The news stories began two days before the first snowflakes started to fall. Network television with outposts in frontier Philadelphia interrupted their regularly scheduled newscasts (the daily murder, the high speed car chase, and the pit bulls that were shot by police after mauling the little old lady who baked cookies for them) to commence coverage of the fall of western civilization, prompted by the worst blizzard-like conditions to blow though this area since the Quakers began screwing Indians out of real estate 300 years ago.
The pending storm was being described as “crippling” and “paralyzing,” with snow accumulations to rival the penis-length of the average BMW rider (approximately eight to ten inches). The immediate result of these apocalyptic predictions was to drive crowds of people into supermarkets to decimate the shelves of milk, bread, cigarettes, and hard liquor. For a brief period of brisk public trading, rock salt eclipsed gold on the commodities exchange and bidding wars were declared over snow blowers that couldn’t be given away at any price last week.
I must confess to raiding the local Chinese restaurant at 9pm on Friday, December 18th, and fleeing with containers of chow mein, Singapore noodles (loaded with chicken and shrimp tinted with curry), fried dim sum, and egg rolls (which I suspected would be the new currency of survival in the wake of the storm). I slammed down a bowl of hot and sour soup while waiting for my order, and was amazed at the sense of calm displayed by my inscrutable Asian hosts. The very fact that they seemed unconcerned with what was about to happen began to piss me off.
“How can you be so nonchalant when the world is going to end tomorrow in frozen desolation,” I asked the manager, Fong. (His real name is Philip, but that would not do for the mood I want to set for this story.)
“Jack, the world not end tomorrow,” said Fong. Only snow.”
I persuaded them to turn on the news from Philly, and it was from the flickering screen of a little television in the kitchen that they learned the truth... That eight to ten inches of snowfall would halt all molecular activity in the Philadelphia area, that law and order would collapse, and that people would turn on each other like savages, slaughtering the weak for the last vestiges of warmth and shelter.
When I left the restaurant, they were screaming at each other in Mandarin, heaping tablecloths and plates in a pile, and nailing the long wooden tables over the plate glass windows. “That’s more like it,” I thought.
Vapory reports of folks in Virginia and Tennessee, who were trapped with nothing but each other in darkened houses (dimly lit by holiday candles and heated by wood stoves and fireplaces) for periods of up to 24-hours festered widespread panic. Long-time lovers normally buffered by eBay, Facebook, e-mail and reality shows took long, slow looks at each other and began to sweat. In the absence of texting, some couples resorted to handing each other “Post-its” that said, “U suk” on them.
And all of this was before the first snow flake fell here in East Goshen, Pa.
I had a few egg nogs (of the adult variety) and climbed into the sack around 1am. Glancing out the window, an erie brightness hung over the yard, but it was one that came from the sky and was absorbed by the ground -- which was choked by a snow-free shadow. And that was exactly the same way I’d found it again at 6:10am (Saturday), when I got up to drain the alligator.
But there was an inch of snow on the ground when I checked again an hour later. Generally the rate of snow varies during a storm. You start out with big flakes that become little flakes. Wind-driven blasts yield to gentle snow globe-type fall rates and you even get periods when the precipitation seems to hesitate. Not on Saturday, however. Thunder snow was reported in some areas. The snow fell steadily all day — like the chances of getting a meaningful healthcare reform bill from Senators with their hands up the asses of the American public.
I measure the density of snowfall in two ways: by my ability to see the light post on the front lawn; and by the depth of the plateau that piles up on the glass table out on the patio. I couldn’t see the light post at all during much of the day and the table on the patio was beginning to resemble a sheet cake for a convention. Endless weather reports from Philly indicated the extent of the chaos that existed there. Public service announcements in this city are issued in code. For example, a police advisory that says, “Stay indoors tonight and do not drive your car,” really means, “Jump in the nearest fucking vehicle and head straight to City Line Avenue, so you can sit for hours in stalled traffic unable to crawl over the slightest hill.”
I am proud to tell you that citizens of Philly followed these instructions to the letter.
By 6pm it was apparent that this was no ordinary snowfall, and much of Chester Country (where we live) was now either on the 16 to 20-inch line of accumulation, or on the wrong side of it. Our local network affiliate (WSFB -- Shit For Brains) interviewed motorists who were at great risk for traveling in the storm. The interview was conducted live in the falling snow, in the parking lot of “Total Wine,” the tri-state area’s largest discount retailer of hard liquor and wine. It is in the neighboring state of Delaware, where so much snow fell that polar bears and seals were rampaging in the streets. We listened to a guy who claimed there were some accidents on I-95 ("involving mostly Cadilacs"), but it wasn’t too bad and they basically had the liquor store to themselves. The reporter then announced that many malls would be closing at 7pm, but that Macy’s would be open to 11pm — "at least."
Thank God television is able to provide this kind of quality information in the face of real disaster.
It was then we learned that three airlines had cancelled a total of 1700 flights on the east coast. Leslie measured the snow in a number of places and concluded we had received 15 inches by midnight on Saturday. Her final instructions for me regarding blizzard preparedness were without condition.
“The snowplow people will be here about dawn,” said Leslie.
“Maybe even earlier,” I said. “Maybe they’re like the fire department and will pull up with the sirens roaring and crews of guys running up the driveway with shovels.”
“And maybe you’re a shit head,” said Leslie. “In any case, your Suburban is blocking the access to the upper driveway and you’re going to have to move it. Why not do it now, before they show up and plow around it? Otherwise, your fat, crippled ass will be shoveling out the garage doors.”
I thought of handing her a Post-it with a clever phrase written on it, but thought the better of it.
“My Mac Pac monthly motorcycle breakfast is in the morning. I’ll be out of here around 7am. My guess is I’ll beat the plow guys.”
“Do you honestly think anyone is going to show up for the monthly motorcycle breakfast tomorrow... On the worst weather day of the year... An hour after the snow has stopped?” As with most questions that Leslie asks in this tone, the unspoken word “asshole” is strongly emphasized following the punctuation.
“If I were in your shoes, and didn’t want to be running around in the frigid, snow-covered driveway, clad only in baggy underwear, while the plow guys are blowing the horn at dawn tomorrow, I’d move that piece of shit Suburban right now,” Leslie warmly counseled.
I replied with a nod, and my special smile which has an unspoken emphasis all its own.
I found consciousness without the benefit of the clock at 6:15am (Sunday), and lay in bed reflecting on the fact that the whole world was under the silent white mute button of fallen snow. The only sound I could hear was... A plow scrapping through a driveway.
“Mutherfucka... Those assholes are really here,” I thought to myself, pulling up jeans over my baggy shorts.
I shoved a fat-assed, dozing dog away from the window and saw one of the town’s behemoth plows slamming through our cul de sac. False alarm. Nevertheless, it was time to get started. I couldn’t help but notice that the huge city plow wasn’t revealing the blacktop in its wake. A cup of magma-like expresso, with enough caffeine to reanimate a dead body, got me moving. The garage door went up like the curtain on outdoor inuit theatre. The same 15-inches of snow that covered the glass table out back also covered the Suburban. I used an old sponge mop to clear the hood, the windshield, the windows, and a lot off the roof.
Looking down to the street, the snow created an unbroken profile burying gardens, paths, steps, and the driveway, under a layer of white that suggested all imperfection can be covered by something, if you slather it on deeply enough. But I had now reached the moment of truth. Would this ancient rusting hulk handle 15 inches of unplowed snow on a curving driveway, with a slope?
What do you think?
This veteran vehicle of countless Adirondack snowstorms (that all made this one seem like a joke) fired right up and drove through the snow without hesitation. I picked up my riding partner Dick Bregstein, and we headed off to the Pottstown Family Diner, 10 miles away.
Present for the December Mac Pac December Monthly Breakfast were Roddy Irwin, Tom Byrum, Todd Byrum, Joe Dille, Chris Jaccario, his girlfriend Melinda, David Denesowicz, Dick Bregstein, and myself. By a quorum vote among those present, it was agreed that we had real balls, and were entitled to wear a special tee-shirt commissioned at club expense. There is something unique about getting together for breakfast with friends in a diner, when everyone else is watching cataclysmic news reports about how the world is ending under the worst snow storm of the year.
This little gathering was my first Christmas gift of the year.
I would like to say that each of the municipalities I drove through, and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (Penn DOT) did a great job of managing the snowfall. Every main road was open to blacktop by the time breakfast concluded, and the side roads did not warrant 4-wheel drive.
The motorcycling season for myself and many others may have come to an end with this storm, however. Looking out at the street from my office window, I can clearly see little piles of salt, cinders, and sand in the road. The salt will melt. But the tons of other crap will pile up in curves and intersections, offering the highest entertainment value for riders leaning into a turn, and stay there until it is swept up sometime in April. This is especially sad news for me, as I believe I saw a box from Gerbings Heated Riding Gear arrive here yesterday.
Santa is as perceptive as she is beautiful.
Merry Christmas And Happy New Year...
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009
AKA The LIndbergh Baby (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)