Let it Snow....Or Not
In the iconic 1960’s song “Both Sides Now”, Joni Mitchell used clouds as a metaphor for the yin and yang of life. She first saw the good in clouds, but eventually “they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone”. A few minor tweaks to the lyrics would get right to my feelings about snow.
We all generally start off with a childhood romance with the fluffy white stuff, and yes, so did I. I grew up in suburban Boston in the 1960’s and it snowed a helluva lot more than it does now. Included in the joys of the winter season were sledding, made even cooler in my neighborhood because the street I lived on in a quiet cul-de-sac became a natural perfect slope when it was packed down with snow.
The aqueduct at the top of the hill often provided this delight. If we had what was called a Nor’easter, the north wind accompanying the snow would create large drifts to one side of the raised grassy hump that covered a giant water pipe. There would be almost no snow on top, and the drift would extend out several feel, allowing you to take several running steps, and then leap into the drift, sending you well under the surface. Then you dug yourself out forward. That same aqueduct also was a massive slope with flat ground at the bottom, a perfect, lengthy toboggan run. Hours of delight.
The snowbanks at the side of the road would be so high, and the snow so dense, that we would tunnel from one driveway to the next, which our parents well should have forbidden because these makeshift hollows were hardly safe and easily could have collapsed, potentially suffocating us. Of course, we never gave that a second thought.
We missed some school, which was nice, but it was hardly like today. Using current Kansas City standards we might have missed thirty days. But good old Framingham, Mass. had mighty good snow removal. Even our little side street might have plows come by five times in a night. I vividly remember waking up at 3 A.M. to check to see if it was still snowing, because it had to keep up or we would surely be trudging to school at eight o’clock.
Through my early adulthood my romance with snow remained intact. It was pretty, I didn’t really mind the occasional shoveling, I didn’t ski a lot but I enjoyed it when I did. Heck, I even went dog sledding in Alaska. But all good things must come to an end, and working for seven years in upstate New York would cause snow and I to come to a divorce.
The end started to come when I was broadcasting Colgate University hockey in the late 1980’s. Snow and I were already starting to not like each other with each passing brutal Syracuse area winter, when an incident I detailed in my book “Leaving Cancer for the Circus” almost proved to be the end of me…..
“The ECAC was a very enjoyable assignment, but it had some real challenges. The travel could be dicey. I drove everywhere in the league which had several schools in upstate New York, and a few in New England. The Ivy League did not have their own separate league, and their hockey playing schools were in the ECAC. Most of the schools in the league were fine academic institutions, set in beautiful, small northeast college towns.
The other team in the league was Army, which certainly fit the profile. West Point is a beautiful place in a very picturesque area. However, my lone road trip to West Point almost resulted in you not reading this book, because I wouldn’t have been around to write it. It is normally a gorgeous drive from Utica, N.Y. where I was working, to West Point, and actually it was very pretty as I drove down there. But part of that was the heavy snow falling.
The driving was getting more treacherous as I drew closer to West Point. I was supposed to get there in time to do my 4:20 P.M. sportscast. I stopped at a gas station about 50 miles away to use the pay phone to tell the folks back at the station that I was going to be able to get there. But conditions worsened. I had a front wheel drive car, so it was pretty good in the snow. I reached a steep hill just outside of West Point, and cars were actually sliding backwards down the hill past me.
I actually did make it, but definitely not at 4:20. I set up my gear by about 5:00 and dialed in. The only time I have ever cursed in anger at a co-worker came when the news director asked me where the hell I had been for my first sportscast. Having just risked my life even to get there, I told him to F off, and went about my business.
I did the game, and now the trick was to get home. It was usually about a three-hour drive, but it had been snowing since mid-afternoon. If it was today, I wouldn’t have thought twice and never had made the drive. But I didn’t make any money, I doubt I would have been reimbursed for the motel, and actually, if you live in upstate New York, you get so used to it snowing you kind of just become numb to it.
It was slow going on I-90, but we were going. Experienced snow drivers knew that if you kept a steady pace and didn’t hit the brakes unless absolutely necessary, you could maintain maybe 45 MPH even on the snow packed road in the blinding blizzard. Unfortunately all it takes is one panicky driver to slam the brakes to cause disaster….which is exactly what happened.
One person up ahead apparently felt a slight slippage and hit the brakes and started spinning. This caused a chain reaction in the line of cars behind it, and soon cars were sliding all over the road, and now you had to try and brake. I did, with the predictable results. I started spinning like a top, and after 540 degrees my car stalled to a stop facing backwards right smack in the middle of the road.
I looked up to see probably 200 yards up the road the headlights of two semis side by side coming right for me. There was no time to do anything, so I buried my head in my hands and flopped down on the seat and waited for impact, basically hoping that when the car got smashed, I might somehow survive it.
The highway had guardrails almost all of the way in the hilly area for safety so there was nowhere to swerve, but for some reason in this little stretch there weren’t any. Seconds later I heard horns blaring, and I felt a gigantic whoosh so strong it actually blew my car a pretty good bit down the road. Each truck had managed to swerve out of each of the two lanes and just barely get around, not hitting me, but blowing me down the road.
It was pretty much a miracle, but I didn’t have much time to think about that. I quickly restarted the stalled car, and got the hell down the highway. I soon had passed the worst of the snow, and moved on down the road back home. All those drives through the northeast in the winter have made me hate winter driving since, but I am good at it, from vast experience.”
That was clearly the worst, but skidding into snow banks, driving up off ramps since you were using the yellow line on the side of the highway as your only means of visibility, and rampant black ice were all commonplace.
Utica, New York doubled down on all that a few years later in the winter of ’93-’94 when we had almost two hundred inches of snow dumped on us. In one stretch, I shoveled my driveway thirty-one consecutive days. It wasn’t the only reason that my first wife would say enough was enough and urge a move back to near her family in the Midwest, but it was a major one.
It really doesn’t snow that much out here anymore. Sunday’s “blizzard” was the first time that it had snowed more than three inches in Kansas City since 2014, and we only got five inches tops. But all it took was the last half hour of a drive back from Eureka Springs from a Thanksgiving holiday in white-out conditions, and subsequently muscling a shovel through a heavy snow over frozen slush driveway to reinforce that my divorce from the romance of snow was genius.
It still is lovely when a light snow covers your yard and the streetlights glisten over your neighborhood. But that idyllic white scene only masks the dark underside of the evil stuff.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…..somewhere else.