Twenty years ago, my old archnemesis, Charlie Gertz, retired from WYFF, the local NBC affiliate in Greenville, SC. We had a complex relationship. He was the station’s meteorologist — a fancy title for weatherman some might argue, but it does require more of a scientific aptitude than Nicholas Cage movies might have you believe.
Gertz’s slogan was “Charlie Said It Would,” which referred to his accurate predictions of the weather, but his record involving the occasional rainstorm meant nothing to me. All that mattered was whether it snowed when he said it was going to snow.
Snow Days are magical events for kids. They are less joyous for adults who have to work, especially in the South where it snows rarely and the public reaction to it is overblown. The roads are clogged prior to potential snowfalls with residents desperate to clear the grocery store shelves of milk and bread. Snow in Greenville, if it stuck to the ground at all, lasted about eight minutes but people still feared that they might resort to cannibalism if they did not adequately stock up before the “blizzard.”
The best scenario was for the “winter storm warning” to be so dire that they closed schools the night before. That’s when your Monday turned into Friday night. If they closed the schools in the morning, my father just wouldn’t wake me, and the sound of him leaving indicated my freedom.
My father woke me for school each morning at exactly 6:45 a.m. This was without fail. My father never took sick days. And he never had Snow Days. Those mornings were not easy for my father — curled up in bed, I could hear him scraping the ice off his crap car’s windshield. Then came the painful death rattle of this piece of junk trying to turn over in the cold — “bruda, bruda, bruda,” it wheezed. My father was undaunted and tried again. “Bruda, bruda, bruda,” it croaked. I pulled my pillow closer to me, rolled over on my side, and thought, “That’s a damn shame.”
Somehow, after mutliple attempts, my father would get his 1972 Plymouth Scamp running (no, really) and head off in the snow. Until its eventual collapse in the mid-80s, that insult to automobiles everywhere is what my father took to and from work each day. My mother drove the family car, which had modern conveniences such as air conditoning, a tape player, and brakes. The parking lot at my father’s job looked like “Sanford and Son” with all the men in their jalopies.
One night I recall quite vividly, Charlie Gertz announced an oncoming snowstorm that would level Greenville with up to a foot of snow. He looked directly at me through the TV set and said, “There’s nothing to do tomorrow but just watch the snow fall. ‘Cause it’s gonna!” Then he winked at the camera, and that wink said, “Hey, Stephen, screw your homework! Stay up late! Enjoy tomorrow’s ‘Young and the Restless.’ I don’t know what your father was thinking, getting married, having kids, driving a car Fred Flintstone would consider beneath him. But you can’t worry about him. Life is for the living!”
I was escastic. My mother was less so.
“That’s nonsense,” she proclaimed. “It only ever snows here if it the storm comes through Georgia. If it comes from North Carolina, the mountains will stop it. You’re going to have school tomorrow.”
“Whatever, Dr. Robinson,” I replied dismissively. “Charlie said it would, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to shoot some heroin and dance with strippers, tomorrow’s a Snow Day! Actually, I’m probably just going to stay up late reading comics and listening to Madonna and the Eurythmics, but my point holds: Snow Day, baby!”
The next morning, at exactly 6:45 a.m., my father knocked on my door.
“Time to get up, son.”
Clearly, the old man had gone mad. Didn’t he know it was a Snow Day? I was already wearing the fake Victor Newman mustache I’d received as a Secret Society member of the “Young and the Restless” fan club.
I rushed to the window, expecting to see a carpet of white on the ground, but there was only green grass.
Falling to my knees, I vowed revenge against Charlie Gertz for his treachery. He was probably taking kickbacks from the grocery stores. I also swore that once I was out of school, I’d never get up at 6:45 a.m. again.
Gertz retired in 1992 — through only minor machinations on my part. I graduated high school the same year and proceeded to spend my late teens and most of my 20s making good on my second vow. I took afternoon classes in college and worked nights during my first few years in New York. Sometime around my 30th birthday, though, I started rising at 6:45 a.m. without an alarm. You can’t escape heredity, I suppose.