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Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Years Eve and snowy memories....

It is New Years Eve, a "holiday" we have traditionally avoided celebrating. Generally we stay home, and I (for one) am typically asleep by midnight (as I will probably be tonight).

Looking outside, I see that we have a sprinkling of snow here in the Northshore area, and that brought back memories of a previous New Years Eve that (I believe) marked the last time we had actually planned to go out celebrating.

It was December 31, 1978 in Chicago, and Randi recalls we did make an effort to get to our friend's home for a get together. But earlier that day the snow had started to fall, and according to the Googled records I see, that evening 13 inches of snow fell at Midway Airport (the official weather station), and probably more fell where we lived (we recall that it was 16 inches -- typically more snow falls in the areas next to Lake Michigan -- the infamous "Lake effect snows"). That was only the beginning, however, for we then entered a period of deep freeze -- temperatures were well below zero (that's fahrenheit folks, not celsius) for nearly two weeks. As a result nothing melted -- and essentially the entire city of Chicago was frozen to a stand still....

As if things were not bad enough, this was followed by the week from hell: according to the records, between January 11 and January 17, snow fell each and every day in varying amounts (again, at Midway; we got it much worse) from .3 inches to 16.5 inches -- for an official total of 25.6 inches. Adding that to the 13 or so already on the ground, and you have probably the worse winter in recent Chicago history. The snow was so deep by our house that we could not find our car -- parked right out front -- for the entire month of January. (Digging it out is another story, but suffice it to say that the car's roof carried the markings of the neighborhood pets for years -- and who could blame them; they had no option but to "do their thing" in/on what they thought was the street...)

Randi points out that we have had much greater accumulations from single snowfalls here in Massachsetts over the past two years -- as her blogs of January 2005 will show. That said, I don't think anything we've suffered through since matched the feeling of isolation and frustration we felt that winter in Chicago. Our kids were younger (both under 10) and the winds and subzero temperatures of Chicago made it almost impossible to bear.

One of the memorable consequences of that storm was that the voters of Chicago turned out the infamous "Daley machine" (led by "old man" Richard until his death a year or two before) and selected Jane Byrne as the Democratic Party nominee for mayor when the primary was held in early February. (Chicago, for some reason, held -- and I believe still holds -- its primary in early February, and getting the Democratic nomination was tantamount to election as mayor). There is no doubt that the anger in the neighborhoods over the inept handling of the snow removal during January was the cause of that defeat, and it essentially transformed Chicago (and some would say national) politics for the next decade.

On a personal level, that storm (and the expensive housing market at the time) also gave us the incentive we needed to search elsewhere for a position -- and we ended up moving back to Kansas in the summer of 1980. To this day Randi jokes about thte tee-shirt she was going to have made in honor of that winter: "Chicago -- A Hell of a Place to Get Tenure!"

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