Wednesday, February 10, 2010


In the DC area in the wintertime, very occasionally two jet streams will converge, cold dry air will pour down from the Great Lakes and Canada while moist air will come up from the Gulf of Mexico. The two will spin together in a vortex, pulling down even more cold air from the north and moisture off the North Atlantic, sitting tight overhead for 24 hours or more and dump and dump and dump.

When I was younger, the storms from this convergence would always catch the weather forecasters by complete surprise, though they have begun to watch for it in more recent times. Some years we go without any snow all winter, other years we get
3 or 6 inches here and there. But when this happens, comes the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

About fifteen years ago I remember catching the train to work even though they were calling for a couple of inches and it had already started to come down. Once there, I went through my morning rituals, and talked with friends about office mates living nearby too chicken to make it in. I also stopped by the credit union to withdraw a large amount of cash. If I remember right, I needed it to close the deal on a second-hand tool purchase.

But the snow kept coming down, harder and harder, and the wind began to blow. The forecasters changed their story from a few inches to several inches to a major storm. One by one my co-workers abandoned their posts. .Finally our whole office was dismissed, as were most others. The streets quickly became impassable.

The train of course only runs at rush hour. I knew that the first train back, after 3, would be packed. So although the office was getting very, very quiet, I did not venture out until time for the next train.

But by this time in the late afternoon, the wind was howling, blowing snow, the temperature had dropped, snow had piled up in drifts, the streets had become deserted, even the plows had quit. I had boots. I had gloves. I had long underwear. I had a hat on under my hood. But it was cold.

I got to the station about 10 minutes before the train was due – I did not want to miss it. The station was locked and there was not a single other person around. I waited in a corner, trying to protect myself as much as possible from the biting wind. I stomped and shuffled my feet, closed my eyes, breathed lightly, and tried to remember as much as I could about Jack London.

When the time came for the train to come … it did not come. It did not come and it did not come and it did not come.

And I was just a little bit scared. I started to consider my alternatives. I knew no one was left at the office to let me in. I did not know anyone who lived nearby. There was one hotel I knew of but it was over a mile away and tromping through knee-deep snow and fighting that wind did not make that option appealing. There was one more train due in another 50 minutes.

I could burn the money in my wallet.

I prayed that the train, which had always been there for me, for years and years and years, even if sometimes a couple of hours late, would still come.