It Snow Good

Snow can be either good or bad depending on what you do for a living. If you run a ski slope, snow is fantastic. If you try to get around in your car in order to make a living or shop for food, snow stinks.

A few days ago, the Chicagoland area was inundated with allegedly its third highest snowfall ever recorded with more than 17 inches. Like all the local baby boomers, I think I was around for number one and two as well.

In 1966, while a teenager, it was a peculiar autumn weather-wise. I remembered that Thanksgiving felt like it was a late September day with a temperature in the 60’s but then the next day it dropped at least forty degrees. This was not uncommon to Chicagoans. We always knew that the weather could change with the snap of a finger.

A few weeks later in January, we were experiencing schizophrenic weather-like patterns with unusually warm weather rotating back and forth with much colder weather. It put us on guard to expect frigid weather at the end of February and March as pay back. But no one expected the dumping of snow we received starting January 26. For a day and a half twenty-three inches fell in the area.

At the time we lived on Quincy, a side street on Chicago’s far west side in the Austin neighborhood. Needless to say, most cars were completely covered with snow let alone four foot drifting snow piles where the sidewalks should have been. Even if you could dig your car out of a spot, there was nowhere to go as the side streets were not plowed. A couple of cars were left abandoned in the middle of the street blocking anyone attempting to pass through.

What made matters worse for our family was that the youngest had been born the past November and needed baby formula and there was no way to get it. I do recall that a neighbor who was able to get around eventually was able to get out and run an errand of mercy for us.

Ironically, a day after the snow had stopped falling and the cleanup had begun, the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team did not cancel their game at the old Chicago Stadium on 1800 West Madison Street. A neighbor from across the street who was about five years older than me suggested that we go to the game as there would be a lot of season ticket holders who could not make it there. We were sure to find unused seats in the upper rafters of the third balcony despite buying standing-room only tickets.

It seemed like a good thing to do especially since it was relatively easy for us to get there provided that the buses were running. Living near Central which was 5600 west, we walked a block and a half north to Madison, patiently waited for an overhead electric pole bus and took it four and a half miles east until Damen where the arena stood. There were few pleasure riders besides us. Most had glum looks on their faces trying to patiently get home through extraordinary outside weather conditions.

I did get to sit for a change and enjoyed an honest-to-goodness National Hockey League game watching all the stars up front that I normally saw on television. It was weird seeing the rink and players in color after always experiencing it in black-and-white.

After the game, we went back out to the bus stop at Madison and Damen to catch the westbound Madison bus. It was bitter cold outside and I guess the electric poles on the buses were freezing up. It seemed like it took even one bus forever to come from its starting point two miles to the east. A cop was standing at the corner for as long as it took the stadium crowd to dissipate. He saw that there were a handful of us who were going nowhere fast even forty-five minutes after the game and told us to huddle near him until a bus eventually came.

Twelve years later on January 12, 1979, twenty inches of snow fell on an existing base of close to ten inches that had not yet been cleared a few days earlier. If you had thought that the city government had learned their lessons in snow removal from the previous catastrophe- forget it. Mayor Bilandic seemed to be doing an impression of King Louis XVI of France when he replied to a reporter’s question about the effort to remove the piled-up white stuff on the ground: “What snow?”

O’Hare Airport itself was forced to be closed for 46 hours. This seeming indifference killed the mayor’s political career although he got rewarded by getting appointed to a judgeship. It sent a message loud and clear to any future Chicago chief executive officer- make sure the snow is removed whenever there is a major snowfall.

Now in 2011 a snowfall unleashes 17 inches amidst 60 mile per hour winds. The weather reporters are dead-on in accuracy for its arrival and departure. The city prepares properly. Businesses are closed for one and a half days. While some are inconvenienced, everything seems to return to usual by the following day.

Old Chairs and other items out of the attic are once again placed on the side streets in dug-out homesteaded parking spaces by the more energetic residents. Ah, back to normal.

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