On the morning of April 1st, The New York Times reported that the city had woken up to an April snowstorm, “with about 5 inches of snow expected to produce slushy streets and a tough morning commute.” The storm followed a string of storms that had hit the East Coast in March with heavy snows and damaging winds.
This New York story about snow on April 1st reminded me of another April 1st snowstorm: The one in Chicago that changed my life.
In the spring of 1970, I was already questioning whether I wanted to spend another year in Chicago. My work at the Appellate and Test Case Division of the Chicago Legal Aid Bureau had its good points. I was co-counsel with a lawyer at the Roger Baldwin Foundation of the ACLU (who happily became a lifelong friend) in a case challenging the restrictive Illinois abortion law, a law that made any abortion nearly impossible for all but the most affluent women in Illinois. Our case was moving forward and had already secured a TRO allowing a teenage rape victim an emergency abortion. A great legal victory!
But the rest of my life was at a standstill. I was dating some of the men I’d met, but I hadn’t encountered anyone I wanted to pair up with. In fact, I’d recently dumped a persistent suitor I found much too boring. Relying on old friendships led to occasional lunches with both men and women I’d known in school, but the women were happily married and had limited time for a single woman friend. I tried striking up friendships with other women as well as men, but so far that hadn’t expanded my social life very much.
I also haunted the Art Institute of Chicago, attending evening lectures and lunchtime events. The art was exhilarating, but good times there were few. When I turned up for an event one Sunday afternoon and left a few hours later, planning to take a bus home, I was surprised to see almost no one else on Michigan Avenue, leaving me feeling isolated and (in today’s parlance) somewhat creeped-out. (In 1970 Chicago hadn’t yet embarked on the kind of Sunday shopping that would bring people downtown on a Sunday afternoon.) Similarly, I bought tickets for a piano series at Symphony Hall, and a series of opera tickets, but again I many times felt alone among a group of strangers.
I still had lots of family in the area. But being surrounded by family wasn’t exactly what I was looking for just then.
So although I was feeling somewhat wobbly about staying in Chicago, the question of where to settle instead loomed large. When I’d left law school three years earlier and assumed a two-year clerkship with a federal judge in Chicago, I’d intended to head for Washington DC when my clerkship ended. But in the interim Tricky Dick Nixon had lied his way into the White House, and I couldn’t abide the idea of moving there while he was in charge.
My thoughts then turned to California. I’d briefly lived in Los Angeles during 8th grade (a story for another day) and very much wanted to stay, but my mother’s desire to return to Chicago after my father’s death won out. Now I remembered how much I loved living in sunny California. A February trip to Mexico had reinforced my thinking that I could happily live out my days in a warm-weather climate instead of slogging away in Chicago, winter after Chicago winter.
So I began making tentative efforts to seek out work in either LA or San Francisco, cities where I already had some good friends.
What happened on April 1st sealed the deal. I’d made my way to work that morning despite the heavy snow that had fallen, and I took my usual ride home on a bus going down Michigan Avenue to where I lived just north of Oak Street. The bus lumbered along, making its way through the snow-covered city, its major arteries by that time cleared by the city’s snow plows. When the bus driver pulled up at the stop just across Lake Shore Drive from my apartment building, he opened the bus’s door, and I unsuspectingly descended the stairs to emerge outside.
Then, it happened. I put a foot out the door, and it sank into a drift of snow as high as my knee. I was wearing the miniskirts I favored back then, and my foot and leg were now stuck in the snow. The bus abruptly closed its door, and I was left, stranded in a snowbank, forced to pull myself out of it and attempt to cross busy Lake Shore Drive.
On April 1st.
Then and there I resolved to leave Chicago. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I made up my mind to leave the snow-ridden city and head for warmer climes.
And I did. After a May trip to the sunny West Coast, where I interviewed for jobs in both Los Angeles and San Francisco (with kind friends hosting me in both cities), I wound up accepting a job offer at a poverty-law support center at UCLA law school and renting a furnished apartment just across Gayley Avenue from the campus.
The rest is (my personal) history. I immediately loved my new home and my new job. Welcomed by friends, both old and new (including my brand-new colleagues at UCLA), I was happy to have left Chicago and its dreary winters behind. And six weeks after arriving in LA, I met the wonderful guy I married a few months later.
What happened next? I’ll save that for still another day. But here’s the take-away: a snowstorm on April 1st changed my life. Maybe it can change yours, too.