Seeing that winter is alive and kicking in the cooler climes across the plains and Great Lakes region, and another arctic blast is about to descend on Tennessee, I thought I’d end my trilogy of Winter Woe. Here are two quick tales that finally quickened my spirit to move southward.
1) February of 1980, I’m living in Skokie, one of the first suburbs north of Chicago: We got socked with another massive blizzard and subsequent deep freeze. It’s bad enough that the cramped city streets are further impeded by six to eight-foot-high gray walls (the Winter Wonderland effect turns a dingy yuck “color” for months) that line both sides of every thoroughfare…but it’s that fact that everything becomes so brittle from the sub-artic conditions that makes it nearly unbearable at times.
Take this particular morning when I went out for the twenty-minute ritual of warming-up and scraping the car. This isn’t occasional; it’s every freaking day for months on end. I had to load some equipment into the back of my stylish metallic brown AMC Hornet Hatchback. You don’t see these anymore. They were sort of sawed-off versions of station wagons. Of course, you don’t see many family wagons anymore either (oh, for the days of Clark Griswold and his Family Truckster!).
As I crunched out to the Brown Bomber, as it was affectionately dubbed, it seemed the air was even more biting than was the norm. The thermometer outside my kitchen window had no red in it at all—the mercury had simply disappeared beneath the twenty degree below bottom marker. I put my key in the back hatch door, hearing the tiniest of tinklings as loose ice shards broke free from around the tumbler. When I pulled the handle and lifted the door, there was a sudden *snap* and the right hinge split. Within a millisecond, not being able to bear all the weight on its own, the left hinge cracked and broke away. Before I could say “Cranberry Cornucopia!” the entire one-hundred pound door was plummeting towards my feet. Lurching both boots backwards, I started to slide on the icy pavement, and fell awkwardly forward onto the displaced fragment, bouncing first off the bumper, then dropping further onto the street. It all happened at hummingbird speed. One of those experiences that flashes so suddenly and unexpectedly that you find yourself in the aftermath before even knowing what occurred. Would’ve made a viral-worthy Youtube clip if anyone had been fortunate enough to be filming me at that precise moment.
Because it was so cold, I couldn’t tell if I was hurt or not. Fortunately, no lacerations or bone damage—just a few bruises that manifested themselves in the coming days. The real pain came when I called the American Motors dealership to find out about when I could get a replacement door and hinges. On the other end of the line the mechanic at the shop was laughing, saying, “Buddy, you are shit outta luck. You are the seventeenth person today that has phoned-in with the same stupid problem.”
So, while muttering execrations against AMC and Detroit automakers in general, and lumping in the forces of nature for good measure, I spent an hour trying to rig some sort of temporary translucent covering out of cleaner bags and cardboard. I’ll let you in a little secret, too: neither electrical nor duct tape holds particularly well to frozen metal. So, several times each day for the next five weeks, I had to re-attach all variations of make-shift protection to the back of my rambler. Often it would simply rip off and flap furiously while driving on the Edens Expressway, or detach altogether, and I would need to construct a new one from scratch. Sometimes I was so pissed that I would drive the whole day with the back wide open.
It wasn’t about to get any warmer during that time either, and I can assure you that thin plastic does not serve as a stout form of insulation. That auto was constantly frozen inside and out until I was finally able to get a long-backordered rear door installed.
2) The final straw was late January of 1982 while living in another northern suburb of Chicago: Glenview, right next to the Naval Air Station. One more shrieking storm descended on Chicago. This was, I believe, the coldest I have ever experienced. Wind chills reached -83 degrees. We were warned repeatedly by the media to stay indoors. If you had to go out, then one needed to make quite certain that you did not allow any exposed skin for longer than thirty seconds for fear of severe frostbite.
Those are the type weeks where you pull your battery out of your car each night and bring it in to keep it warm—it would turn into a block of ice otherwise. Of course, most fuel and oil lines were frozen anyway, so it was often an exercise in futility unless you were fortunate enough to have a heated garage.
On Super Bowl Sunday, I vividly recall that my three roommates and I were bundled up in the living room watching the 49ers win their first over the Bengals. Now, we weren’t just wearing sweatshirts and donning little shawls. We were in full blizzard regalia: long underwear, layers of clothing, full coats, hats, and gloves while we were sitting inside the apartment. We had the furnace cranked-up to the limit at 88 degrees, but it was so frigid, that there was literally half an inch of ice on the inner part of every window, and I could see Brian, Andy, and Bob’s breath as we spoke with each other.
Through chattering teeth I determined that I had indeed had enough. That summer, when the opportunity came along to move to Nashville, my deep hatred of those insane and unpredictable winters definitely entered into the quotient. I loved so much about Chicago in the other three seasons, and certainly had (and still have) many dear friends there, but I can safely say I have had my fill of Thor’s Revenge.