Civil Discourse Now

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The Blizzard of 1978: Snowed into a Greencastle bar.

   With a blizzard imminent—the first flakes of a projected 12 inches have just begun at 5:25 a.m., and the wind gusts—I want to relate my experiences during the infamous Blizzard of 1978.

   During January, DePauw University stages Winter Term, a month during which students take one course to have fun with knowledge. I had opted for a fifth year at DPU and had completed the four required WTs (two years of "varsity debate, attending the tournaments I would have attended had there been no Winter Term; "Computer Applications in Political Science"; and "Protest Music of the Late 1960s, during which we went to a professor’s house, drank wine, and listened to the music of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and other political and social miscreants).

   I lived in Kokomo for the first part of that month and worked for my father’s construction company. Part of that work involved crawling around the insides of air duct in an asbestos factory. My father and brother (who was taking over the company from my father) assured me the work in the air duct was perfectly safe, as the owners of the factory tested their employees frequently for adverse effects from asbestos. (Mesothelioma sometimes takes 30 years to develop.) Between existence in my parents’ home, work in the asbestos place, and Kokomo, a trip to Greencastle—where I would begin classes for my last semester in only a couple of weeks—seemed like a trip to Paradise.

   My excuse was pragmatic. I had work upon which to catch up. I’d been a couple of finals the previous semester when I had contracted the ’flu during finals. I packed up things I would have taken back to school at the end of break (how fortuitous) and drove the 102 miles to Greencastle. I dropped everything off in my room at the frat and immediately called my profs. The exams were there for the taking. I scheduled them and headed to Topper’s.

   There were two establishments called "Topper’s" in Greencastle. They did not share ownership. One place was Marvin’s a/k/a Topper’s Pizza. If one is a DePauw alum, I need describe Marvin’s no further. Marvin’s is a DePauw tradition/institution, etc. The other Topper’s was as much of an institution at the time, as it was the bar of choice for DePauw students. That mantle passed between bars every couple of years as students’ tastes, failure to re-apply for liquor licenses, corporate bankruptcies, and other such mundane considerations directed students from one bar to another. At the time I believe only five bars did business in Greencastle. Since a couple of the bars would always be "townie" bars, the rotation had few slots.

   I met my debate partner, Steve Knodell, at the bar. Others joined us during the evening. These were times in which I stayed up (albeit infrequently) past nine o’clock. During the early evening, we noticed the snow. By mid-evening the snow had formed about six inches on the window sills of the bar. All the other student customers had left. Eventually, the owner announced to the eight of nine of us remaining that a snow emergency had been declared, he had a couple of cots and a few blankets so people could crash there, and burgers and draft beer were on the house. The owner lived out in the country and presumed everyone else did as well.

   We were college students and, therefore, no averse to free beer and burgers. At about midnight, we got up and put on our coats. The owner asked where we thought we were going, then, upon his face, dawned the look of realization.

   "Tony," I said, "we only have three blocks to walk back to our fraternities. (And one wonders why DePauw students are not the favorite people in the world to most of the residents of Greencastle.) We slogged the several blocks, parting ways where he headed to Delta Kappa Epsilon ("Deke") and I to Delta Upsilon ("DU").

   Next morning I called my parents—I did not say I called "home" as "home" became places other than my parents’ farm once I matriculated to DePauw—and described the impassable roads. They confirmed the entire State was shut down. They had used a flat-bottomed boat I had acquired the previous summer as a mean to haul hay, behind a snowmobile, from another farm to feed the half-dozen pet cattle they maintained. The snow had been preceded by a freezing rain, so I added that detail, as the doors of the Honda Civic I drove were froze shut. The snow was an added dimension of my having been marooned at DePauw.

   A fraternity brother owned a 1955 Willies Hurricane (4WD) and drove several of us to the IGA grocery store. (It no longer exists.) The aisle for bread was empty. The aisle for beer was empty after we left. Over the next several days I learned the value of planning ahead. The entire State of Indiana had been "snowed in." I completed my examinations (as campus was a two-block walk away), and called my parents for the daily report of navigation of the snowmobile and its freight of hay. A couple of weeks later I was able to unfreeze the door of the car, drive it back to Kokomo, return to DePauw, and complete my final semester.

   I braved the Blizzard of 1978. I read this morning that already yesterday there were shortages of milk and bread in area stores as people stock up for this blizzard. The news brought back memories.

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