Derek Gentile: My most memorable snowstorm



I tend not to get too excited about storms. The romance of sitting by the fire as the weather howls outside is a luxury I don't often have. In addition to commuting to work in lousy conditions, a storm also often means that I have to take a walk or drive outside to get a sense of exactly how bad the weather is for a story. Not fun.

I was in college during the famed Blizzard of ‘78, but that was not the most memorable snowstorm in my experience. Not counting the 1995 Memorial Day tornado, the worst weather I experienced was a snowstorm sometime in 1983. It wasn't memorable overall. It didn't have a nickname or anything.

But it was on a Friday night. And I was hitchhiking from Boston to Adams, which I did all the time.

In those days, I didn't think too much about checking the newspaper or listening to the radio for the weather. It was a Friday night, and I knew my pals in Adams would be having several cool beverages of their choice at one of several drinking establishments I enjoyed frequenting.

So, I walked a few blocks from my apartment on Massachusetts Avenue to one of the entrance ramps of the Massachusetts Turnpike. Stuck out my thumb. Waited.

The snowflakes started to fall about 10 minutes into my thumbing experience. Not a lot at first, but it began to pick up pretty quickly.

"I wonder," I thought idly, "if it's going to get bad tonight?"

It got fairly bad fairly early. The cold wasn't terrible, as I was bundled up pretty well. When you are standing on an open road, in the winter, with cars and trucks flying by you at 60 to 70 mph, you realize pretty quickly that it can get cold out there.

But the visibility was not particularly good. Cars seemed to come out of the dark right in front of me. And I knew, if I couldn't see them, they couldn't see me, either.

I considered bagging the whole thing and going home about 45 minutes into my adventure. Then a car pulled up. I brushed the snow off as best I could and hopped in.

"Where you headed?" the guy at the wheel asked. He was a 30-something fellow who seemed pretty cheery.

"Lee," I said. Obviously, if I was hitchhiking on the Pike, Lee was the closest exit to Adams. The Lee-Adams hitch was relatively quick. I often met guys from North Berkshire coming off the Pike who knew me or my family.

"Well, you're in luck," the guy said. "I'm driving to Albany."

That felt like a break. It wasn't.

The guy was in Boston for a court date. He had been pulled over for speeding and driving without a license in Boston. His court date had been that day. He paid his fine, he told me, and retired to a bistro to have a few drinks before he drove home. A little whisper of nervousness rustled through me.

As it turned out, I had a lot to be afraid of. The guy was pretty potted. The snow was blasting down, and he was driving like it was July. Which is to say, very fast. I put on my seat belt. Several times, we skidded. He would yell, "Whoooo!" and slow down a hair. For about a minute.

I tried to distract him by talking. Bad idea. He would turn his head to answer my questions. So I stopped. Worse idea. He began to nod off.

At one point, he swerved into the next lane. "Whew," he said. "Almost hit that pole."

There was, of course, no pole. He had been asleep and was dreaming.

It was a long, long drive to Lee. I tried to keep from crying. I succeeded, just barely. And I got home OK. A guy from Adams picked me up in Lee and dropped me off at my door. But I don't remember going out that night. Took me all weekend to recover.


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