Right around the time I spotted a condom on the bathroom floor of my shady motel room, I began to seriously question the wisdom behind driving to Albany in a snowstorm.
This couldn’t possibly be worth it, I thought.
It was February 2010. For the fourth straight year, I was bound for the New York State Wrestling Championships, a dizzying two-day marathon of hundreds of matches contested across eight mats on the Times Union Center floor.
That season, my focus was covering three Rocky Point wrestlers, all of whom were in the mix to possibly win the state title. On the night before the tournament began, with a snowstorm bearing down on the Northeast, I hopped in my Hyundai Elantra and headed west on the LIE.
I was alone; a coworker who planned to come along had fallen ill and bailed on the trip.
At the start, it was only raining. I figured I could get most of the trip done before the heavy snow started to fall.
The first hour was mostly uneventful, a slow but steady drive west on rain-slicked roads. As I neared Queens, the rain began to turn to snow, and the commute dragged even slower as I turned north.
Nearly two hours later, I had barely reached Westchester County. The snow continued to fall at a greater rate, quickly piling up on the roadway as I made my way onto I-87.
I clenched the steering wheel as I tried to keep my car in the snow tracks developing on the road as SUVs zoomed past. I was about halfway into the trip, too far to think about turning back.
I had no idea how much longer it might take to reach Albany. I contemplated aborting the drive and finding a hotel. Time was a factor. The longer I waited, the greater the chance side roads would be impassable. If I pulled off the highway, I knew I ran the risk of getting stuck immediately.
I decided to go for it. I grabbed an old-fashioned GPS, searched for a hotel and dialed in the coordinates for the closest option.
The side roads were rough, but nothing my four cylinders couldn’t overcome.
As I drove down some random road, the GPS alerted me to make a left. I obliged, and found myself facing a large hill. Somehow, my car made it up. I continued following the directions until finally the GPS proudly announced: “You’ve arrived at your destination.”
I was on a residential street, no hotel in sight. I looked to my left and saw a poor soul shoveling his driveway.
My GPS had failed me. So I plugged in the next closest hotel and back I went.
A few minutes later, I spotted the motel. I saw the entrance and excitedly made a right turn to pull in. I should have looked first. The parking lot hadn’t been touched; nearly a foot of snow had accumulated.
My car immediately got stuck as the back stood out into the road.
The building was set back about 30 yards from the road. I trudged through the snow, the cold seeping into my socks, to reach the lobby. The man behind the counter informed me that he had a room available. By the look of the place, I wasn’t surprised.
He followed me out to my car, but wasn’t all that interested in helping me dig out. Luckily, I had the foresight to bring a shovel with me. So I started digging.
Once I cleared enough snow, I pulled the car into reverse and backed out. Now I needed to find a parking spot. The motel’s lot was useless.
I drove about 1/2 mile down the street to a strip mall, parked the car, grabbed all my belongings and walked back to the motel.
All I wanted was a warm room.
I checked in, opened the door to my room and finally felt relieved.
I figured I’d take a shower, watch a bit of the Winter Olympics and fall asleep. I walked into the bathroom and there it was: the condom lying on the floor.
I was too cold, tired and disgusted to do anything. I changed into a dry pair of pants and cautiously lay on the bed fully clothed.
One night. That’s all I needed to get through.
The next morning, I awoke to sunshine. I checked out of the dump of a motel and walked back to find my car. I drove back to I-87, pleasantly surprised to find the road bare of any snow. It was a smooth ride the rest of the way, until I finally checked into my real hotel and could take a relaxing shower.
The next night, all three wrestlers I was covering won state titles.
Suddenly, the trip seemed worth it.
On Friday, I’ll make the journey to Albany for the state tournament again. I’ve kept a close eye on the weather report — and, so far, it’s all sunshine.