It was the longest night of my life. Maybe the dumbest and funniest too, if you think allowing yourself to get stuck in a blizzard is hilarious. But what I remember most about my wintry, walking nightmare is that when I eventually found my way to bed the next morning, I told myself something I would never tell myself today.
Now I want to take back what I said.
I was 25 — the quarter pole, I called it, cocksure that I was racing to all kinds of riches and rewards. The forecast that Friday afternoon in midtown Manhattan was so grim the boss told us to head home at 4 p.m. My cohort Keith and I shared an elevator, where we decided there was one thing we needed to do before he headed to the Long Island Railroad and I jumped on the subway to Brooklyn. We needed to stop for a beer.
“Just one,” we agreed.
Famous last words.
We went to the closest Irish pub, one of several in the neighborhood where the bartenders knew our names all too well. The first Guinness, of course, is only enough to clear your throat, so we ordered another and let the bartender buy us a third. The snow was falling like confetti, glinting in the streetlights. It was so picturesque we toasted nature with another beer.
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There was much revelry until about 11 p.m., when Keith and I bundled up, shook hands and stepped into the night. The snow was up to our shins and the wind was whistling like an irate traffic cop as we went our separate ways.
I was wearing a brand new pair of black suede shoes. By the time I trudged to the subway stop two blocks away on Sixth Avenue, they were oozing water and coated with a thin frosting of ice. But that didn’t bother me as much as the announcement I heard while squishing down the stairs to the station: "All service on the F train has been suspended." This wasn’t the first time the F train had lived up to its name.
Back on the street, I prayed for a taxi — and one pulled up almost instantly! The driver rolled down his window and asked where I was going, then sped off before the word “Brooklyn” was out of my mouth. When a second cab appeared, I was smart enough to get inside before announcing my destination.
“I’ll take you to Brooklyn,” the driver said, turning around to greet me with a smile. “For a hundred bucks.”
Cash-strapped and defeated, I ducked inside another nearby bar to defrost my toes, reorganize and rehydrate. The snow was thigh-deep and the wind was relentless when I eventually resorted to Plan C and made my way to the A train, knowing I could transfer in Brooklyn to the godforsaken F. (How appropriate: cold alphabet soup.)
Genius! The A train was running. Too bad I fell asleep and woke up shivering — the subway car doors were open. Seems we were parked at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, near a different kind of quarter pole and the end of the line, a mere two dozen stops past my transfer point. (I take some comfort now in knowing that Keith enjoyed a similar fate: His snowbound train was stranded between stations overnight somewhere on eastern Long Island.)
I looked around at the handful of passengers who were also riding out the blizzard. I was the only one whose life belongings were not jammed into a cluster of shopping bags. They shook their heads at the plight of the newbie in soggy shoes, shuffling toward the deserted, weather-exposed platform.
The sun was just coming up, illuminating enormous drifts of glistening snow, when I got on a train that was rolling in the right direction. Somehow I stayed awake until, two hours later, I was back in Brooklyn. Every street was tucked under a virgin blanket of snow untouched by shovel or plow. I slip-slided home the final few blocks, craving the moment when I could peel off my ruined clogs and crawl under the covers.
That’s when I spotted my sweet, old landlady on our sidewalk. She was attempting to push a snow shovel that was bigger than she was. I let out a tiny groan, a more mature response than bursting into tears. Clearing a path to the door seemed like an appropriate penance, if not a hangover remedy.
I soon dived into my delicious bed, scolding myself for a wasted night, a foolish fiasco. But then I had what I thought was a moment of clarity. “Hey, you’re only 25,” I told myself. “You’ve got plenty of time.” I went to sleep with a smile.
More years have passed than my age on that fateful day. I realize now my sentiment was sweet, but misplaced. There’s no such thing as plenty of time.
The last couple of decades have swept by faster than my longest night. I’ve taken the clock for granted for too many years. Not anymore.
For Christmas, all I want is more time. As much as I can get. For New Year’s, I resolve to make the most of it — and to go straight home whenever it snows.