Snowbound Down on Memory Lane

Between the Buttons, April 13, 1978

            Elsewhere on this page, you will note an item, in the five years ago column, on the big snowstorm of 1973. While most readers probably have memories of that freak April blizzard, the event stands out vividly in my memory  — I spent about 12 hours of that storm driving cab in Madison.

            I started driving at about 4 p.m. on that dreary, drizzly Sunday. Business was good; the weather had added to the normal run of fares from the bus depot to the campus. By early evening, I was doing well enough to be talked into an all-night shift (a decision I would later to regret).

            When the rain turned to snow that evening, the business continued to improve, not dropping off as it usually did after the buses stopped arriving. As the snow piled up, I kept moving; there were more than enough calls for the cabs on the road.

            Driving cab during heavy snowstorms had its advantages; passengers were willing to put up with most anything: — sharing the cab with other fares, long waits, detours  — as long as they arrived at their destinations without having to drive. They tended to tip freely, and to treat you like a knight in shining armor.

            That was the way it was the night of April 8-9, 1973; good money, no boredom and the kind of camaraderie you find only during emergencies. The fun came to a screeching halt for me between 6 and 7 a.m., as fatigue and blowing snow caused me to lose track of a west-side driveway.

            One wheel got off the pavement and dug its way into the ground, soft from rain and the recent thaw. Despite the fact that my fare took the wheel while I pushed, the cab was not going anywhere.

            Not so my passenger; she couldn’t wait for the company truck to rescue us, and took off hitchhiking. Driving back in after being liberated from the snow and muck, I didn’t see her; either she turned into a quick-frozen, snow-drifted statue, or found someone brave, foolish and kind enough to stop.

            Although ready to quit, I was talked into taking three fares up to the Square. After loading two, my cab slid off into the curb on an extremely-crowned back street. Once again the Big Yellow Truck was called, and I picked up the last one while being towed.

            Empty on the Square, I was coerced into taking “one more short one” to the campus, but the conditions turned it into one more long one. Finally, after about 16 hours on the road, I was allowed to “check it in.”

            I dug my car out of the parking lot, and undertook the two-mile drive to my east-side apartment. My bald-tired, tail-heavy Corvair swapped ends once en route, and I had to dig my way into the lot at home. Cold, wet and exhausted, I collapsed on the hide-a-bed, not even bothering to fold it out.

            Twelve hours later I awoke, having missed my usual starting time and a busy night. After a late-night breakfast and before going back to sleep, I balanced the books for that long night of driving; considering the number of hours worked, what I spent on meals, the day’s work that I missed and the cold that I felt coming on, it was a loser  — I’d have been better off staying home. Yes, I recall the Big Snow of April 1973 — but not very fondly.