The Great Ice Storm


There’s a story that has nothing to do with this picture, and here it is:

Weather happens every day, everywhere, but here in Georgia, when it’s cold enough for moisture in the sky to form earthbound ice crystals (or, as some scientists have theorized, when God sneezes on a cocaine-covered mirror in the sky), it can cripple an entire region, freezing humanity and machinery in place, emptying grocery store shelves of carbohydrates. It becomes what today’s lions of journalism call a “weather event.”

As a mere ocelot of journalism, relegated to backwoods beats, I’m hardly fit to comment on such weighty affairs that define the times we live in. But that’s never stopped me before, so …

One of my favorite social commentators (i.e., a Facebook friend whose stuff regularly appears on my newsfeed) asked if anyone experienced the Great Ice Storm of January 8-9 1973 (such is the magnitude of these “weather events” that we readily recall the specific dates and accord them capital letters, or someone looks it up on Google and then I grant the storm proper noun status).

It was a great time. I was 12, there was frozen stuff on the ground that I could slide across. Of course it was a great time. Fast-forward six years from that Great Ice Storm, toss in some adolescent impatience, a stranded Mustang, two Japanese-American bachelor hosts, and an extremely limited choice of food, or stuff to watch on TV, and you get to not-so-great.

I was 18, working at a bowling alley in Decatur, commuting from Lilburn in the aforementioned sweet ride (somehow, my oft-busted Mustang gets sweeter with the passage of time). It was a Saturday, a busy night of winter leagues, and we were understaffed. James worked the front desk, and was the grown-up in charge. Then there was his little brother, whose name I can’t remember, and yours truly.

They were Japanese men, from Waycross, I think. The three of us did everything that had to be done in a bowling alley that night – checked out shoes, cleaned tables, maintained the automatic pinsetters, tended the bars (snack and liquor), threw out the drunks, including the assistant manager, the guy who was supposed to be in charge, who’d been testing the taps. We sent him home before the ice fell.

We closed late, as usual, sometime after midnight. The ice-covered parking lot was dotted here and there with stranded ice-covered cars, including my 1967 lemon-colored Mustang. The roads were impossible. James and his brother lived in an apartment a few blocks away, so that’s where I stayed.

What did we do? We ate English muffins and corn. That’s basically all they had. I’ve never seen so many bags of frozen corn. Thank God there was half a stick of butter in the joint. We watched NASCAR. And I watched them demonstrate their skills with nunchucks, and listened to them argue about everything — who Mom liked best, who was the better NASCAR driver, who knew the right way to commit seppuku, etc.

Admittedly, it’s small-minded on my part, but this was the first time I’d heard Japanese men speak in thick Southern accents, and it fascinated me (enough so that here I am, recalling it and writing about it 35 years later).

Well, it was fascinating for the first couple of hours, then it got tedious – the arguing, the NASCAR, the overwhelming austerity. There were no pictures on the walls, no books in the apartment, no magazines or newspaper, nothing to read except the labels on the packages of English muffins and corn. The butter, alas, was naked in a dish.

After a day and a half of this, or, just before we started casting lots to see who would get eaten first, I beat it the hell out of there on wretched roads. It took several hours to make the half hour drive home, and I had to grab some guys to sit in my trunk to ascend the final hill to my house, where beer, blessed beer (see photo) was waiting.

So, that was the Great Ice Storm of February 17-18, 1979. I know this because the 11Alive website has a list of major winter weather events – you know, the kind of weather that happens in Michigan or North Dakota every few minutes or so. I take full responsibility for the capital letters.


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