In the wee hours of late Friday night and Saturday morning in early February 2013, New Haven was pummeled with 34″ of snow in a single evening. The city screeched a halt. Cars were abandoned in the middle of the road. Plows were stuck, incapable of clearing streets. Most establishments remained closed for days. (Except for Gourmet Heaven, because, well, I’m not convinced those dudes go home. They gotta live there, right?)
The next morning, the city, crippled by snow, roads impassable, transformed from a place isolated by neighborhoods into something more connected.
That famous New England stare, where it looks like every random passerby is about to punch you in the throat for making direct eye contact? Vanished in the snow.
What was left was something remarkable: a shared experience, an easy smile, a helping hand. I can’t say how many times I saw people helping their fellow neighbors. Whether it was helping someone push a car or shovel a sidewalk or just a friendly smile, it was truly something to feel like part of a transformed city. Something familiar and yet totally different than I’d known before.
Without the car traffic, the city turned into a pedestrian’s dream. Parents pulled their children along in sleds on the roads. People pushed into each into giant snow drifts. With the entire city shut down, we were all suddenly children again, reveling in all the snow days we’ve missed in our adult lives.
The experienced was entirely shared. It didn’t matter if you had a car cause you couldn’t use it. It didn’t matter if you worked for Yale or a private company, cause you weren’t working anyway. It didn’t matter if you lived in East Rock or Downtown or Wooster Square or Newhalville. Kids littered the streets, having snowball fights and throwing footballs.
Everybody had their own troubles: a car under a mound of snow, impossibly suck. An impassable road. A lack of milk and bread (how could you forget?!). Running out of beer (okay, this is just unforgivable, people, come on!).
But there was something else: the knowledge that we were collectively experiencing something unique. Something once-in-a-lifetime. And we may never get another chance to experience it again. Something we’d bore our poor grandkids with stories about while they roll their eyes and go back to playing with holograms.
If you were crazy enough to go to the bar in the midst of it (you know I was, stop pretending like you’re surprised I don’t resemble a grown-up), you saw your neighbors and friends in their snowstorm best (and finally, a chance to wear snow pants!). Everybody was a little more forgiving of a busy bartender and a little more willing to buy somebody drinks (thanks, dude who bought me an Irish carbomb at O’Toole’s and I have no idea who you are, I owe you one).
Eventually, patience wore thin. By Monday, the city was still in shambles as rain poured down on top of the snow, causing flooding on roads across the city. Buses got stuck. People still couldn’t drive on their roads, nevermind their driveways. Even renters like myself were stuck shoveling their driveways to eventually get back to work (I mean, really, if I wanted to shovel my driveway like some kind of peasant, I’d buy a house. Ugh.)
But for that brief moment, in the midst of the blizzard and the immediate aftermath, I saw New Haven in another light. I didn’t see a group of disconnected neighborhoods, of divergent Yalies and Townies, of people with too little money and people with too much (and those damnable elbow pads).
I saw a city united by an entirely unique experience. A beautiful, vibrant city full of people from all walks of life who had just shared something. Something that would remain in our collective unconscious long after the stories had been told and the driveways had been dug out and everybody’s cars were restored to working order.
Except my neighbor, who attempted to put salt on the 8 foot high drifts around his car rather than dig it out. WTF, bro?