(long read) This past weekend, I experienced what will certainly go down as one of the more memorable weddings on record. The engagement was a Wedding Reception held at the Balinese Ballroom on Main Street, downtown Memphis TN. The lucky couple was Ashley and Jonathan. Totally delightful people. They seem well-suited for each other and I'm sure they'll enjoy many years of wedded bliss, but what you (and they) don't know are the details, first in getting there, then getting (or trying to) home afterwards. First off, you'll need a picture of the lucky couple.
The trip was suppose to take 3.5 hours so I left just after noon on Saturday. The weatherman was calling for rain, so I allowed myself some extra time. I made it to the Dickson/Centreville exit (148) when I got stopped by a traffic jam. After waiting a bit, my wife looked it up on TDOT and they were calling for it to be jammed until 7pm. I managed to get off the interstate and headed over towards Hwy 100 (16 miles). The rain was miserable, and there were numerous places where streams were running across the road. After 60 miles of white-knuckle driving, I finally got back to the interstate and headed West.
About 20 miles from Jackson, there was another jam. This time, it was a river that'd re-routed itself over the interstate. Had to drive through about 75 yards of moving water, as if my knuckles weren't white enough already, but I got through it. It continued raining heavily until about 30 miles outside of Memphis and all along the interstate you could see where floodwaters were covering the land-side.
I finally arrived at the venue around 6:20p and started setting up as fast as possible. The first guests started arriving at 6:45p and here I am, sweat pouring and still in jeans. I put on some dinner music, grabbed my clothes and disappeared to change. By the time I'd finished getting everything in place I was winded but it was time for the wedding party. Went out to meet them and got everyone lined up for the Grand Entrance. Although I was pretty scattered, mentally, I managed it and got dinner music started. The first dances and cake cutting went smoothly and by the time we began open dancing, everything felt back on track.
By 10p, the party was in full-tilt when a lady from the venue approached me with a worried look on her face. "We need to make the bride and groom aware that the police just came by. Tornado alarms are going off and they're evacuating the city." Okay, this is new territory for me so I let them know about it and started working with the venue to decide if we needed to get out of the building or move everyone to the middle of the structure. The venue owner, Mike, finally got through to the police and determined there was no evacuation and so the party continued until midnight. Great group of people and they partied like rock-stars.
Once we shutdown I set in to trying to find a hotel room in the immediate area. No way do I want to be driving around in the darkness with multiple tornadoes in the area. Problem was, no rooms anywhere in the city. Out of the kindness of his heart, Mike took pity on me and allowed me stay inside the venue, sleeping on his couch in the bar area. I got to sleep around 2:30a and woke at 6:30a to get loaded. Mike returned a little after 7 and I was on the road by 7:30a, headed home. Little did I know the adventure was just beginning.
The weather was okay, some rain, some clear and I made good time until about 60 miles from home. The interstate was stopped again and at the same exit I'd gotten stopped at before. The Duck River apparently was flowing over the interstate so I got off, thinking I'd pull my same little jump over to Hwy100 to continue heading east. A couple of miles off the interstate, I ran into some serious rain and by the time I'd reached the Duck River, the water was almost up to the bridge. By the time I reached Hwy100, the police were turning everyone away. Hwy 100 was closed. About the time I was going to turn around, the national guard pulls around me, headed towards the break in the highway:
I asked the policeman if I could return to the interstate and he waved me around. By the time I'd traveled 4 miles back to the Duck River bridge, water and debris was coming over the road: I found out later that evening that the bridge (just behind this picture) washed out, just a little while after I got over it. Close call.
By the time I got back to the interstate, not only was the east-bound side blocked but now the west-bound lanes were blocked by another section of water crossing the interstate. I, and a hundred of so other travelers were trapped on the overpass. About that time, the wife calls and tells me "The basement is flooding, what do I do?" We spent the next hour on the phone and I have to say she handled a tough situation like an expert. A friend of ours came over and helped her put out sandbags to stop the water and she and the kids worked, continually sweeping water out of the garage. It was a helpless feeling I hope to never repeat. About that time, the river subsided enough that they released the east-bound lanes so I got back on the interstate, headed towards home.
At the main Dickson exit, the interstate was again shut down so I got off and re-routed around Hwy70 to the next exit. I made to about 5 miles from Bellevue before the interstate again shut down. This time, it was the Harpeth river that'd overflowed its banks, and the interstate, and was flooding much of West Nashville (you might've seen the footage on CNN). I was stuck there for about 5-6 hours, and everyone was outside of their cars, walking around. Many were trying to get cellphone service and I asked a couple of guys "What service to you have?" One was "AT&T" and the other was "T-Mobile". Gee, my Verizon phone worked fine. (GRIN). I also noticed that I was stuck right behind Diamond Rio's bus and several of their guys were off the bus, stretching their legs, until a couple of ladies came around, hounding them for attention. The guys bailed back onto their bus quickly. Around 6p, some State Troopers came through and told everyone to either head back west or park it for the night. I headed back to Dickson, which was a mad-house. Hundreds of truckers parked in every open spot along the highway and cars jammed in gridlock. Of course, no hotels were to be found so I put out an SOS on my facebook page. Within minutes the phone started ringing and a friend had phoned her cousin in White Bluff, who agreed to let me stay in their spare room, overnight. Great people and I'm thankful they were so kind to this stranger, else it'd have been the "Hotel Camry" for me.
The next morning, given that I-40 was still closed, I headed towards Clarksville (30 miles north) and just as I got to the edge of town, saw that the Red River had over-flowed its banks and was about to shutdown the road I was on: I also heard on the radio that they were just about to release the dam and were warning everyone that the area would be flooded with an extra 3 feet of water. Fortunately, I was able to get through town and made it to I-24 just in time.
The rest of the trip was relatively easy. Long Hollow Road has just been re-opened that morning, so I was able to use that to get back to our house, arriving around 12:15p (Monday). We spent the rest of the day, cleaning the basement, thankful to be back home with my family.
And another gig is complete.
(By the way, in case you want to see the pics from the reception, here they are)