Friday, December 31, 2010

Blizzards can be hazardous for mayors

A blizzard sweeps through southeastern Wyoming. Not much snow but lots of wind and cold. A piker compared to other big snowstorms from my 32 years on the High Plains.

Blizzards arrive at inopportune times. New York City is having a tough time cleaning up after the recent Christmas blizzard of 2010. Mayor Bloomberg has been apologizing for the city’s response. No announcement yet on his resignation, or that of his public works department. The New Jersey governor has been vacationing at Disney World for the past week. He's keeping in touch by phone, said a spokesman. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell railed about "wusses" or "wussies" who couldn't make it to a snowy stadium Sunday for the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings match-up. The game was postponed until Tuesday.

I recall the 1982 Christmas Eve blizzard in Denver. Two-plus feet of snow in 24 hours. I was a freelancer working from home back then. Chris was at work. She rode the bus downtown that snowy Christmas Eve morning. Her bank was open, as were many other businesses. By noon, most were closing so their employees had a chance to get home. Chris caught a bus which got stuck in a drift after traveling a few blocks. Luckily, a coworker happened by and gave her a ride. It took them about an hour to drive the two miles to our apartment. We spent most of the evening watching local TV reports about "The Blizzard of the Century."

Christmas Day, I rose early and helped people shovel out of their houses and apartments. My wife slept in. No point – getting anywhere was impossible. My car was snowbound for a week. City plows attempted to clear one lane in each direction on the main streets. Side streets were left to the tried-and-true solar melting method.

We lived between City Park and Colfax Ave. I needed to turn in an article downtown. No e-mails or faxes. So I went to Colfax to catch a bus. A mountain of snow clogged the street’s center line and traffic was backed up going and coming. I started to walk. Each time the No. 15 bus caught up with me, I contemplated jumping on. But I kept moving and the bus did not. I delivered my story and got home by dark. The streets were still clogged. Buses still crawled Colfax.

I finally dug out my car in time for a New Year's Eve party at my sister Eileen's apartment. Main streets were clear but side streets had snow ruts as deep as the historic wagon ruts on the Oregon Trail. I made it to the party (Chris was sick) and we all had wonderful blizzard tales to tell over mass quantities of beer.

Denver Mayor Bill McNichols did lose the next election in May 1983 because of his inept handling of the blizzard. This also happened once in Chicago, if I remember correctly. Maybe it’s happened elsewhere. Epic snowstorms provide headaches for politicians but many useful and entertaining stories for the rest of us.

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