One of the most memorable Christmases I experienced occured in the winter of 1966.
My wife and I were invited to a dinner party at a high-rise apartment overlooking Lake Michigan. The view of the lake from the windows of the apartment was magnificent. The lights of the city allowed you to see far out into the darkness of the lake.
As the night progressed we all commented about the snow falling across the view. All agreed it was truly a beautiful site – especially for the Christmas Season.
A sheet of white continued to fall over Lake Michigan throughout the entire evening. The snow kept falling, non stop, for hours and hours. All the guests were cozy and warm; drinking and eating; enjoying our Lakeside habitat.
Then it came time to leave. My wife and I gathered our belongings; bundled up in our warm Chicago winter clothes and set out for home. The elevator ride to the ground floor as uneventful. Little did we suspect what awaited us. Has we known, we might not have left the party.
When we stepped out onto the street the snowdrifts were quite high, even for a lake front building. Some were covering the hedges along the sidewalk. There were no cars moving; no people in the street and the snow continued to fall – unabated. No wind – just a steady snow fall.
Relaxing and enjoying ourselves as we briskly walked the few blacks to the nearest bus stop. We didn’t take our car, knowing it would be impossible to park in this high-rise neighborhood and having an idea the snow might make driving stressful. No car -lucky for us.
I could see the bus sitting at the bus stop in the distance. Seemed strange that the bus would be just sitting there, At the time I thought, “:Lucky for us. The bus is not pulling away from the stop.”
We quickened our pace so as not to miss the bus. Upon our arrival at the bus stop I could see the bus was sitting just there, motor running, lights off and dark inside. Surprisingly, I could see the driver sitting there sleeping.
I rapped on the door and woke up the driver. The driver was startled to see two people standing at the door of the bus. As he opened the door we could see there were no people on the bus – not a good sign. I asked, “when is the bus going to leave?” He responded, “when the snowdrift outside the bus has melted.”
It was then that I noticed the snowdrift on the street side of the bus was all the way up to and over the roof. Wow. Having been born and raised in Chicago, experiencing many brutal winter with ample snow, I had never seen that before.
It was kind of interesting. I looked up and down the street. Now, Grand Avenue is a very busy street, even late at night. It is four lanes wide with a parking lane on each side. Not a car was moving. There was no traffic at all. Some of the cars parked along the street were buried under snow drifts.
The subway stop was only two blacks from the bus stop. I knew we could take the subway to within a few short miles to our apartment. When we got to the subway, the scene was absolutely amazing.
There had to be at least 50 people standing there waiting for the bus. Yes, the same bus waiting for the snowdrift up over the roof to melt.
I asked a few people how long they had been waiting and their answers varied from one half hour to a few hours. All I could think about was these were working-class people who had no place to go. They didn’t have credit cards, let alone think of going to a hotel for the evening to take refuge for the night..
We descended into the subway and waited for the train. The trains were running like clock work – right on time. They were secure from the snow in their underground tunnels. We took the train to Chicago Avenue stop, got off and ran up the stairs to see what adventure awaited us at the exit above ground.
The scene was something out of a disaster movie. There were vehicles all over the place. The subway entrance at Chicago and Western Avenues is in the middle of a very busy area. But, nothing was moving. I could see a police car abandoned with no one inside. There were cars all over the street facing every which way from Sunday.
A giant garbage truck, used for snow removal was stuck – stuck in a drift and could not move.
As we started to walk the few blocks to our home we saw sites I remember vividly to this day almost 40 years later.
There was a old Polish woman (how did I know she was Polish? Well she had a babushka and this was a Polish neighborhood), who was throwing her purse and then pushing, plowing through the snow to were purse landed. She’d dig down, retrieve the purse and throw it again. She repeated this over and over on her quest to get home. How far she lived I had no idea.
Further up the street we passed three Puerto Ricans were using their car jack to jack up the car and then pushing it forward so that the mass of the auto could plow through the snow getting them and their car closer to home. As you know, in Chicago, a Puerto Rican’s car is his most valued possession. It’s a fact.
We finally arrived at our apartment building; soaking wet, dog tired and shivering from the cold. We had to fight our way through the snow, which was waist high, to get to the door at the side of the building.
What a relief it was to open the door to a blast of hot air from the hallway. I never appreciated that hallway as much as I did that night.
We were home – this was the Chicago Blizzard of 1967