I don’t get sentimental about much, but when we have snowstorms, I often think back to all those years I lived in Allentown. On days when it snowed and school closed and work did too, around eleven am folks would set out on foot to fill the dive bars.

Can you picture it?

One year it snowed so bad the national guard patrolled the streets and said no one could drive. They told us through bullhorns. We never really heard from them and we stood out on our front porches and watched. That was exciting and we followed their instructions. Why not? We had nothing against them. People didn’t really have as much against as much back then. Or not as strongly anyway. That particular time we had about two and a half feet of snow overall, so we couldn’t go very far. There were of course people out trying to make their way on the roads, either having left before the bulk of snow fell or those considered “essential” employees, or maybe they had a tyrant of a job where they didn’t have a choice. We were updated throughout the day on the TV with stories, how we still keep ourselves updated during “severe” weather events as long as the power stays on. I’m always impressed and forever inspired by how we humans can be so diehard.

It was fun. After shoveling out with the neighbors and watching the plows go by (hopefully), a slow and steady stream of people would start walking down the center of the quiet street, snow banks on either side, looking for an open corner store or carrying shovels looking to help or enthusiastically on their way to a dive. It was a thing. People acknowledged and made small talk when passing each other by, and if they didn’t say what they were doing you could tell by their expressions and demeanor who was going where. Heading to a dive wasn’t an excuse to drink or considered a bad thing at all but maybe a reason to celebrate? Celebrate something anyway. Celebrate the feeling of being trapped and let down by canceled plans and then the opening of the door to the warmth and chatter and relief of a roomful of folks behaving boisterously- some in sweat pants or pajamas with parkas haphazardly thrown over them; the smell of cheap and greasy bar food; parents with their children big and small; alcohol freely flowing; the well-off sitting next to the downtrodden; friends throwing darts and I don’t know if you get the picture.

Times sure haveΒ changed is how I see it.

Serendipitous it was. Yes, that word. I don’t think I’ve ever used it. I don’t really like it. But serendipitous, yes. People blowing off steam. On days like that nobody met a stranger. Is that why I get sentimental? It’s not like I’m craving pickled eggs or beef jerky here or have a strong desire to be plastered at noon. But we’re so vanilla nowadays, well maybe not vanilla. Well yes vanilla- there’s no such thing as a real dive bar anymore, and certainly not the romanticizing of them. Grittiness is now universally considered repugnant and eyebrow raising and lacking in any real charm. Smiling easily with strangers now comes with effort- that most natural of reflexes and emotions often even considered suspect. We’ve become uptight. I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.

But back then was everything just okay?

So it snowed overnight and it’s still coming down. I wasn’t prepared for it as we cry wolf around here so often. I have enough smokes and food and so does my cat. There are a couple of inches out there already and I won’t see anyone today. But if I see you walking past my house on your way to somewhere, I’ll fall into stride without thinking twice. Seriously.

People don’t come out like they used to.



  1. I like dives in general, whether they’re bars or not. A few of the nurses at the hospital where I volunteer and I go out for dinner once a month. The rule is, it has to be a dive. We’re working our way through all the ethnic cuisine we can think of and we haven’t spent more than about $10 each yet. It’s great. I remember the snow storms, and the fun you’re talking about, from Montreal. It happened all the time, only we’d get several feet of snow, not inches. Everything would be closed. But we always had the best times. Congregating in each other’s houses and yes, at neighbourhood dive bars, coffee shops, whatever. And lots of people would snow shoe and cross-country ski everywhere. It was fabulous fun. And you’re right. We’ve lost all that. It’s a shame. Now I’m getting sentimental πŸ™‚

    • I was thinking maybe my sentimentality stemmed only from the fact I’m in a smaller, southern town, cultural you know, and not really a sign of the times. And if I was back in a larger city it’d be different. And it might to a certain degree. But I do also think that people in general used to be more at ease in public than the last few years, and rightly so. I’m writing about the mid to late 90s and they were different times! πŸ™‚

      • I’m talking even before then. And the times were even more different. I live in a big city and it’s the same as your small town. We are less at ease in public, as you say with good reason. But we also get stressed so much more easily and so much faster now. It’s hard for us to see the fun in certain situations. And we’re so time crunched all the time, interruptions like snow storms are like the straw that broke the camel’s back. We had our first real snow of the winter on Tuesday. By Montreal standards it was a minor disturbance. Here it brought everything to a standstill. The subway was so crowded I had to wait for 4 trains to pass before I could finally get on.

  2. you know,…we’ll never know if the world was perfect then or not? you’re right about one thing…times have changed. for better or worse? its hard to categorize that without some in depth reflection

  3. I find that as I grow older, I get sentimental more often. I think it’s because we have more memories to draw from, some of them being times that we miss. Thanks for sharing this, Pete.

  4. Ah, & then there was the snow of ’77 & ’78 in Richmond, Indiana!! I remember, several years later, hosting a group of seminary women, who were talking about what an ‘experience’ that was!


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