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  • Writer's pictureLaura McBride

Snow in NYC? You ain't seen nothin'


The biggest issue for cities with snowstorms is this: Where are you going to put all that snow? NYC carts it off to barges and dumps it offshore. And of course a lot of it melts, especially where pipes run under the pavement. Meanwhile, it changes life and the landscape and is really sort of fun.

by Laura Harrison Mc Bride

One might call the end-of-January 2015 snowstorm in New York City a major bust. That's probably just as well, since NYC was hammered so badly a few years ago by Hurricane Sandy.

Still, if one is going to call for a snow emergency, what I think we used to call blizzards before mega-this and mega-that got into it, then it would be nice if there were something to write home about.

Back when I was a young whippersnapper....

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Take, for example, the blizzard of 1947. It happened in December, just a couple of months before I was born. Even in Queens, a borough of New York City on Long Island, the snow drifts reached the tops of cars. And those were OLD cars, cars you didn't have to squat down to get into. The family album has loads of photos. I don't have any, as it happens, because my younger brother is the keeper of the visual history of the family. But there's a photo above, from the New York City government archives; you can find more NYC snow photos here.

Throughout my youth, spent both in Queens and on eastern Long Island, we had lots of blizzards. Out east, where the island simply made a sort of oversized sandbar between the mighty Atlantic and the Connecticut shore, with Long Island Sound in between, snows were heavy and also heavy. By which I mean that the snow was wetter on eastern Long Island than most places, laden with water it grabbed on its way across the water from New York City and the Jersey shore. It was horrible to shovel, but it did melt more quickly, also due to the relatively warm, moist ocean air, than it did elsewhere. It was great for snowmen, though. And not too bad for ensuring a couple of days off from school.

When I was at Binghamton University in Vestal, NY, I really began to understand snow. There, it began snowing before Halloween, and kept it up until Easter...regardless of how late Easter was, it seemed. But we didn't worry about snow. We had chains for our tires, and everything was fine. During my sophomore year, I recall walking to a basketball game as a blizzard began, going out for a drink or two after (the drinking age in New York State then was 18), and getting up the next morning to dig my car out and go home for semester break. My roommate helped me get the chains on, we piled in with three other girls to whom I was giving a ride downstate (for a small fee, of course), and off we went. I didn't worry about it. My parents didn't worry about it. No one worried about it. It was just snow, for crying out loud.

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Love, 1; snow, 0

Almost a year later, when I had begun dating my first husband, I returned to campus before the end of the Christmas break to be with him. And, young love being what it is, I drove the 250 miles on New York's superhighways between eastern Long Island and the university; only one lane had been cleared for most of the way. It was me and the truckers and my frozen feet. I had bought a new old car over the break and no one had mentioned that because Karmann Ghias had their engine in the back, I would not be getting my warmth around my feet—or my hands or my nose—at all. But I had my love to keep me warm...except that I no sooner pulled in than he said we were going back out to go skiing. As if I needed more snow. Plus I didn't ski (still don't) so I sat in the COLD lodge while he and his friends did something that looked vaguely like skiing on the minor mountains--hills, really--in the area.

The BIG one

And then there was the blizzard of 1983. I was married to my second husband then, and we were living in a mid-rise in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. It was semi-convenient. We could more easily keep a car there than in Manhattan, but the subway to midtown was close and fast. We could get to our publishers easily and cheaply, but also keep a car to go to the Connecticut beaches and so on.

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That winter, we got tickets to Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You at the Jan Hus Theatre (part of the Jan Hus Presbyterian Church) in Manhattan for a Friday evening in February. It had begun snowing that morning, quite hard. So what? We were taking the subway anyway. So we put on our snow boots and generally bundled up and went. The Jan Hus was a small theatre, intimate. That night it was very intimate indeed, with an audience no bigger really than a circle of friends. But the management had laid on hot coffee with lashings of Drambuie or other liqueur of one's choice, at the intermission. We were happy. It was a great evening.

And then we bundled up again and started the trip home. On the way to the subway, we helped a man push his car out of a deep drift. Hmmmm.....

Well, so what? We were taking the subway.

Two stops before ours, the trainman announced that he would go no farther, that the tracks were too icy where the subway became an elevated train right after our usual stop. Everyone would have to get off and walk.

The streets had not been plowed; it was still snowing, and there was no real emergency about it on a Friday night. So we, and about a hundred other people, simply walked up the middle of the street, thereby avoiding tripping over items that might be buried under the snow on the sidewalks; bicycles, garbage cans and so on.

The video below has some terrific NYC snow scenes, especially after the first minute.

When we got to our fifth-floor apartment, with virtually floor to ceiling windows on two sides, we settled in to watch the blizzard in the lights of Manhattan across the East River and at the elevated train stop a block away. All of a sudden, we heard the squeal of metal on metal, and ran to the train side. Possibly they had tried to clear the tracks since our train had backed up to a turning point after letting the passengers off. But it was clear this train was not going to get up that slope of exposed track to the station. The sound was deafening, but the light show—blue flashes wherever the wheels touched the electrified rail—was lovely, if eerie. We were glad we had not been on that train; inside it, fear must have been the major emotion.

Eventually, the train backed up, and doubtless a hundred more people walked down the middle of snowy Brooklyn roads to get home.

The snow hung around for weeks.

Hot damn! A dripper

When it began to melt, we noticed a sort of stream of liquid running out from behind a car parked at a nearby corner. It had been parked there since well before the blizzard and had a number of parking tickets tucked under the wiper blades. In Brooklyn, drivers have to re-park their cars every day or so to accommodate street cleaning; it's called alternate-side parking, and obviously, that car had not alternated. It was only a matter of time until it got towed.

It got towed. The trunk also got opened. And inside were two bodies, a man and a woman. Murdered. Stashed there before the storm, and now doing what bodies do; disintegrated. It turned out it was the wife of a minor mafioso and her boyfriend. Duh. Of course it was. Did I mention Carroll Gardens was an old Italian neighborhood? The very same that appears in the Cher film Moonstruck. Yup, we knew those houses well.

It was a great place to live, though, as long as you were not of a minority or the cheating wife of a mafioso. Convenient, safe, quiet. Both charming and exciting in a blizzard, and providing a nice bit of juicy gossip from time to time.

What more could one ask?

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