March snows can ruin plans in Albany

Remember “The Great” one of March 1888?

I know that March snows can ruin plans in Albany. My wife, my daughter, and I were going to do a college visit on March 12-13, but the forecasted snow and wind had us postpone the trip. The St. Patrick’s Day parade in the city, which had been canceled the last two years, was postponed a week.

The WORST two storms in Albany, at least as far back as the records go, were in March. The first one was The Blizzard of 1888 (March 11-14, 1888). “The blizzard by which all others are measured.” No, I don’t remember it. But it appeared in at least four JEOPARDY clues.

2001: AMERICAN HISTORIC EVENTS for $400: The “Great” one of these paralyzed New York City on March 12, 1888 (Triple stumper, with guesses of fire and a blackout)
2007: STORMY WEATHER for $400 (DJ): In March 1888 one of these blinding snowstorms struck the East Coast, creating 40-to-50-foot snowdrifts (correct answer)
2014: WEATHER REPORT for $2000 Remember “The Great” one of March 1888? (Triple stumper)
2018: “ZZ” MIDDLE for $600: Spring buds were blooming, but “The Great” one of these of March 1888 was one of the worst ever in American history (correct answer)

Storms I DO remember

Blizzard of 1978 (February 6-7, 1978). I was working at the Albany Savings Bank downtown while living in Schenectady. A chunk of ice hit the roof of a VW Beetle on the street where I was living.

April 6-7 1982: I saw Pete Seeger at Page Hall at the downtown SUNY campus on the 4th, when it was already uncommonly cold. Then the snow came.

January Snowstorm of 1983 (January 15-16, 1983). I didn’t remember this, maybe because it was on the weekend. But my girlfriend at the time and I DID go to a party Saturday night, despite 18″ of snow.

Unprecedented Early Season Snowstorm (October 4, 1987). I  wrote about this.

The Downslope Nor’easter (December 10-12, 1992) “This storm produced incredible snowfall totals across many mountainous locations, while barely having any effect on valley locations.” Chris Kapostasy of WNYT (later Chris Jansing of MSNBC) told this story at my church a couple of years later. She and her cameraman were trapped in the Berkshires. And no one was looking for them from Albany because it wasn’t a big deal in the city. But Chris and the cameraman recorded their final wishes.

The worst storm in my life

Superstorm of 1993 (March 13-14, 1993) This was the worst storm in Albany in my lifetime, which I wrote about here.

May 18, 2002 – Snowstorm. I remember because my wife was supposed to get her graduate degree from UAlbany outdoors. They had to find an inside venue.

Various storms in the early 2000s I recall vaguely. We went to visit my in-laws in Oneonta during the December 25-26, 2002, and again for the January 3-4, 2003 storms. When we came home, we had double-digit inches of snow to shovel.

Valentine’s Day Storm: February 14, 2007. I was working at Corporate (frickin) Woods when we were told we could leave if we wanted to. If I hadn’t taken the 2:06 pm bus out of there, I would have had to sleep at my desk. Any westbound bus from Central Avenue and Henry Johnson Boulevard took 45 minutes to arrive, then took 20 minutes to ride a 10-minute stretch. The 6-minute walk home required nearly a half-hour. I took the next day off, helping my wife dig out her car as the temperature plummeted. Dig for 20 minutes, drink hot chocolate indoors, dig for 15 minutes, go back inside for 15 minutes…

The cement-like storm

ice floe

ice tireThe snow/ice storm of February 3/4 was a serious pain. The local newspaper wrote afterward: “While areas to the north enjoyed fluffy snow, the communities around Albany received a ‘prolific’ dose of sleet that kept the inches [1.6″] down but left residents digging through a heavy, cement-like mixture to clear streets, sidewalks, and cars.”

Th, Feb 3: I need to pass out kudos to the Albany City School District, which had decided to cancel classes for the 4th on the 3rd before 12:45 pm. And not just have a remote day, but no school at all. Perhaps it was the concern for ice disrupting distance learners. At 7 pm, there were only three major school districts that had decided to shut down, but by 10 pm, EVERYONE was on board.

Fri, Feb 4: As the storm bounced back and forth among rain, snow, sleet, and freezing rain, I decided the previous evening that shoveling would be counterproductive. But the dry snowpack covering the ice was all but impenetrable. Two of my neighbors told me the same thing. And it was cold enough to maintain the status quo.

But one neighbor was slowly chopping through the ice on the sidewalk. How is he doing that?

Sat, Feb 5: My neighbor lent me his tools. One was a pole, a little thicker than a broomstick, but it must have weighed 30 pounds. I tried that briefly but it was too much like Mjolnir.

The other tool was much easier to use. It was a shovel, more like a spade, with what looks like the serrated blade of certain knives. It worked well in cutting into the tightly-packed snow, leaving a layer of thick ice that I could treat with rock salt.

Meanwhile, my wife was working on digging out her car. She couldn’t move it – the tires spun – but we figured we could work on it more the next day.

Ice station zebra

Sun, Feb 6: After church, I was determined to finish up the sidewalk. Then I tackled the walkway towards the house.

ice tire wellBut before I could finish the walk, my wife called me over to her car, which was parked on the street. The entire driver’s side was caked in ice like waterfalls that had frozen. There was a large puddle/pothole near where she was parked. The water splashed on the vehicle and then froze over. And as bad as it was on the body of the car, the tires on the driver’s side were even worse. I poured some salt around the tires.

My wife called various entities, including the non-emergency police number. That person suggested we call AAA. She had – she’s a member -but they couldn’t help, because… I’m not clear, actually.

Mon, Feb 7: My wife got a ride to work, but took two buses home. Fortunately, she lives with a resident expert on getting around via the CDTA.

The icing of the driver’s side repeated, not quite as severely as the previous day. [The photos were from the second day.] In the afternoon, I broke off the coating on the car. Then I return to chipping more ice, pouring more salt, and cat litter. I was aided by a neighbor, and eventually, my wife, my daughter, and even a total stranger. The neighbor tried to move the vehicle. It’s a four-wheel drive. It looked like a large feline attempting to pounce except that its rear legs were stuck on the ground.

That evening, my wife noticed that her insurance allows for towing, so she got them to send a truck, It kept telling her it was coming soon: 18 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes…12 minutes, and it turned out to be an hour later than we expected. The guy couldn’t use the winch because there wasn’t enough clearance underneath. But he was convinced he could drive the vehicle out of the space. He couldn’t.

Same as it ever was

Tues, Feb 8: The daytime temperatures were getting warmer, which made other people’s sidewalks that would melt and refreeze more treacherous, as my wife, who took the bus to work both ways, could attest.

Meanwhile more digging. The imperative now is that there is alternate-side parking coming up so they can plow the streets to the curb. But despite our efforts, nada. My wife called the parking enforcement, and she left a message to tell them her plight.

Wed, Feb 9: Sure enough, the ice floe that her car was on was even more inaccessible, with the plow pushing even more ice under the car. And my wife got a $50 ticket, although the two folks from the parking authority called to tell me that they would take her situation into “consideration.” I do not know what this means.

My wife took two buses to a mall to get picked up by a colleague so she could go to a conference.

When she got home, pretty much in desperation, she called John, our contractor. He came over with a jackhammer to break up the ice. Then he put down a 50-pound bag of salt.

Free at last

Th, Feb 10: John broke up more ice with the jackhammer. Then he started the car. It sat there spinning for about 90 seconds. I’ve seen this rodeo before. But then it MOVED. But there was nowhere to repark it so when my wife returned from her roundtrip bus commute, she could tell the vehicle had moved to the top of the ice mountain. John came back after the school let out, and reparked.

I’ve lived in Albany for over 40 years, and this may have been the worst one. Twenty-six inches of snow in March 1993? No big deal; just keep shoveling.

Lots of people gave us suggestions for our auto problem throughout. Call AAA (did that). Use cat litter (did that). Our failing was that we didn’t use our jackhammer (which we don’t own) and that we used salt when we needed to use…


Soft Spoken, But Not

Art show

Soft Spoken But Not
Soft Spoken, But Not c LPG

Here is a piece of art called Soft Spoken, But Not. It was created by my daughter, who weaved it. She showed me the process but I can’t really explain it to you.

The angle of the photo may not give you a good vantage point, but the object is a megaphone. In fact, it is a replica of one she owns. (What? You don’t own your own megaphone?) Oh, here’s another shot, by the artist.

She bought it in the summer of 2020 when she and some of her friends organized and participated in demonstrations following the death of George Floyd. Ultimately, it became about other unarmed black people who died violently at the hands of authorities.

The rallies were about a block from our house, so occasionally her mother or I would participate, but it was mostly much younger people. What was fascinating is the response of passersby. Not only were they overwhelmingly positive, but they brought items. Ice cream sandwiches and doughnuts. Quite a bit of water, including a case from Sam, the son of a late friend of mine. And one woman, a stranger, brought my daughter another megaphone.


From the Albany School District site: “Five pieces, created by four Albany High School student-artists, were chosen for display in the Art in Three Dimensions 2022 show.

“The juried exhibition, organized by the Capital Area Art Supervisors, runs Feb. 1-28 at the W.B. Haessig Art Gallery at Mohonason High School in Rotterdam.” This was cool.

In other daughter news

My daughter has been applying to college, eight of them, I believe. This involves, among other things, completing the convoluted FAFSA application for financial aid. She was accepted into four colleges and hasn’t heard from the others yet. As the above piece might suggest, she would like to combine art with some social justice and/or environmental angle. I will be extremely happy when this process is over.

Binghamton and Albany, NY

140 miles

I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in upstate New York, specifically Binghamton and Albany.

A while ago, Kelly sent me a link to Walking America, part 2: Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott. Photos and thoughts from Broome County, New York.

Of course, Binghamton is my hometown. But I can’t argue with the first sentence. At all. “Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott are either the northern-most cities in Appalachia or the eastern-most in the Rust Belt, depending on what expert you talk to.” Even when I lived there, there were people suggesting the Appalachia designation.

(It doesn’t help that there is a Census-Designated Place called Apalachin in neighboring Tioga County. It’s less than 10 minutes west of Endicott and 15 minutes from JC. Apalachin is 20 minutes from Binghamton, the Broome County seat, and the only one of the Triple Cities which is actually a city, as the other two are villages.)

It can only get better

At Binghamton’s nadir, in the 1990s, the Boscov’s was the only major retailer keeping downtown Binghamton afloat. It depressed me greatly.  In fact, for years, I just didn’t go downtown at all. I’d be in Broome County attending the Olin family reunion. But it was held in one of two parks in Endicott. And we’d stay in Endicott or Vestal, or even an hour away in Oneonta at my in-laws.

When I was a Binghamtonian, Harpur College/SUNY Binghamton seemed remote. (It’s technically in the town of Vestal.) So it didn’t have that economic stimulus some colleges provide to their locales. I’m thrilled the new businesses downtown, driven by the college kids now living there, has created new opportunities.

Still, as the article notes: “They are struggling towns with good people trying to keep their heads afloat. Towns that haven’t recovered from all the lost jobs that were once here, like making shoes [Endicott-Johnson, where my mother briefly was employed]  or making computers [IBM, where I spent five months before college], and all the good people that left because of that.”

Capital city

I saw this article in the Albany Times Union: Ex-Capital Region news anchor schmoozes with extremists in a bid for Arizona governor. Ugh.

“Former WNYT Channel 13 television anchor Kari Lake… is greeting supporters who include a Jan. 6 insurrectionist, an anti-mask advocate, and a Nazi sympathizer… ” Of course, she’s being supported by 45.

“In August 1998, she moved to the Capital Region… At the time, Lake told the Times Union she ‘just wanted to live in a real nice place. And that is Albany.’ Some 15 months later,  Lake was finished in Albany…”

But I think she was right about one thing at the time. “‘It is so parochial here. I could be here 30 years and feel sort of new… We came all the way across the country, to find out just how much we miss home.'”

I used the P-word when I wrote about the place back in 2013.  My theory was that it does take about three decades to fit in with the unspoken norms. I moved here in 1979, so I’m nearly as close to a native as can be.

98 acres

Still, I wasn’t present when 98 acres were leveled to build the Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, “a massive modern office complex” designed to transform ‘historic but shabby’ Albany into a ‘brilliant, beautiful, efficient and electrifying capital.'”

Well, there are modern office buildings, performance spaces, and many other amenities. But at a cost. “7,000 people, old and young, black and white, immigrant and native-born” were displaced as well as “more than 400 businesses, most of them small—neighborhood groceries, grills, taverns, tailors, and shoemakers.

“Over the course of two-and-a-half years, as the State demolished 1,150 structures to clear 40 city blocks, residents and businesses were forced to move out.” Occasionally, I STILL find someone who will lament the loss.

Two visits

Walking America has made TWO visits to Albany, The first contains this paragraph: “Here, the poverty and wealth are juxtaposed against a downtown filled with politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists who claim to care about the very inequality they are surrounded by, making it a physical metaphor for the failures of our political class.” Ouch. 

And he had avoided the aforementioned Empire State Plaza the first time, so he came back. “Avoiding it wasn’t fair though, because the Plaza dominates Albany, both spatially and as the manifestation of a technocratic philosophy found in every modern political center: The idea that government, empowered by the best and brightest, wielding ‘Science!,’ can mold humans, cities, and societies into their better selves…

“While the [surrounding] blocks are poor they also have what the Plaza doesn’t have. A genuine humanness.” The last part, alas, is certainly true. This doesn’t mean I don’t care for the place – and changing it back is impossible -but the downtown, in particular, is a bit soulless.

Still, I’m not looking to live elsewhere. Given the vagaries of climate change, being here suits me just fine.

Dad’s observation

Here’s one thing my late father, who grew up in Binghamton, but moved to Charlotte, NC in 1974, noticed. He made a comparison between his old city and his new one. Binghamton is near the Pennsylvania border, just as Charlotte is close to South Carolina. One has to travel northeast to get to the state capital, 140 miles to Albany, 175 to Raleigh, NC.

Inequality is engrained in the trees

Trees combat climate change, clean the air, reduce violence

Zacchaeus tree.Palestine_JerichoOne of those Daily Inspiration quotes actually inspired me. “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” – Warren Buffett

This got me thinking about the dearth of trees in urban areas. As an article in the Grist noted: In America’s cities, inequality is engrained in the trees.

“In the two-year-long study, a team of researchers from the Nature Conservancy found that 92 percent of low-income blocks in the U.S. have less tree cover and hotter average temperatures than high-income blocks. The inequality is most rampant in the Northeast, with some low-income blocks in urban areas having 30 percent less tree cover and average temperatures 4 degrees Celsius higher than high-income blocks.”

Trees may not be racist. But per NPR, Racist Housing Practices From The 1930s Linked To Hotter Neighborhoods Today. In another study “of 108 urban areas nationwide, the formerly redlined neighborhoods of nearly every city studied were hotter than the non-redlined neighborhoods, some by nearly 13 degrees.”

And if you’re not familiar, American Forests can explain. “Redlining was an unethical practice that put financial and other services out of reach for entire neighborhoods where people of color lived. Its name derives from the government-backed practice of drawing red lines on maps to indicate the perceived high risk associated with banks loaning people money to buy homes based on location rather than their individual qualifications.”

Smart Cities Dive notes: “Heat-related impacts also disproportionately impact poor and minority communities, which tend to have less access to green space, and therefore have unequal access to the benefits those spaces provide.” It cites a 2013 study explaining “the disproportionate amount of risk to minority communities. “It’s a serious issue of environmental justice.” Here are 22 benefits of trees.

Oh, Albany

So I was pleased when I saw this link. “Since the Fall of 2020, the City of Albany has focused tree planting in Wards and neighborhoods where the urban forest is most at risk, including in the South End, Arbor Hill, West Hill, and Pine Hills neighborhoods. More than 50% of the 1,000 trees planted since the Fall of 2020 have been planted in these neighborhoods alone.”

I’m sure, because she told me in an email, that the mayor would LOVE churches or other entities to participate. And I’ll bet this is a program that could be replicated in other urban areas.

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