My Worst Snow Day Memory

With Chicago expected to get ten inches of snow by Friday night, stories of our favorite snow day memories have been making the rounds among our fellow ChicagoNow bloggers.  All the back-and-forth on Facebook led some one to ask if we could start sharing our worst snow day memories, and one immediately came to mind for me.

It happened when I was in high school, in the mid ’90s.  The bad weather hit in March, at which point the chances of a blizzard are lower than in January and February, but it can still get very cold and unpredictable.

It wasn’t an onslaught of the white stuff that led to a snow day. It was an ice storm, one that knocked out power all over the Chicago area.  School had already been cancelled in anticipation of the storm.

Our electricity went out pretty early in the day.  I was at home with my mom and brother, and Dad called periodically from work to check on us.  As the hours wore on and we were still without power, and therefore also without heat, he urged Mom to book a hotel room for us so we wouldn’t have to sleep in the frigid house.

Mom didn’t get around to it right away, probably thinking the power would be back on by nightfall.  Finally, she started calling all the hotels closest to us, which were the ones around Midway Airport.  (We were living in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood on the Southwest Side).  By late afternoon, there were no rooms available.  Some of the hotels were, like us, in the dark.  In other cases, everyone else had the same idea and beat us to it.  All the rooms were taken.

Dad came home from work early and was upset that we hadn’t made any arrangements for the night.  It was already 54 degrees in the house.  We had staked out various spots in and around the living room and burrowed under piles of blankets.  There was still some ice coming down, although it was much less intense than it had been earlier in the day.

We loaded up in two separate cars and drove all the way to Westchester to find a hotel that had lights on and rooms available.  We traveled separately because Dad wanted to have his own car to get to work early the next morning.  Much of the area between Chicago and Westchester was still without power, so we drove very slowly and carefully.  It was hard to tell all the vehicles on the road apart because they were so caked in ice, and at one point we thought we lost Dad altogether.  Darkness fell quickly, and since we had to travel down long stretches of road without streetlights, we could only follow the glow of our headlights.

As we navigated the treacherous roads, we saw a beacon, one lone place along the road that had lights.  It was a Boston Market.  I think it was the only restaurant we had seen along the way that was open for business.  We stopped there for dinner.

We finally made it to the hotel, where I promptly turned on the TV to get the latest report on whether schools would be closed the next day.  Happily, we had been granted a snow day, so that was the one good part that came from the ordeal.

Dad left early the next morning to check on the house and then go to work.  He said it was cold enough to see your breath in there.  Later that morning, our neighbor called us at the hotel to tell us the power was back on, and we packed up and returned home.

When we got there, the first thing we did was check on our pets.  The cat was curled up tightly in a makeshift bed I had made for him before we left for the hotel, but was otherwise OK.  My brother’s goldfish didn’t fare so well.  We found him floating lifelessly in his glass habitat.  (In case you’re curious, there was no evidence that the cat got to him, so he most likely succumbed to the elements; his bowl was exceptionally cold).

Since then, I’ve always dreaded ice storms.  I know people who have had far worse experiences than the one I just related.  A few years ago, my mom and brother were stranded at home during a snowstorm and were without power and heat for a couple of days.  Talk about cold.  I’m not a big fan of ice and snow if I have to commute in it, or I’m facing the prospect of losing electricity and heat.

Be careful if you have to be on the road anytime in the next day or two.  This snowy forecast reminds me of the blizzard that hit Chicago in 2011.  Snowstorms can be very cozy when you can be inside with hot chocolate and something tasty baking in the oven.  And provided the lights stay on.

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