They drove, somehow, carving trails on forgotten streets that used to be marked but were just rumors through a half-foot of snow. If the roads were too slick, too hilly, they walked.
All roads and trails led from the neighborhoods of northeastern York County to the Kangaroo gas station and convenience store, where Caroline Czikk manned the register.
“Seventeen hours Wednesday, and today so far nobody can get here,” Czikk said. “We never close. Ever. So here I am.”
People showed up at the Kangaroo from all over. One guy said he made it from the Arboretum area on N.C. 51 – almost 10 miles away – and one truck driver came in from Pennsylvania. But most were locals, finding the pumps open and the coffee hot.
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Although a York County grader plowed U.S. 21 early Thursday morning to reveal at least a semblance of road, all the side roads leading to that main artery – and to the Kangaroo store – were treacherous at best. Others were plainly impassable. Nearby, the Carowinds-area McDonald’s, Bojangles’ and Food Lion were all closed.
This Kangaroo station truly was an oasis Thursday, along with a couple other stores worked by great clerks farther up the street at Interstate 77’s Exit 90.
Justice Jones, 19, drove five miles in a four-wheel-drive Jeep to get gas and coffee. It took ages, as the snow pushed up to near the bumper in some spots.
“I might even go do some doughnuts in a parking lot,” Jones said.
Craig Peters, 18, also had a four-wheel-drive vehicle. To get his coffee, he said, he pushed through some back roads in Fort Mill that had six or eight inches of snow.
Jim Costanzo, a transplanted New Yorker who now lives in Fort Mill, drove more than 10 miles round-trip before the roads were plowed to eat at Waffle House.
“Smothered, covered, and chunked,” Costanzo said of the famous hash browns. “Worth the drive.”
Costanzo, driving a four-wheel drive Jeep that needed gas from Czikk at the Kangaroo, said side roads were “barely passable” without a truck like his. South Carolina is not used to such snow, and doesn’t have the equipment to get the roads clear, he said.
As people skidded into the parking lot, Czikk waited on them all with a smile. A grandmother and granddaughter from Ohio, Bonita Brant and Bonita Romney, were adamant about driving the hundreds of miles back home on Thursday, despite the roads being rough.
“She has a college interview and can’t miss it,” Bonita Brant said of her granddaughter.
The younger Bonita said Ohio doesn’t have the snow that South Carolina has. But, she was reminded, there were hundreds of miles of snow to get through to get there. So the duo pushed on, smashing through a snowdrift made by the county snowplow just minutes before to get back on U.S. 21 and then Interstate 77.
Several people whose vehicles either became stuck on the side roads, or didn’t even try to drive out to the highways, walked to the store. Joel Whaley and Roger McMarion walked more than two miles to get there.
“The second-hand, third-hand roads, you can’t even get in or out,” Whaley said. “In the back parts of these subdivisions, there is no way people can get up and down hills.”
Whaley and McMarion warmed up inside the store for a few minutes after their hike, then sauntered to the coolers to get the essentials that had drawn them to walk so far in the cold and snow and ice.
Not milk. Not eggs. Not even coffee.
“I got 18,” Whaley said, “plus I still have 12 at the house.”
McMarion held up eight.
They readied to carry their beer home, smiles on their faces. But before they left, each man looked back at Czikk, who had worked almost around the clock, with another full day ahead.
“She’s a hero out here in this storm,” Whaley said. “She stayed here when people needed gas and food. People like her don’t get the credit in this world that they deserve.”
Czikk was just like Vivian Thornton and others at the nearby Comfort Inn, who by Thursday were into shifts that had spanned two days with no end in sight. Dedicated, caring, just so people had a warm place to stay and grab a bite to eat. A place to be safe for a while.
Czikk said she is somebody proud to go to work every day, even if the workday never ends.
The door opened. A guy covered with snow walked in. His teeth chattered.
“Thank God you are here!” the guy said. “I slid off the road a mile or two down.”
He got hot coffee because Caroline Czikk was at work for him – and everybody else.