The bus driver seemed to be in good spirits for someone who had apparently spent the night in a snowbound bus.
"You getting some good pictures, man?" he called. I told him I was sorry about the state of his bus.
"I've been here since one o'clock last night." he told me.
"We got eighty buses stuck. And we're all getting paid. Thanks, Bloomberg."
I don't know where he got his numbers from, but it was immediately obvious to me that eighty snowbound buses had to be an underestimate. I counted at least six more stalled on 2nd Avenue, including some new Selects, their blue priority lights flashing in frustration. At Bowery and Houston, two more buses were slewed across the intersection, sides and windows covered with a fine crop of icicles. Further down Bowery, one bus was still in motion, feeling its way gingerly through the snow at the Delancey intersection, its destination indicator optimistically set to 'Next Bus Please'.
The 'stuck bus' was the symbol of a winter storm that apparently took the city by surprise. In the end, the final total was more than six hundred of the clumsy behemoths helplessly bogged down in the deep snowdrifts. There was something pathetic about their plight, and something alarming too: New York is no stranger to snow, but the herds of disabled buses gave the city streets the look of a disaster zone.
Buses weren't the only things to get stuck. Here and there, cars and cabs sat stalled in the middle of streets or intersections, often partly buried by drifting snow. A pair of "Daily News" trucks on Centre Street were jammed nose-to-tail, one having apparently knocked down a street sign as it slid backwards into a snowdrift. On Canal, one snowbound car was completely burned out, presumably because the snow had prevented the fire department from getting anywhere near it until it was too late to save it.
Snowstorms are entertaining if you don't actually have to be anywhere. I'm lucky enough to live within walking distance of my work. For me the sight of the city blanketed with snow was an enjoyable departure from routine, the worst that I had to fear being wet feet and chilled fingers. I had no sidewalks to shovel, no cars to dig out, no medical emergency to take me to hospital or anything else to spoil my enjoyment.
But it was hard not to take the sight of all those stranded vehicles as a warning. The storm that tied up the city was intense but apparently not exceptional: it arrived, briskly dropped a couple of feet of snow, and moved on. By Monday morning, the snowfall had stopped and the thaw had started, kicking off the week-long process of turning the deep drifts of powder-white snow into lakes of grubby slush. The snowplows, shadowed by bright orange diggers, started to clear the main roads. Yet even this brief storm offered a glimpse of the city as a post-apocalyptic wasteland, its clogged streets choked with snow and abandoned vehicles, the normal crowds conspicuous by their absence, businesses shuttered and silent. It was a reminder that even a modern city like New York is not immune to the weather. If the next blizzard to hit lasts for days instead of hours and drops forty inches instead of twenty or thirty, the city's resources may have a harder time digging out from under. And even I might start to find it rather less entertaining.