window enough to speak. “What’s happening, officer?” The cop’s weary expression indicated he had been asked the question too many times. “Mortorway’s closed. Bad accident further south. You need to turn here and head for Saffron Walden. Hurry up please”.
That wasn’t good. Saffron Walden was further east, and Pete wanted to go west. But with no access to the motorway, he had to comply, and follow the huge queue of traffic snaking along the small roads of Essex. Switching the radio on, he waited the six minutes to the hour to hear the news. The M11 was going to be closed until the Stansted Airport junction. That didn’t seem so bad, as it wasn’t far. Pity you couldn’t fly from there to Arizona, he was thinking.
In between verses of the Jimmy Webb song.
Trouble was, every car in that part of eastern England was in the same predicament as him, and nothing was moving at all.
Just over ninety minutes later, Pete switched off the engine. An hour after that, he turned it on again, and moved about twenty feet. This time he left it on, as it was getting colder in the car.
Four and a half hours after leaving home that morning, Pete rejoined the motorway to see three lanes of solid traffic moving at a crawl in heavy, settled snow. Still over sixty miles to go to the car parking compound, and he had yet to deal with the notoriously bad M25 orbital motorway. The flight was due to take off in just over two hours, and his top speed was currently ten miles per hour with no sign of the road clearing ahead.
With the M25 junction fast-becoming an impossible dream, he took the next available exit in the direction of Chipping Ongar, and parked on the first stretch of quiet road. In the glovebox was his mobile phone, and he reached for it with a heavy heart.
The least he could do was to ring Cindy, and save her waiting at the airport for someone who was not going to arrive.