Around the Nation
2:13 pm
Mon December 24, 2012

The Transit Workers Who Get You Home For The Holidays

Originally published on Mon December 24, 2012 2:49 pm

Transcript

JOHN DONVAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm John Donvan in Washington; Neal Conan is away. Five words, let's sing them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS")

DEAN MARTIN: (Singing) I'll be home for Christmas...

DONVAN: Ah, Dean Martin, and the whole idea of the homecoming, we love the idea. And it's not just songs. It's books and plays and movies: "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," about two guys getting home for Christmas; or "The Waltons" TV show, episode one, the pilot, was called "Homecoming" because dad was missing in a snowstorm until the end.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "THE WALTONS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Oh, would you look who's home?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (as character) It's daddy.

DONVAN: And another ending, the uber-Christmas movie "It's a Wonderful Life," which was really all about George finding his way back home but also literally his brother Harry, who in the last moments of the movie arrives from the airport...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE")

JAMES STEWART: (as George Bailey) Mary, I got him here from the airport just as quick as I could. The fool flew all the way up here in a blizzard.

DONNA REED: (as Marv Bailey) Harry, how about your banquet in New York?

TODD KARNS: (as Harry Bailey) Oh, I left right in the middle of it, as soon as I got Mary's telegram. Good idea, Ernie, a toast. To my big brother George, the richest man in town.

DONVAN: Ah, but you know, there was a plane crew that got Harry to the airport that night and a bus driver who got John-Boy's dad home. And even as we speak, with some nasty weather heading into the West and Mid-South today, there are snowplow drivers and toll booth operators and air traffic controllers who are all working to get us home but do not necessarily get to go home themselves.

Hi time, we say, to put together a little carol for them, or at least a radio show, their stories of getting us back home, your stories of how they helped you get home and a chance for all of us to say thanks. If you're out there making things run on time, tell us what we don't understand about the job you're doing this Christmas.

And if you do have a story of the transit worker who helped you to get home, holiday season or not, we want to hear from you, too, and here's your chance to say thanks. Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can also join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later on in the program, The Opinion Page, but first these unsung heroes of holiday travel. Tom Shaffer is a Greyhound training instructor and a motor coach driver/operator who has been working 15 out of the last 20 Christmases. He was profiled this week in a piece in USA Today, written by Laura Coffee(ph). And as is often the case, he will be working again this Christmas, when he drives the 6 a.m. bus from Dallas to Oklahoma City. Tom Shaffer joins us now from his home in Rockwall, Texas. Welcome, Tom, to TALK OF THE NATION.

TOM SHAFFER: Yes, I'm here.

DONVAN: Tom hi, it's John Donvan, and welcome to TALK OF THE NATION. So I understand for you that driving a bus is really actually a passion. But my question is: Do you mind driving on Christmas Eve, when everybody else is home around the hearth?

SHAFFER: No, not at all.

DONVAN: So how do you handle it? What's your approach?

SHAFFER: Well, you know, just being safe is the number one priority and making sure that we get our customers to their destination as safely as possible and as close to on time as possible.

DONVAN: So why do you love doing it?

SHAFFER: Well, it's a childhood dream come true. I mean, this was something that I wanted to do as a child, you know, being fascinated by buses, and, you know, I've been doing this now for 26 years.

DONVAN: Wow, and is it your choice to work on Christmas? I would imagine after 26 years you've got some seniority and the right to say let the young guy do it.

SHAFFER: Well, I'm scheduled to work on that day, but, you know, it's, you know, the - you know, the thing about just, you know, being a part of, you know, getting one, getting a person, you know, from, you know, one destination to another and seeing the excitement on their faces and when they, you know, get a chance to see their loved ones that they're traveling to visit with.

DONVAN: So what time did you get off today?

SHAFFER: I got in this morning about 2:30 from Houston.

DONVAN: Wow, and have you had some sleep in the meantime?

SHAFFER: Yes, I've had rest, and I'll go back to bed tonight about 8 o'clock and sleep until 4 a.m. and be ready to leave out of Dallas at 6:10 a.m. to Oklahoma City.

DONVAN: So you'll be out there during those Santa-Claus-working-the-chimney hours. Is it different driving a bus on Christmas Day from any other day?

SHAFFER: Well, it is, I mean, you know, because, you know, the people that are traveling, you know, during the holiday, you know, they're more excited about getting where they're going and seeing their friends and loved ones. So it is quite different.

DONVAN: Do you do anything to make it different for the passengers?

SHAFFER: Well, you know, I just, you know, you know, do what I do. It's - you know, it's not really that different, you know, but, you know, at Christmastime, you know, or major holidays, I mean there's just more excitement, you know, and just, you know, making sure that, you know, I get them there safely.

DONVAN: And what about the people on the bus on Christmas Day and Christmas Eve? Are they any different from people the rest of the year? Are they for example, most of them trying to get home?

SHAFFER: Well, you know, they are trying to get home, you know, but they're more excited about getting where they're going because, you know, it's that time of the year.

DONVAN: Right. Well, how does your family feel about you being on the road while they're all at home on Christmas Day?

SHAFFER: Well, my wife, you know, is - we've been together for 12 years. So, you know, she understands this is what I do. You know, I mean, this is what I was doing when we met. So, you know, she has grown to, you know, accept it, and so does my sons, Jordan(ph) and Taylor(ph).

DONVAN: How old are they?

SHAFFER: My youngest son is 11, and my oldest is 17.

DONVAN: Wow, so when do you actually open presents?

SHAFFER: Well, we'll open a couple presents this evening.

DONVAN: So a little bit before, OK.

SHAFFER: A little bit before.

DONVAN: Tom, on behalf of all of us who might be on the bus with you today, I want to say thanks, and thanks for joining us on TALK OF THE NATION. So I know you've got to get up at 4 a.m. So we want to let you go. And have a great Christmas tonight with your family and tomorrow with your passengers.

SHAFFER: I'll do just that, thanks.

DONVAN: Thanks, Tom Shaffer of Greyhound. So we want to now bring in Nate Pair, who does the same thing but looking at the sky. He's been an air traffic controller for 13 years. He is president of the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center and joins us by phone from Fresno, California. Nate, thanks for joining us on TALK OF THE NATION.

NATE PAIR, LOS ANGELES AIR ROUTE TRAFFIC CONTROL CENTER: Hi John, good morning, or good afternoon there on the East Coast.

DONVAN: Yeah, good morning to you over on the West Coast. So who decides who has to actually work the holidays?

(LAUGHTER)

CENTER: Well, you know, it's done a couple different ways. Mostly we do it - we bid our vacation, and the more seniority they have, the better chance that you get to having the holidays is the primary way we do it.

DONVAN: So it's not a lottery then. It is a delicate negotiation, or is it really straightforward that the new guys are going to have to do it?

CENTER: Well, you know, we kind of divvy it up. In the sense of actually your first times of being able to bid vacation, usually those spots to be able to get the holidays are gone. But we have different ways of taking care of each other and making sure that we're able to spend a little bit of time with our families through the different holidays throughout the year.

DONVAN: So what are the ways that you get to take care of each other? Do you actually bring in Christmas dinner?

CENTER: Yeah, we do. We do a lot of different fun little things. but really, you know, we're a big group. The National Air Traffic Control Association, you know, we represent 15,000 air traffic controllers, 20,000 safety-related jobs. And we've really taken the brotherhood and sisterhood, and we do them in very little ways, such as, you know, the nature of shift work.

We're going to miss our kids' soccer games. We're going to miss recitals and Christmas. We have controllers who by nature of the shift work are working swing shifts on Christmas Eve. They turn right back around and work a day shift on Christmas Day. So some of the things we'll do is maybe swap shifts on Christmas Day so, you know, the person who has a child, a young child, can come in at 10 o'clock, but at least they can open gifts with their kid in the morning before they come in.

Or if I don't have kids, I may work Christmas Eve with someone so they can spend that at home, and they'll work the Christmas Day for me.

DONVAN: Nate, almost by definition people want air traffic controllers to be invisible, I mean passengers. They don't want to know that you're there because things just want to run smoothly from their point of view. Do you feel unappreciated ever, not appreciated?

CENTER: You know, we like that. You know, the less that they know about us means that we're doing our job. But much like NPR radio, you know, one of the things we like to do - any opportunity we can get out to the flying public and talk about and educate a little bit on what we do. You know, we're public servants. We work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Our controllers are working hard day in, day out, every single night.

DONVAN: Well, speaking of working this particular day in the year, there's some bad weather coming up. Can you just take 30 seconds and explain to us, so that we finally know, you're out in California. Why would weather in New England affect what you're doing out in California?

CENTER: That's a very good question. Actually we have to take the air traffic control system as a whole. We call it the national airspace system. And we can't look at just a single airport. We take it - they have a command center, which is based on the East Coast, and what they do is look at all the airports, all the demand, all the delays, and they communicate with each of the facilities.

From my instance, at air traffic control center, there's 24 of us. They coordinate with each of those centers to look at what the demand's going to be. So if there's a big push coming out of the East Coast, they may work with Denver and some other places in the Midwest to slow a little bit of the traffic departing out of there so the demand heading into L.A. is not 100 airplanes all at one time.

We kind of space those things out. So the command center, in conjunction with our local traffic management units, are kind of putting a big puzzle together all day. And that's how we manage the demand that goes in and out of the airports.

DONVAN: So it's really a domino effect is what it sounds like.

CENTER: Absolutely.

DONVAN: We've asked folks out there, who like you are working the holidays and who keep things moving, to give us a call in and also people who have been helped by folks like you to get home to tell us their stories of getting home with a little bit of help.

And I want to go to Chris(ph), who is in Brewster, New York. Hi Chris, you're on TALK OF THE NATION.

CHRIS: Hello, nice to talk with you.

DONVAN: You too. So what's your story?

CHRIS: Well, it was a tow-truck driver who helped me get home in a hard, blinding snowstorm. We never saw each other and never spoke a word to each other.

DONVAN: What do you mean you never saw each other?

CHRIS: We never met. I was trying to get home right after Christmas. I had been to my mom's. I was coming home in a heavy snowstorm, and I lived at the top of a steep hill. I got to the bottom of the hill, and I couldn't get up the hill. There was no way. My car wouldn't make it.

And I'm sitting at the bottom of the hill with my two cats in the car, trying to figure out what I'm going to do next. And this tow truck came up behind me, blowing his horn like crazy. And I'm sitting there thinking I'd love to get out of your way, but I can't. He came right up behind me. I threw my car into neutral, and he pushed me all the way up the hill.

DONVAN: Really?

CHRIS: Yeah. We got to the top of the hill. He honked his horn again and waved out his window. I waved out my window, and off he went. We never saw each other. We never spoke a word.

DONVAN: That's an amazing story. What would you like to say to him, if he knows who he is, and he's out there listening?

CHRIS: Thank you for your help. I have no idea how I would have gotten home without it.

DONVAN: All right, Chris, thanks so much for sharing that story. Nate Pair, an air traffic controller, if only you had that kind of face-to-face contact.

CENTER: You know, we are the - you know, we love being in the background. We love helping people get home, to and from, to their families. We know it's important time of the year. We sign up as public servants and, you know, on behalf of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, you know, happy holidays to everybody, and I appreciate you having me on.

DONVAN: All right, Nate Pair, thanks for joining us. You're president of the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center and joined us by phone from Fresno, California. And we're talking with people who get us home for the holidays, the transit workers who make our travel possible. If you're one, tell us what we don't know about your job. Give us a little bit of insight and tell us how you spend your Christmas.

And if you've got a story like we just heard from Chris about someone who helped you home, we'd like to hear that, too. Give us a call at 800-989-8255. Or email us, talk@npr.org. We'll have more in just a minute. I'm John Donvan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DONVAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm John Donvan. And today we're talking about the transit workers who help us get home for the holidays. And in a lot of parts of the country this season, that means the crews that clear the snow and salt the roads and de-ice the highways. We have a huge storm that dumped six feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada yesterday. It is now heading east toward Oklahoma City, where freezing rain, sleet and snow are supposed to hit sometime early tomorrow.

Crews there are already salting the bridges and the overpasses, and extra workers are standing by on call. Before the week is out, Detroit, Cleveland, Rochester and Burlington could all see significant accumulations. So if you are out there making sure that the roads and the rails and the runways are clear and that buses and trains and planes are running on time, tell us what we don't understand about your job and especially about what happens at Christmastime.

And if there is a transit worker who helped you get home, we would also like to hear your story. Give us a call. Our number is 800-989-8255. Or send us an email, talk@npr.org. So joining us now is Cindy Van War. She is a toll collector on the New Jersey turnpike. She is working over the Christmas holiday season, and Cindy joins us now by phone from Jamesburg, New Jersey. Welcome, Cindy, to TALK OF THE NATION.

CINDY VAN WAR: How are you?

DONVAN: We're great. And it's interesting, I realize that you sort of stand in the middle of a river of traffic. So you can see all the time how the tide is flowing and who's coming down that river. So this holiday season, what changes are you seeing? How does it change, and what sorts of people are you seeing come through your toll booth?

WAR: I see a lot of people that are coming home that haven't been home in a long time.

DONVAN: How do you know? I mean, do you really get a chance to talk in the brief interaction?

WAR: Well, I work the midnight shift. So I get to talk to people more than most people do.

DONVAN: Yeah.

WAR: You see people, they'll come through your lane, and they'll tell you that they just straight through from Texas or Georgia and how many hours, and they're almost to where they're going, and they have their families with them, and their cars are full of gifts, and yeah. So that's how...

DONVAN: So it sounds to me, it sounds to me you're a pretty social toll booth operator, that you like the interaction.

WAR: I do, I do. I like people. I'm a people person. I always like my job. It's nice. You get to meet people from all walks of life.

DONVAN: Any idea in a given busy day how many people you actually meet that way?

WAR: Nowadays probably maybe about 500, maybe 300 to 400, 500 people. It's slower on the midnight shift.

DONVAN: Right because you're working the overnight.

WAR: You have a lot of people who travel and arrive in the middle of the night.

DONVAN: So what do you tend to see after all of your years of experience? What tends to happen after midnight on Christmas Eve?

WAR: You have people who are arriving, who have reached their destination and can't wait to where they're going, you know, to get to where they're going to. And then tomorrow morning you'll start to see people travel who are well-dressed and are going to start to go to one family's home, to the next family's home.

DONVAN: So you can actually notice by the clothes they're wearing in the car?

WAR: Oh yeah, absolutely, absolutely.

DONVAN: Can you - are there clusters by age and that kind of thing, you know, you have college kids coming up or grandma?

WAR: Oh, you have the college kids who come home from school that usually are - it's so funny because they never had to get home. They're actually funny. And then, you know, you have the kids that are in the car that everybody, they always wave, and, you know, they're excited, especially when you ask them, you know, have they been good, and Santa, is Santa going to come to their house.

DONVAN: Oh, that's nice.

WAR: Yeah, it's nice.

DONVAN: How do you pass the time? Can I ask? Is it tough to keep your concentration?

WAR: No, no. Is it tough to keep my concentration?

DONVAN: Yeah.

WAR: No, not at all, no not at all.

DONVAN: Because the traffic never stops, and every rolled-down window I guess is another chance to meet somebody.

WAR: Yeah, absolutely, and it's just, it's nice. People are nice, and they're just happy to be wherever they're going, and holidays bring out holiday spirit and brings families to families. And it's just a nice thing. It's a nice thing to watch.

DONVAN: What is your Christmas, then, when you get home?

WAR: I will get home tomorrow morning about 7 o'clock, and I'm sure my teenagers will be getting - I probably won't get any sleep tomorrow.

(LAUGHTER)

WAR: My sister came, my sister and her family came from Virginia. My brother has his other family coming up from Atlantic City. And then we'll all meet over at my mom's house about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. So if I'm lucky, I might sleep for about an hour.

DONVAN: You know, you're right on the New Jersey turnpike, and we had Sandy come through several weeks back, wreaking havoc. Did you see - could you see the story of Sandy in the flow of traffic that came through your toll booth?

WAR: Oh, that was amazing. It was beautiful. All the people that worked for FEMA and volunteers that came through, it was amazing. People came from all over the United States.

DONVAN: Wow, well Cindy...

WAR: Yeah, it was actually - I mean how sad that that's what it would take to make somebody come, but the people came from California. I can't even - I'd have to say just about every state. There were people who just - they weren't with FEMA. They just filled up trailers and drove them up from Florida. They just - donations. And it was nice. It was a beautiful thing.

DONVAN: Cindy, it sounds - you have such an interesting perspective, and I think we've never thought of it before, but you really do see the world come through your booth. And I want to thank you for staying up a little bit later and not sleeping so you can talk to us and for joining us on TALK OF THE NATION.

WAR: Oh you're very welcome. Have a nice holiday.

DONVAN: All right, thanks a lot. Cindy Van War is a toll collector on the New Jersey turnpike. Let's go to Joseph(ph) in Norman, Oklahoma. Hi Joseph, you're on TALK OF THE NATION.

JOSEPH: Hi, how are you doing?

DONVAN: Good, thanks. Tell us your story.

JOSEPH: Well, I drive a wrecked here in Norman, Oklahoma, or a tow truck a lot of people call them. And we're expecting a big snowstorm to come through tomorrow. And I think a lot of people don't realize, you know, the amount of effort and things, you know, that we go through.

DONVAN: Yeah, tell us. Tell us about it.

JOSEPH: Well, I work 7 to 7 every day, 12 days on, and we get two days off. So every other weekend you might get off. It's a good job, you know, and I get to help people out all day, you know. And especially during the holidays, you run into a lot of people who get stranded on the highways or trying to go home or something like that. And it's our job to make sure that they get to where they're going, you know, in any way that we can.

DONVAN: So when bad weather's coming in, as it is now, and Christmas is coming, are you conflicted about that? I mean, I'm sure that in a certain way you want the work, and you sound like you enjoy it, but it means you're going to be on the road a lot. How do you feel about that?

JOSEPH: Well, I like my job. I like being out on the road, you know, and nine times out of 10 I'm getting to help people out. So no, there's not a great deal of confliction with me. It always feel good to, you know, help that family of four, you know, who just has that flat tire or needs that jumpstart or might even need a tow, you know, a few hundred miles down the road or something. It always feels good to be able to help somebody like that out.

DONVAN: Do you have family that you're not with when you're out helping everybody else?

JOSEPH: Yeah, yeah, I'm married. We always do our - we try to do our Christmases before, you know, like the day before, a couple days before because everybody knows, you know, that I'm going to be working pretty much every major holiday.

DONVAN: Do you think people appreciate that you're out there, or do they take it for granted that when they pick up the phone and say I'm in trouble, you're going to be there?

JOSEPH: Well, that's a good question. I would say sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. You know, a lot of people take for granted, you know, the amount of effort and time, you know, that somebody like me has to put into getting, you know, even just getting to where they're having a problem. You know, but a lot of the times people are really thankful, you know, and you really do get to help people out, and it's a good deal.

DONVAN: You heard that story of Chris, who said that a truck came up behind her and gave her a...?

JOSEPH: Yeah, yeah, I was wondering about that. That's breaking some DOT regs, I know that much.

(LAUGHTER)

JOSEPH: Yeah, that sounds pretty dangerous. And that's another portion that a lot of people I don't think realize is how dangerous the job is. I want to say - I read a report that we're the third-most-dangerous job in the United States.

DONVAN: Really?

JOSEPH: Yeah because, you know, we're roadside, and people drive really fast, and they don't look out. And, you know, you spend a lot of time on the road. It's just - it's a dangerous thing.

DONVAN: All right, Joseph, thanks very much for your call. We hadn't thought about that, and that is really good to know. Thanks for joining us on TALK OF THE NATION.

JOSEPH: All right, thank you.

DONVAN: And let's go to Brian(ph) in Charlottesville, Virginia. Hi Brian, you're on TALK OF THE NATION.

BRIAN: How are you doing?

DONVAN: Good.

BRIAN: I'm actually an airline pilot, a regional pilot for one of the feeder airlines here in Virginia. And I'm supposed to be off today and tomorrow, but actually I just pulled into the parking lot here at the airport, next to my roommate's car, so I can go fly down as a passenger to Charlotte and work his last scheduled flight so he can hop on a different plane to go home to Chicago and spend the holiday with his family.

So he called me at the last minute, and we're trying to finagle some things here so he can spend some quality time at home, and...

DONVAN: So what does that mean, you're shifting everything around at home in order to have some Christmas beforehand?

BRIAN: Well yeah, I'm actually originally from New York, and I live here in Virginia for work. So it didn't work out for me to get home in time to spend time with my own family. So instead of sitting alone at home here in Virginia, I'm actually flying down to pick up part of his shift so he is allowed to get off work earlier and, essentially, just go home and spend Christmas Eve in Chicago with his folks.

DONVAN: Bryan, you're a good guy.

BRYAN: Yeah, well, definitely I'm not the only one doing that today.

DONVAN: Merry Christmas to you. Thanks, Bryan, for joining us on TALK OF THE NATION.

BRYAN: Have a great day.

DONVAN: I want to bring in Don Martin. He's been a train operator in the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, also known as BART, for 22 years. And he is now joining us by phone from Concord, California. Don, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

DON MARTIN: Thank you for having me on your show.

DONVAN: It's a pleasure. So you've been working, as I've said, for two decades at this. Is there anything that you've noticed that's different about the passengers over the holidays?

MARTIN: Yes. You know, we have regular commuters that we deal with on a daily basis. And commuters pretty much drink their coffee there on their computers or iPads. There's not a lot of conversing that's been done - being done among each other. You know, during the holidays, we have a lot of families that travel, people with their children, people that come in town via the airlines, you know. And there's a lot of interacting among the people. You know, we see that more and more.

DONVAN: And, Don, anything particularly stick out from your experience of holiday?

MARTIN: Yeah. I had a story I want to share yesterday that happened to me. I had a family that boarded my train to go to San Francisco, to Union Square, to do some shopping. And they had their children with them. That was Sunday. It was probably about 7:00 or 8:00. And you could see he was just fascinated by riding on the train, the enormity of the train. It was funny looking at his face, you know. He - all he could think about was wanting to ride the train and go faster. When the family got to Union Square, he got off and came to the front of the train.

DONVAN: To where you were.

And he asked me - he says, you know, I want to ride your train again. You know, we have - I have a cab curtain that I collect pins and buttons from all of the stations that we've opened in the system over the years. And it was funny because the same family, when I came back, boarded my train. And he was just so happy to be back on the train again. So when they got off, we are celebrating four years of operation in service. I have a four-year pin that has a train on it, BART train on it. So I took it off and I handed it to him. And he was just kind of jumping for joy, but he reached in his backpack and he pulled out a candy cane and handed it to me and told me merry Christmas.

I knew he was going to exchange. Don, I want to thank you very much for joining us on TALK OF THE NATION. It's a great story. Don Martin has been a train operator for BART for 22 years and joined us by phone from Concord, California. And we're also asking for stories of people who have been helped in the course of getting home by somebody working in transit. And we're getting some emails, actually, in from you at this point.

And we have Ken(ph), who said: My dad was a Greyhound bus driver for 30 years, until he retired in 1985. We hardly ever saw him on Christmas when I was a kid. They do sacrifice a lot for their job.

Let's go to Christopher(ph) in Phoenix, Arizona. But first, I want to say that you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Hi, Christopher. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.

CHRISTOPHER: I'm a long-haul truck driver. I stay out on the road six to eight months at a time. And I don't remember the last winter I didn't work, including Christmas. Every single year, the crews who come out and salt the roads, crews who come out and clear the roads are literally lifesavers. And last year, up on I-80, between Cheyenne and Laramie, on Sherman, one of them basically saved my life.

DONVAN: How?

CHRISTOPHER: A freak storm came through last January and closed the road down. And when they re-opened it, I went on my way. But halfway through, the winds picked up to around 50 miles an hour, so all that fresh powder started blowing everywhere. And I didn't see the side of the road, the side of the mountain. And I went off on to the hard shoulder and two of my drive tires on the tractor itself went off the pavement. And luckily, I came to a stop. I didn't just go tumbling down, but it was more than a little precarious.

And one of the plow drivers came up. He came off to the side of the road, plowed about 200 feet in front of me then backing up - he must have dropped 50 pounds of salt and then (technical difficulty) told me he brought me 10 feet forward so I could get purchase. He believed (technical difficulty). I just couldn't move. And again, I was hanging off the side of the mountain. There were no tow trucks. There were - I wouldn't be surprised - dozens or hundreds of trucks and (technical difficulty) off the side of the road.

DONVAN: Christopher? Hey, Christopher, you're - unfortunately, your line is breaking up so badly that I have to let you go. But I think we get to the end of the story, that this guy got in there and got you out. And it's really, really clear that you're grateful, and you're saying thanks. So now I want to thank you for joining us on TALK OF THE NATION and telling the story. And believe me, we do get where that was going.

We're still getting emails from you, and this one comes from Diane(ph) in San Ramon, California. And she says: I want to say thank you to the overnight snow plow crews in the Sierra. Yesterday, I tried to get home to San Francisco Bay Area from Reno but was turned around the Truckee(ph) due to the I-80 closure. I hit the road this morning at 5:00 for a beautiful snow-covered drive through the mountains, passing the hardworking crews clearing the roads and the semi drivers also trying to get home. I wouldn't have made it home today without them.

And we have the other side of the story. This is from Lynn(ph) who says: My father was a railroad conductor. He would work on Christmas every year. We would open our stocking and one present on Christmas Eve, wait until he came home Christmas afternoon to open the rest. Although many have asked in whether this was difficult to do, it actually never was. It was our tradition. And it sounds like it's a tradition for a lot of the hardworking people out there in the world of planes, trains and automobiles who are indeed helping us get home from Christmas. So from all of us at NPR, this point we just want to make it clear, we really are saying thanks for what you do.

After a short break, we will make our weekly turn to the opinion page. Katrina vanden Heuvel has a number of questions she thinks the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should be asking the secretary of state nominee John Kerry when he goes up for his confirmation. Stay with us. I'm John Donvan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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