My birthday is October 25th. I tell you this so you will remember it for next year (this goes for you, too, Sumner). My cousin Cathy, who lives in Darien, Connecticut arranges a birthday dinner for me and two other Scorpio friends every year at this time. This year, the dinner was scheduled for Saturday, October 29th, the same day as the predicted Nor’easter. Snow began falling earlier than expected and there were already several inches accumulation when I was ready to leave the house. I bundled up in my down coat, leather gloves and striped scarf from Brittany. My boyfriend, Larry, wished me a warm farewell. I think his exact words were, “You’re out of your mind.”
My car fishtailed as I turned from my street onto the main road and I remembered I hadn’t put my snow tires on yet. After five minutes of driving, I knew it was going to be a long trip. Branches were leaning into the road and I was driving through slush. I considered turning back but didn’t. I had been looking forward to this event for weeks – Cathy’s son had just returned from cooking school in Parma, Italy, and was making dinner. I had purchased an expensive bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo especially for the occasion. Besides, my internal radar was not in red alert mode. Remind me to get that thing checked.
Under normal conditions, it takes less than three hours to get to my cousin’s house. After an hour and a half of driving, I was only halfway. Trees were down, cars were off the road and I found myself slipping all too frequently. Besides that, there was an occasional scraping noise coming from under my vehicle. When I found myself aquaplaning, with the car in 2nd gear, going 30 miles an hour, I realized I had a problem. I turned into the Wingdale train station. For those of you who don’t know the area, this train station is located directly across the street from the scariest group of buildings you’ve ever seen. Apparently, it used to be a mental institution but now is largely abandoned, with broken windows and overgrown weeds. There is a correctional facility, still in operation, in the back.
Looking under my car, I saw a piece of metal hanging from the undercarriage. It had been collecting snow like a shovel and the resulting ball was weighing the piece of metal down to the ground. That was the scraping sound I’d been hearing. I called AAA and was put immediately on hold, which gave me ample time to panic. I was in the middle of nowhere, across the street from a prison, in a blinding snowstorm, in a town that had no motel. I was midway between where I had come from and where I was going. I was stranded!! Whatever was I going to do?? It took me a good five minutes to figure out that the train station I was parked in was actually a place through which trains passed and that trains were, in fact, a means of transportation. A State Trooper happened along and said, “I hear a train coming! Back your car into that spot and get on it!”
Reminding myself that needs always come before wants, I grabbed the bottle of wine before picking up my backpack, pocketbook and water. I tore up the slippery ramp and shouted to a man stepping off the train, “Hold those doors!” He graciously obliged and I catapulted myself through the doors. In retrospect, it was a lot like someone risking life and limb to land on the deck of the Titanic.
It took an hour and a half for the train to go three, short stops and, by the time we got to Southeast, where we would change trains for White Plains and Manhattan, the train had picked up so many tree limbs and detritus that it had to be sent to the yard. I was thrilled to see our connecting train waiting at the platform but once on the new train, I learned there was currently no service. One guy told me he’d been on that train since noon. It was now 5:30.
To avoid making this post as long as that night, I will cut to the chase. Two hours later, I was still on that paralyzed train. However, we had electricity, heat and bathrooms. I had made friends with an English riding instructor and a family therapist who actually lives in my town. I looked up to see a French friend I hadn’t seen in a year and a half. Things were definitely looking up.
At around 10 o’clock, they announced that there would be no train service until morning. Everyone pulled out their cell phones. We called the MTA (“Do something!”) We called car services (no service because the roads were impassable.) The therapist even called CNN. Nothing helped. Clearly, the only thing left to do was open the wine.
All I had was a tiny Laguiole corkscrew on my keyring, but my French friend went to work. He only got the cork part way out and it was all torn up, so he cut the top of the cork off and pushed the rest of it back into the bottle with a key. We passed the bottle back and forth between us like two sailors on leave. Even the therapist had a swig.
My French friend produced a container of homemade apple butter, which I usually hate. We scooped it up, using our thumbs as spoons and it was actually delicious. Then I heard him say, “I also have some wheat cookies.”
It seemed to me an odd time to concern himself with gluten-free diets, but I didn’t argue. I simply said, “Wheat?”
“No, no,” he said, “Weed!”
I’m not a smoker but dammit, I was hungry. Besides, they were peanut butter.
By midnight, the snow was slowing down and the roads had been somewhat cleared.
We managed to get a group together and find a car service to drive us to White Plains. When the car showed up, the other woman in our group hugged the driver out of gratitude. I was grateful, myself, at least until he floored the rear-wheel-drive vehicle, fishtailed up the road and yelled, “Yeehaw!” Given the circumstances, I thought it best to say nothing.
An hour later, we reached our destination. In addition to the driver, there were four people in that car: two men, strangers to each other, but both of whom were history teachers and a woman born on the same day as me, also on her way to a birthday celebration. You can’t make this stuff up.