Where weather is concerned, my smart phone is really smart. When the phone says, “rain will end in 21 minutes,” it usually does. So, I was at the apartment window at 5:00 o’clock, which is when up to eighteen inches of snow was scheduled to start. Actually, I was there for much of the day. My phone had not mentioned it, but the lesser talents on tv said the storm might include a whiteout, one of nature’s great thrills. And maybe thunder snow. Gale force winds before it was over. Temperature around twenty. Chill factor varied with the force of the wind, but it was never less than brutal.
The first flakes arrived right on time, like a Swiss train. It was a welcome change from the sameness of the Covid regimen. (The men up at the corner who were wrestling jack hammers and pickaxes at emergency pace to repair a water main break didn’t care for it so much.)
At first, the snow was disappointing – too fine and wind-driven. Where were the fat, floating, Hallmark-card flakes I had been picturing? I checked repeatedly throughout the evening. No improvement in quality. Likewise, during the night. As much as an inch and a half an hour had been predicted. Not yet, though.
Still, over to the west at the top edge of the park, garbage trucks fitted with plows rumbled along, starting with the first flakes. It seemed like they might be just practicing for when the real snow started, or perhaps it was prophylactic; scraping the street squeaky clean before any accumulation formed. Anyway, under the streetlights, little snow was visible – just a vague light-obscuring sort of curtain.
Toward morning, it began to fall more heavily, and characteristic city-winter noises began. In an effort to clear the areas in front of entryways, doormen made a rasping sound with snow shovels. It was a Sisyphean effort; as soon as they finished one sweep, the place where they had started would be covered, and they would start over. At about daylight, the day shift of porters and handymen arrived for work and started the snow throwers with their putt, putt, putt antique-car sound. I observed through three cups of coffee, taking the storm’s measure and considering whether a walk in the park was in my future.
Close against my building the snow was flying almost horizontally. If I went out, I could work with that by not taking it head on, but it kept changing directions, sometimes blasting up from the river, sometimes charging toward it, so there would be no way avoid it. Midway out over the street, it came down vertically, but it was swirling about every which way.
Some dog walkers were out, and a few adults walked hand in hand with small children. In a few hours there would be many more, and they would be carrying plastic sleds. I expected them to be bent over in the classic posture of Chicago pedestrians, but they weren’t struggling against the wind much at all. And, if they were bothered by the cold, it was not apparent. I didn’t try to figure that out; just welcomed it. I could do it.
The riverside trails lined with bare sycamores and oaks called to me. But I’d have to get to where they were, and doing that would be nothing like what “a walk in the park” suggests. The trails were at the bottom of a long incline, which was the delight of sledding children. The one by my corner was called Suicide Hill. Before the storm was over, it would be littered with colorful bits of plastic, the remains of broken sleds, and two people would be taken away in ambulances. The report did not indicate the casualties’ ages.
Next to Suicide Hill was a long, curving walkway, which was less steep. Once the snow got deep enough, I could get to the trails by going down it. If I couldn’t stay on my feet despite walking like a penguin (the recommended way) and grabbing the fence that ran along one side, I could just turn the calendar back a few years and sit down and let gravity have its entertaining way with me.
But sooner or later I’d have to come back up. There were stone staircases all over the place, but deep in snow, they would probably require more leg strength than an old man could expect to have. And if the steps were cleared, they’d be coated with ice. and spiked ice boots would be required. I imagined being down near the river, living the classic nightmare of not being able to get home. “Pardon me. I’d like to go home, now. Would you help me get up the hill?” Would I have to call 911? The sledding kids scampered up the hill time after time. Maybe I should leave playing in the snow to them. Nah. Not yet.
I dug around in the stored Adirondack clothes for long underwear and Woolrich pants and,Raynaud mittens.
And then it was time.