Well, THAT was a day.
As previously noted, I was a 3/4-time student this semester, because of the ongoing recovery from my summer medical adventure. I took three classes; one was online and did not have a final exam.
So, naturally, the finals in the other two – completely unrelated classes in different colleges, one for my MET degree and one for my history degree – ended up scheduled back-to-back on the Wednesday of finals week. Which was today.
I should note that it started snowing here in north-central Maine on Monday afternoon… and, apart from occasional periods of sleet and/or freezing rain, which is not a helpful change, it hasn’t stopped yet. For the past two days, the University of Maine has basically been the only school in Penobscot County not closed on account of the weather.
I got up this morning and went outside to find that my front walk and car were covered with around a foot of wet, heavy, hard-to-shovel snow. It wasn’t until I’d finished shoveling that lot up, and in the process kicking off an asthma flareup that still hasn’t subsided, that I noticed I had a bigger problem: the man who plows our driveway hadn’t been by yet, and the municipal public works plows had left a three-foot-high wall of packed ice across the end of the driveway that there was no way any of our tools around the house were going to shift. By the time Mom’s husband Vince managed to track down the plow guy and get him to come over and scrape that away, I’d have been running late for my first exam on a normal day, much less on Day 2 of a heavy snowfall.
I emailed my professors and let them know what I was up against, but that I was going to give it the old college try, then set off. I live 12 miles via State Route 157, a typical two-lane country road, from Interstate 95. This normally takes between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on (believe it or not) the traffic.*
Forty minutes later, I had just about reached the Interstate when my history professor, whose exam was scheduled to begin fairly soon, phoned me to say that I shouldn’t drive down on account of his class if I didn’t think it was safe, and that he’d get with the TA who’s been in charge of the class subsection I’m in and work out another way of handling my final. With an extra couple of hours suddenly added to my schedule and the prospect of possibly not having to make the trip at all, I bought a meat snack and a hot chocolate at the gas station by the Interstate exit and made my way slowly back home, thinking I’d at least have time to get some lunch.
I had just about arrived at home when my other professor (Thermal Science), whose exam was set for later in the afternoon, emailed me and cheerfully related that he’d checked his records, and I’d be all set if I chose not to turn up for the final in his class. With my excellent homework record and decent-to-quite-good range of scores on preliminary exams, I’d end up with a C-, easily clearing the minimum requirement to progress on to his Thermal Applications course next semester.
Please note that he was not being sarcastic or snide with that. He’s genuinely not bothered about how much you pass his class by, as long as you pass it. With a perfectly aligned engineer’s mindset, he’d crunched the numbers and determined that the outcome would be Acceptable, and he was pleased to let me know that my troubles were over.
I like Professor Crosby a lot, but coming from a background where I’d be grounded for a month if I brought home a B in math, I find his mindset on grading a little difficult to get behind; and anyway, I don’t think the financial aid gods would have been quite so sanguine about what that’d do to my GPA, so I scratched lunch from my plans and got ready to go out and do battle with the snow again.
It was at this point that Vincent called and insisted that, if I was planning to go back out into the snow, I should take his 4WD pickup truck instead of my poor old Pontiac. Which meant slogging across the yard to Mom’s house for the keys. Note that Mom and Vincent were both at home sick with some kind of Arcturan misery virus today, so naturally this would be the day when, while I stood in their front hall trying to breathe as shallowly as possible (already feeling wheezy in the chest) and thinking dark thoughts about swarming pathogens, they couldn’t find the keys. Protesting that A) I was already going to be late because of this and B) I don’t want bird flu, I tried to leave four or five times, to increasingly plaintive cries of no wait wait I know they’re here somewhere from my mother, before I finally escaped.
Then, in the driveway, I thought hmm, I wonder, tried the door of the pickup, and found that it was unlocked and the keys were in the ignition. I believe it was last driven sometime last week.
So I shlepped my things across and hit the trail again, feeling marginally more confident. I was about halfway to the Interstate again when I looked down and found that the truck was nearly out of gas.
OK, don’t panic, I thought, there’s that full-service gas station in East Millinocket, I’ll fill up there and won’t even have to get out of the truck.
You’re not going to believe this next part, but I swear it is the truth. As I arrived in East Millinocket – literally just as my eye sought out and focused on the lit-up sign showing today’s price at the full-service Shell station on Main Street:
The power went out.
Gas station and neighboring credit union signs suddenly dark, town’s one traffic light goes into blinky yellow “the grid has failed me” mode. Zap.
I believe I said aloud something along the lines of, “Are you f—king kidding me?!”
I wondered if the power would still be out when I got to Medway, the next and last town before the Interstate. It was. The Citgo station and the Dysart’s one, both dark. Now I have a serious problem developing. I don’t have enough gas to make it to Orono, and the next town down the line from Medway, Lincoln, is miles off the highway via an access road. If the Irving station out by the Interstate (where I had, you may recall, earlier bought a meat snack and a hot chocolate) is out as well, I’m beached. I’ll have to turn around and pick my way back across 157 to Millinocket again, at which point I’ll be so late I might as well not show up at all.
Here, at last, the Force was with me a little, because just as I arrived at the Irving station, the power came back on (giving me the interesting sight of the electronic price sign saying that the per-gallon cost of regular unleaded was ERROR). Breathing a sigh of relief, I pulled up, went through the usual procedure, pressed the button to select the grade of gasoline I wanted, and received the message, NETWORK ERROR PLEASE TRY AGAIN.
“Oh, the power’s just been out,” said a voice behind me, making me jump slightly. I turned to see the woman I’d bought the meat snack and hot chocolate from earlier, holding a roll of tape and a handful of signs reading CREDIT CARD READERS OUT OF ORDER PLEASE PAY INSIDE. This apparently happens often enough that they already had these signs ready to go.
“I don’t have any cash,” I said.
“The one inside works, it has a backup system,” she told me. “It’s just the ones in the pumps. Reset it and hit PAY INSIDE and you’ll be fine.”
(Modulo the backup system actually involving a dial-as-required screechy modem somewhere under the counter and about a five-minute wait for authentication, anyway.)
Thermo exam scheduled start time: 2:45 PM.
Speed limit on Interstate 95 today: 45 MPH.
My arrival time in the room where the Thermo exam was happening: 3:15 PM.
Prof. Crosby was startled to see me arrive; having told me not to sweat it and that I’d pass the class if I didn’t show, he figured that’d be the end of it. Fortunately, since no one else needed the room after us, he let everyone overrun the scheduled exam end time (5:00) a bit, stretching it out until 5:30. Which was good, because I needed that extra half-hour. I still didn’t quite finish the exam, but with a little help from Our Lady of Partial Credit, I may yet pull a decent score on it – and since I already knew I had a C- without it, anything I manage to score on it will be gravy in a way.
As we packed up to leave, Prof. Crosby said, “You’re not going back tonight, are you? Feel free to bunk on one of the couches in the MTL student lounge and head back in the morning if you think it’d be safer. Nobody will bother you in there.” This was mildly tempting, but indeed I was heading back forthwith, because – an email from my history professor which had arrived while I was phone-off for the Thermo exam informed me – my history final was waiting in my inbox at home, for me to complete tonight, on my honor, without reference to the textbook.
Which I did when I finally got home around 10.
Phew. Man. Some days you get the elevator and some days you just get the shaft. Props to Professor Riordan and Lee-the-TA for cutting me a break on the history exam, though. And that’s one more semester in the can. And I don’t have to go anywhere for the next several days… which is good, because I think it’s supposed to snow again on Friday…
Edited to add: It’s Friday and I have, in fact, got the flu.
* By “traffic” I don’t mean gridlock, but rather that it’s a two-lane country road in an area where the mean age is something like, no kidding, 55 – which means one stands a fairly good chance of ending up behind some aged citizen who lacks any sort of sense of urgency, and if you’re thwarted by oncoming traffic at the one or two good places to pass, one can easily end up having to dawdle along at 35 MPH or worse the whole way, even on a perfectly clear, dry summer day. This is unspeakably infuriating when it happens, which, naturally, it tends to do when one is running late. In this case it didn’t happen, but frankly it wouldn’t have mattered if it had, since I don’t think I got about 30 at any time anyway.