Tag Archives: Washington DC

Winter Wonderland Memories: The Blizzard Of 96

It’s the middle of winter. Unless you’re living in a tropical or semi-tropical climate, it be depressing. Outside, it’s cold, it’s barren, and the simple act of going out to get the mail requires too many layers of clothing.

It’s not my favorite time of year, to say the least. After Christmas, I’m pretty much ready for winter to be over. In a perfect world, there’s one single snowstorm from Christmas Eve until the day after Christmas. After that, we go right into summer.

Sadly, we don’t live in that world. I live in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. This is an area that doesn’t see the kind of snow you’d get in places like Buffalo, Boston, or Chicago. We’ll get a few flurries and snow showers here and there, but it’s nothing that you need to shovel.

In fact, a major snowstorm is fairly rare in my area. When it does it, people get a little anxious. I have friends and relatives from up north who think it’s hilarious that we freak out over a mere six inches of snow. Having spent some time in places like Buffalo, I see why they feel that way.

However, every once in a while, my area gets hit with a storm that even people from Buffalo and Boston think is serious. They don’t happen every year. We can sometimes go several years without a storm that will dump more than ten inches. Even among those storms, there are some that were so bad that we remember them for years to come.

Well, in the spirit of winter, I’d like to share one of those memories. I imagine anyone living in my area around this time has similar memories. That’s because I’m going to talk about one of the worst blizzards my area ever got. It doesn’t have a name. We just call it the Blizzard of 96.

Admittedly, it’s not a very original name, but make no mistake. This was a storm that left a hell of an impression from New York to Washington, DC.

I remember this storm for many reasons. Most notably, I remember it as one of those rare storms that earned us an entire week off school. As kids in grade school, that was our primary way of measuring how severe a snowstorm was. In hindsight, though, that did not do justice to just how big this storm was.

Again, I live in an area that does not get storms like this regularly. We can handle a few snow showers here and there. This storm dumped over two feet on us in the span of three days. Even by Canada standards, that’s a lot of snow.

My memories of that storm still stand out, more so than most. One of the most vivid was just the night before the storm rolled in. I’ll never forget it. I was sitting on the couch with my dad. We were both watching the weather forecast like it was the World Series. My dad, who had seen his share of snowstorms, just looked at me and said, “Here it comes.”

I went to bed that night with just some light flurries coming down. It was barley enough to coat the tops of my parents’ cars. I then woke up the next morning and it was a total white out.

Every inch of grass and every inch of road was completely covered.

Every tree and bush was covered.

It was a hell of a scene. As a kid, I was just excited because it meant school was definitely cancelled. It also meant my friends and I were going to have some winter fun. However, that’s where I once again underestimated this storm.

The snow was so heavy and got so deep that normal winter activities like sledding and snowball fights were impossible. We couldn’t run around in it. The snow came all the way up to our waist. We couldn’t sled in it because it was so fresh you just couldn’t get any traction. It was really unlike any storm we had ever been through.

At one point, and this is another memory that stands out, we just decided to climb into the back of my dad’s truck and sit in the snow-filled back like it was a hot tub. I don’t remember who’s idea it was. I just remember it was snowing so hard that we just couldn’t come up with another way to enjoy it.

That blizzard ultimately became the storm by which I measured every future snowstorm. In the years that followed, I lived through more major snowstorms, some of which were larger than the Blizzard of 96. However, none of those storms have left the same impression. I don’t know if I’ll ever encounter a winter storm that will have that kind of impact. Hopefully, before it ever hits this area, I’ll have long since retired to a tropical climate.

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A Post-Inauguration Letter To America

I’m a proud American. I celebrate, value, and promote the ideals that America stands far. I don’t ignore its flaws, nor do I overlook the egregious mistakes that it and its people have made in the past. That still doesn’t stop me from appreciating all that America strives to be.

Saying all that the day after Inauguration Day shouldn’t feel so dramatic. It really shouldn’t. However, the past year has really shaken up the political and social landscape, albeit in a very distressing manner.

I don’t want to get into the details of why, how, and who’s responsible for all these distressing disruptions. I know that, by doing so, I’ll only invite the wrath and whining of people intent proving their particular ideology or politician is right. I’d rather not do that. I feel like there’s been enough of that in recent years.

Instead, I want to send my own personal letter to America and its new President. Think of it as an addendum of the letter I sent the day after the attack on the Capitol. That was the low point of low points. Today, I’d like to start raising the bar for this great country once more.

It all comes back to one simple notion that I still believe, even after everything that has happened this past year.

We can do better than this.

We can be better than this.

We can and should start working towards a better future rather than trying to realize an idealized past.

I know that all sounds like simple platitudes. Some may even find it corny and empty. I don’t care. I still think they’re worth putting out there to my fellow Americans, including the ones who vehemently disagree with me and did not vote for the new President.

I believe those people can be better too. I don’t think they’re terrible people for voting as they did or for believing what they believe. I do think some are misguided, some more so than others. There are times they say and do things that I find to be genuinely hurtful, hateful, and divisive. It goes beyond disagreeing with them and towards feeling genuinely threatened.

That’s painful because I’m related to some of these people. I have close friends and relatives who avidly and proudly espouse political views that I find repugnant. I do what I can to separate the views from the actual people, but that’s not always easy, especially after what happened at the Capitol.

I genuinely worry about some of them. They have great passion for their positions, but when they argue from a misguided standpoint, it gets disconcerting to say the least. However, I cannot forget that they are still Americans. They still live in this country and want to see it thrive, albeit in their own misguided away.

We may never fully agree on all the issues.

We may never genuinely like one another on every level.

At the very least, I still believe we can all find a way to live together in a way that brings peace and prosperity to both of us.

That’s the message I want to send to my fellow Americans as a new President and a new administration begins. We have many challenges ahead of us, the least of which involves a once-in-a-century pandemic that has killed thousands. We’re not going to overcome these challenges by endlessly insulting one another for our politics.

At some point, we do have to tolerate one another to maintain a civilized society. We have to live together, work together, and even learn from one another as we move forward.

Like it or not, another day will come. The sun will set on one Presidential administration and rise on another. In 2024, we’ll go through the process again. We don’t know what state the world will be in by then, but we can all assume we’ll still have many challenges before us.

That’s something to remember for the future.

For now, let’s focus on the present.

Let today be the first day when we close our eyes, grit our teeth, and try to look forward. I know it’s tempting to look back on all the frustration, derision, mistakes, and injustices of the past. We shouldn’t forget them, but we also shouldn’t be defined by them. We cannot change the past. We can only effect the future before us.

Let’s begin that process today.

On this day, let’s remember that we’re all still Americans.

We still love, value, and celebrate this wonderful country. Whoever you are and however you voted, never forget what that means. Let’s not just focus on making it great. Let’s work to make it better than it has ever been.

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Remembering (And Learning From) The Cuban Missile Crisis In 2020

I know 2020 has been historically awful.

I know this year will leave an unmistakable scar on countless many for multiple generations.

I know it seems like the world, as we once knew and took for granted, is ending and is never coming back.

I’m living this year-long nightmare with the rest of you. I’m experiencing all the bleak news, life disruptions, and major cancellations. For the rest of my life, no matter how it unfolds, I’ll remember 2020 and how it felt like the world was falling apart. While I don’t deny it will recover, albeit slowly, we will move forward.

At the same time, I think it helps to offer a little perspective. As bad as this year has been and as dire as things seem, you can’t definitively say this is the worst it’s ever been. That’s hyperbole and hyperbole is rarely accurate or helpful. To help make this point, I’d like to remind everyone of a real historical event in which the world almost did actually end.

That event is the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s also a wholly relevant event because, as of this writing, we’re entering the third week of October. That puts us right within that critical timeframe between October 15th and October 27th, 1962. During those fateful days, the crisis unfolded. You don’t need to be an expert in history to appreciate how close we came to nuclear war.

The specifics of the crisis are well-known. The USSR had shipped missiles with nuclear warheads into communist Cuba. The United States, feeling threatened, demanded those missiles be withdrawn. Tensions ensued. Diplomatic and military preparations were made. Every hour counted. Every decision was critical. One wrong move and millions would die in nuclear hellfire.

At one point, it came down to the decision of a single human being on a Russian sub. His name is Vasili Arkhipov and I’ve mentioned him before. It’s not an exaggeration to say that his decision not to fire nuclear-armed torpedoes in response to depth charges prevented nuclear war. We really were that close. This video nicely explains the situation.

Personally, I probably owe that man my life. My father was just kid at the time, but he, my grandmother, and grandfather lived just outside of Washington DC at the time. To offer some perspective, they were less than a 30-minute drive from National Mall and that’s accounting for traffic.

If nuclear war broke out, it’s a given that DC would be among the first targets hit. Had the missiles started flying, my entire family would’ve been among those millions of dead. I wouldn’t be here and it’s doubtful that most of the people reading this wouldn’t be here. Unlike a deadly pandemic, it wouldn’t have been a natural disease. Our destruction would’ve been our own doing.

It all unfolded in the span of two weeks. Think about that, relative how skewed our concepts of time have become in 2020. In just two weeks in 58 years, we almost destroyed ourselves and our entire civilization. We were that close to the brink, but we got through it.

It was tense. It took some key decisions from men like Vasili Arkhipov, John F. Kennedy, and Nikita Kruzchev to make it through in one peace, but we made it. There were plenty of opportunities to mess up or make the wrong decisions, but we didn’t. That’s why we’re here in 2020, alive and complaining about having to wear a mask in a restaurant.

Take a moment to appreciate that context.

Take another to appreciate how we moved forward from that event.

After the crisis, both sides of the Iron Curtain went to great lengths to avoid a situation like that. The world shrunk in the sense that communication became more critical. Countries and communities needed to communicate with one another to make sure nothing got overlooked, lost in translation, or mistook.

When there are nuclear weapons in play, you literally cannot afford to make mistakes.

Those were hard lessons for everyone. That’s why I have some sliver of hope that the scars from 2020 will teach us similar lessons. This pandemic has shown just how fragile our civilization still is. It also shows that the deadly forces of nature are apolitical. They don’t care about your ideology, race, or beliefs. They’ll hit us just as hard. They’ll hurt us just as much.

Pandemics don’t give a damn about borders. They don’t give a damn about divisions. They’re as chaotic as a nuclear explosion. They’ll burn and scar anything that gets in their path. We can’t negotiate or bullshit our way out of it. The only way we get through it is by cooperation, compassion, and understanding.

It’s been 58 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis. It left scars on a generation, but those scars ensured we worked harder to avoid nuclear war. I sincerely hope that the scars left by this pandemic will teach a new generation how to cooperate and how to get through a global crisis like this.

Those hopes may seem overly ambitious, given how divided we still are. I believe our desire to not live in a world ravaged by disease or nuclear war will motivate us to unite in the long run.

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