Scenes this week of multiple-car wrecks from snow and ice storms are a stark reminder the beauty of nature can obscure the destructive power it can be inflict on an unsuspecting, unprepared public. Here are my favorite movies with snow or ice (including ice rinks) playing a central role in the plot:
The Thing from Another World
The Day After Tomorrow
The Gold Rush
It’s a Wonderful Life
The Man Who Came to Dinner
The Far Country
Nanook of the North
Miracle on Ice
Escape from Sobibor
The Way Back
The Pink Panther
Into the White
Knight Without Armour
Battle of the Bulge
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
A Christmas Story
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into the Wild
A Simple Plan
And now, for some real life snow adventures:
Story #1: During the winter of 1973 I was a reporter for The New Haven Register. My beat covered the suburban towns of Seymour and Derby, Conn., two communities along the Naugatuck River, separated by the larger but still small city of Ansonia. Municipal boards met at night, after which I would drive about 15 minutes to the Register’s bureau office in Ansonia, type my story and transmit it before midnight by Scan-a-tron to copy editors in New Haven.
After a city council meeting in Derby ended around 10 one wintry, freezing-rain night, I headed my usual way to the office. It was a switchback route, each leg of the trip descending deeper to the bridge on Division Street, the link to Ansonia. But when I made a right turn down one sloped road I quickly noticed cars lined up not parallel to the street but rather perpendicular to it. In fact, three were wedged across the width of the entire street, each about 15 feet above the other.
Immediately after hitting the brake, my Buick Skylark started slip-slidin’ away on the ice. Seconds later it, too, was perpendicular to the road, coasting sideways downhill. Amazingly, the car came to rest snugly secure between two parked cars. Not a scratch or dent suffered by any of the cars. I was not out of danger, however.
Suspended midway down the street, I was the bulls-eye (did I mention the color of my car was red?) for the next vehicle that was bound for Ansonia. I didn’t have to wait too long. Once more I watched in amazement as that car as well skidded into a perfect fit between two parked cars some 15 feet above mine.
The police finally arrived, though they could do nothing to free our cars until the freezing rain stopped overnight. They did drive me home to Seymour.
A few years later, after I started working in Manhattan. Gilda and I decided to move to Westchester. We looked at apartments in Hastings, Tarrytown, Dobbs Ferry and Irvington, but the steep hills of those river towns reminded me of my night of terror. No way would I knowingly subject either of us to a similar escapade on icy, steep roads.
Story #2: The snow dump early Friday morning evoked memories of two 20-inch storms back in 1978 that remain with me as lessons in commuting that nobody should experience. They were the reasons I developed a well-deserved reputation at Chain Store Age for taking snow days at the drop of a snowflake.
In January of that year, after a 20-inch snowstorm, I trudged to the train station from our apartment in downtown White Plains in plenty time for the 8:18 am transport. The train arrived on time. I sat down for the usual 35-minute commute. Four hours later, the train pooped out in the tunnel beneath Park Avenue. Snow had fallen through the grates, blocking all trains from entering Grand Central Terminal.
We couldn’t move forward or back up. Metro-North decided our only exit was vertical. All on board had to carefully climb down onto the tracks and ascend one of the emergency staircases, taking us up to Park Avenue and 72nd Street. From there I walked 15 blocks to my office at 425 Park Avenue. When I got there I discovered the office was closed. After a few minutes to thaw out, I was back on the street, slogging my way down to Grand Central, 13 blocks to the south, all the way hoping there would be a train back to White Plains.
I was lucky. Double lucky. A train was set to depart momentarily, and I had secured a seat. Four hours later it pulled into White Plains. I had spent more than nine hours commuting in the snow. I vowed to be more circumspect in future snowstorms.
I had my chance two weeks later when another 20-inch storm struck. This time I sought assurance our office would be open. I called our VP administration who, by coincidence, commuted on my same train each day. He daily drove down to White Plains from Ridgefield, Conn. If anyone would be a no-show, Mike surely would lead the pack. But his wife cheerfully reported Mike had set off for work. I reasoned I had better show up, as well.
Once again, I trudged down to the station. The 8:18 am train again arrived on time. I sat down. Once again, the trip south took four hours. This time, though, it made it all the way into Grand Central. I engaged a pay telephone (this was pre-cell phone days), called the office and discovered it was, once again, closed!
Once again, I was double lucky. A train was set to depart momentarily, and I had secured a seat. Once again, four hours later it pulled into White Plains. Once again, I had spent more than a full work day commuting in the snow.
This time, I came to the realization that snow was God’s way of telling me to slow down, that even in pre-Internet times work could be done at home just as easily as in the office. I soon garnered my well-deserved reputation for taking a snow day for anything more than a dusting.