Growing up in the Atlanta area, snow storms like the one we just had were pretty rare. I can only remember a couple that were anything like it, where snow was on the ground for multiple days. Usually we got a day to play at best, then it was back to just being wet and cold, or wet and warm, depending on the day of the week. But one snowstorm sticks out in my mind more than any other, and it’s what I immediately think of when I think about getting a “snow day” from school or anything like that, and it’s the snow we got when I was in 4th grade.
The snow lasted 3 or 4 days, and while I’m sure my parents had to deal with the real-world implications like so many Atlantans did just a week and a half ago, for my brothers and me and the kids on my street, it was wonderful. We spent hours upon hours playing in the snow. And it was a typical Atlanta snow, meaning it was like 2 or 3 inches. We weren’t building snow forts or families of snowmen or anything, but it was such a rare treat for us that just being out in it was fun.
My yard was flat, and we lived next to a pasture that was equally flat, but the two kids across the street from us both had big hills as driveways, so we spent hours sledding down their driveways, skidding across the street, then dismounting in the ditch at the front of my yard. But the problem we faced was that none of us had sleds. I think one kid had a sled, and we all had to share it. We got snow once every three or four years, so our parents weren’t exactly racing to the store to buy us sleds. So we just used whatever would work: a trashcan lid, one of those cheap styrofoam surf boards you buy at the supermarket when your family goes to the beach, a piece of flimsy wood panelling.
Eventually going down their driveways started getting old, so we turned our sites on our street itself. We were all usually strictly forbidden from playing in the street. It was basically a long hill with a sharp curve at the top and a busy intersection at the bottom. If you’ve ever gotten off of 85 south by the airport and driven down highway 314 through Riverdale to Fayetteville, you’ve driven past it. Anyway, with the snow slowing down traffic on both ends of the street and most of our parents at work anyway, we started going down the street.
But then, again, we were all getting frustrated with the lack of sleds. There were like 8 or 9 kids total, ranging from ages 7 to 14, which meant there was a lot of standing around in between sled runs. But then one of the older kids, a guy who we called Fishbait well into adulthood (though it was eventually shortened to just Bait, which is somehow worse I think), had a brilliant idea. His stepdad had an old car, a 1962 Plymouth Valiant. It didn’t run, and it wasn’t taken care of or anything. It sat out by the fence in their back yard collecting rust and flat tires. Bait and my older brothers left the rest of us to our sledding for a half hour or so, and when they returned, they were pulling the hood of this car by a rope attached to one corner.
Six of us could fit on it at one time. We’d pile on while one person stood to the side holding the rope to keep the thing from sliding off before launch, then that person would hand off the rope, give a little shove, and off we’d go, down our street toward West Fayetteville Road. About 3/4ths of the way down the road, someone would yell “stop!” and everyone would stick an arm or leg off of the car-hood-sled onto the icy street to slow us down. Hopefully it would slow down enough for easy exit, or, worst case scenario, we’d all roll off and the person holding the rope would be responsible for keeping the hood from crossing onto the busy street. This was the most fun thing I’d ever done in my life.
After a while we went in for lunch and to warm our feet a bit. It was around 11:30 or so, and we sat in front of the tv eating sandwiches and soup. My parents were both were gone. We were kind of excited because there was a space shuttle launch on tv, and we’d come inside just in time to see it. Of course you know what happened next: the Challenger exploded on our tv screen in real time.
Almost immediately our phone rang. I answered and it was my grandfather, who was a very emotional man. He asked if we were watching tv and if we’d seen what just happened. He was crying.
I was 9 years old and had never witnessed any sort of public tragedy, but I knew this was a really horrible thing. The crowd reactions seared into my brain, along with my grandfather’s voice. It wouldn’t take too long before the 9-year-old boy in me took back over and I would be cracking “Need Another Seven Astronauts” jokes on the playground with my friends, but for a few minutes in between sledding down the street on a car hood, I saw and felt an immense amount of sadness. Not the sobbing, temper-tantrum sadness of a 9-year-old, but the numb, hole in your heart sadness of someone who’s just witnessed or experienced something that they can’t comprehend.
Our attention spans appropriately short, we soon headed back out into the snow to meet back up with our friends, saying things like “did you see that?” before the explosion faded from our immediate concerns as we refocused on the snow.
Last week, the snow had my kids in a perpetual state of excitement. We went out in it a little each day, getting them as bundled up as we could and just enjoying watching them play in snow for really the first time in their lives. They didn’t know or care about traffic problems, people stuck in cars, city or state politics, or space shuttle explosions. They only cared about the moment of being in the snow, experiencing pure bliss even as their pants soaked through with water and their toes went numb from cold. Of course, we didn’t have any sleds. I got out the boogie boards that had been collecting dust in the garage since our beach vacation last summer, but they didn’t work that well for sledding. As I pulled them around the yard and listened to their whoops and hollers, I found myself wishing we had a trashcan lid, an old flimsy piece of wood panelling, or maybe even the hood of a 1962 Plymouth Valiant the whole family could pile onto and experience, for a few moments, the uninterrupted joy of childhood.
When I was in college, I worked in a faux-fancy restaurant in an Atlanta suburb. The owner was a coked out French guy, and the kitchen was staffed with Mexicans, Jamaicans, Dominicans, and various other ethnicities who were all either totally silent or completely ridiculous and boisterous. One of the latter was named Markus, a Colombian guy who called me “Bruiser” for no apparent reason.
Once, in the dead of August, the power went out. Since the lights were low in the restaurant anyway, and there were candles on every table, the owner refused to close the restaurant. The kitchen was full of gas burners, and with no A/C and no working fans, the temperature quickly climbed well above 100 degrees. Sweat was pouring off everyone. The waiters and waitresses, whenever they could steal a few moments away from their tables, were rolling up their sleeves and helping to hand wash all the dishes. It was madness.
At one point, Markus finally reached his breaking point. He threw down his towel, looked me in the eyes and exclaimed, “I can’t stand this heat! I’m getting out of the kitchen!” and stormed out the back door. I never knew if he just made a fucking hilarious joke or if he’d just haphazardly stumbled upon one of the most common cliches in the English language. I laughed pretty hard, though.
Hey folks, I need a story of some kind of self discovery for my podcast. It can be drug induced, coming-of-age, finding out some sort of secret truth, whatever. Roughly 10 minutes, recorded however you can. Email me at corybyrom at gmail if you’re interested.
I also need a short, 2 or 3 minute unsatisfying story. Something that seems like it’s going to build to something awesome, but fizzles.