Winter for me is always a challenge, but I push my way through its slippery obstacles as best as I can. First, I use fold away spikes on my cane and hiking staff. Secondly, I get my taxi driver to drop me off either at a street corner, or a driveway when we get more than twenty centimeters of snow. This I do in order to avoid the large piles of snow that line our streets after the plows pass. But none of those tricks would have helped me during one particular winter, some 15 years ago.
It all began very slowly, with a little bit of freezing rain that a typical Montreal winter can bring. At first I thought nothing of it, and went to work as carefully as I could. Back then, I never used the fold-down spikes that I have now, but I still managed to get to work safely by bus and metro. The next day it was much worse, but I still went in to work, stubborn as I am, and dedicated to a work ethic my parents instilled in me long ago. Eventually however the infamous Ice Storm of 1998 stopped even this crazy dwarf, as it did most everyone else for one slippery, dark and crazy week.
Halfway through the day, I think it was a Tuesday, our company decided to send everyone home, as most companies were doing in the downtown core. At the time, I worked on the corner of Metcalf and De Maisonneuve, but the subways were shut down due to power outages. So, I decided to walk up to Sherbrooke Street, and catch the number 24 bus heading west. On a good day, that was not a long walk for me, but on this day it would turn out to be a very treacherous trek.
After two days of freezing rain, the sidewalks were a pitted and layered mixture of icy slush with water on top, and nasty solid ice hiding underneath. The city was spreading salt as best it could, but the freezing rain was falling so steadily, the overall effect was like walking on a salt slushy layered over top a skating rink. Sometimes, the water was several inches deep, especially on street corners, forcing me to backtrack. Eventually, my winter boots started letting in the frigid water, so I began splashing through the most direct route possible, and put up with having cold wet feet.
Finally, I arrived at the bus stop, where surprisingly, there were only about five or six people waiting. The traffic on Sherbrooke Street was awful, worse than any rush hour I had ever seen, and it was only early afternoon. There was nowhere for me to sit, and I ended up waiting for about an hour when an over packed bus finally arrived. Eager to rest my weary legs, I began to step forward, but after letting on only one or two people, the bus driver closed the doors, and drove away, leaving many disgruntled and would-be commuters behind.
Trying not to panic, I decided to make the difficult journey back to the office. In 1998, I used public transit, but at that moment, I decided enough was enough, it was time to call for a taxi. However, after thirty minutes of getting busy signals, I realized, with the subway system being out of commission, all of Montreal was in the same boat as I was: Trying to get home in a public transport system that was overloaded to the max. Much of downtown still had power, so I decided the only logical thing to do was go to a movie, and wait it out until things calmed down. And so, I took another arduous, wet and slippery walk down Metcalf, to St. Catherine Street, and over a few blocks to a movie theater.
I can’t remember what movie I saw that day, but I do remember how nice it was to be warm again, even if my socks were sopping wet. Sadly, all good things must come to an end, the movie finished, and I was stuck with the same dilemma: How the heck do I get myself home? I decided to go back to the office again, and keep calling different taxi companies.
After half an hour of getting busy signals, miraculously, I managed to get through to a dispatcher. The dispatcher seemed to be surprised that I got through on the phone, and started apologizing that there was no way he could send a taxi to me. He explained that either the drivers were not working due to the horrible road conditions, or, if they were crazy enough to be on the streets, they were too busy picking up stranded people.
I then explained to the dispatcher that I was disabled, and had been walking around all afternoon trying to get home. Suddenly, he informed me there was one driver available who had just dropped a client off a few blocks from where I worked. Alleluia I thought to myself as I thanked the dispatcher. By the time I got down to street level, the taxi had arrived, but someone was cutting in ahead of me. “No, no!” I desperately said, “That taxi is for me!”
I offered the stranger a chance to ride with me, but he was heading in the opposite direction. Thankfully, the stranger did not argue, and continued walking on. I exhaustedly climbed into the taxi, gave the driver my home address, and closed my eyes. You can bet I was very thankful to the universe for getting me home safe and sound, if a little cold and tired.
Besides that one major test on my physical and mental toughness, nothing else really happened to me during the rest of the ice storm. Somehow, the apartment I ended up crashing in never lost power. We remained warm and dry, unlike so many other people who had to live for days without power. Despite my good luck during a very difficult week, whenever I hear the sharp “clink-clink” of freezing rain and hail hitting a window, my heart always skips a few beats.