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Reporting from the home front

Snowed in, reporter battles snow, ice — and deadlines

POSTED: January 16, 2011 1:33 a.m.

FLOWERY BRANCH — I packed up my desk Sunday night, fearing the worst was coming.

The weather forecasts were just too bleak. My editor, Mitch Clarke, asked me about my chances of getting to work Monday.

"Not unless we have a transporter room," I said, my Star Trek reference hanging in the air.

"Well, here's the situation ..." Mitch proceeded to tell me about staffing issues. To sum up, we needed someone in Gainesville to cover the snow monster heading in our direction.

I went home, the storm came and South Hall  not Gainesville  became my work station for the week.

The 15 miles to Gainesville might as well have been 150 miles. There was simply no leaving my hilly neighborhood off Spout Springs Road.

I had parked my car in the neighborhood pool parking lot near the subdivision entrance. With about 30 yards separating my car and Spout Springs, I thought there might be a chance  a faint, slender hope  of getting to work.

Things wouldn't turn out as I hoped.

Still, the first day went OK.

I got up early, looked out the windows at the solid whiteness, then filed a story updating the weather and describing the nasty road conditions.

Mitch shot me an e-mail telling me to keep monitoring conditions and sending him updates.

"Fun times," he wrote. "At some point, try to get out in your neighborhood to get color and photos. But don't bother trying to get to the office. Work from home today."

I did just that, bundling up and wishing I had some heavy hiking boots.

Going outside with my camera, pen and notepad, I instantly saw a couple of children sledding down the steep hill that leads to my house.

"Hey!" I yelled out to one of the kids, who was carrying a bright orange sled.

"I live in this house," pointing my gloved finger at the two-story igloo behind me, "and I'm also a reporter for the Gainesville Times. I'm doing a story on the weather. Do you mind talking to me?"

We chatted for a couple of minutes. I jotted down some notes on my notepad.

"Do you mind if I shoot some video of you sledding down the hill?" I asked.

"Sure, no problem," they said, smiling.

I tried to power up the camera, but no green light came on. Great  no batteries. I explained the malfunction to the sledders and said I would be back soon.

I went into the house and scrounged around for enough double-A batteries to get the job done. I went back out, shot the video  all was good.

Later, after making some phone calls and writing up updates for our website, it was time for a break.

Now, at work, this would have meant standing up, stretching, chatting with a neighbor.

At home on a snow day (my wife, Lorrie, is a teacher and my two kids are students), it meant playing in the yard and taking some pictures. Lorrie grabbed some handfuls of snow to take inside and later prepare that wintertime favorite, snow cream.

Back to work. More phone calls, finally some writing for the print edition.

Meanwhile, the TV was tuned to the news all day and the area around my computer was slowly evolving into my desk at work  my notepad, phone and pen within an arm's reach.

Day 2 and this e-mail from Mitch: "I'm wondering how I'm going to get to work today. Thompson Bridge Road was tough last night."

More of the same routines, with a couple of twists. I got to write about something other than weather.

Also, I set off for my car to see what kind of shape Spout Springs Road was in.

I saw my neighbor across the street and we talked for a while. He offered to drive me to my car in his pickup truck, which sat idling in his driveway. I accepted, stepping into the warm interior of his truck, and off we went up and down the hills leading to my red car.

Except that it wasn't red anymore, but rather a bright shade of snow-blind.

I cranked it up, then turned on the defroster. I mentioned something about checking on Spout Springs and, before I knew it, my neighbor and I were tooling around Stonebridge Village in Flowery Branch  a virtual ghost town, except for a few power company trucks at Home Depot.

We headed back to our neighborhood, I shut off the car engine and we slowly paced our way back home.

On the third day, I got this e-mail from Mitch: "You gonna try to venture into the office once the sun comes out?"

Yes, indeed. That turned out to be another adventure, as I stomped through ice-covered snow and took baby steps across scary sheets of ice. It was a long mile between my house and the car.

Finally reaching my destination, I watched as one car tried to navigate that last hill to Spout Springs.

Slipping and sliding, the car's wheels couldn't budge past chunks of ice and snow that might as well have been walls of ice. The driver put the car in reverse and backed the car into the parking lot where I was parked. He turned around, presumably heading home.

Seeing me walking in the same direction, the driver rolled down his window. "Want a ride?" he asked.

Absolutely. Another drive home and by now, I was feeling like a desperate hitchhiker.

Later in the day, after the sun and some warmer temperatures had done some melting, my daughter and I went back to the car.

We were  finally  able to get out of the subdivision. Freedom.

Megan and I headed to Publix, picked up some groceries and headed back home. But no way was I going to venture down the icy street to my house and not be able to climb up the hills Thursday morning.

Going back to the parking lot, I rested my car for the night. Megan and I hauled the groceries back home. As we're walking, I'm thinking I've met my exercise quota for the month.

Thursday morning, another long walk to the car. Finally, I was able to get on Spout Springs and head to work.

Interstate 985 was bone-dry in some places, compared to the skating rink of a road to my house. Go figure.

Anyway, as I reflect on the week, the one thing I'm extremely grateful for is that the power stayed on.

I feel bad for those folks in Atlanta and places farther south, but I can't imagine all the snow we had plus an inch or so of ice. If more freezing rain had fallen on Hall County, the lights would have been flickering for sure.

I've also gained a new appreciation for folks working at home.

Sounds like a fun proposition, with perks of a refrigerator nearby and less formal clothing (pajamas) to wear. Also, all the snow cream you care to eat.

But a newsroom has a certain allure, with its phones ringing, keyboards clicking and editors waiting for your stories.

Speaking of which, Mitch, this one is on its way.

Jeff Gill is a reporter for The Times who covers transportation. He was up early every day last week providing road condition updates for our website and producing daily stories on the storm for our print edition — all from his home office.



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