Sunday, December 25, 2011

Dashing Through The Snow

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know

Irving Berlin
Hello Jon
December 25, 1957. I was in college in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. I had gone down to Stamford, Connecticut the day before to spend Christmas Eve with some friends. During the night a heavy snow storm, that beautiful, quiet menace to all travelers, had crept in like a thief upon all of New England.

After a quick breakfast my friend and I uncovered his car from a blanket of white and he drove me to the train station. Once there it was obvious, even if it had not been announced in a nasal passionless tone, that the train was late due to "inclement weather conditions." No kidding.

During the several hours that we waited more people came through the door who had somehow made it from wherever they were to the Stamford depot hoping to catch a ride to somewhere else. One could clearly see the frowns of concern on the faces of the new comers who, after they had kissed, hugged and shook hands with those they were leaving behind, entered the depot to join the crowd of people, refugees, who were waiting in frustration and worry for the train, any train, to arrive outside the station.

Finally, after too many fretful hours, a train came slowly rolling into the station. I picked up my suitcase and joined the mob at the door. Once on to the train and into one of the cars it was plain that there was no place to sit. All the seats were taken and it was SRO (standing room only).

In those days a train trip from Stamford to Boston took almost 4 hours on the New Haven Railroad. At the speed this train was going I knew it would be a lot more than 4 hours, and I wasn't going to stand for all that time, so I sat down on my suitcase in the aisle. There were so many people aboard the train the conductor never took any one's ticket. There was no way for him to maneuver through the cars.

I couldn't see out the window from where I was sitting, so it was just a matter of sitting and waiting, sitting and waiting. Now and then the train would stop, but the doors wouldn't open, which meant we weren't at a station yet. When we did reach a station there was more delay as those wanting to get off had to wedge their way through the crowd of those who were still traveling. Then the passengers who were getting on had to adjust themselves to standing somewhere. What made it more difficult was that some people got on with boxes of Christmas presents and no place to put them. The overhead racks were full. The few seats that emptied were soon grabbed by those who had been standing. It resembled musical chairs.

Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, Springfield, Worcester, Framingham. Slowly we crawled toward Boston. It wasn't until Framingham that a seat opened up near me and I could look out the window. All I could see was snow. No sunshine, no roads, no buildings, just snow. A Winter Wonderland, if you please.

When we finally got to Boston it was very late. I was worried about catching the transportation out to the suburbs. It didn't run all night. The entrance to the MTA at the Boston bus depot was blocked off, due to ice or some other "inclement" condition. So I left the building to seek another entrance. Boston was a complete blanket of snow. There was nothing to be seen anywhere and it was night time, very dark, very cold and still snowing.

I trudged through the snow for a block or two and then, and I will never forget this image, it's branded in my memory, sticking out of a snow bank was a small corner of an MTA sign, just enough for me to recognize what it was. I went to the snow bank and started kicking the snow away until I made a crawl space through the snow to the stairs behind it, and literally slid down the ice covered steps into the bright, open space of the subway station below.

Soon the subway took me out to the suburbs. But the trip wasn't over. I don't know how it is now but in those days Boston had trackless trolleys. They looked like buses with wheels but they took their power from an electrical grid overhead. There were two arms that came out the back of the vehicle and clasped on to the grid above. The problem with that system was that whenever the trolley went over a bump in the road, of which there were many, the arms would often bounce loose from their connection. Then the driver had to get out, pull down the arms and try to reattach them to the grid wires. He eventually would and the trolley would move on.

On this night there was snow on all the streets. They had been plowed, of course, but a lot of snow had fallen since the last plow went through and the driver couldn't see what the road conditions were. I don't remember how many times he had to get out and adjust those arms. He also had to stop frequently to let a passenger off the trolly, until I was the only one left.

The driver was approaching a steep hill. I moved to the front with my suitcase and sat. I asked the driver if he had to drive up that hill. He said he did so, even though my stop was in the middle of the hill, I told him to keep going until he reached level ground at the top and let me off there. He did that, we both wished each other a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and he drove on into the blizzard.

It was still snowing and I had a long, stiff walk trekking through ankle deep snow to my apartment, but at least i knew that i would probably make it there. Which I did.

December 26, 1957. The next day I wrote a letter to my friend saying how much I had enjoyed the Christmas party and that I had no trouble getting home.

Dana Bate - The Vagabond
Never Give Up
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pacifica62 said...

No trouble getting home.....did your friend believe that? Quite the story and I can see why you remember it. Don't know if you are going to have a white Christmas, but unless you go to bed, Santa will not be stopping by your house. Merry Christmas db.

Geo. said...

What a wonderful portrait from memory. I read it three times.1957. That was the Christmas I got a wind-up locomotive and oval track. Had no idea anybody actually had to ride a real train (thru snow! which only happened in the high Sierras). One turns 8 --the meteorological age of all Californians-- and begins one's model of the world. Thanks for completing this bit of it, and Merry Christmas!

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Merry Christmas My Friend!

Jon said...

No trouble getting home, huh??
I loved this account of your snow-bound trek home. Your words enabled me to visualize everything as it happened (and thanks to that, I now feel freezing cold!)
Happy holidays!

Arlene (AJ) said...

Loved reading your site today DB...Merry Christmas to you dear.