Forty years ago this morning, my wife and I started on a fantastic journey, which turned out to be a little more ‘unscheduled’ than we expected. After living in Chicago for two years, I had accepted a job in New York City. On the morning on February 5, Betty and I boarded a 7:30 flight at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport bound for New York LaGuardia. Our flight time was supposed to be 90 minutes. We were told there was ‘some snow’ in the New York area but that we should arrive on time at 10 a.m. We carried four large suitcases plus two carry-ons with us (this was before airlines discovered they could mint money by charging for such things).
|The Blizzard of '78 shut down the|
Northeast for more than a week
At a few minutes before ten, we were circling LaGuardia and the ‘some snow’ was getting much more serious. At one point we were told we were next in line to land. Then, after half an hour of circling, the announcement came that LaGuardia had just closed due to weather conditions and that we would be diverted to Bradley Field north of Hartford.
We landed at Hartford in blinding snow, the last plane to do so before that airport, too, was closed. Our airline (I believe it was American) gave passengers the option of being taken by bus the fifty miles to New Haven where we could get the train for New York, or being put up ‘overnight’ at a hotel near the airport.
Betty grew up in the Finger Lakes of New York state, the land of ‘lake effect’ snow that can drop two feet of the stuff overnight. She took a look at the snow and said, “We can do this.” At noon, thirty intrepid passengers stowed their luggage on the bus and we headed south.
|Double-click to see snowfall|
totals - we landed right in the
thick of the thing.
Fifteen miles south of Hartford in swiftly deteriorating conditions, our bus skidded off the road and – very fortunately – into a guard rail. It was fortunate because the guard rail was all that stood between us a steep ravine. The bus could go no further. Miraculously, another bus was dispatched, picked us up, and we slowly made out way down to New Haven.
It took three hours to reach New Haven and we feared we had missed the last New-York-bound train. But there were people on the platform and so we lugged our many suitcases and waited. A few minutes later, an Amtrak train pulled in. It was now 4 p.m. The train had left Boston at 6 a.m. and would, as it turned out, the only train to make the trek that day. Had we been a few minutes later, we would have been stranded in New Haven for the duration.
|Note the fifth bullet...|
There were no seats on the train; we sat on our luggage in one of the passenger compartments. But at least we were inside the train. Most of those who boarded at New Haven spent the next several hours in the unheated vestibule between cars. Pushing snow in front of it, the train made it to Penn Station at about 8 p.m.
I had done one intelligent thing that day. At Bradley Field, I had called my employer’s Manhattan office and pleaded for someone to walk over to the Statler Hilton and pay for our room, get a key, and leave it with the concierge.
It turned out to be a prescient move. We arrived to a city that had shut down, stranding tens of thousands of travelers and commuters in the city. Seventh Avenue was covered with two feet of snow and almost nothing moving. A porter helped get our suitcases across the street to the hotel where we found a mob of people occupying every square foot of sleepable surface. I went the concierge desk and held my breath.
A minute later, I held up the key for Betty to see. Twelve hours after we left Chicago, we were finally in New York.
* * * * *
|This is what we saw when we|
got off the subway in Brooklyn
The blizzard turned out to be a fortunate event for us. While the city was paralyzed, the subways were running on the subterranean part of their routes. Two days after our arrival, a Realtor met us in Boerum Hill in Brooklyn. “If you can get here, I’ll show you houses,” she told us. We emerged from the subway to a landscape of unplowed streets, with a police car – immobilized up to its windows in snow – blocking an intersection. A bus sat abandoned in snow drifts in front of the brownstone we were there to see.
It was the house we had looked for in vain in Chicago. Betty and I squeezed one another’s hand so tightly I nearly broke her fingers. We made an offer that day, counter-offered over dinner that evening at the then-newly-opened River Café, and had our offer accepted over dessert.
|211 Bergen Street in Boerum Hill.|
We planted that tree in front, at left.
That was 40 years ago. It was a time before cell phones, the internet or reliable forecasts. Today, of course, everyone knows to stay home . Passengers on the 7:30 flight from Chicago to New York are called the night before and told their flight has been cancelled and they have been re-booked for Thursday. In short, apart from ones based on stupidity, there are a lot fewer ‘blizzard stories’ today.
But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was an adventure – albeit a harrowing one at the time. We got through it and we found the house of our dreams, made possible in large part by our perseverance.