Inspired by Jill Talbot‘s essay Emergent for my English 404 Nonfiction class.
Everyone knew it was coming, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I woke up with two feet of snow on my front door steps. Okay, I was a little surprised when I opened the door, and those two feet of snow piled up against it fell like an avalanche across the entranceway floor. All I could think at that moment was Damn, I’m going to be busy today. The 1978 Nor’easter had arrived, and it would be a storm to remember.
The Hartford, Connecticut television news station where I worked as a reporter was calling all of us in. It was going to be all hands on deck. The Governors of Connecticut and Massachusetts had called for their states to be shut down. I-95 between New York and Boston was to be cleared of cars and trucks so they could run plows through the wind-blown piles, some six feet or more. All non-emergency vehicles were to get off the roads. That meant everyone except the media.
But first, I needed to clear my driveway to back my’72 Toyota Corolla out of the garage. I knew the car was on its last tires. I couldn’t remember if I even had snow tires. Would I even make it to the television station? I called the station and begged for someone to pick me up. My fragile car would not make it out on the road.
All of this happened six months before the marriage crisis that would send me for a loop and escape from future New England winters. I was in my second marriage and thought I had learned something about faithfulness and responsibility and not allowing my ego and hormones to interfere with being a good and loyal husband and father. I was twenty-nine and a television reporter in the eleventh biggest television market. I had dreams and ambitions to move on to the big time in Washington, D.C., where I had gotten my start, or even my hometown, New York. As one of only two Latino reporters, I had come a long way from my beginnings in 1973. I was calm and relaxed as a reporter by the time of the most significant storm in a hundred years, or at least that was the headline we were pushing.
Our house was a two-story box-like home with three bedrooms and 1 ½ baths that kept us cool in the summers (even without air conditioning) and warm in the winters with that basement furnace. Every fall, I would get the ladder out and put up the storm windows and caulking. That was a challenge. You try lugging those windows up that ladder, attaching them, and making sure they are sealed tight without falling and killing yourself. I seem to remember some ten windows between the first and second floors. Of course, I should have hired a company, but I saw my neighbors doing it without problems. Hell, I wasn’t going to act like some country bumpkin from the South Bronx unable to figure this all out.
I was never dressed adequately for New England weather during my four years there. The first winter there, I didn’t get rubber boots until December, when I had already ruined at least two pairs of shoes. I don’t know if it was vanity, but I thought wearing galoshes while doing a stand-up in front of City Hall was a terrible look. Experienced New England hands finally gave me the lowdown. No one cares about the galoshes, heavy coats, ski gloves, scarves, or hats (I drew the line at covering my nicely coiffed hair that fell on my shoulders like a seventies rocker). What was important, they told me, was that you get the story right and stop being a prima donna. Who do you think you are, Geraldo Rivera?
The Blizzard of 1978 has been described as “a catastrophic, historic nor’easter that struck New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the New York metropolitan area.” The storm hit hard from February 6 overnight until the evening of February 7. I remember driving to the smaller towns and cities in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts to assess the damage. There were estimates of around 100 fatalities and 4,500 people injured with physical damage in the range of $520 million dollars in 1978 dollars. That translates to $2.16 billion in 2021 dollars.
The knee-deep snow on my driveway did not match the record-breaking 27.1 inches of snow in Boston or 27.6 inches in Providence, Rhode Island. This storm was unlike any I had ever encountered in New York or Washington, D.C. There were “hurricane-force winds” with speeds of 86 mph and gusts of 111 mph. Reportedly, the snow fell for 33 hours, then turned into what seemed like immovable snow drifts of six feet or more, and in many cases, it hardened into black ice on highways and city and town streets.
This Nor’easter of 1978 was not an ideal working condition, and my personal life was no leisurely picnic. Someone might venture to say that the storm was a grand metaphor for the crazy happening in my personal life and there were some similarities. The storm and the pain from the dissolution of a marriage do eventually end, but the effects can be long-lasting. Hopefully, you learned something to prepare for the next storm and the dissolution of any relationship. As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.