Saturday, January 25, 2014

From the Archive: A Tale of Driving in the Blizzard Meets O. Henry

Lance Mannion posted a photo from a Daily News feature showing vintage photos of past great snow storms to hit NYC. One of them unexpectedly illustrates a post I wrote during the huge blizzard of February 2010.

 * * * * * * *

Here is a New Yorker’s first-hand account I found of driving in the blizzard from Teterboro, New Jersey to Massapequa Park, Long Island. I like it for its detail of the great roads of the Metropolitan area and the sheer driving description. Though a city girl with no car, I love the roadways of Gotham and the car culture of the people who know them intimately.

Plus, there is a sweet O. Henry-like twist at the end.

“I left Teterboro (NJ) at 3 pm and the ground was already covered. The snow fell heavily (but fine)—about 2 to 3 inches per hour.

"I made good time to the GW Bridge, but then the back-ups began. We moved ever so slowly along the entire length of the Cross-Bronx Expressway (Ha!). After finally navigating a rise at the juncture of the CBX and The New England Thruway the way was pretty open to the Throgs Neck Bridge. It was difficult, though, because the road had not been plowed, and the snow was blowing and blinding and my windshield wipers were not working very well.

"The rise in the road I mentioned was part of the problem with the CBX and set the stage for the rest of the trip—many cars (the drivers really) could not climb even the slightest incline without skidding and getting stuck. Quite a few of them ended up perpendicular to the traffic flow.

"I took the Throgs Neck without a problem and the Clearview Expressway to Northern Blvd., where I got gas (Thank God!) This phase of the trip was relatively uneventful.

"Back on the Cross-Island things crept along. (I had thought about staying on Northern Blvd. but I new the further East I went the hillier it would become so I decided against it.) No one could get on or off the L.I.E. because the entrance ramp/incline was blocked by snow.

"We inched along, sliding and avoiding the abandoned cars. It was incredibly slow going.

"Finally, after getting up an incline near New Hyde Park road I saw another world---there was no backed-up traffic! Eureka! There were a few cars moving in front of me in a single file and I joined the procession. There was only one lane open (still no plowing, but some plows passed us on the other side, going into Queens), and with my windshield wipers not working at all by this time, I found it difficult to keep in line, but somehow I managed.

"This strange caravan wound its way to the junction of Northern State and Meadowbrook Pkwy and since the cars in front of me went on Northern State, I did too. Soon the three cars in front of me pulled to the side to either rest or clean their windshields or whatever. That left me in the lead!

"I was virtually driving blind. I sat forward as far as I could with my forehead practically pressed against the windshield with my chin on the steering wheel. Besides struggling to stay in the lane that had been traveled before (and de facto plowed) I had to be careful not to hit the abandoned cars. Grueling doesn’t begin to describe it. And it just didn’t end.

"The whiteout effect was so strong that I missed the turnoff for Wantagh Pkwy, which I had intended to take. I finally managed to cross-country (practically) at Hicksville Rd and make my exit. I was making progress when I ran into a snow bank on my left and the snow blew up and completely blocked my windshield so I had to stop and clean it off.

I must say it was quite an ordeal. I was really afraid I would not make it home. I finally did, NINE HOURS later. I had a triple martini.”

(As a point of reference, Teterboro to Massapequa Park is a 2-hour trip.)

Here’s the thing about this description: it’s not about today [the Feb. 10, 2010 blizzard]. It’s from a letter my father wrote me when I was away in England as a senior in college!

He wrote me letters once or twice a week, this being the world before email. My father was an expert driver-—I love the swipe he takes at the drivers who can’t keep from skidding (it’s not the cars, it’s them).

I thought of this letter today. When I pulled it out, I was shocked to see that the date of the blizzard my father is describing: February 10, (1983)!

Holding the letter in my hand brought me back to my flat at Southampton University, sitting on my bed reading it for the first time. He could not have imagined me rereading it in the 21st century. Nor did he know he would die two years after writing it. We know not the hour nor the day.

For the moment, I’m just happy to be reunited with his spirit and the storytelling of the ordeal during his February 10 blizzard.

* * * * * * * 

The photo from Daily News that included the great 1983 snow storm.

3 comments:

Me! Eloise! said...

Wow!

He was a better driver than I!

I wish people still wrote letters...

Mr. Peel said...

I've been doing some massive cleaning up lately around the house and have uncovered some letters written to me from my father a number of years ago. There's nothing in there that would be of interest to anyone else and certainly nothing in them that compares to what your father wrote but there is something particularly emotional about getting to read one of them so many years after the fact. I read them and wish they could be longer and he would have written something more, no matter how insignificant. But what's there is something.

I should add that reading this also took me back to the days when I had to live in some New York blizzards and even drove in a few. I'm glad that I don't have to do that right now but I'm happy to send you good thoughts from out here in L.A. Stay warm.

M.A.Peel said...

Eloise, I've seen you do some pretty amazing driving.

Mr. Peel, you are right, there is a depth of emotional connection to a letter like to no other thing. I think it's because the letter so captures the person's voice. And rereading a letter brings that person back in a way that is matched by nothing else. If I hadn't gone to school in England, my father would not have had a reason to write to me, and I wouldn't have this cache of his spirit that I can turn to any time I miss him. I'm so glad you have some part of your father too.