Four’easter (or Touring Baltimore in Heavy Snow)

First post of the year. I didn’t mean to wait this long to post something here, but I kept waiting and waiting and here we are. No particular reason. So, Happy New Year. Lots going on in my life, lots of changes, but I’m rolling with them. And then some. And I’m still here. Just as the fourth Nor’easter of the year hits.

Right after I woke up around 8 this morning, my aunt told me some County (for any out-of-towers reading this, in Baltimore parlance, “County” is a stand-in for any or all of the various counties that surround Baltimore City, so this isn’t surrounding any particular county being referred to) schools were closing or already closed. I had a feeling I knew what that meant — City schools would not only be open, but open to the bitter end of the school day. And no matter how bad things were at that time, kids in those schools would have to trudge home.

Got myself together and did some work and around 2:30, I found out I was right.

The responses to the tweet were hilarious, but the rest wasn’t. It was messy when I went out. The car’s windshield was covered in ice. The outside temperature thermometer was on 33 as I was warming it up. It was just a matter of time until all the rain and sleet that was slushing up in some spots, would freeze totally over. Hopefully that wouldn’t happen before the kids could get home, I thought. At the same time, folks were saying that even colleges and government buildings were dismissing. I wasn’t surprised that a couple of folks were on Twitter cussing out the City Schools Twitter account.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been a student in BCPSS, but our schools being open while private schools and schools in the surrounding jurisdictions were closing, I remember very well.

With the forecast of 6–8" of snow on top of the rain and sleet that had fallen, I remembered one time BCPSS closed during a snowstorm. This was 6th or 7th grade, I believe, circa 1989–1990. On regular days at Roland Park Elementary/Middle (the public one, to which I will refer as simply “Roland Park” hitherto), transit buses would line up along Roland Avenue to pick us up. Number 8 buses take kids down York Road and Greenmount. 44 buses going both east towards Cedonia and west, travelling along Northern Parkway towards Northwest Baltimore. 61 buses headed towards Downtown. This system rarely had any problems.

Except on this day.

All of us, students and teachers alike, knew what was going on and this wasn’t good. It was snowing, hard. I wondering why they hadn’t closed schools overnight or first thing in the morning before news broadcasts so they could get the word out. It had snowed a couple of inches at least by the time we’d gotten there in the morning. All the teachers had cars, but at the rate it began coming down, I was starting to wonder if they’d get stuck themselves. Were we trapped? It was impossible to keep focused on anything instructional. I kept trying to look out of windows. If I remember correctly, some students got tired of waiting for North Avenue to make what seemed an inevitable decision anyway, and walked out. They weren’t about to get stranded.

Finally, around noon, the longest morning ever didn’t get the chance to become the longest afternoon ever. The word had finally come. The school became dead silent when the PA opened up, so silent that I could hear the broadcast echoing from other rooms and inside the hallways. It seemed almost equally silent as we went to our lockers, picked up our books, our coats, whatever all we’d worn to brave the morning.

Out front, I joined my homeboy Lex, as usual. We waited. Waited. No 44 east buses came. An 8 would have been good, too, as it would have taken us along Northern Parkway eastbound, where we could have transferred to a regular 44 to take us down Belvedere Avenue, closer to our homes. I think an 8 came, but it was swamped and we didn’t get a chance to get it. I don’t remember seeing a 61, either, a southbound school one or even a regular one. At least we could have taken a 61 and gotten a northbound 3 at 33rd and St. Paul, assuming those were still running. But with no 61 coming, that idea was out.

By then outside the school, snow was piling up past our ankles. It was windy and it didn’t seem like any more buses would be coming, if for no other reason, than they might not have been able to make it up one of the hills on the way to the school.

“We should walk,” Lex told me.

Map of route from Roland Park to Alameda Shopping Center

Distance and time on a good day between school and home

I wanted to believe he was joking. He wasn’t. And with the snow not forecast to let up anytime in the near future, it wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, either, all things considered. But this was a long walk, one we’d never even dared to try on a good day, let alone one where several inches of snow had already fallen.

We set out.

By the time we got to Northern Parkway a few long minutes later, I’d lost my nerve.

“Let’s turn back, there might be buses there and we might miss them.”

But there were none.

We stood there at the corner a few moments to allow this fear to pass out of me. We started again.

Down the long, sloping block of Northern Parkway towards Charles Street. I was wishing I’d had a pair of skis, not that I had any clue how to cross country ski. Anything that would alleviate the pain in my feet, the burn slowly growing in my calves. Down the hill and back up at Springlake Way. Slipping on icy patches here and there. Making, in most places, the only holes in the snow. Nobody else had been courageous (or some other adjective) as we had been, to make this journey in the middle of a snowstorm.

It felt like several hours had passed when we finally got to York Road. Must have been the fatigue, but I had this crazy notion that a regular transit 44 bus was going to come and pick us up and take us the rest of the way to my house, at least. But if no 44 had come to the school, the likelihood of a 44 coming on its regular route was even less. A regular 44 would had to have climbed the hill between Falls Road and Roland Avenue, a feat that would probably have been difficult in just a couple inches of snow. But snow was probably halfway to our knees by this point. A 44 wasn’t coming to rescue us.

We pressed on. Fortunately, the route was flatter this part of the trip. We slogged our way by Belvedere Square and down Belvedere Avenue. All I could think of was taking those boots off, jumping in the shower, then jumping in bed. I was tired, hot, sweaty. The snow wasn’t letting up.

It felt like another couple of hours by the time we got to the Alameda and Belvedere, right near my house. I was ready to go in and plop down, but Lex still had some ways to go. He lived down past Northwood Elementary. Down the Loch Raven hill and then some. Almost to Morgan.

We kept on. We passed my house and headed up towards Loch Raven Blvd. I walked with him as far as Northwood school. Any further and it would have been longer for me doubling back towards home. And I wasn’t about to go to his house as I would have had to walk the whole way back. I didn’t know if my mother had driven to work as it was, and even if she had, she wasn’t going to be coming up Loch Raven if she didn’t have to. The hill on the Alameda at Argonne Drive would have been tough enough to navigate. Loch Raven might have been too much for even the most confident of drivers. Obviously, this was well before the proliferation of cell phones and social media was still twenty years off, so I had no way of knowing whether she was still at work, and if she wasn’t, getting a hold of her to tell her where I was.

So, I did the sensible thing and told Lex I’d hit the end of my line and told him call me when he got in. We’d probably get home around the same time.

When I got back home, I’d never been so happy to be out of the snow. I wasn’t about to do anything that even resembled play, I was so tired. I took off my bookbag and started to get ready to do all the things I’d been daydreaming about on the way that involved resting and relaxation.

We’d covered about 3 miles in over 2 hours. And not even on a good day, but a day with several inches of snow already on the ground with probably two or 3 more having fallen while were out in the storm. With our school stuff, books and all, strapped to our backs. My mother didn’t believe the story until Lex confirmed it. But with the snow being as it was, she also wasn’t surprised that few buses were able to make it to the school.

This wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last, time that BCPSS would remain open at what wouldn’t seem to us to be a sensible time. I believe the day they dismissed us into a tropical storm was after this, perhaps when we were in 8th grade. At least we were able to get a regular 44 that day, in the middle of torrential rains.

Thankfully, this is a different day. Today’s students have more ways to get in contact with their parents and line up a ride, even if they have to go to the school’s office. They can even turn location on their phones and share it, at the least, if they want somebody to know where they are, in case they’re going to the bus or Metro or Light Rail. Get an Uber if they can. Back then, Lex and I set out from Roland Park with our pubescent wits and not much else. Had one of us become injured along the way, the other would have had to find a pay phone and dial 9–1–1. I hope we both had some change on us that day in case we had to call my mother or my aunt or one of his parents, then pray somebody had some way to come get us.

I thought about today’s kids being possibly faced with a similar decision between waiting for a bus or a ride that may not be coming, and possibly having to walk. It hadn’t snowed that much this afternoon, but with so much rain and sleet and the temperature possibly being close to dropping, I had to imagine walking, even if walking some distance to get a bus, had to be a dicey proposition. It would have been dicey for me just walking to the car. I needed to take out my Yak Trax. I know BCPSS has missed some days this year, but back in the day, I was happier to sweat out a couple of extra days at the end of the year than possibly fall on the hill at City (which I did, several times) or perhaps have to make a similar journey from there or make the Roland Park journey again in the snow. I have a feeling quite a few of today’s students feel the same.

Originally published at christopher a. kess.