feats of strength

Continental Airlines called me at 8 p.m. or so on Christmas evening.  I was trying to grab a nap so that I could muster the energy to partake of family movie time.  After all, it’s been a VERY long fall and I needed my beauty sleep.

ANYWAY.  Their automated message ended like this: “…sorry to inform you that your flight is canceled.”

That’s right, Snowpocalypse 2010 was bearing down on New York, and clearly no one was taking any chances.  Great! Safety!  Except Ginsberg is here holding down the fort, and I have calendar items such that I couldn’t just hang out and putter around in Cleveland for a few days until we’re dug out.  So the game of Beat The Blizzard began.

My brother got me the last available ticket on a 2 a.m. train to Washington, where I had the last seat on a 4 pm train up to Penn Station.  Barring the invention of warp speed, it was the best anyone could do.  So there I was in the middle of the night on Christmas, making what can only be described as a getaway, and not in an awesome sense.

11 hours later, Washington DC seemed to be minding its business with nary a snowflake in sight. I endured the layover enjoying my fabulous read (about which another post) and we started up the coast.

By Wilmington, snow; by Philadelphia, blizzard; by Newark, I was honestly kind of nervous about the last two legs of my trip to come: from Penn Station to NJ, and then from my PATH station home.  Well.  Our train started skidding into Penn Station and sliding backwards; we had to actually back the train up and build up enough momentum to get over the frozen rails to deliver us into the whiteout.  That’s when the real fun began.

It is one block from Penn Station to the entrance to the PATH train.  When we emerged into the blizzard, there were still cabs, because while this may be a Snowpocalypse, it is still Manhattan.  Of course, they did me no good what with needing to go one block with a wheeled carryon through about 6 or 8 inches of snow.

Two minutes in, my hat, coat, gloves, and suitcase were covered in whipping snow which felt like little stinging pellets.  At that point I still fantasized about a nice toasty cab finishing my journey.  Also, a nip of bourbon.  I’m rationing the good stuff, but I thought enduring this situation merited a drink.

Tra la la, I exited the PATH train in Jersey only to find that NJ Transit, those wise souls, had suspended all bus and light rail service.  There were a couple of cabs on the street, but they were stuck in front of the station.  Basically, after a few stressful minutes of deliberating and not wanting to risk someone else’s life or vehicle, I knew I would have to walk home, literally “uphill in the snow up to here”.  I put on every garment I could muster, even wrapped my travel blanket around me like an abaya, and started the mile and a half home.

Strange things happen in those kinds of literally painful circumstances.  For instance, I discovered that it is not melting snow that freezes your eyelashes together, but frozen sweat from the effort exerted when the snow is too deep to drag your suitcase so you must instead carry it.  I chortled bitterly, realizing that my entire life in academia schlepping heavy book bags must have been meant to prepare me for this evening.  Then I cursed worried I was going to throw out my back.  I sang songs to myself in my head.  (Thank you, U2).

I tried to keep my face covered and my body moving.  Despite choosing the route I knew by heart, I managed to get lost in the whiteout, trudging along in the middle of the street moving aside into the 3-foot drifts when the snowplows came lumbering along.  There were others moving along that way too.  Some were laughing and hurling snowballs, but the rest of us were silent and plodding.  We were all late from Somewhere, and I don’t know about them, but I was getting a little scared.  Too long in the cold goes from unfunny to dangerous at a point, and my growing nausea and ice-caked extremities were concerning.

Some never-ending time later, I turned a corner and realized I had made it to the elevator up the Palisades to my neighborhood, but that elevator wasn’t working either.  Like magic, a group of people arrived and as we silently turned to ascend via the emergency staircase, a guy gestured towards me and took my suitcase.  He carried it the rest of the way home for me, and I am thankful for him because I was nearly spent by the time he and his cohort appeared.  He put the bag in my vestibule and turned to disappear into the night.  I was so disoriented I don’t know if I’d ever recognize him, and I don’t know his name, but I will always remember him.

Then, at long last, inside to a hot shower, soup, and bourbon.

Someone called earlier and asked cheerily if I’d gone outside “to take a walk in the snow”.  “No,” I replied.  “I’ve seen it.”

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