Friday, February 4, 2011


The recent mega snow storm that hit my home town of Chicago put me in mind of the record Chicago area storm of 1967. I was a senior in high school and thus allowed to drive to school instead of taking the bus. On this particular day I'd picked up my friend Bruce on the way in, planning to take him home after school. The sky was threatening and starting to spit a little snow as we went into the building. And then the sky opened. It began to snow at the rate of 2 or 3 inches an hour! We'd move from one class to the next, sit down and, I swear, the view out the new classroom window would be worse than the view from the room we left 5 minutes before. It was really coming down.

Now, this post wouldn't be truly complete without saying a little something about my car. My first car.

My first car was a powder blue, 1952 Austin Healey (Bug Eyed) Sprite which I bought for $450 as a 16 year old in 1965. At the time I had yet to learn how to drive a standard transmission car. As I slipped behind the wheel after completing the paperwork the former owner mentioned that "1st. gear and reverse where a little broken." It seems two teeth were missing. It clunked, but moved, in reverse but 1st. was just not worth the trouble.

Since I had a date with a tall redhead later I had no choice but to learn how to drive stick in my new sports car and do so without the use of 1st. gear.

Well, I only spun out once and never actually stalled the engine. Thanks must go to the fine British engineers who put a lovely, and forgiving, hydraulic clutch in my cute little car. I made my date with the redhead on time and we went merrily on our down, wind in our hair, starting from each stop sign in 2nd gear and having the time of my life.

Neither my relationship with the redhead, nor the car, lasted all that long. The redhead broke up with me while driving, in the Sprite, to a Lake Michigan beach on the day after I had taken her to her school's prom. Not a real great memory there. The car I sold to one of my brothers and then I got married and moved away and I never saw the little cutey again. Here's an old Polaroid from the day I brought the beauty home.

So there I am, sitting in class just after lunch, when the Vice Principle comes on the PA to tell us that the school would be closing early. Now, understand, this was northern Illinois in the winter. They didn't close school ever for snow days. But this sucker had already laid down 16 to 18 inches of blowing snow, so I guess somebody thought earlier was better than later when we'd be facing 23 inches.

My first thought was, "Hey, we get out of school early." My second was, "and my car sits only 5 inches above the road!" This was going to be interesting. I found Bruce in the hallway and off we went to the parking lot. I was in a bit of a rush because I figured that fresh snow was going to be easier to maneuver in than the tracks from the bunch of school buses lined up along were the curb used to be.

It turns out that I was right. The Sprite was so light that I was able to drive pretty much on top of the fresh stuff. We were the first car out of lot and a quick look over my shoulder revealed the second and third cars caught in the tracks from the buses. We, on the other hand, were bobbing and weaving along at a good, yet safe, clip. Sort of in a controlled skid as we made our way to Bruce's house. At least that's what we did until we were about a half mile away from school. The little Sprite coughed once and then just died. Since there really wasn't a shoulder on the road, just plowed snow mounds, we were sitting on the roadway, during a white out blizzard, in a very small British sports car that was dead as a post.

We, of course, did what you are supposed to do. We opened the hood to see if we could fix it. Surprise, surprise! Lifting the hood (which on this model included the front fenders) revealed a perfect sculpture of the inside of said bonnet made of  eight or ten inches of beautiful fresh snow which had blown in throughout the day. Here's a little tip about early British sports cars: their electrical systems will short out if the air is humid. My electrical system was covered with snow which, thanks to the heat of the engine while it ran, was now melting. A lot.

While I made this rather unpleasant discovery, Bruce very wisely flagged down another student who's car had not died and got us a lift to the nearest gas station. There, after an hour of so wait (it was in the middle of a blizzard) the tow truck guy and I went off to get the car, bring it back to the garage and try to dry it out sometime before Spring.

With a lot of digging, by hand, and the liberal application of a high pressure air hose, it only took another hour or so until we again heard the sweet sound of that British four cylinder engine and we pushed off again into the storm. Now, being a Midwestern boy, I might have been dumb enough to go out in a blizzard in a sports car, but I wasn't so dumb as to do it without carrying a shovel. So we'd go along pretty well until we hit an intersection full of ruts where we'd get hung up on snow packed under the car. A little digging and a little pushing and away we'd go again. This drama was repeated several times before getting Bruce home, but we finely made it. A ten minute ride in the summer had taken all of four hours and I was still several miles from home.

As tense as the trip had been with Bruce in the car, and on the shovel, I was now alone and it was getting dark. Either through luck, or my superior winter driving skills, I only had to dig myself out a couple of times. By the time I made it into our subdivision it was night dark, but the streets had been plowed. It felt so good to have challenged the elements and to have made it home safe and sound. I turned into our street and ... the Sprite died again, right at the end of the driveway that my father and brothers had spent all afternoon clearing. A quick glance at the gauges told the tale. Super winter driver had run out of gas! My dad was not amused.

So, all you folks that want to bitch about the bad winter weather just keep one thing in mind. We old folks can always top your stories with our own.



Anonymous said...

I can recall one of my last winters in Jersey. I believe that it was the 16th storm of the season. Shovel? Oh YES! I can shovel! My neighbors were mostly seniors. I always would try to help them out. (driveways included) The last storm "inspired" me to create a snowman on top of the 20-24 inches of snow. All the "fixins" were applied to my final winter act. He looked good standing there holding a sign which read, "that's it, I'm going to Disney World!". I stomped my feet at the front door,to clear the caked on snow, and readied myself for a well earned rest! As I closed the door, I could hear a loud muffler pulling up to the front of my house. I peeked through the blinds to see two hispanic "kids" jump out of their buick and make strides towards my snowman! Without even thinking, I start to re-dress as quickly as possibe to ensure that NO HARM came to my "creation". Oh NO WAY, I thought, there's NO WAY that they were going to knock down my snowwy friend!!! NO WAY!! I was ready to fight!!! As I was, I believe, talking to myself, I opened the front door. From behind my full-view storm door, there they were, TAKING PICTURES of eachother, and waving to me with a BIG THUMBS-UP! One at a time they stood next to that snowman with their arm on his shoulder. They looked kinda proud I think. I looked a little humbled I believe. I guess that I learned a good lesson. When I get very tired of all the storms life brings my way, I will not judge too quickly, that approching storm may bring friends and allies that I may have missed otherwise! Although Im now in a kinder climate, everytime it snows, I'M REALLY HAPPY I DON"T HAVE TO SHOVEL MY STINKIN NEIGHBORS OUT!!!!! Peace ;-)

Carl said...

Hey Bro,

This is your brother Carl. Loved your snow story, but I lived through the Winter of 67 & 79 and rest assured this was comparable. we got 23 inches in Lombard, IL and while Blizzard was happening it was impossible to move around in a car. I guess the main difference was these days I am just wise enough to not go out in that kind of weather.