Winter, 1982-83, neck wrapped, leaning on the soft smells above the noonish counter in the cold gap between two multi-stories near Times Square, I ate sidewalk pizza as the flakes began to fall. They were whispers in the soft wind, but the weathermen waxed “much more, much more.”
By 3 p.m., the City was anticipating confusion and delay. An hour later, in a now-thick, straight-down snow drop, I fled employment and rib-rubbed Manhattan’s Friday Port Authority commuters, using a substitute stairway to escape the escalator-stalled crowd. By 5, outside was dense white, and I was westbound in my bus seat. Four hours later, my ostensible 22-minute passage finally ceased its snow-slog and stopped in the middle of a ten-mile thread of Route 3’s cold pack.
Beyond the brake lights of a hundred camped cars, a trooper’s cherry top blinked. Beyond that, nothing but solid black and scattered, faraway streetlights through the thinning snowfall. No oncoming headlights. Nothing moving. The highway, normally jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive, was drift silent. I was, coldly reckoned, only two miles from home, waiting for the rasping calls of snowplows to clear the way. An unmoving half-hour later, in the dark stillness, I reached for my briefcase and stood.
My seatwife, a 50+ Jersey with a wet nose, saw me setting my scarf and strongly suggested I stay, but the driver shrugged whatever and dropped the lever. The door opened, and I stepped down onto the white-covered thoroughfare in my wingtips, a barely vocal, disapproving chorale frosting the bus air behind me. I walked between idling cars toward the patrol car’s flashing. The glance-and-away of a sitting cop, the last turnpike praetorian, implied no barrier, so I stepped past him into four empty lanes.
In minutes, I was alone in an unnatural, natural silence, a Dr. Zhivago trekking the middle of a road-wide white line. Although I knew there were no cars coming from behind, an over-draping monition (man on the highway!) compelled me to look over my shoulder several times at the blinking police beacon of the commuter car encampment, now small and distant. There was no noise but the shush of snow and my footfalls as I moved through the eerie peace. I was the last man on earth.
Two cold-foot miles through sharp black air, and I was home, smiling through eyebrow stalactites. Days later it all melted, and I had moved west with a warm memory of a blizzard.
Times Square AP Photo/Larry Levine