Until recently, New York City didn’t stop for anyone or anything. But last night, a travel ban was issued, silencing Manhattan’s streets and subways. The last time the subways were stopped was during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Yesterday was the first time in the subway system’s 110-year-old history that trains had been sidelined for snow.
But the Great Blizzard of 2015 was quite anti-climactic, shifting east so that the Big Apple was spared while Boston was blanketed. The travel ban was lifted this morning; cars and buses were allowed back on the streets at 7:30 am while subways started inching along around 9 am.
Which is too bad. I wish Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo had kept the ban in place until nightfall. Just for fun. The city needs the break.
You see, New Yorkers have trouble slowing down so they need outside help. Intense snow fall works. I’ve seen it.
In January 1996, I was living on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. I had just returned from spending the holidays with family in Rochester, New York, near the heart of the Great Lakes Snow Belt region (I think Buffalo can rightly claim being at the epicenter of Snow Belt fun). I lived in an overpriced studio facing the Empire State Building. To be 22 years old and to go to bed every night with your pillow facing a glowing, towering Empire State Building was truly special. The city’s fifth largest snowstorm began January 7, 1996, dumping 20.2 inches on Central Park. Schools were obviously closed, taxis got stuck in snow drifts, but Broadway performances were cancelled and the New York Stock Exchange shut down early (although the subways kept going). I had just returned from being away and had no food in the apartment. So being a true New Yorker, I ordered takeout during a blizzard. I ordered from my favorite Indian place. My saag paneer and basmati rice arrived as if it were all sunshine and daisies outside (yes, I remembered what I ate because I always eat the same thing at Indian restaurants). I ate my dinner and listened to John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” and watched the snow fall. To this day, I still associate that song with snow fall.
The following morning I went outside to walk to the corner grocery store, and that’s when I saw a different New York.
A soft silence had quilted Bleecker Street. No heaving buses. No obnoxious taxi horns. No grunts and groans of city dwellers trying to simply get from point A to B. The only sounds I heard were the giggles of a few people throwing snowballs at one another and the scraping of shovels. One guy was cross-country skiing down LaGuardia Place, the street adjacent to my apartment. If there were power outages and food shortages, they weren’t happening on my block. That morning, we were that cheap snow globe tchotchke sold in the Times Square tchotchke shops, twinkling and magical. The Twin Towers still stood then, and so between the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers, my neighborhood was having the best damn snow day imaginable. What was happening uptown or midtown, who knows, but on that day, Greenwich Village was doing what Greenwich Village has always done best: rolling with it.
Later that year, I left Manhattan to move to New Hampshire for my first newspaper job, and two years after that, I was living in Seattle where rain fell far more often than snow. I missed East Coast snow days and skiing in the Cascade Mountains didn’t alleviate that homesickness.
Today has been a fun snow day with kids sledding, homemade chocolate chip cookies and endless cups of tea. I know heavy snow fall scares a lot of people, and last night’s headlines of a “historic” blizzard sent Snowmageddon types grabbing the last loaf of bread on the store shelf. I see blizzards as opportunities to step off the wheel, and mandated travel bans help with that. Maybe that’s the Snow Belt gal in me after all these years. Cross-country ski down a street usually clogged with traffic. Throw a snowball at a friend. Build a snowman on the curb. Make a snow angel. Split a chocolate chip cookie with someone. Manhattan after a Nor’easter is something eerily beautiful and quiet and unique, a giant, gray beast silenced by fluffy white snow, a side of New York that only resurfaces now and then.