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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow ... as long as I don't work that day

When I was 11 years old, I, like most people who grew up at the Jersey Shore, suffered through the worst blizzard in our lives when 26 inches of snow fell for over two days, canceling school for eight days and leaving neighborhoods in white-flaked messes until the middle of the next week.

Ask any of my friends or people who grew up there and they can tell you exactly what they were doing or how crazy their lives were that early-to-mid February 1978.

At 11 years old, all you care about is going outside and enjoying the snow. Your responsibilities don't involve having to go to work and earn a living.

Nearly 18 years later when I wasn't 11 years old anymore and having to make a living, a blizzard wasn't so enjoyable anymore.

At the Observer the night of Saturday, January 6, 1996, we moved at our usual normal pace to get the newspaper out on time. We knew there was a really bad storm coming, but we had no clue of how bad it was going to be.

I went to bed around 2 that morning and wound up waking up at 6:15. My father normally got the area newspapers -- the New York Times, the Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer -- in the morning at the local newspaper store in Silverton. George normally opened his store at 6 on a Sunday and would have the papers on hold for my dad -- or sometimes myself -- to pick up.

When I looked out the window on this upper-20 degree morning, there was an eerie feeling. It was quiet. Too quiet. I decided at that point to get dressed, get into my car and go to the store to pick up the papers. When I stepped outside, it was unusually humid and moist. No precipitation yet, but instincts said I better get this task done.

As I arrived at the store, there looked like a bum-rush in and out of it. Since I knew George and his family for years, he saw me, got the papers, put them on the counter, I handed him three dollars and left. In and out.

As I headed back on Hooper Avenue home, the snow began to fall. And it was starting to get intense. By the time I got in, there was almost an inch on the ground. I went back to sleep, just like that.

Cut to just before 2 p.m. Sunday. My mom whispers, "Mark. Mark. Get up."

"Huh?" I said in a muffled, confused tone.

"Phone. It's Bobbi at the newspaper. She says it's important. ... And look outside."

Before I could say hello, I did. I couldn't even describe what I saw other than what a white cardboard box looked like if you pressed it up to your eyes and nose.

The entire neighborhood had been belted by what was now 20 inches and climbing in snow. Dejected because I knew what this might just be about, I grabbed the phone.


"Hello Bloomer ... it's Bobbi."

"Hey, what's going on?"

"Sorry to wake you, but I need you to come in immediately. We have a 6 o'clock deadline."

"Are you serious?! You must be kidding."

"No. Get in as soon as you can."

Even the biggest idiot on the planet knew there was no way in Hades that even if we got the paper out on time, Gov. Whitman was not going to allow our news carriers to be out on the road at that time.

Still, I trudged to the shower, got my bearings about me and left by 3, knowing we had to be out by 6. What normally would be a 10-minute trip from house to downtown took almost a half hour. Without acting as furious as I should be that I was there -- Sunday was my normal day to work anyway -- I found out our sports section was cut from four pages to two that day. And believe me, I wasn't complaining about that.

Got the early playoff game in the paper -- the Dallas Cowboys' whoopin' of the Philadelphia Eagles, but the second game, Indianapolis at Kansas City, was still going on when we got done early. Thankfully, the Ocean's Own athlete feature I had worked on for that day was ready to go for its normal Monday reading.

We got done just about 6 p.m., give or take a few minutes. Then Bob, our publisher, walked in to tell the newsroom just what I had suspected four hours earlier but he was too slow to understand -- there was no paper that night. The roads were too dangerous for the carriers to drive on and Gov. Whitman had called a state of emergency. But he was in charge of getting people out of the building and home safely instead of them trying to get home on their own, which I thought was a very nice gesture. I passed figuring it would be maybe a half hour to get home and it wouldn't be so bad.

My anger was kept under wraps. I don't know how I did a good job, but one of our newer paste-up people, he wasn't too happy. He literally berated our publisher for this decision he made, in which our publisher yelled back at him. I don't think he lasted long after that, but the message was sure sent.

I bit my tongue and for doing so, Bob would forever be grateful for anything I did to be a team player. He may not have been the most popular guy there, but I liked him quite a bit. He was there until 1998 when Gannett bought the paper out.

What was decided that night was whatever we did at that point would be the paper for Tuesday if Gov. Whitman had lifted the state of emergency by that Monday. She did, I returned to work to "improve" on the section I had put out the day before with the other playoff game, so in the end with an early Monday night deadline, all was fine in the world.

But I still had to get home Sunday night. I had parked on the first floor of the downtown parking garage. Trudging through the snow was challenge enough as it was still falling that evening. Got in, turned over my '82 Firenza and started out, but as I got to the exit, I had a snow drift in front of me. Trying to plow through, I got stuck. I managed to back the car up and walk back to the Observer, where there were two snow shovels.

There would be one by morning.

Taking that other shovel, I managed to shovel out the snow drift and anything else in the way. Ten minutes later, I was able to get out. But there had to be a good 6 inches of snow on the road. And God only knew how iced up it was underneath. If you've never driven on snow, don't let that pretty white stuff fool you. Underneath lies the danger.

I managed to get out on Water Street, then onto Route 166 heading to Washington Street, going very slowly and knowing our governor wanted all citizens of her state indoors. How fast could I possibly go to get home?

Onto Hooper Avenue heading north. All was still OK, though going 15 mph was not exactly my idea of fun. But as I got toward Route 37, I looked at the gas needle. It was practically on "E." As much as I didn't want to do it, I headed on Route 37 east to find an open gas station. Somebody had to be open at this hour.

Luckily, one station was open at that hour in this crazy weather -- the Shell station on the corner of Washington and 37, whose workers probably were as stunned as I was that someone was on the road on this treacherous night. They gladly put $10 in for me and I was back on my way on Route 37 toward Hooper again. I strictly took the main roads because I didn't know how bad the neighborhood back roads were.

Hooper was not in bad shape for the emergency vehicles ... and me, of course. Yeah, I belonged as much out here as they did. When I found my jughandle turnoff to Indian Hill Road, I took the turn slowly, knowing they probably didn't put a snow shovel on it. As I went to turn onto Indian Hill Road ... you got it ... I was stuck again. No matter how many times I backed the car up, it wasn't going through the drift. Out I went. Went to the trunk, pulled out the shovel and began digging away. And digging for about 10 minutes. After three different shovelling sessions, I was able to get the car through and slowly home.

It almost took 50 minutes from the time I left that parking garage to get home. Toms River, N.J. was a flippin' mess. I remember calling my girlfriend at the time to tell her I made it through the snow and her snapping back at me that "I could make it to work, but I could not come over to her place," which was further away in Toms River.

Geez, love. Thanks for your kindness and concern. Where are those razor blades? (PS: That relationship didn't make it out of 1996.)

The area took a good week to start melting out. The 26-inch blizzard did not end until Monday morning, January 8. Remnants of that snow lingered for weeks because after the snow had almost melted, we were greeted by temperatures in the teens and lower for most of the rest of that winter. And that was capped off on Easter Sunday in April, when we were hit by a freak 6-inch snowstorm.

And I realized that being a kid and watching the snow fall and being a responsible adult and making it to work and back in that snow were two totally different things. When you live in Florida like I do, you miss seasons. And yes, when it's winter, I miss snow.

But I don't miss snow that much. Trust me.

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