Gustavson Column: You called that a blizzard, young’uns?

02/01/2015 7:00 AM |
A car is buried in snow in Orient Tuesday. (Credit: Troy Gustavson)

A car is buried in snow in Orient Tuesday. (Credit: Troy Gustavson)

You kids today have no idea how easy you have it. That, in a nugget, is the first thought that comes to mind as I contemplate “The Blizzard of 2015.”

You call this a “blizzard?” I’ll tell you about a blizzard: “The Blizzard of ’78.” No, not 1878 — 1978! When men were men and blizzards were, uh, blizzards. 

So, okay, it’s still snowing on the North Fork as I write this Tuesday morning. I suppose ’15 could eventually match or supersede ’78, but New York City already has canceled its snow emergency and they’re now saying Boston and points north and east will get the worst of it.

In the winter of 1977-78, the former Joan Giger Walker and I had just settled in as the new owners of The Suffolk Times and The News-Review, and we were living in a seasonal rental at Orient Point. So far, so good.

We had a vague sense that A Big Storm was coming, but you must remember that weather forecasting 37 years ago was nowhere as sophisticated as it is today. We had no weather apps like my newest fave, “Weather Bug,” which can tell me, among many other things, the precise location of the closest lightning strike. (As this is written: 422 miles away, somewhere off the coast of North Carolina.) So all we really knew was that it was going to snow and blow big time on a Monday, just as the newspapers were preparing to go to press for one of the first times under our ownership.

I remember thinking very distinctly: “I am not going to be the first publisher to fail to get these newspapers to press as scheduled due to a weather event.”

And then it began to snow. And snow. And snow.

When we awoke that Monday morning, there was already enough snow in the driveway that we later were able to dig, without having to pile up any snow, a functional igloo for our young daughters. But work, not play, was utmost in our minds, and our biggest challenge was getting to work, eight miles away, at The Suffolk Times office on Main Street in Greenport.

(Aside: This was long before the days when a reporter could work out of home, write a story on a laptop computer and file it as an e-mail attachment to the office. Similarly, when the paper was ready to go to press, the actual camera-ready pages had to be driven, sometimes through sleet and snow, to the printing plant. Today, those pages are transmitted electronically in an instant.)

So my first challenge was simply getting to the office. But Route 25 between Orient Point and Orient Village had not been fully plowed, causing me to take a “shortcut” into the village via Narrow River Road and King Street. But wait! The plowed road was only one vehicle wide, and wasn’t that a very big snowplow coming in the opposite direction? Yes, it was, and the driver, our eventual neighbor, Bob Douglass Sr., wasn’t buying my explanation that I was the new owner of the local paper and must get to work. So, after a brief discussion, he made me back up my car about half a mile, all the way to Orchard Street, with the big blade of the plow looming over my windshield. Welcome to the neighborhood, neighbor! (Update: I now realize he was only doing his job, and had no idea who this guy driving a car with Virginia plates really was.)

Memory fades somewhat after that vivid encounter on King Street, but I eventually got to the office, and I remember intrepid colleagues filtering in over the next 48 hours, and we eventually got the papers to press on time on Wednesday despite what many termed “The Storm of the Century.”

But now that I come to think of it, the kids today have an additional challenge: covering the Blizzard of 2015 as it happens in real time on the Web. Back in ’78, we could take our time gathering and disseminating the news. Today, as the storm still rages outside, you can read (and see!) about it as it happens on the Times/Review websites.

So maybe, just maybe, I realize, the kids today don’t have it so easy. But then I remember Bob Douglass and the blade of that looming snowplow.

Those were the days.

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