Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Washington Avenue Freeze-out! (Special 40th Anniversary Edition!)

...Washington Avenue being the road my Catholic grade school was on, and indeed, 28 years ago today, St. Pius X was frozen out as a monster storm bashed its way across Long Island.
(UPDATE! It is now, in fact, the 40th anniversary of said event, so I've added more pics and info, and fixed some of the photos that were already here because I wrote this back when I didn't have a scanner. I would just take pictures of the newspaper pages with a camera, like some prehistoric savage!)

Here is the cover (newly scanned!) of the February 8th, 1978 Newsday, from which all the following information comes:
 Route 110 takes a wintry beating.

The snow began falling Monday afternoon, and I'm sure I, along with every other tri-state area eight-year-old, eagerly looked out the window every ten minutes from supper 'til bedtime to check the progress. It looked like a lock, of course, with up to four inches falling in an hour at times, but in my house it wasn't official until WGBB (1240 am) announced the school closings in the early hours.

Tuesday morning awoke without a hint of school, which seemed like an embarrassment of riches considering that the Island had just been smothered with 17 inches of snow not three weeks earlier. That one, however, hit on a Friday, so we kids only got a single day's reprieve; this one would rescue us from almost an entire week of education! Here's a primitive satellite photo of the storm heading off to brutalize the rest of New England:
...and here are the totals when it was done, sometime Tuesday afternoon:
Twenty-three inches in Plainview---whoo-hoo!

NEW! Here's a clearer look at that map, along with some Long Island snowstorm history.
(Don't forget to click on pics to enlarge.)
Oh, and here's a blizzardy bonus: The aftermath of the 1960 storm mentioned in the "LI Lineage" sidebar (which struck on my sister's birthday, btw) can be seen in my family's home movies
right here!
NEW! Here's a "Crisis Information" box, which I really only include because I still get a perverse thrill from seeing those school closings:
Some storm stats: Three-thousand cars abandoned. 2000 motorists stranded in shelters. Three dead of snow-related causes. One finger amputated after an unfortunate decision to manually unplug a snow-blower. Eleven coastal homes collapsed due to flooding and high tides. 6000 LILCO (that's the Long Island Lighting Company to you, bunky) homes without power. The Long Island Railroad crippled for days by drifts, frozen switches and stranded trains. New York Islanders and Knicks games were of course canceled.

Abandoned vehicles on the Long Island Expressway in Jericho.

A man lying prone in the snow was saved by the warmth and vigilance of his dog, Turkey. At the Melville firehouse, a man swiped a woman's chair right from her hands, and refugees became angry when the fire department wouldn't provide free beer. A man at a makeshift Huntington shelter complained about his complimentary ham sandwich. At Hermann's Restaurant in Melville, a hundred or so refugees had already gobbled up all the provisions on hand when a driver for Manella's Poultry got stuck outside. Everyone enjoyed chicken dinners after that. Driver Ray Schwerdt said, "I'm 150 miles from home, but I feel very comfortable here. There's a bunch of people here who don't know each other from Adam--businessmen, hardhats, all different kinds of people. I feel I'm part of the human race." The Playworld toy plant in East Farmingdale exploded from a gas leak.

In case you were wondering about Hank Scarino of Central Islip, it appears he's doing okay.
NEW! A guy in Long Beach digs out his Gremlin.
 Catholics were given an Ash Wednesday dispensation due to the storm:
Instead of wearily enduring the equivalent of a mere two full meals (or the equally grueling penance of "one full and two light meals"), Catholics were given a pass to load up as they pleased---and meat could be served. Thus, hardy Cat'lics weathered the storm with aplomb, not to mention second helpings of meatball ziti. Of course, my mom probably stocked up on Monday at our local Morton Village Shopping Center supermarket:
...possibly buying ricotta or mozzarella (but never pepperoni) from our brand of choice:
Elsewhere in Newsday, let's take a look at the comics, or as that section was unhyperbolically known:
 Here's the Figments comic strip, a corker as usual:
...and Johnny Wonder enlightens us with this historical sartorial tidbit:
And what the hell, I'll throw in the other JW panel. Yep, this penny puzzle is what passed for entertainment in the 70's, kids!
On to the movie listings... I saw this with my dad, at the Mid-Island Mall.
 If this is the movie that had a commercial where a little Native American boy is chased through the woods by a Bigfoot POV cam, I would not have gone to see it. The ad was shown during before-school cartoons and it scared the hell out of me.
The Coram Cinema seems like a friendly, warm place to spend a blizzard...
Here's an ad from the TV section. Chillingly accurate.
Appropriately enough, the "Special Treat" on WNBC Tuesday afternoon (not to be confused with the "ABC Afterschool Special") is a kiddie adventure drama called "Snowbound," about a mismatched teenage boy and girl stranded in a blizzard fighting off predatory dogs. They should have just done like me and played Nerf football in the street. (Our beagles, Brandy and Sloopy, most likely had plenty of Cycle 3 in their bowls, so the risk of them desperately gnawing our flesh was virtually nil.

New! At last, another chance for Long Islanders to read Marvin Kitman! You're welcome!
NEW! Mickey Rooney sells his blurry image to Downington Inn. Spend Washington's birthday near Valley Forge, whoo-hoo!
NEW! Remember these personal ads? This year, I bet a lot of them said something along the lines of, "Honey, I meant to get you a diamond ring, but, you know, the blizzard..."
"...but hey, I did spring for the 'Large Heart,' $12.50, not too shabby!"
NEW! In other news, the Hillside Strangler sent a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, which is held up by Assistant Police Chief Daryl Gates. (I wonder if mayors ever get mail they actually want to read?) I mainly include this photo because I can't find it elsewhere on the nets.

Last and probably least, here is a "sketch story" I scribbled about snow, Long Island and me, which may or may not be related to this very meteorological event...

snow, rolling, rolling

there was a tremendous storm, a nor'easter i guess you'd call it, bellowing and barging, long island huddled below it. snow piled, drifted, was occasionally plowed into submission but not for long. streetcorners grew mountains for snow-day kings, cars were lost, and still it snowed. i was small, i want to say 1978, but that's not small enough. i want to say '78, february, because that was a storm, now that was a storm, and i have no other stories for it if i don't have this one. so it is.

me, of course. across-the-street pal maria pa-pee-ya. brothers artie and jim and dave. friends and girlfriends. quite a few of us, maybe ten, give take. the worst over, snow now glittered sweetly under streetlamplight, and there above the light, just dark. dark, and tho it still became dark early, this was late dark, night dark. as dark as a sky bursting with white gets. not very dark really, but a beautiful unscary just-rare-enough dark. you suspect a frozen sun behind it.

i don't know if rolling a snowball was the purpose, or if it was started by one and finished by many. but there we were, in the deserted street, the air frozen mute but for an occasional murmur of wind, snow tickling and peeking into our ears, rolling a snowball, our hands pushing. smell of a fireplace pine, amber lights in neighbor's windows. we laughed and chattered and everyone was so young like in a christmastime commercial, but much better, especially for me, almost the youngest.

crunching up and down opal drive, soon the ball was bigger than me, then dave, then jim, then any of us, then all of us put together. I want to think twenty feet in diameter, but maybe five, six. a glove, a mitten really, came over the immense horizon of the ball into my view, stuck into the place where artie's girlfriend louise had pushed too deeply. the ball had taken her mitten and run away with it like an overgrown pup, and i laughed so hard, and harder.

louise says at some point, when we were all staggering, nearly unable to steer, and pondering where to park this behemoth, she says that we should leave it in the driveway of the guy who lives at the corner of ruby lane and garnet. you know, she says, that uptight guy who mows his lawn in summertime wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a tie, she giggles. of course she means mr. f____, and of course the rest of us turn to look at jim's friend, robbie f____, who has been assisting all along. the pencil-necked image of his dad. i don't recall his reaction, but i have a fair guess what mine was, and i'm sure it didn't help the awkward situation any.

we leave the snowball on the sidewalk in front of my house. why i couldn't say. it wasn't clever and it certainly wasn't practical. our mailman, keith, had to walk around the thing for months. but that's where we left it, and we went inside to a fine weary warmth, wet clothes drying, fingers and ears unreddening, and we looked out the front window every so often and laughed again.

i can still picture it, melted away to the size of a burly snowman's head, a gray early-may lump at the edge of our greening lawn. (winters really lasted back then.) soon it wasn't much more than a regular-sized snowball, the last snow left, alone. it had hardened into ice by the end, frozen to the ground and hard enough to withstand a solid punt, until one day it didn't. I felt nearly guilty, but at least I was there at the end, and it hadn't fallen prey to some malicious neighbor kid.

for some reason i remember that snowball well, how it fell to us, and how it shrank away.


Blogger MO'SH said...

Where do I begin? With my own excited dash to the living room window (brothers in tow) to confirm the impossibility of a bus getting down the street? Somehow, the living room seemed the final word on the immensity of a snowfall, the bedroom window being too close to the bed, the bed too close to dreaming.

My school on Round Swamp Road would have to tough it out alone, the silence an acceptable substitute for the warmth of a few hundred stinky kids.

And damn you, Ronkonkoma! You win again!

But most of all, that Figment comic. Didn't you say that to me on more than one occasion in Calabash?

Wed Feb 08, 12:06:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Brian Kunath said...

Wow. Love it. You're a great writer of personal history or something like that. Cool piece.

My school was ALWAYS last to be closed. Us and Solvay, prompting the famous saying: As Solvay goes, so goes West Jenny.

Wow. 1978. I almost forgot about the 70s.

Wed Feb 08, 09:29:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Jackie said...

I completely remember this snow storm/ice storm...We were out of school for a long time and all the trees were covered in ice. It was magical. My uncle's family lived off of Washington Ave on Cornell Drive and we went up and slid on the roads...There were powerlines down sparking; mixed with the ice, it was beautiful.

Sat May 06, 12:16:00 AM 2006  
Blogger mariamccabe said...

Paul, this piece is beautiful. I just read it for a second time. You are a gifted writer.. I wonder if this is your profession?
I remember this time well, it truly was magical. You nailed the feelings and sounds. I don't remember the exact day but I'm glad you mentioned me being there. My mom still has pictures of me holding icicles as long as my arm not even near to falling off trees. And the smile on my face... priceless.

Mon Mar 01, 04:03:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Ray Schwerdt said...

Although I wasn't born yet, I heard a lot about it in my house. My Dad is the chicken truck driver, Ray Schwerdt. I used to go to Long Island on the truck with him and he would show me the spot he was stuck in and tell me some good stories about the experiance.

Thu Aug 12, 12:07:00 PM 2010  

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