Thanksgiving, 1972. I, accompanied by my wife, am driving from Millbrook, New York to Waymart, Pennsylvania for a Thanksgiving visit at her parents’ home. Normally, it is perhaps a two-and-a-half-hour trip, but on this particular day it was thirteen hours.
It was a clear, crisp, sunny early winter day. We moved well in my blue ’62 Beetle, on the weaving highway through the Pocono Mountains. There was traffic but it was moving fast enough. Suddenly, the sky darkened and we were blinded by a snowstorm coming down so heavily we had pull over and stop the car even with the wipers going. It kept coming down and down and down for over an hour, and when it was over the sun came back out, reflecting on more than a foot of snow! We were stuck. Everyone was stuck. The sound of spinning tires prevailed. Even if a car did get moving, it very quickly skidded sideways onto the low shoulders and shallow ditch of the two lane highway.
I was able to get our little, light VW going around the big Cadillacs but, soon enough, I was stuck behind cars lined up in front of me. Our gas was down to half so I turned off the engine but had to turn it on again to warm us up. It was dropping quickly into the 20’s in the late afternoon. After two hours of vainly trying to somehow get out of there, we were really stuck. Everyone was. Some had kept their motors running to heat themselves and were now out of gas. We stood around our cars hopelessly waiting for someone to get us out of there. There was bitching, complaining. Couples with whining children yelled angrily at the kids and each other. People were worried. I could see the concern on their faces. My wife and I didn’t know what to do. Word came “down the line” that some old lady had had a heart attack from the cold and that an old man had passed out, falling in the snow. On either side of the road was forest; there was no place to go. And it was getting colder still – and darker.
Then two things happened. First, the snowmobilers came bearing sandwiches and hot coffee from Alice’s Wonderland. They went to each car and pulled out food and drink from large baskets in the back of the snowmobile and handed both to the inhabitants of the cars, who, by now, had opened their warm cars to those out of gas and had begun sharing whatever of food, beer or cigarettes they possessed. Those handing out the food had come all the way down the line of cars – which extended a few miles! They came from a little store called Alice’s Wonderland about half a mile up the road. They asked us to drop the cups back off at Alice’s and, when I wanted to give them money, they said, “no charge.” Word was that they had packed off the old lady and old man to the nearest medical facility.
Second, I told my wife I was “going to see what I could do to get thing’s going”, and I started walking, albeit a bit numb from sitting in the freezing car, towards the front of the line. I got up to Alice’s Wonderland and saw that other men were also walking towards the front of the line – lots of them. Finally I reached a place where the road went down into a small dip and up a steep hill. There were maybe nine cars all pushed together at the bottom of the dip and other cars pressed up behind them. There were no cars at the top of the steep hill or on the road leading up to it. We all converged on those cars at the same time, and straightening them out and, with ten of us pushing, moving them very slowly up the hill and over the top. Those out of gas were pushed to the side. After a while, we saw a truck up at the top of the hill with a cable and a winch. After two hours or so, the road was clear and we helped each car go down and then up the hill. Someone came with salt and sand and suddenly the cars had traction on the road and could move.
The line was finally moving on its own.
I stopped at Alice’s Wonderland on my way back. It was a little general store with a coffee counter where breakfast was served. Alice, herself was there – disheveled and smiling. She had given away all her food from the fridge and had let people come in and take what they needed from the retail food shelves so that now they were pretty much empty. She had used up all her cups and thermoses and blankets and gloves and flashlights and matches and socks and anything anyone could use who needed it.
In the thirty years plus that have passed since then, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone as happy as Alice looked.